Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Fishing Report for Pickwick (Year to Date)

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I know, most of you must be thinking "Dang, Zach must not be fishing or at least catching cause he sure ain't posted in awhile." 

If you guessed the latter, you would be right. Hey, it's tough to make a fishing report when you haven't caught a measuring bass in THREE WEEKS. That's right, folks. I've fished Pickwick at least once a week since essentially January first. 

My first trips on Pickwick resulted in some big numbers or big bags. On one trip, we caught thirty fish like it wasn't any issue. Next trip was tough, but we had a solid 17 pound bag without any big ones. 

But, starting January 1st, the fish stopped biting. Like, at all. But, if you have been on Pickwick, you likely know that.

Ok, so as days went by, I starting talking to more and more fishermen. Now, it's widely known that fishermen are liars, but I find that only the case when they are catching them. Frustration is easy to see. This included locals and non-locals alike. And, after Josh's motor tossed a blade and I was rescued by several locals, I was able to really get in depth with the local flavor and they had some interesting things to say,.

First, if the water temps are under 50 degrees, they say don't bother. Second, there was a shad kill and that killed everyone's change to get bit. Literally. 

Everyone else reported what I've experienced: Days without a bite. After an unsuccessful trip Saturday, I watched a large club weigh in. The winner won with 14 pounds of spots out of his wrapped boat that proudly displayed his so-and-so fishing.com website. The rest of the field? I saw three fish weighed. Total. 

In talking with fishermen I know, most everyone is skunked. The ones who catch anything get only a few bites, but they are the right kind, and they are coming within minutes of one another. So, if you DO get one to bite, you can get more, but it may only be a for a minute or two. 

I know this has to do with the weather, so I started looking at some trends over this year and previous years.

First things first: TVA keeps water level records for five years. The lake is at 409.5 elevation. That is the lowest in the five year period. 

Here's a comparison of previous years on February 5th and then on the 15th:
2017-410.8 / 410.65
2016-412 / 410.5
2015-409.7 / 409.6
2014-410.4 / 411.2
2013-414 / 411.5

Ok, so that's all just subject to rain, right? Here's a look at precipitation for those years.

Thus far in 2018, we have had 2.5", year to date, and that includes .79" in the last five days with an estimated 3-4" on the way this week. So, we should exceed those totals for the last few years and likely all previous years, which is why TVA has kept the lake low, I suppose. In the meantime, flow has been non-existant. You need at least 60,000-70,000 CFS to really get smallies biting. We've been seeing 30s most days. That's going to do a few things: bring the water level of the lake up and create flow, all good things. 

While that's likely great for the smallies, the smallie bite alone won't support 220 boats. That means largemouth, and that means dependency on weather. Obviously, the weather has been a huge factor that resulted in a shad kill. How does it compare to past years? Let's take a look at average temp, average high and average low.

Year            AVG Temp            AVG High          AVG Low
2014                 44                          65                       30
2015                 36                          57                       19
2016                 47                          63                       29
2017                 53                          69                       38
2018(to date)   40                          49                        33

In summation, this year isn't even the coldest average, but we haven't had the amount of "heating days." That is, while the average is slightly higher than, say, 2015 and the low isn't as low as 2014, the average high is 8 degrees lower than the nearest year. Since water has an exponentially higher thermal coefficient than air, it takes a lot more energy to warm it. That means days and days of much warmer air is needed, which we haven't had. And, brutal cold snaps, of which we've had several, undo any warming there could be. As it stands now, water temps are still in the mid-40s. 

Anyway, it should be of no surprise that times are tough. The water is low, the flow is low, the temps are low. The question is, will there be enough heating days in the next 10 days to warm the water up at least five degrees?

Hope this puts things in perspective. 

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Fishing Report for Smith Lake 1/15/17

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I'd be a liar if I told you this was the first fishing trip of the year. It's actually the second. Josh and I began prefishing for Pickwick last week and were unable to find anything. The entire week of teens and twenties along with minimal flow and low water levels had pushed the fish....somewhere. 

The only bit of action I found was when we attempted to cross a flat way down river and found out it wasn't in three feet any more, but three inches. No damage to the boat, but it wasn't fun shedding all of my outer wear and pushing my boat off a sandbar in the 20s. We literally had one bite all day, so, I didn't figure yall would want to hear about it.

With MLK Day a federal holiday, Brad and I decided to fish Smith lake. We have been following the Smith Lake Tournament page on Facebook and every week it has taken 18-20 pounds to win. Now, I'm not saying I could do that, but if guys are catching bags like that, rain or shine, hot or cold, then maybe i could at least catch some fish, right? 

I guess it was SORTA accurate. 

First off, we didn't want to get there too early because, well, it was cccooolllddd. Turns out, it wouldn't have mattered because we forget they were working on the ramps at the park and we wouldn't be dunking the boat there. 

Another 40 minutes worth of driving and we put in at the dam. 

One of the keys that we had heard from locals and people we trust was to find the blueback herring. If you've ever fished Smith, you know it is an awfully big and deep lake and everything really starts looking the same REAL QUICK. So, we decided we would do a lot of scanning. We also noticed (later verified) that the lake levels were extraordinarily low, even for winter pool. This goes back to lowering of the water for the ramp. 

We began dissecting the lake as we would most any other lake by checking main lake points. We kept the boat in about 40 feet most of the time, but rarely did we ever mark bait balls. But, when we did mark bait, we also marked fish sitting on the bottom adjacent to the first big drop of the point. 

I began the day casting moving baits such as a crankbait and a jerkbait, but didn't have any bites. We were trying to cover a lot of water, so bottom contact baits wouldn't be in the cards unless we slowed down. Eventually, we found an area that we felt confident that we really needed to pick apart. This point was a gradually sloping bank instead of a quick drop. On these points were a lot of brush and trash on the bottom with fish sitting in the brush.

I began probing these piles of brush with a half ounce strike king jig and eventually had my first bite of the day. It was the fantastic spot you can see in the picture on the top. Both Brad and I were pretty excited because this was the kind of fish the locals were catching in these wildcat tournaments. Maybe we were on to something! 

Turns out, what we were on to was not a great pattern, but a pattern none the less and one that was eerily similar to the pattern we experienced a few months ago. The fish weren't grouped up, at least where we were. We could get bit on almost every point that exhibited the right characteristics, and it would usually be the first cast. The issue was, neither of us were really mentally prepared for spot fishing, as they would pick up the jig and run right at the boat. I had a series of points where I had five bites that I failed to snag a single fish. 

In the end, we never really found a lot of bait and we certainly didn't find a lot of fish. There is obviously something fundamentally wrong with our approach to this lake, despite the two exceptional tournaments we fished last year. 

Take the good with the bad, I suppose. At least I got my first fish of the year and it was a fantastic spot! 

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Deer Hunting Christmas 2017

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Try as I might, I haven't been able to get my kids interested in bass fishing as much as I'd like. I admit that I am not a great "fun fisherman." In my quest to get better as a tournament angler, I have lost some of that charm. 

You can imagine my surprise when suddenly all three kids are interested in deer hunting. To me, I would think it would be the other way around. Bass fishing can be done in pleasant weather and it's typically a lot more action-packed. Obviously, you can go days without seeing the first deer and in many of those days, the weather can be downright awful. 

But, when the kids ask to go, you gotta take them, right? Of course, we had to separate into shifts as three kids didn't fit in the shooting houses, even as nice and large as they are. 

For the second time in the last few years, I had a shot when I had the kids with me. This time it was my two older kids. And, like last time, I likely rushed the shot and I probably shouldn't have done that considering it was bordering on 300 yards. The doe just stared at me and I racked another round, presented with another golden opportunity. This one missed as well and I didn't bother to shoot again as I had taken my time on the second shot and realized the gun must be off. 

The next day, I took Aubree and we did some sighting in. Sure enough, the gun was 6 inches low at just 75 yards. We remedied that and it was time to hit the woods. 
First trip, I took Aubree, the oldest. We were able to see a big four point and a couple of smaller deer, but no bucks or does worth shooting, much to her chagrin. Over the next few days, she begged and begged me to go, but it was the boys' turn next. I went to the store, got them snacks and drinks and warned them NOT to drink it all and NOT to fight. Well, you can guess what happened! 

On the next trip, we again saw the 4-pointer and it was awesome for the boys to get to watch him. I didn't see my first buck for probably three or four years of hunting! They got so excited that their movement scared him away. I couldn't be mad. They were really enjoying themselves.  As darkness moved upon us, we were presented with several does, but each of them had a faun with them and I thought it would be bad form to shoot them, especially with the boys with me. 

But, an opportunity presented itself in the form of an injured deer limping across the field. It was nearing dusk and I didn't have much time to put the binoculars on the deer to see what kind it was. In the end, I made a judgement call that no matter if it was a buck or doe, I needed to put the deer out of its misery as it was limping badly. I warned the boys and pulled the trigger. The deer went down and the boys witnessed their first kill. It ended up being a small buck that had a front shoulder completely out of place. The boys didn't mind. They were very excited! 

A few days went by and my dad killed a really nice buck. Work had been slow and I was looking at an afternoon of sitting in the office, at home or perhaps hunting. The issue with hunting was that the wind was pretty bad. In my experience, high wind is normally a killer for deer hunting. It throws off multiple senses for the deer and they stay hunkered down.

I texted my dad and he said that the rut was on and that it would easily cover up the wind, as far as the bucks were concerned. I took his word and, besides, what did I have to lose? 

Since the kids were with my mom, I knew this was the best opportunity for me to get a good buck. But, after the first hour, the only deer I had seen was a little spike that I have seen several other times. However, knowing that the rut was on, this was the perfect chance to use him as bait for a bigger deer. I broke out the grunt call and began grunting, as long as he was in the field. 

He made two complete laps of the field and every 15 minutes, I would make some grunts. Around 4:45, movement caught my eye and it was the last place I expected to see a deer. For at my back, just yards away, was the Flint River. A set of deer had crossed the river and were now just on my side of the tree line. One was obviously a buck, so I picked up the binocs. At first glance, it looked like a big six. 

Though his antlers stood outside his ears ( a club rule), a six pointer didn't meet the agenda. But, upon further review, he did have a set of brow tines that made him an eight. I took the shot and the deer dropped.

It ended up being a gorgeous young buck. He wasn't a monster, but he will be mighty tasty! Now it's time to find a giant! 

Monday, December 18, 2017

Fishing Report for Pickwick 12/16/17

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It doesn't feel like it had been two weeks since Brad and I made the trip to Pickwick for a few hours. Alas, it has been. Funny thing is, looking at the pictures of our last trip, I am wearing jeans and a t-shirt. That's not quite the clothing selection I had on this past Friday. It was 22 degrees on the drive from my house to McFarland and about 25 when we dunked Big Booty Judy. 

On our last trip, we didn't get to fish until about 830 or 9 and had to leave around 1. It took the better part of the trip to find any fish. In fact, we had to search for nearly two hours to get our first bite. Using jerkbaits, we found fish on a small stretch of bluffs. We hammered down on them and caught a fair amount of fish before we had to leave. Surprisingly, no big fish and no smallies. Go read that report by clicking the link below.

Fishing Report for Pickwick 12/1/17

Still, it was a good day. So, we decided not to reinvent the wheel and go right to where we had been catching. Ok, that's a lie. It was so cold that when Brad asked "where we gonna start" I dropped the trolling motor inside of McFarland and said "right about here." Shoot, I wasn't gonna run ANYWHERE in 25 degrees if it wasn't tournament day. 

That actually paid off pretty quick as I fished the barge tie-ups, specifically the eddy line, with a PTL Sick Stick on a shakey head. A fun fight led to this super chunky spotted bass which is probably my biggest of the year.

The next cast, another fish jumped on the line and I started getting really excited that I had found a pile of fish. Alas, it was a drum. 

We moved to some other community hole areas without a bite before moving to the bluffs where we had success. Throwing a Smithwhick Perfect Ten jerkbait resulted in fish after fish. However, they weren't very big and they were all spots. Nothing wrong with that, but eventually we wanted to find the brownies. 

We continued down the bluffs before Brad caught this chunk on the jerkbait.

I followed that up later with this nice largemouth.
We noticed that the bigger fish were all alone. We would catch five to seven smaller fish but would find a bigger once close to, but not directly with, the pile of smaller fish.

After awhile, the sun came out and the jerkbait bite began to decline. We would still catch some, but I began to notice that I wasn't marking bait on the straight bluffs. We can upon a slopping bluff that extended pretty far into the river. Instead of a straight drop to 14-18 feet, it tapered off slowly. I also began to mark fish. So, I pushed the boat out and picked up the trust Strike King 6XD. It might also have something to do with the fact that I bounced my Rogue off a rock and came back with half the bait. 

And then I went to town. This 50 yard stretch of sloping bluff held a ton of fish and Brad and I must have caught 10-15 from the exact same cast. But, like all things, it went away. Likely because we caught them all.

With the day coming to an end, we decided to go back to the area that seemed to be holding better fish, however sporadic they may have been. I had a suspicion, based upon this tapering bluff area, that I may have been sitting on top of the fish.

So while he tossed the jerkbait, I threw the 6XD parallel to the bluffs. This resulted in a couple of 2.5 pound fish, just no big ones. Eventually, I did get that big one to load up and as I fought the fish, I could tell this was a big smallie.

Sure enough, I got a great shot at a massive brown fish about the time she threw the crankbait. That fish would have boosted our sack to around 17.5 pounds and put us around 30 fish for the day. Not a bad winter's day fishing trip! 

Monday, December 4, 2017

Fishing Report for Pickwick 12/1/17

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It's hard to believe that it has been three weeks since I had been fishing, but man....has it been busy! Between the Thanksgiving holiday, work and football, I haven't had much time to get out and fish. It's a shame, too, because I needed one solid trip to break last year's mark of 283 fish. You can read about my Fish of 2017 here. I needed just 12 to break the mark. 

Friday was looking like a beautiful day. Highs in the mid-60s without wind and not a cloud in the sky. Of course, that's NOT good if you are looking to catch some smallies. We had been seeing some of the Basswhacker Guide Service guys WRECKING the fish. They were doing it on Wheeler, Wilson and Pickwick.

Brad and I decided we would get out and we went with Pickwick as we believed the versatility of the lake would allow us to find some fish, even if the weather wasn't optimal for smallie fishing. To us, Wilson was too dependent on the Wheeler dam current and Wheeler lake was so far down that we just didn't have faith that we could catch fish with such low water levels. 

Of course, the extra drive meant we would be on the water a good bit less and we wouldn't actually be on the water until around 9:30. 

So, based on what we had been reading, we went to work on the bluffs across from McFarland with a combination of Bama rigs and jerkbaits. No such luck, even when we covered several miles. 

I also noticed that I wasn't marking any bait or fish. In addition, a look at the TVA app showed that there was only 32,000 CFS being pushed through Wilson dam, which is about half of what you REALLY want to get the smallies biting. 

That's a bad sign. And, we didn't get bit for around the first three hours. THREE HOURS! 

That included making some moves to areas that we have consistently caught fish on over the last few years. We made it as far down river as the end of Seven Mile Island before sitting down to really contemplate what we should do. Obviously, our experience was hurting us, so we decided to fish all new water.

We picked a stretch of bluffs that were just a touch different than what we normally fish. We normally fish straight cliff bluffs. We targeted rocky bluffs this time around and in an area I've never fished.

First one bite on the jerkbait with a solid two pound largemouth. Then another. Then another. In a 100 yard stretch we had caught around seven fish, five on the jerkbait and two on the A-rig. Most of them were small, but we had a solid little limit going.

We went back down the stretch and only caught two fish, but both were in the three pound range. 

Moving on to another stretch, we caught a few more fish. Then a straight bluff without a bite. Then down a rocky bluff were we caught more fish.

Soon, we had a pattern, but we ran out of time. 

In the end, we caught around 17-20 (Brad corrected me on Facebook when I said 20-25). The best five would have gone between 13-15 pounds. Strangely, they were all largemouth and spots. Not a single smallie! It really wasn't a surprise. There wasn't any current, high skies, and no wind. 

A Smithwick Rouge MD jerkbait did the vast majority of the damage with the A-rig kicking in another 3 fish. 

Monday, November 20, 2017

Fishing Report for Wheeler 11/17/17

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Last week was soooo gooood and word was that the fish were still biting. Early in the week, Josh and I had planned to fish the Gray's Outdoors tournament (you can fish Wheeler/Wilson/Pickwick). But, weather started looking really, really bad so they canceled it. 

But, I was so excited about fishing that I was COMPELLED TO FISH. Not only did I want to catch more fish, but I needed to get Big Booty Judy out. Really, the only option was going Friday to Ditto. My buddy Naaman agreed to fish with me. You may recall that we went out the week before and had a really, really good day catching solid 2.5 pound spots. You can read that report below.

Anyways, it was cold with the water temps diving into the 50s. But, current was ripping, so we figured we had a chance to get on a pile of fish. We recognized that, like last week, we may have to hunt for them for awhile.

We started out fishing some areas that we had been catching fish. A fish here, a fish there, but never more than one fish. That had been pretty common last week. We caught fish everywhere we went but it wasn't until around 11 when we found them piled up, up by the dam. 

The only thing the fish would bite was a jerkbait. I was throwing the Smithwick Rouge and it would get bit fairly often. But, despite moving around and catching a fish here or there, we didn't catch anything over about a pound.

We covered water from the Flint river to Ditto and never found a pile, but ended up catching around 15. Only two fish came on baits that were not jerk baits. 

If you are out searching for fish, here are some thoughts:

The cool temps and dropping water levels are forcing the fish to back off to the main channel break (I think). We continued to fish the 13-14 foot break but we were not marking fish like we had been after the warm spell last week. 

It is certainly possible that they may be in the backs of creeks, but as you probably know, there aren't any of those where we fished. 

We did mark big groups of bait and fish on major contour changes like the upper point of Hobb's island, especially around the gravel pit. Same story, though. We would get bit the first cast and then wouldn't get another bite. 

At least the boat was running good!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Fishing Report for Wheeler/Ditto Landing 11/10/17

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Part of being and adult (and father of three) is being unable to drop what you are doing to go fishing. Even on holidays, as last Friday was, it takes some serious work to arrange things to work out. But, Josh and I were able to get things arranged so that we could get an afternoon of fishing in. Now, with him having to arrange kid care and me trying to makes sure my three couldn't burn the house down, it meant we couldn't go anywhere other than Ditto.

That's ok. Reports had been good that both numbers, size, and type of fish were being caught. Both Josh, our friend Naaman, and several other associates had sent reports back that the fishing was superb. Most reported that 12 pound bags were easy to come by and that mixed bags up to 18 pounds were being caught. 

So, we figured we would give it a go. 

We were on the water around noon and decided to fish current breaks local to the marina. Fishing a combination of A-rig and jerk baits, we were able to catch ones and twos at every stop we made. But, there was no size and the bites weren't very plentiful.

Elsewhere, our buddy Naaman was reporting great success on the same lures, so obviously we weren't fishing the right things. There weren't a lot of boats on the water, but there were enough that all the obvious current breaks were getting fished, or had been fished.

A quick look at the TVA App told us that TVA was pulling 70K CFS out of Guntersville dam. That should be more than enough to make for a good dam bite and both of us hoped we could find some smallies. 

We made the run up to the dam and began fishing the wing walls and rip-rap around the dam. Again, we could get a bite here and there, but nothing consistent. The best thing we caught was a gentleman's rod. He had accidentally thrown it in the water (quite funny to have seen in person) and couldn't reach it. We fished it out for him.

We moved down to the other side of the damn and couldn't get any bites, despite finding fish grouped up really tight.

Moving down to the ramp, we caught two or three short fish off of the wing wall of the ramp. I happened to look down at the Lowerance unit and see a pile of golf balls under the boat. There seemed to be around 7 or 10 fish laying on the bottom right under us, right on the current break line.

Josh let the boat drift back about 10 yards and that made all the difference. 

Throwing a combination of jigs and shakey heads, we boated 7-10 2.5 pound spots and several smallmouth. None of the smallmouth were very big, but it was fun to catch! 

Eventually, the bites tapered from every cast to one bite every 15 minutes, so we began to move down river. 

We covered a few other spots, but, again, just one fish at a time.

Eventually, we tried the 431 bridge with jerkbaits the last 10 minutes of day light. 

Man, that was an exciting few minutes! Every cast, for both of us, we caught a fish. 

On the day, we caught around 20 fish with our best five going around 12 pounds. None of the fish went over 3 pounds. Naaman had several nice fish on the day and probably caught the same amount as both Josh and I. 

This time of year, you have to really cover water to find the fish, but when you do, you can catch a lot in a very short amount of time. Add into the equation that most outdoorsmen are in their deer stands and you have the opportunity to catch a lot of fish! Really, you only need an A-rig, a jerkbait, and jig or shakeyhead.