Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Twitching Soft Jerk Baits in Grass

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Fishing the Tennessee River, like many lakes around the country, means that you have to learn to fish grass. I find that many fishermen are daunted when it comes to grass because it seems that baits and presentations become limited, especially in the thick stuff. Most people think they are limited to only top water frogs.

I found myself in that category. I would throw a hollow belly frog in the thick stuff and a plastic swimming frog in the scattered stuff. I would sometimes go flipping, but it wasn't (and still isn't) a technique I have confidence in. And, sometimes the fish just wouldn't want to hit the frog. Many times I thought it was simply the shape and size of the bait. The bass on Guntersville see every single style and color frog there is, and I am sure they have seen every hop and twitch cadence known to man (and fish). Additionally, I always wondered just how many frogs actually get eaten by bass. Surely not as many as are thrown at them each and every year. Come to think of it, I have never seen a frog jumping around the grass. What I HAVE seen is minnows....and lots of them.

One day in 2013, I found myself in an interesting spot in late August. The fish simply weren't hitting the frog and flipping wasn't panning out. When these days happen on Guntersville, it is usually a sign to go home early. Borrowing a tip I learned from a fishing buddy, I decided to throw a weightless swimbait on the grass. But, I was all out of swimbait. However, I had another option that I thought might just work...and succeed....even better.

One of the first products that I bought from PowerTeam Lures was the Hammer Shad. It is one of their more unique baits. It comes in two different versions: The 3.6" and the 4.8". It comes in 7 very unique colors

For the magnum fish we experience on Guntersville, Wheeler, and Pickwick, I had bought a lot of the 4.8" Hammer Shads. That turned out a good choice, as the 3.6" was a little hard to throw on 50lb braid.

Here is what they have to say about their own bait:

"Big brother to the popular 3.6" JP Hammer Shad, the 4.8" JP Hammer Shad was designed to do an equal amount of damage on the water. But now with its proportionally larger size, the 4.8" not only appeals to largemouth and small mouth bass, but it's also the perfect profile for both stripers and redfish as well. The 4.8" JP Hammer Shad can be fished a multitude of ways; Bottom bounce it on a football head, stroke it through the water column on a jig head, or fish it weightless as a twitch bait on a 6/0 EWG hook and Hammer bass near the surface. Also, due to its flat belly design, the 4.8" JP Hammer Shad is great for skipping in and out of the water like a fleeing bait fish. So when you see bait fish getting busted at the surface, you know what to do!  And for you Chatter bait lovers out there, rig one on the back of your 1/2 oz Chatter bait for an awesome big fish presentation."

One of the main uses of the Hammer Shad is using it as a soft jerk bait, just as most people use a Zoom Fluke. I didn't have much success early in the year with using them as a jerkbait. So, I quit throwing them and the Hammer Shads were put away. This seemed to be a good time to pick them up. After all, what better time to throw something they had never seen. So, I picked up a H2O XPRESS ETHOS 7 foot 6 inch heavy action rod with a Shimano Citica reel spooled with Suffix braid. I tied on a 5/0 EWG Gamakatsu hook and threaded on a PowerTeam Lures 4.8" Hammer Shad in "money".

I threw it on top of the famous Guntersville grass, keeping the rod tip up, and twitched the bait back, just as you would do a similar soft jerkbait in clear water. Within 2 casts, I had a fish come through the grass, 2 feet in the air, and engulf the Hammer Shad. It was probably the hardest hit of the year. He wasn't a monster, but it was awesome to have such an immediate reaction to this bait.It hit the bait so hard, it bent the hook, as you can see. I stuck to it for the rest of the day and went through an entire bag of plastic baits and registering some great catches, which you can see in the video.

The next day, we had our family fishing trip to our little lake in Tennessee. Before I handed over the tackle to my wife and mom, I tried the technique out. Unlike Guntersville, our lake doesn't have much grass. What it does have are scattered. So, when the bait was in those holes in the grass, I slowed down and let it sink. The buoyancy of the plastic and the braid and the weight of the hook, the bait drifted down to the bottom just right. Every once in awhile, I would twitch it like a standard soft jerk bait. The fish would destroy it.

It didn't take long to figure out that it was the key. Almost every cast, I would throw it out, wait for the ripples and splashes to settle, twitch it twice, let it sit, and as I took up slack...one would either nail it head on or I would watch the line take off. After I had caught 3 or 4, I handed it over to my mom and my wife and I sat and watched. I told them to ignore where the grass was. Just throw it. if it was on the grass, twitch it on top. When it got to a hole in the grass, let it fall and then twitch it some more.

The looks on their faces were absolutely priceless as they experienced such hard hits. Sometimes, they would get too excited and keep the bait close to the surface and the fish would come exploding out of the water. Did they catch one on every cast? No. But the technique is fun and versatile enough that a novice can have fun with the bait and experience a great amount of success.

It has also served me very well in standing grass, not just the matted grass. Wilson lake, two dams down from Guntersville, is a much deeper contoured lake that doesn't have the matted grass. The thinness of a soft jerkbait makes it perfect for casting into the standing grass and twitching back to the bait. Where a frog might struggle to maintain contact with the water and is consistently fouling because of its bulk. The twitch bait doesn't exhibit these issues.  I find that jerking and twitching through the grass and then dead-sticking it on the edge is absolutely impossible for local fish to resist.

After seeing the bait succeed in both the thick and scattered grass situations when the typical frog baits aren't working or can't work, I decided to add that to my arsenal. It has paid off mightily over the last two years. I started out using it just on the tough days I couldn't get a frog bite, but it has transitioned to a mainstay that I lead out with on days on the lake. It is a bait and technique that I KNOW no one is using (though I chuckle that a few more people might start using it), and it gives me a serious numbers advantage. Soft jerkbaits mimic just what the bass are actively hunting 9/10ths of the time....shad. This is why I think it is such a deadly bait. Frog bites, 9 out of 10 times, are pure reactionary. I have personally witnessed fish follow the soft jerkbait to the boat as well as hit the same bait 5 or 6 times in a row. Neither of these things will happen with a frog. In the following vid, you will see it happen.

As I stated, fishing grass is something you must do in the South. Many times it can get tough, sometimes because the fish aren't biting your frog because they don't aren't reaction biting. Sometimes it's because they have seen all of them already THAT DAY. This technique presents a realistic meal to a fish, and not just a reaction bite. It is extremely versatile for any grass condition, whether scattered, matted, or standing. It doesn't foul up. And...the bites are plentiful and brutal.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Product Review for H2O XPRESS® Men's Softshell XTREME Fishing Parka and Bib

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Starting in 2013, I made more of an effort to get out in the early months, while the average southerner was in a deer stand. Sometimes the weather was decent, and I could simply add layers. Other days....not so much. When the weather was downright nasty, rain and wind in spades...I relied on my Frogg Toggs. And, let me tell you, they have been a colossal failures. I have had 3 sets and they have ALL come apart at the seams. Literally. The pants rip and the crotch. The zippers fail on the first zip-up.

For the last 2 years, I have relied upon my eclectic assortment of snow skiing gear to keep me warm and dry. I found that decision to be...unsatisfactory. My ski equipment isn't made for a constant barrage of rain. It isn't meant to resist flying crankbaits. And, it wouldn't cut the wind. A lot of that DID have to do with the age and overall condition of the gear.

So, I decided that I would save up any birthday and Christmas money I received and put it towards some equipment. The first thing I looked at was the BPS 100MPH gear. But, the cost was prohibitively expensive. While I appreciate how well the BPS stuff is made and how it guarantees warmth well into freezing temps, I wasn't on board with HUNDREDS of dollars. I also didn't need to stay warm in sub-30 degree weather. I am hardcore, but if there is ice on the water, you can count me out. What I did need was superior rain and wind-repelling material that was heartily made and would resist every hook in the boat being magically attracted to it. Last, but not least, red isn't my color. Red is for the OTHER half of the State of Alabama.

That got me looking at Academy. I already liked their house brand stuff. I have had GREAT luck with their H2OXPress Ethos Rods, which I reviewed here.

Initially I looked at their cheaper set, which costs around $150 for the bibs and jacket. I am a real short guy, so I need extra short bibs. But, I have very wide shoulders and need an X-large jacket. My local store NEVER has the set I need. The day I went shopping for them, sure enough, they didn't have the sizes I needed. But they DID have the combination I needed in the XTREME set, which was significantly more expensive(another $60 or so, which is a lot to me). Initially I was skeptic, but I tried them on and compared them to the regular XPRESS set. I was amazed at the weight difference in favor of the XTREME. It felt a lot lighter. Additionally, it had neoprene cuffs to keep water from going up your sleeves. I had a little money (at the time), so I went with them.

Here are the spec's

Designed with double-layered, reinforced material, the H2O XPRESS® Adults' SSX XTREME Softshell Fishing Bib provides optimal coverage to help you stay protected from the elements. The bib features a 100% polyester shell and a nylon and spandex trim for comfortable wear, 2 fleece-lined hand warmer pockets and 2 large, exterior cargo pockets. Reflective shield heat seal on the back.

Features and Benefits for the Bibs

  • - 100% polyester shell with an 82% nylon and 18% spandex trim for comfortable wear
  • - 4-pocket design with 2 fleece-lined hand warmer pockets and 2 large, exterior cargo pockets
  • - Double-layered, reinforced material at the seat, cuffs and knees
  • - Leg openings with hook-and-loop closures offer adjustability
  • - Water-repellent zippers
  • - Stretchy side gussets support mobility
  • - Reflective shield heat seal on the back between the shoulder blades
  • - H2O XPRESS® logos on the left chest and down the right arm
  • - SSX logo on the right of the back
With a hook-and-loop storm flap, water-repellent zippers and windproof construction, the H2O XPRESS® Men's Softshell XTREME Fishing Parka offers a great choice for cold-weather comfort. The parka features fleece-lined hand warmer pockets, long sleeves with interior waterproof neoprene cuffs and a 3-point adjustable, vented hood to help you stay warm and protected from the elements. Reflective shield heat seal on the back. Front-zip closure.

Features and Benefits for the Coats

  • - 100% polyester outer shell with an 82% nylon and 18% spandex trim for cold-weather comfort
  • - Windproof construction with polyester fleece-lined hand warmer pockets
  • - 2 large exterior cargo pockets, 2 water-repellent chest pockets and 1 water-repellent arm pocket
  • - Water-repellent, zip-up front closure
  • - Long sleeves with interior waterproof neoprene cuffs
  • - Vented collar
  • - Double-layered, reinforced fabrication at the seat
  • - 3-point adjustable, vented hood
  • - Full-length hook-and-loop storm flap
  • - H2O XPRESS® logos on the left chest and right arm, with an SSX logo on the back of the right shoulder
  • - Reflective shield heat seal on the back between the shoulder blades
I have now worn them in the rain and high wind as well as sub-30 degree weather and I can tell you I am THOROUGHLY impressed with them.

I like the understated color (black) with the nice logos on the sleeves.

I LOVE the waterproof cuffs.

The set is amazingly light. That may come at a cost to warmth at extra low temps.

I have slung jigs and crankbaits into them and SO FAR I haven't had a hook get stuck. That's going to change as they get older, of course.

The pants are very easy to put on and off, even with shoes.

They have double zippers with a velcro flap on top.

The set is very light and very roomy, without binding up.

The pockets are very roomy and easy to access. This is important if you are wearing gloves. The pockets are also deep, allowing me to put my phone and other things in there and have easy access without worrying about them falling out.

They cut wind at 60MPH with ease. I was pretty surprised by this, but I was able to run down the lake wide open without having the wind cut into me.

For a little over $200, you can have a set of of bib/jacket that can rival the best. Is it as good as the BPS stuff? Honestly, I don't know. But the BPS jacket is $250 BY ITSELF. I am sure that BPS really shines when the wind, temp, and rain gang up on you, but that's for a more hardcore fisherman than I. I am on a budget and I cannot see spending $500 on that.

I was able to wear a single set of Underarmour cold gear under jeans and a pullover, plus this set in 10MPH winds and rain in 30 degree all day without getting cold. That's good enough for me. The main point of emphasis is the COST. Also, I have the ability to take it back to my local store if I have issues. That wouldn't be the case with BPS.

I rate these 4 out of 5 Stars. 

Book Review for Annihilation: A Novel (The Southern Reach Trilogy) by Jeff VanderMeer

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Product Details

"Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; the second expedition ended in mass suicide, the third expedition in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another. The members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within weeks, all had died of cancer. In Annihilation, the first volume of Jeff VanderMeer's Southern Reach trilogy, we join the twelfth expedition. The group is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain, record all observations of their surroundings and of one anotioner, and, above all, avoid being contaminated by Area X itself. They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers—they discover a massive topographic anomaly and life forms that surpass understanding—but it’s the surprises that came across the border with them and the secrets the expedition members are keeping from one another that change everything."

So, I once again utilized Amazon to search for and purchase a book. This one carried a 4 out of 5 star review, over the course of 460 reviews. Pretty good, right? So, I bought this book without actually reading a user review. Now, I admit that sometimes people give unfair review of literature. Sometimes a book doesn't read like they would like. Or it ends in a way they don't like. Sometimes, books are too simple. Or too difficult. So, I usually avoid reading the actual reviews because I don't want a few people to taint the book or give something away. One of these days, I am going to learn to not go on the average Stars awarded and read a random set of reviews. It seems to me that if you look at the first reviews, they are always stellar. It's almost like the writer's family and friends write the first reviews. Only later do you start seeing the more realistic reviews.

Ok, so I say all that and haven't talked about the book.

I read the description above and thought it sounded interesting. I noted that having an all female cast would be...different....for me. But, I was open to new experiences. I can't recall the last time I read a first-person narrative of a female. I have read several books, namely "Titan" where the lead character is a female.  This book certainly sounded like it comes from the "big dumb ship" idea, where characters are introduced to an entirely new (at least temporary) environment in which they know nothing about. For some reason, that type of literature always appeals to me, as I try to figure out what they are seeing before they realize just what it is.

Regarding the POV of a woman heroine....if some of the lines were left out of the book, you would never know it was a woman. In fact, it reads just like a male. The character is flat. She exhibits little to no emotion, even in her back-story about her dead husband. She is very calculative and scientific. I felt that her personality was force-fed to me. I had to be convinced on who she was at times and this was done through back-story and not during the action of the book.

This book certainly started off just as I expected, with the 4 women explorers traipsing around an unknown environment. They had been given little to no information on what the other expeditions had seen or experienced. They were given very basic understanding of the environment in which previous expeditions had already encountered, leading me to question "why." The easiest assumption is that this is some sort of government experiment.

The explorers encounter many things they do understand, such as ruins of towns and typical flora and fauna. We are never told WHY they encounter such things, and if they matter. Just that they are there and are not entirely important. Though, readers like me will realize that very little is every written that doesn't matter, so we file it away. Soon they begin to encounter things they do not understand. These things are outlandish and strange and totally incomprehensible to the explorers. They do their best to explain it their limited ability, like a toddler explaining long division. Shortly after encountering some inexplicable findings (for the explorers), we discover that the explorers are all victims to deep hypnosis. Because we are limited by the main character's understanding, we are left with the impression that this was done in order to ensure mission success, but also left with the deep question that all of the unexplained MAY BE explainable, just incomprehensible to the heroine due to the mental conditioning. Surely, however, all things will come to light.

Sprinkled into the heroine's narrative are seemingly out-of-place recollections. Again, a reader is left with the impression that these must somehow figure into the plot. For example, we wonder if, through these recollections, we will ever find out what happened to the other expeditions. After all, the back cover talks about a whole expedition dying from cancer, but no more is ever offered in the book OTHER than simply stating they died from cancer. In the end, these flashbacks offer no real information other than very basic knowledge of the heroine's husbands demise.

The books spirals into the surreal. By the end of the book, the heroine is experiencing things she doesn't even begin to comprehend, both about herself, the past expeditions, and her surroundings. It was like trying to understand a raving lunatic on acid explaining the colors she sees. I kept trying to read her description of things and think: "Oh, she is explaining a deer. She just saw a deer for the first time and didn't have the vocabulary to explain it." Except that she is trying to explain monsters.

By the end of the book, I found myself wondering just what I was reading. Everything that had been written up until that point was in question. To me, the entire book read like someone's far-fetched dream. A dream that made sense while asleep, and then they tried to wake up and write it all down and remember the exactness of it, it didn't make much sense. Like, how could THIS be if THAT happened? Only few things were in focus and the rest of the details were hazy and unclear.

If you are like me, you will read down to the last page hoping that someone will explain things. I honestly got down to the next to last page, and as I flipped it over, I thought it would be a single paragraph that said something like:

"They were all dead and in purgatory." or "They were abducted by aliens and selectively memory wiped and being watched for their interactions with a seemingly foreign environment." 

Alas, the book just ended.

Whenever reading a book, you have some basis and boundaries of realism. By the end of this book, you are unsure of anything real. There were no real boundaries set. Nothing was sure to have happened or to exist.  Does Area X even exist? Does the heroine exist and if any of this story is being told from a sane person's point of view. Insanity is certainly hinted at strongly in this book. Most importantly, what was the reason for the expedition? 

So, if you go read the reviews, you will see much of the same. It is 208 pages meant to confuse you, keep you guessing, and make you purchase another book. I don't mind those, usually, but I like to know where we are headed. I am sure that by the end of the 3rd book, we will know what happened to her and her husband. We will know what the "crawler" is. We will know WHY the government sent all the expeditions. We will understand what Area X is. I can't help but think this is a scenario where a writer went into this knowing he wanted to sell 3 different books, but only had the ideas for 1, so he strung together some stuff to bait people to keep buying.  I had to work my noodle a whole lot and produced nothing. While entertaining, I was not entertained. Does that make sense? No? Then you understand how I feel.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Product Review for RAVPower 15,000mAh External Battery

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A few weeks back, I wrote an article on Tips and Tricks for Videoing Your Fishing Trips. In there, I outlined some of the ways to make sure you don't miss anything while you are fishing...or hunting....or what have you. One of the important points I made was to go ahead and spend the money on extra batteries. I, myself, bought a Wasabi 2 battery and charger kit off of Amazon, which you can find a link to here:

But when I was preparing for our family trip to Tampa for the Outback Bowl, we decided to take our Acura instead of the Yukon in order to save gas money. However, the Acura doesn't have an entertainment system, and 3 kids under 10 need entertainment. Tablet and phone batteries only last so long, and there are only some many USB/cigerette lighters in the car. So, I needed another solution. My mother in law let me bother her external battery pack.

Now, it wasn't the first time I had seen one of these, but not one this big. Typically, the ones I see are small and used to charge a cell phone. This one was fairly large. We used it all week and I was fairly certain that this was something I needed, regardless of the use. I knew I could use it on travel to keep my phone charged, or to charge my GoPro. So, I decided to look it up on Amazon, fully expecting it to be in the $150 range. I was AMAZED that the price was so low, $39.99 to be exact. At that price, I decided to pick one up. While I could get away with a smaller one, the price per mAh made this one the best deal.

Here are the stats.

"RAVPower 3rd Gen Deluxe 15000mAh External Battery Portable Dual USB Charger 4.5A Output Power Bank. iSmart(tm) Broad Compatibility, Fast Charging, High Capacity, Ultra Compact."

Here is the Amazon link to it:


Two days later, I had my battery.

  • It says it is fast charging. That doesn't refer to the amount of time to charge the battery itself. In the few times I have charged it from near 0% to Full Charge, it took 24 hours. 
  • Now, it will charge my Samsung S5 from 0% to Full Charge in under an hour. That's especially true if I use the 2.4A port instead of the 2.1A. However, it creates a lot of heat during the transfer. I believe there are a lot of losses in using the 2.4, but it is very quick.
  • While on travel last week, I used it every day for 4 days to keep my phone completely charged. I stayed on my phone constantly. I never charged my phone with a wall charger. The battery died on the way home. 
  • The case is very hardy. I have dropped it several times.
  • I wish it had a digital readout on the battery life remaining. All it has is a series of blinking lights that tell you it's between 100-75%, 75-50%, etc. 
  • The major downside is the size. The battery is around 6 inches long, 4 inches wide, and an inch thick. It is also fairly heavy.
  • I wish it had a mini-USB outlet. Instead, it has 2 regular USB and micro-USB. 
Over all, this is a necessity of you spend a significant amount of time on your phone or other media device. It has days worth of power for your devices. For those who fight battery issues when using a GoPro, this is the perfect solution. I frequently use 5 batteries and still miss about an hours worth of data, if I want good resolution and frame rates. For $40, I recommend you get this. 

I will update this in a few months when we see what the recharge-ability is like after a lot of cycles. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Fishing Report for Guntersville 1/17/15

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Having sold the Skeeter a few months ago has left me at the mercy of my many great fishing buddies. Luckily, I have a lot of them, so if I REALLY want to go fishing, I can normally make that happen....even if I have to make some not-so-subtle solicitations. 

One of those came this past Friday. I had been in Utah on business, watching rockets blow up (that's a GOOD thing), and when I got home I was ready to fish. After all, February typically marks the beginning of the tournament year. My friend Brian, whom I had fished and played softball against, made a comment on the book of faces that he was going to go flipping for smallies on Guntersville. He had me at "flipping", as you may recall I named this technique in my New Year's Resolutions as the technique I *HAD* to master. Then, there was that "smallies on Guntersville" bit. I was ubber intrigued. So, I asked if he didn't mind taking me along. Luckily for me, he didn't mind at all.

Over the next hour, we talked about what I needed to rig up with. I was at a complete loss for what I needed to do to prepare. He said we would be flipping jigs and cranking. Well, one of those I am pretty good at. The other....eh....it's a work in progress. So, I rigged up a medium heavy action rod with 17lb Segaur AbrazX flouro (thank goodness I buy in bulk! If you don't, go read WHY YOU SHOULD). On that, I rigged up a PowerTeam Lures 3/8th's ounce Bull Nose Jig in watermelon red flake backed by a PTL Diesel Craw in the same color. 

There are been a very warm day that Friday which had followed several days of brutally cold weather. It appeared that Saturday would be a perfect day to find the fish active. Additionally, the weather was supposed to be nice that day, though it would be post frontal which meant high skies and potentially high winds as well. Some of these things are good. Some of them are very very bad, notably the high skies. But, I needed some Vitamin S in my life and Saturday promised to provide that. 

On the drive to meet Brian, I couldn't help but notice the temperature outside was a balmy 25 degrees, despite the sun having been up for 2 hours. Not quite the warming trend we had hoped for. By 8 AM, we were in the water and headed to catch some fish.

I was tossing a custom painted jerkbait from Frog Junky Lures. I had promised James, the owner, that I was going to get him some pictures. But the fish weren't biting it, nor anything else we threw at them. So Brian slid us up the point on the inside of an island by about 50 yards. We graphed a ton of fish sitting off the first hard break on the creek channel of this island, sitting on the bottom in 23 feet. Since the jerkbait wouldn't reach, I went to one of my favorite lures in all of creation, the Strike King 6XD in Powder Blue Back. 

That seemed to do the trick. I was able to go on a solid tear of catching stripes and whites. While that is definitely fun, it wasn't the bass we came to catch. Since the fish were sitting on the bottom, I picked up the PTL jig and went to work. Brian employed the ole Tennessee River Hop, which is when the fisherman pops the jig every few seconds off the bottom. It is a trade secret in the south, especially on TVA lakes such as Guntersville, Wheeler, and Pickwick. I am not as comfortable as he with the jig, so I stuck to the one technique that HAS worked (albeit, not very often)...which is dragging.

As I hopped the jig down the first big break on the creek channel, a fish SMASHED it. A good hook set and a small fight later, I had bagged a solid spot. A few minutes later, a nice sized striper hit the jig, which AMZAINGLY, I hooked up and swung in the boat. The next few hours, we alternated between catching whites on cranks, or trying to pick up spots on jigs. The whites and stripers would hit the jig almost every cast, if we let it sit on the bottom. But, we couldn't hook up with them. Every once in awhile, we would manage to catch another spot. Brian was able to get a decent spot on a Bama rig, even.

But the spot and the striper ground to a halt around lunch time. Ironically, that was about the time it was warm enough to crank the big motor and make a run.

We ran to a stretch of main river which was covered by rip rap. Brian stated that this long stretch of bank regularly produced nice smallies. After covering a good bit of water, we realized that it was indeed a slow day, so we better hook up with any bites we did get.

At least twice I had a fish headbutt the jig. Both times the fish nearly took the rod out of my hands. But, when I slammed the rod back, nothing was there. It was frustrating to know I was missing some big fish.

Eventually we got to the end of the rip rap, but Brian pointed to a small cutout on the bank which had a submerged lay down. He explained that there was ALWAYS a smallie in there.

I made the first pitch into the laydown without a bite on the drop. So, I pulled it back in and made a second pitch. This time, I let the jig soak for a second before hopping it. As it settled back, a fish pounded the jig. I set the hook and the fish pulled back. I quickly told Brian I had a winner on the line. He dropped his rod and fished out a nice 4 pound smallie...exactly what we came to catch. And, it was exactly where he thought it was.

We fished a while longer, but I had to get on the road for a family function. While the action wasn't what we hoped, we caught a good number of fish and we bagged a magnum smallie, just as we hoped.

I can't wait to get out there and try it again. Not only was it fun, but it makes me get better at techniques.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Book Review for "Ready Player One"

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"In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he's jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade's devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world's digital confines—puzzles that are based on their creator's obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. 
   But when Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade's going to survive, he'll have to win—and confront the real world he's always been so desperate to escape."

I admit that I was skeptical of purchasing this book. I had read "Snowcrash" a few years ago, and many people had said that the two books were similar in nature. Specifically that almost the entirety of the novel took place in a virtual reality. In both works, the protagonist is a young and poor kid who does just enough in real life to survive in attempt to live in the VR world. "Snowcrash" was hard for me to identify with and follow, so I wasn't sure how I would like this one. 

Initially it was hard to identify with the work because I have never been much of a gamer. Playing video games has been an activity that I enjoy only when there is absolutely nothing else to do. I do realize that I grew up and still currently live in rural America where I can enjoy the outdoors. Considering that the majority of the plot revolved around video games, I was worried if I could follow it.

But what hooked me, like many others, was the fixation on the 1980s and how the pop-culture of the era defined the plot. Though I was a young child, much of this book reminded me of my childhood, so it was easy to identify with the plot's twists and turns, which were dictated by this decade, and not solely by video games. 

After a few chapters that were fairly slow, the book picked up a break-neck pace following the search for the fabled treasure. 

I won't go into the plot, but despite not having any major hooks, the story kept me fixated to the very end, which was a pretty predictable yet satisfying one.  There were some aspects of the plot I thought were tacky or loose. Overall, it was a solid plot. 

I read this book in 4 days and would have read it faster if I could. 

I have very high praise for this book. Though I have nothing in common with the protagonist, his plight is well laid out and understandable. His character, as well as most of the others, are well developed yet predictable. He was portrayed as loyal, resourceful, and very human. Unlike many works, I could picture him and know his reactions before he actually did them because I became very understanding of Wade. 

Despite being a story fixated on finding a treasure inside a VR world with nothing but 70s and 80s knowledge, the book shared some very interesting life lessons and also painted a very real picture of the future of the human condition. I think I found that to be the most impressive aspect of this book. That is, it taught it's readers a lesson about what our future could be like and why we should try and avoid it...but without beating us over the head with it. It was very subtle, yet very effective. 

I have to say that it is one of the best pieces I have read. 

4.5 out of 5 Stars. 

The Outback Bowl Experience

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In case you missed it, I covered the Outback Review a few days ago, which is dedicated to the X's and O's of the game. Since we turned this into a family vacation, I figured I would do a write up on our experience. We had a great time and we did it on a slim budget. 

So, Alyse had to work half a day on the 30th, so we couldn't exactly make it to Tampa. We decided to stop on the south side of Atlanta. That was a mistake. The Choice Hotel's branch we stayed in was a colossal failure. The hot tub didn't work (which i needed because I am old and my bum doesn't take long car rides anymore). The pool had a film on the surface and the pool area had mosquitoes...which I didn't think was possible. To add injury to insult, the toilet essentially exploded. Come 7am, we were O-U-T. 

We arrived in Clearwater, Florida shortly before sundown on New Year's Eve. After making good time by keeping my foot on the floor of the Acura, which features a 3.5 liter V6 and rear seats with 3 kids 24 inches from your ears....I needed a walk on the beach. Even if it was chilly and nearly dark. 

After a leisurely stroll on the beach, we wanted to grab some eats. I am a seafood junky at heart. So, we used the handy Urban Spoon app. It directed us to PJ's Oyster Bar. Surprisingly, we got right in, despite the New Year's Eve crowd. So, I had to have some oysters. And..I convinced Aubree to have some too. She had 2 before she politely declined to have any more....meanwhile she looked ready to vomit. HA! 

After that..the seafood feast featuring lobster and crab, of course! The food and service were top notch, despite how busy they were!

The next morning, we were up and at it, heading to Raymond James Stadium to see the Tiger's play! Parking was cheap-ish and easy. It was a short jaunt to the stadium! We warned Aubree it would be chilly that morning. She didn't listen. 

The pregame festivities were really cool. We watched both bands and cheer squads perform in front of the stadium. Tiger walk started 10 minutes early, so we missed it by seconds. Poo poo. 

We were some of the first into the stadium. We found our seats and ordered an early lunch: 2 hotdogs, a BBQ sandwich, loaded nachos, and a large Coke. $56 dollars later...

We watched the team warm up in our endzone and snapped some cool pregame pics! 

Obviously we lost the game, but the kids had a GREAT time (except Aubree, what was TICKED that we lost). Auburn has lost the last two games that Aubree has attended (Iron Bowl and the Outback Bowl). She isn't takign it so well. The good news is, Griffin is FINALLY getting into football. He actually watched the game, but was quiet. The day after the game, we were sitting on the beach and he said:

"I don't know why that red team had to win. It's like the defense was playing paper-rock-scissors-shoot!" 

But, the food was good. The fans were having a great time. And the weather was PREFECT! I shot a tons of great pictures, but you need to go to my FaceBook Page to see them.

Finding our car AFTER the game wasn't as easy as we thought. And, everyone had the same idea we had: hit the panic button. I bet we followed the horn to 5 different cars. Getting to the hotel too FOREVER. 

We ate takeout that night and watched Bama lose, which made us feel a little better.

The next two days we spent on the beach where it was 83 degrees and PERFECT! 

Then we enjoyed MORE seafood from LuLu's! 

And then it was back to the real world.....

Here is the amazing part: thanks to all my hotel nights on business, cheap gas, and being frugal (stealing bread, peanut butter and jelly from the hotel for lunch) and sharing dinners, we spent a grand total of $302 bucks, not including tickets.