Wednesday, March 30, 2011

2010 Custom Rods

Thought I would share some info on my first crack at custom rods and lures. When I first started getting serious about bass fishing, I had a friend who made custom rods. These are customized in both aesthetic, ergonomic and in function. Let me tell you something, folks, if you have ever tried to use a rod for a method it isn't made for...you know what I am talking about. It won't cast right. It won't fight fish for you. The back bone isn't in the right place and causes it to fold up on hook sets. It isn't long enough. The list goes on and on. Have a rod made for you...to your specs....for your method...and you will know. When he quit making them for me, I started buying store bought rods. Part of me rejoiced, since the mid range of rods are about 120 dollars, which beats the price  I was paying for custom rods. However, I found that there were issues with store bought rods. They didn't last NEARLY as long. Now, they DID have a warranty, but its like any other warranty you've ever used. And, just because it says that it is a spinner bait rod, doesn't mean it works the way it should with your way of fishing your spinnerbait. I looked and looked. bought cheap rods and expensive rods, but I couldn't get them to do what I wanted them to do. So, what could I do? Could I build my own?

I admit that I am not an artsy guy. Handcrafting isn't my thing. Heck, I can't even draw! My dad is the wood worker and I just didn't get those genes. But, better to try and fail than to not try at all. So, I ordered equipment to make 3 rods. One 6 foot multipurpose rod for alyse, and two heavier rods. Both of the latter would be made with high end guides and reel seats. I wanted them to be pretty, functional, and say something about me. First one, the short 6 footer wasn't great. It works. It catches fish. But it isn't that pretty and I made a lot of mistakes. My finishing work sucked. But at least I showed some artistic ability.

I built the second one for my dad as a frog rod. It turned out about the same. same finishing problems, etc. I was about to give up, but I did some research and found that I just wasn't taking my time. So, on the third attempt, I showed GREAT improvement.


I currently use this as a swimbait rod. It is 7''6', med heavy. It has proper backbone placement, spiral wrapped guides. It cost about 150 dollars to build. Terrific rods. You will not find anything at a store that is comparable to a custom rod.

I ordered another batch of material to make fiberglass cranking rods.  I will post updates to that.

If you are interested in having one made, please contact me.

Tough Conditions!

In an attempt to prefish for tomorrow's Wildcat Tournament, I brought the boat with me to work. I planned on putting in at the Army Recreation area on Redstone Arsenal. It has a small, but nice, ramp with nice docks. After all the rain the last few days, I knew it would be muddy. I was hoping that the high water would push the fish real shallow. Usually the fish will run (or swim?) shallow to take advantage of feeding ground they obviously can't usually get to. This would give me the opportunity to fish wood cover, which I rarely get to do on Guntersville. I have been wanting to work on my jig and plastic throwing, as I don't use them often.

Dad didn't want to fish and Josh had hockey practice. I called up my Buddy TJ, who work in composites on contract with NASA. We have had several graduate classes together and we hang out when we can. He has fished with me several times and usually does better than me..LOL!  I offered him the back deck and he agreed to meet me at the ramp. Immediately, we were awestruck by how high the water really was. It was over the fixed dock by about 6 inches and was almost completely over the rip-rap banks. The water was almost brown. If the water level had been close to average, I might have decided not to fish, but with the water up and a visible current in the channel, I thought it was worth the try. The water was so far up that the ramp was almost submerged and the tailgate of the truck was almost in the water before the boat slid off the trailer.

I wanted to fish the cove that the ramp is in, so we started out casting around the points, up shallow over the rip-rap. It might have been TJ's first cast, but he snagged a NICE fish. It ran right at him and he couldn't keep up to it. The fist shook loose. We spent a few minutes probing and I wanted to try a new method my friend Bertus had told me about. We sat just inside the current, threw out a spinner bait into it, and let the current pull it around the bend. Great tactic. Just didn't work.
I worked a citrus crank bait around the shore with no results. So, I thought we would fish down the bank with my favorite search weapon...the old crankbait. In the dingy water, I elected to use a bright bait with a quick diving profile. So, I grabbed the old Norman N-series.
I trolled us out to the current...and away we went. The current was really ripping. So much so that the Minn Kota Maxxum 70lb thrust trolling motor, on high, would only keep us still in the current.
To make matters worse, there was a cross wind that would blow us toward the bank. It must have been a sustained 15mph wind. If I had to fight the wind, the current over took us. If I ignored the wind, we got blown against rocks and trees (which we did). I did some calculations. If we just drifted at 10 yards from the bank, we averaged one cast every 15 yards. That's no way to search for fish!

The only thing I could do was try to maneuver into eddys. But the current created such a low pressure zone behind the structure, that it would suck the boat into the banks! At least we could sit still against the bank. So we fished every eddy we could find. I found that the fish seemed to be doing the opposite of what I thought they would do (go figure) we marked fish by the hundreds on the Hummingbird 798 sidescan
But, trying to stay on that spot was impossible. Had the current not been bad, we could have picked apart the structure that was holding the fish. I had seen them there before, but just hadn't really paid attention. Sidescan showed large boulders in 22 feet of water. Any other time, its about 17 feet in depth which is reachable with a deep diving crankbait, say...a DD22. But not in this current with the water this high. We zipped down that stretch without a hit.

I fired the motor up and ran us above the launch cove to the upper rip rap bank. On the bank is a secondary ramp, which I assume is for kayaks. First or second cast, hooked a good one. I saw him flash right at the boat. A solid 2.5lb fish. He shook off....somehow. I normally don't have that problem with my fiberglass cranking stick. Next cast, snagged some one's old line. Ugg. But as I fished it in, I noticed that it was attached to a lure in a tree. SCORE!

We zipped down the bank again.  I decided that I was done fighting the current, so we ran down river to the NASA/Army docks ,which are setup for large barges. We cut the motor right in front of a little creek that flowed into the river. Had the river not been up, I never would have noticed this little gold mine. It just looked like a hole in the woods any other time. But now it was a prime staging point. First cast, caught a NICE spot. First one of the year.
As  I boated it, TJ snagged one! First real double of the year! It was a beast!

We floated down to where I REALLY wanted to be, which was the up river point of the cove. There is a huge boulder in 14 feet of water that always holds fish. We got about one cast apiece before we were whisked down river. I got on the trolling motor and eased us out of the current. What I didn't expect were the bank fishermenn. Sure, at night, there are almost Always folks fishing this cover. I know why...it holds alot of fish! there were two dudes sitting on the boulder I wanted to fish. So, we fished alot of other USUALLY productive areas. When we got to the barge tie up, we chatted with an elderly black fellow. He hadn't been doing real well. TJ started snagging white bass and we asked if the gentlemen wanted them. naturally, he did. So, we passed off 3-4 decent white bass to him.

The temperature started to plummet and I knew our chances were slim. So, we ran upriver and called it a day. Any day on the water is a good day. Any day you catch fish is a good day. It's always a good day when you can drive 5 minutes from your office and catch fish!


Monday, March 28, 2011

Daddy Always Wins: Part 2

Friday, I wanted to prefish for the upcoming Ditto Wildcat tournament. There aren't a bunch of honey holes that aren't known on that end of the river. However, I have found that the Army recreational area and ramp provide me access to a section of water that doesn't get fished very often. In fact, I have always caught a lot of fish. While it is about 30 minutes worth of a run from Ditto, fishing virgin water in a tournament is key. After all, the old Stratos ain't out running any one, so I have to stick to areas no one wants to fish...or knows to fish.

Truth be told, I was limited to the amount of gas in the truck and the boat, 'cause I am a poor NASA engineer. After looking at the gauges, it became apparent that I was going somewhere close, and not running very far. I had asked Josh to fish with me, since he would be fishing the tournament with me. He gave me a very soft answer, so I didn't plan on it. But, I brought the boat because I was going to fish one way or the other.

Dad called me about 9am on Friday morning, asking if I wanted to go. I said yes, and told him I planned on fishing the river. I knew the reaction already. He hates the river. Don't ask me why! He wanted to fish Guntersville. I said that I thought it was a bad idea, since the Big Bass Splash http://www.sealeyoutdoors.com/ was taking place. That has 1100 participants, all trying to win big money. I also explained how I was poor and couldn't afford it. Luckily, he volunteered to pay! :-) So to Guntersville we went!

As expected, the place was packed! We headed to our first stop, one of our honey holes. Nothing. I wanted to head to another one, which was very close, but could SEE over 8 boats in it. No big deal. Run to the next spot. Nothing. Well, I take that back. I had a good hit on a carolina rigged baby brush hag. The bass picked it off the bottom and ran right at me, negating the hook set. I decided to get REAL shallow, since the fish should be spawning. Pulled up in some lilly pad stick ups and started throwing a frog. SMACK! One killed the frog but let go. So frustrating to have such a violent hit and miss! I picked up my carolina rig and started pitching, hoping to find that one active fish. Nothing again. That was the way of it. We fished for 3 hours without anything. I was close to giving up, as all the spots I wanted to fish were either swamped, or had been pounded on.

I had one other spot I wanted to try. Preston Island. I had never realyl caught fish there, but Josh always wants to fish it....I guess it's one of those spots they don't tell you about unless they are with you. We fished in front of some really nice houses, along their rip rap banks and boat houses. Nothing. There is a little island sitting in the creek channel, so I trolled us over to it. Nothing special, expcet for some downed timber and structure. As we trolled along, I noticed a lot of top water activity in the (suspected) creek channel. They didn't look big and I asusmed they were stripe or white bass. After a few minutes of watching them, and not getting any bites, I though catching something was better than nothing. I trolled over to the area.

I was immediatly surprised that this was NOT the creek channel. It was a big point that came off the island. On either side was 12 feet of water, but directly under us was 2 feet. And there were fish on the bottom. I could see them on the sonar. Why would fish stay still right under a boat? Hmmm....

About then, dad snagged one on a Reaction Innovations Skinny Dipper in Money Shot   :-)
  . Good for him. A random fish. I rolled my eyes.....secretly wishing I would have caught the "glory fish". The one fish that wants to eat. I started throwing a Xcaliber Zell Pop, hoping for a top water hit. As I worked it , I surveyed the area, checked the depth finder, SUCK! One this the Zell Pop as it was sitting still. I LITERALLY bit my rod, which was better than throwing it in the drink. Stupid Rod. All the rod's fault.

Dad picked up another fish. Another football, too. A fat female. From a completely different place! Then a third, from a different place. It seemed like there was no ryme or reason to it at all. Wherever he casts, he caugh fish. Distrout,  I picked up my swim bait rod with a Yum Money Minnow.
But, try as I might,  I couldn't get a hit? Why? The money minnow is more expensive, more realistic, fishes better....I was working it hard, pumping it, letting it fall, dragging it, you name it. So, I watched dad. He slowly reeled it. Just like the Lynyrd Skynyrd albmn. Nothing Fancy. I just thought he was being lazy. But it was working. He caught 5 fish before I caught one. And the one I caught was on the Zell Pop and was short. He hadn't caught a single short fish yet. In fact, I bet he had 13 pounds in his best 5, easy. So, I mimiced what he was doing. Nice and slow, nothine fancy. POW! The fish would nail it, but wouldn't suck it in. They were head butting it, which means they weren't after it to eat it, but to kill it. That doesn't get you too many hook ups.

Seeing my frustration, dad threw a pack of the cheap and ultra plane skinny dippers at me. I swallowed my pride and threaded it on. After several short strikes, finally caught a fish! I bet he was up 10-2  on me by this point.

After a few more minutes, the top water died down, although we were seeing a big fish busting shad against the far bank, next to a lay down tree. I trolled us over. I pitched the swimbait into the tree, threading it through the water logged branches. Bam! I slammed back the rod. I had it hooked up. It ran about two feet and wrapped me around the tree, shook the lure out, then JUMPED right out of the tree, as if to give me "the fin". Right in front of me. Bet it wasn't more than 5 feet. As I retrieved the hook, dad pitched his up in the tree. Set the hook, fought it, lost it. The fish jumped again. We tried in vain to catch this fish. He never quit jumping. He would jump on one side while we were on the other. We would move to that side of the tree, he would jump on the other. We played this game for 15 minutes before giving up.

Although the day was stressfull for me, stress-free dad quietly had a terrific day. That's a joke, of course, he let me have it the entire time. Even as I had to borrow his fish to take pictures!


I think we ended up with 15 keepers with the breakdown being arround 10-5 :-(
Can't beat dad!

Daddy always wins: Part1

Last Sunday, we (mom/dad, wife/kids, Josh/Emily) decided to go to Columbia...well....Sante Fe....and fish the afternoon away. Couldn't have picked a prettier day! We loaded a couple of cars, left Church and grabbed Subway, then hit the road. An hour and a half later, we were casting lines!
I probably haven't said it before, but growing up on this lake, dad taught me only one way to fish. we thew a weightless twirl tail worm. When I started getting serious about my fishing, I had a very large learning curve (of which I am still at the bottom). While I went one direction, trying to learn to do it all, dad went the other way. He will throw different baits, but 99% of the time, he will throw some sort of plastic. He LOVES his lizards! He will throw them anytime, in any weather, at any place. I'm not saying I catch more fish than he...but I feel like I know enough to get fish in any situation.

So, we start fishing. I think I threw a crankbait for awhile, then a spinner bait. I wanted to try out my swimbait rod I built, so I starting throwing a money minnow. Caught me a little one on it. BTW, if you want custom rods, I know a guy who builds quality pieces....LOL
But that was it. Not another fish. But dad caught one. Then another. Then another. On, what else? A lizard. That's great. I thought. Good for dad. Stubbornly I kept throwing my power baits, to no avail. Josh eventually got tired of doing the same thing, picked up a lizard, and started catching fish. Good for Josh. They are catching a few fish. I will catch a lunker and show them how its done. The day wore on and I didn't catch any fish. But the other guys, while slow, were still getting bit and catching fish. Pride finally wore on me, and I went to get a lizard. No lizards. Only a couple of jigs. I HATE jigs. HATE THEM! But catching fish on a hated lure is better than catching nothing! I did end up catching some fish on a jog, bringing my total of jig fish to 4. LOL! I don't know how many fish dad caught, but it was a bunch. You know how it is. As much as you try, you will never be as good as daddy!

Monday, March 21, 2011

MFC Tourney #2

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Tournament time for the MFC!  it was time to fish Wheeler....a lake I haven't ever fished.....

I admit that I was nervous and anxious to get back on the water with these guys after winning the first tournament. What few tournaments I fished in the club last year, I was OWNED. The club isn't what you would expect. it isn't a bunch of nerdy NASA guys who are happy for a few fish at weigh in (insert TONS of irony here). Turns out, most serious fishermen fish as many tournaments as they can. I guess I am not the exception as I once thought. Qualifying for the MFC isn't an exception, so there are a LOT of great fishermen in this club. Since this was a draw tournament, I entered as a boater and drew Deon Smith. Deon is a well experienced fishermen who usually fishes with his son Tim. Last year, they were the ones putting stripes on every one's back. In fact, Tim and Deon finished #1 and #3 respectively last year in the standings. So, although I had NEVER fished that end of the lake before, I felt like between his experience and my luck, we could do well.

The weather had been beautiful the last few days and the water temps were soaring into the high 50s low 60s. With the perigee moon on Friday night, 80 degrees expected all day Saturday, it was sure thing that the fish would be pushed shallow and onto their beds. I had four rods on the front deck that morning: 1/2 ounce  lipless crank for fishing shallow grass, Yum money minnow for enticing reaction bites of fish on beds, Strike King series 4 in citrus shad for fish suspending in the murky water, and a War Eagle 1/2 ounce spinnerbait in blue herring. I had made some phone calls and also did some research. Spring Creek looked to be a good bet. It offered a deep creek channel adjacent to a nice flat. Fish SHOULD be up shallow, and others would be suspended in that creek channel waiting for their turn.

Upon reaching the ramp, I immediately noticed how low the water was. That was REALLY surprising, as we had had SO much rain the previous week. I knew they had been running the flood gates, but they normally wouldn't run it LOWER than the previous pool...would they? Turns out, since Wheeler is so deep and Guntersville is so shallow, they put preference on Guntersville's level more so than Wheeler. It was a little dingy, as expected, but I felt that was a good thing....especially with the cloud cover, though that was unexpected.

So, we motored out to the buoys to have blastoff. After the last boat, I floored it. Deon, being experienced on these waters, immediately yelled at me that there was a sandbar hump. just as I looked at the flasher, I saw the depth run from 30 feet to 2 feet. I jerked it towards the channel, which happens to be in the wake of the previous boat. It isn't the best option, but it was certainly better than running onto a sandbar and losing a motor. Before I could move anywhere else, the boat planed out, hitting about 40mph, just as the boat in front of us cut power! I cut power as well, which happens to be the method of steering in a boat. I don't know HOW close we were to the other boat, but I was fairly puckered up. I don't know if the other boat even noticed. If it had been me, I would have asked to be taken right back to the pier. Good ole Deon just laughed and said: "Well, I'm awake now!" I kicked her back into gear and we set a new speed record for the old girl. 55 blazing miles per hour! GPS confirmed! /sarcasm

We started on the main river point. The depth finder showed fish everywhere. Bait fish were busting everywhere. I started seeing dead and dying baitfish floating. About that time I noticed two boats close to use catching alot of fish. But they were catfish. I realized what was going on. The cold front of the morning had caused the fish to feed last night under the full moon. Now the drum and catfish were feeding on the carrion. To punctuate this, I quickly caught a 10 pound drum. Yuck.

The main point didn't yield any fish, but I didn't expect it to because of the unfriendly terrain to spawning. We moved to the little island I had cased the night before. Deon quickly picked up a small fish. Into the live well it went.

But that was the extent of the action. From 7:30 until 2:00, I cast and cast and cast. Deon threw finesse baits while I tried to at least find a kicker fish. Deon and I at least had good conversation and it was a welcome relief from the frustration. We ran to every type of terrain imaginable. I suggested that we consider calling it, but we persuaded me with a story about winning a tournament on one fish. I just couldn't see how we couldn't even snag a random fish over 7 hours! I started to reflect on how smug I had been in the last few weeks about my abilities. Maybe I wasn't as good as I thought I was. Maybe I really didn't have a clue. The only thing that kept me covering water was Deon talking me up. Ok, that isn't entirely true....the caveman in my head (my wife says that's all that's in there) kept me from giving up. I was going to catch a fish and it didn't matter how big it was. But reality began to set in as we headed back towards the launch.

When we arrived, we were in a line of boats waiting from launch space. There was a boat in front and a boat behind, both fishing while waiting. I noticed a little draw in the bank, possibly from an old creek. If there was a fish in First Creek, it was here. I also noticed that the boat in front of me had turned to face me and we were in a race to get there first. 5 minutes until weigh in.

I threw the old series 4 strike king, dragging it across a shell bed, which the bait catches and releases....feeling just like a fish sometimes. So much so that I didn't noticed I had a fish on until it jumped. If swung it over. If nothing else, I hadn't been swamped. Never mind that it took me 8 hours. Never mind that it cost me a day of my time, and hour of driving and all the gas money. I dumped the fish in the livewell. It might be embarrassing, but I was weighing these two short fish, no matter what.

We got the boat put on the trailor and pulled into a spot. I walked over to the scales to see a weigh in of 3 fish. I heard the commotion and the laughs. Mark Sloan, a pretty good fisherman, was weighing in 3 fish. What I didn't pick up on was that they weren't laughing at Mark for catching 3 fish. They were laughing that out of the 5 boats that had pulled out, he was the only one that weighed in fish. A whopping 7.96 pounds including a respectably 3.4 big fish. That meant there were only 3 boats left, including us!

I almost jumped for joy. I had never been so happy to weigh in two fish. We weighed in at 2.53 pounds for second place. The next boat, Deon's son Tim and his partner Ross weighed in 3 fish for 3.56. Well, the joy seemed short lived. With one boat to go, almost anything would knock us out of the money. Literally anything. A single good fish. But the last boat pulled in and loaded up. The members walked towards us, dejected, with no fish. Going once, Twice, Sold. We collected checks!

It was quite a dose of reality for me. 7 boats. 14 fisherman. A total of 10 fish were weighed in. Fishing is such a great sport for this very reason. It offers life lessons all the time. Never think you are better than you are. Always remember that no matter how good you are, you can't make them bite. Lastly, and most importantly. Don't. Ever. Give. Up.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Big Pigs!

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Deer season has been over for about a month now, which means that my father has been interested in fishing for about a month. The problem is, the weather has been pretty crappy on the days that he has wanted to fish. Although willing to sit still for 5 hours at a time, in an uncomfortable tree stand, in the cold and rain (sometimes snow), he is unwilling to fish in the same weather. To each his own, I guess, but I always thought that constant motion keeps you more comfortable.....

But I digress. We have been wanting to hit the water for about two weeks, but the rain has just been torrential. You have to remember, that even when the rain quits, the high water mark isn't for another 24 hours, and even THEN, the mud prevails for days...even weeks! This early in the season, a cold front can dump enough cold rain to drop the water temperature by 5 degrees. Although the weather had been beautiful for 3 or four days, we put off a fishing trip to give the water some recovery time.

So, after church yesterday (3-13-11), we loaded up to hit Guntersville...the Big G. Aubree had been begging to go fishing, and this seemed like a good opportunity to bring her. Not only does she enjoy the fishing, but she is usually a good luck charm. 2 out of my 3 biggest fish have been caught with her in the boat.

Of course, nothing with an older boat is easy. After our victory a few weeks ago, we discovered that the trailer jack had come apart. Now it doesn't telescope, forcing us to lift it up manually. Furthermore, I noticed that the main power switch was turned on. I charged the batter for a few minutes, but had doubts, so I decided to throw an extra battery in the boat. Finally, we were on the way.

We passed Honeycomb, which had a parking lot FULL of boats, and as we pulled into Seibold, we could see dozens of boats fishing the flats and humps. The water was definitely stained, but it didn't seem that high.We put the boat in, and i turned the switch to start the motor. Click. Just like I expected. Dead battery. Guess that extra battery was going to pay off. It isn't new for me to spend time under the cowl of the boat. In fact, I don't think I have fished a tournament without having to work on the boat. Sigh. With the Big Bass Splash coming up, I can only dream of winning that boat. Even if I don't care for Legend boats.

Ok. Got the motor going. I wanted to start working on my gameplan for Big Bass Splash, which is the 26th-27th. www.sealyoutdoors.com/paybacks_al.htm
Last year, almost to the day, Josh and I discovered a little tweak to a gameplan that I had been using for weeks. There is a HUGE flat out of Seibold (Im not going to say anything more until after the tournament, although nobody reads this). We found a 4-6 foot contour line which snaked around the shore, about 75 yards offshore. We threw modified swimbaits and had one of the best days ever. I will post about it later. Anyway, the flat has some humps, and is adjacent to the channel.

With the water as muddy as it was(1 foot visibility) and chilled off (53 degrees) I opted for one of my other proven powerbait methods. I went to the Xcaliber XR75 One Knocker in Royal red. While most people prefer the Rayburn Red, I find that the Royal red offers more of a visible spectrum than the Rayburn. Rayburn is a bright red with gold trim. Royal transitions from yellow on the belly to orange, to red, to purple. I feel like, with the water as it is, it can filter certain colors, but not others. I don't know WHAT colors, but it's better to present a variety. As I have said before, almost EVERY rattle bait has 6 or so rattles. The fish can hear them coming. That means that once they learn what that sound is, to get out of the way. The one knocker is a single tungsten rattle. Im not saying no one uses it....but it is about 10 dollars a lure. There isn't a single lure I own that calls in big fish.

We burned down that contour line without a nibble. Not really a surprise. I didn't think the big females were pulled up on the spawning flats yet, but I did expect the males to be there. We swapped sides of the huge slough. Dad spotted a waypoint on the depthfinder that I had added last year. It is a big hump on the side of a creek channel. It dips down to 12 feet and comes up to 2 feet in a hurry. It also has a nice hard bottom, shells and packed clay. I let the XR fall all the way to the bottom. Then I would jerk it up and let it flutter back down. I would drag it across the bottom. Remember, it is shaped like a minnow, but that doesn't mean it can't mimic something else....like crawfish. After all, the fish can't see it in the stained water, but they can FEEL how it moves. You know how a crawfish moves? That's what I was mimicking.

It felt like a stump. Except the line moved. At first it felt like a solid 4 pounder. But the closer it got to the boat, the bigger it got. At the last few yards ( I hadn't seen it yet), it started running deep, which is more like a drum or catfish. Neither would surprise me. In fact, I had just told dad that I thought it was a trashfish when it boiled to the surface. A monster! If Iconelli screams "Monster!" over a four pounder, he would have been in the drink over this one. Dad dipped it and we had a trophy in the boat.


video
Now I had a serious conundrum on my hands. This fish is big enough to mount. It wasn't fattened up yet, which I would have liked...but it was still a pig. Do I take it home? Now, I know what conservationist types will say....I also know that fish like this are rare. I guess I am spoiled, lucky, or both...to have caught some really nice fish...but people go their whole lives without a beast like this. The other factor is, although remote, catching this fish in two weeks would pay out cash at Big Bass Splash. I don't know how much, but at least 2 grand. Yeah. Yeah. Catch the same fish twice? Silly, huh? Well, I have done it. And on a monster fish to boot. Well, pictures are worth a thousand words, so we took some pictures and I revived the fish, watching her swim away. Oh, for this to be two weeks from now! At least I know where she is.

Dad isn't much of a power fisherman like me. He doesn't like crankbaits. But, after this, he became a believer. He started throwing one of his 3 rattle baits. About 30 minutes later, lightening struck twice. He was using a more limber rod than I, so he had a fight on his hands. Where I was using a Magnum crank bait rod with 50lb braid, he was using a tiny graphite rod with.....whatever line he had (which broke TWICE later that day!) After a good fight, we dipped this fish.



Two MASSIVE fish in one day. In one HOUR! I know it was even harder for him not to keep that fish....but I talked him down from sticking it in the livewell. Partly out of conservation. Partly out of greed :-)

At this point, I knew the bite was tough. I always try to get Aubree to catch some fish. After all, kids grow to love fishing for the success, not from the boredom. I made up my mind then, that no matter HOW big the next fish was, she would reel it in.

The wish was granted about an hour later, and little Aubree...5 years old....holding a 8 foot rod.....reeled in her first 4+!

I LOVE the watergun, pink tackle box, and pink worms!

We cut the day short, opting to end with success. You just can't argue with 20 pounds in 3 fish!


Thursday, March 10, 2011

Hook encounters!

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It was looking to be a beautiful Sunday in late spring. With my mother in law convinced to watch the kiddies, I convinced my wife and Josh's fiance Emily, to accompany us on a "day on the water." Of course, day on the water is loosely translated from the word "to fish without the women realizing it". So, with two beautiful ladies and a slow Stratos in tow, we headed off to Guntersville. As soon as the sun was out, out came the bikinis. We didn't argue!


It was early enough in the spring that a cold snap could push the fish off their prespawn and spawning areas, but keep them close enough that they would come out after the water warmed.This was evident to us, as we didn't have a hit the first hour or so. Slowly, as the sun rose in the sky, the fish rose from the deep, coming back to their shallow spawning flats. We picked off a few small fish at a time, and with a little success, the competition began.


Josh and I swapped the lead back and forth. I was yo-yoing an Xcaliber XR-75 One Knocker off the shell beds, ripping it through grass on my fiberglass crankin' stick. Fiberglass rods don't get near the use they used to, as alot of people stick with just graphite. However, I love fiberglass rods, especially for crank baits. They allow the fish to hook themselves because of their superior flexibility. The flexibility also aids in keeping the fish hooked.



I started picking up fish consistently, and as I worked closer to the "hot zone", the size started picking up. I was skipping it across the shell beds, occasionally hooking shells and grass. You then rip it through the water to free the bait from the obstruction. Usually, the bass can't stand this and you get reaction strikes. I brought the bait through some grass, picked up a few blades, ripped it hard, and as it fell, it felt like a ran across a stump! My fiberglass rod doubled over. The fight was on! The fish bulldogged me and I realized it was certainly a keeper. In fact, the fish fought so hard, that one of the guides on the rod busted off and I began to wonder if I would land the fish. But I did.....



Don't get jealous, ladies....I know it's hard!
After easing big momma back in the water, I got back to work. Cast. Yo-yo. Drag. Rip the bait through grass. Yo-yo. Rip the bait through grass. Ripping probably doesn't sound very intimidating, but believe me, you are essentially pulling as hard and as fast as you can on the rod. On one of my rips, the bait was a LITTLE close to the surface. So instead of fighting against the water, it came out and whipped past my head. I watched it in slow motion, like it was from "The Matrix."


Now is the point that I want to talk about Josh. See, Josh USED to be a good...no...GREAT fighter. He was undefeated in the Southern Fighting Alliance and held the belts for both Alabama and Mississippi in mixed martial arts caged combat.


But, here is the catch: Josh can't deal with blood. Well, not his own, anyway. Which is precisely what he saw. All I heard was a THUNK! And "Oh. Oh no." I had just enough time to turn around and spring to the front of the boat before he went over. The problem is, he is about 225 and I am out of shape. So, I eased him to the carpet. "Get me a Gatorade and give me a minute." Was all he could muster. 


Since I replace all the hooks on my crank baits with heavy gauge #2s, there was no cutting the barb off. We tried a variety of methods of getting the hook out. We tried covering the barb. We just dulling it. we did NOT try to rip it out. Eventually it became obvious what we had to do. we numbed the skin and, with a very dull knife, sliced the skin so that the hook could come out. I'd love to tell you that I was upset, but I wasn't. Maybe it was the humor in a 6 foot 225 pound dude with bricks for fists who could lay out anyone, but couldn't take the site of a few drops of his own blood. Maybe it is because I am a masochist. Who knows.

About a month later, frog season was in full swing. I have explained frog fishing, but if you are new, it is an art form or top water fishing. forgive me for the copy and paste:

One of our FAVORITE fishing methods is frog fishing. That is, casting a plastic frog out onto the lily pads or the matted milfoil, and bouncing it around. The bass hit the frog viciously. It takes a special kind of rod and set up to accomplish this. The rod and line must be able to provide a massive hook set through the grass, and a quick retrieve to keep the fish from coming loose in the grass. That’s hard to do with 30 pounds of grass and (hopefully) 5 or more pounds of fish. You use a frog rod. A Rod that is long enough to make incredibly long casts, has enough backbone to provide the hook set, and a line (braid, in this case) that is castable and able to withstand all the effort. It is one of the most infuriating, yet rewarding methods of bass fishing, both in part to the low hook up rate and the incredible acrobatics that you will see. See, the fish can’t see you, and you can’t see them. You can be reeling in the frog and they could blow through the somp 50 yards away just as easily as they can 5 feet…and it often happens…so imagine the adrenaline rush! It’s loud. It’s viscous. It takes a really big rod.  It’s a man’s way of bass fishing.  So, when the somp grows…Zach and Josh will show.
Anyway. The problem with missing fish is this: you have to deliver vicious hook sets because the fish is under a bunch of grass and you have to transfer a LOT of energy. But when you miss, Ole Newton takes over, and that frog is going somewhere.
I am usually not Gung Ho on hook sets, but Josh is. A fish blew up and he give it the old heave ho., but missed. I was out in left field somewhere, minding my own, when this 3/4 ounce ball bearing in a plastic frog cover smacked me in the forehead. I stumbled a few steps, and was staring down the drink....bracing for a man over bored operation. Without missing a beat, he turned to face me.
"Now we are even."

Monday, March 7, 2011

Alien Encounters

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The origination of my fishing heritage lies in a place called Fly Tennessee. It is a tiny town 30 minutes outside of Columbia, right off of the Natchez Trace Parkway. It is an 8 acre, spring fed lake which resides on the homestead of my maternal grandfather’s family. This is where I learned to fish. It was the source of joy in my childhood. Now that I am an adult, it has become a place of relaxation where I bring my kids and camp and teach them to fish. However, it is also a terrific place for me and my friends to relax as well. Every once in awhile, we have a man’s weekend of fishing and camping.

Like all things in life, when men are separated from their responsible significant others, common sense can go right out the window. I have two separate stories which exhibit this behavior:
It was another one of those man trips. It was early summer of 2009 and the “somp”, as Aubree calls it, was just starting to grow. Any of the handful of water grass, weeds, milfoil, or what have you is an affectionately named “somp”. Growing up, I always avoided throwing lures into the somp. Why? Well, I always thought that it would silly for the fish to be in it, since it was nasty. What can you do under all that somp? Turns out, somp is where the big mommas hang out. The grass holds heat during the night, and provides shade during the day. It gives them a perfect ambush spot for feeding. But it presents some trouble in fishing. How do you do it? The grass is heavy. Even if you DO get a hit, how do you get the fish and the 30 pounds of grass in? Enter the frog and frog rod.
The two green rods are frog rods that I have built.

This fish isn't very big, but you wouldn't know it when you haul in 20 pounds fo grass with it
Another fish caught in the somp
One of our FAVORITE fishing methods is frog fishing. That is, casting a plastic frog out onto the lily pads or the matted milfoil, and bouncing it around. The bass hit the frog viciously. It takes a special kind of rod and set up to accomplish this. The rod and line must be able to provide a massive hook set through the grass, and a quick retrieve to keep the fish from coming loose in the grass. That’s hard to do with 30 pounds of grass and (hopefully) 5 or more pounds of fish. You use a frog rod. A Rod that is long enough to make incredibly long casts, has enough backbone to provide the hook set, and a line (braid, in this case) that is castable and able to withstand all the effort. It is one of the most infuriating, yet rewarding methods of bass fishing, both in part to the low hook up rate and the incredible acrobatics that you will see. See, the fish can’t see you, and you can’t see them. You can be reeling in the frog and they could blow through the somp 50 yards away just as easily as they can 5 feet…and it often happens…so imagine the adrenaline rush! It’s loud. It’s viscous. It takes a really big rod.  It’s a man’s way of bass fishing.  So, when the somp grows…Zach and Josh will show.
So, with the weather getting hot, the water level low…concentrating the fish under the somp….we hit the road towards Humphrey Lake. The day was incredible. Every little piece of somp held a fish. Even the little bits along the shore which were only 6 inches long housed a bass…albeit small…which took serious offense to the frog.

After an afternoon of exploding grass and fish, flying frogs knocked to the moon by missed strikes, curses from misses, and exclamations from hooked fish….we settled down to our typical rare steaks and beers.  After a few beers, we relaxed around the campfire, staring across the water. As we talked, we noticed a blinking light in the distance. I immediately dismissed it. It was probably a distance neighbor’s porch light. The wind must be blowing limbs in front of it, making it look like a blinking light.
However, I noticed that the wind wasn’t blowing, and unless my eyes deceived me (which they get thoroughly checked EVERY year as part of a NASA certification for Non-destructive evaluation) the light was green and APPEARED to be moving. I stopped the conversation and told Josh to look at it. He immediately blamed it on the beer and told me to quit being a “weenie” for lack of a better word.
But the light WAS moving. And it WAS becoming more clear. And the clearer it got, the GREENER it got. To me, it looked like it was just yards into the woods on the other side of the lake. That’s when things got real.
We started hearing it. The crash of footsteps in the woods. Then the splashes of feet through the water on the far bank. It was just a big hole in the air with a flashing NEON green light. I started to say something and it stopped. While I couldn’t see it, I just knew it had heard me. I wasn’t hard to see since we had a huge camp fire right in front of us. It stood eerily still. The light just flashing away.
“It’s a freakin’ alien.”  Was all Josh could say. What else could it be? It was neon green, flashing, and just suspended in the air. Hovering. I rummaged through my stuff until I found my trusty 1911 .45.
“If it makes it over here, it’s getting a round put through its head, but unless it swims, it’s got a long way to go.” In order to get to us, it would have to cross a small creek or take a large detour. As if it could hear me, we heard a splash. I racked a round. Josh picked up the closest blunt object he could find, which happened to be an oar. The splashes continued as the neon green light made a bee line to the our side of the lake. Still, even though it was now only 30 yards or so, it was just a hole in the air. A floating neon green flashing light. But while it had taken its time thus far, it was on a dead run towards us. I didn’t even realize what was happening until it was too late. It ran up  the bank, right at us, a big black hole. But suddenly it veered. Where was it going? All we could hear were heavy foot falls and all we could see was the flashing light.
It stopped, now rustling on the other side of the pavilion.
“What’s it doing?” I asked. It heard me. I had done it. If, by some miracle, it had missed us, it now knew we were here. It made up the ground in a hurry. It was over. I lowered the gun as it pounced on Josh. I couldn’t shoot! Josh was bowled over, dropping the oar. Every man for himself! I started to turn and run when the screams started. Except they weren’t screams of horror, but of laughter.
It was a HUGE black dog with a GPS transponder. A coon dog. And even as fast as he had been there, he nosed us over and was gone. I guess we weren’t what he was looking for. At this point, I was nerve racked and tired. We crawled into the tent to sleep. Nothing could have been any more weird and nothing else could possibly happen. Right?
I don’t know how long it was, but a “knock” on the tent woke us both up. I snatched up the gun, which I was now sleeping with and was about ready to let them fly.
“Anybody in there?” Except it wasn’t anything like that. It was more country and had less teeth. It was the hunter, looking for his dog. I don’t have anything else to say about it, other than I thought I heard banjos. I pointed up the hill and covered my head with my pillow.

Tornado encounters

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The origination of my fishing heritage lies in a place called Fly Tennessee. It is a tiny town 30 minutes outside of Columbia, right off of the Natchez Trace Parkway. It is an 8 acre, spring fed lake which resides on the homestead of my maternal grandfather’s family. This is where I learned to fish. It was the source of joy in my childhood. Now that I am an adult, it has become a place of relaxation where I bring my kids and camp and teach them to fish. However, it is also a terrific place for me and my friends to relax as well. Every once in awhile, we have a man’s weekend of fishing and camping.


Like all things in life, when men are separated from their responsible significant others, common sense can go right out the window. I have two separate stories which exhibit this behavior:
In the spring of 2009, Josh and I decided to go on a weekend trip to the Humphrey Lake. As was typical, we took off early Friday and drove the 1.5 hour trip. The weather was perfect. It had been very warm the last few days, and storms were expected early Saturday morning. This USUALLY makes the fish go to active feeding. It was true in this case. We caught fish left and right.



When it started sprinkling, we took shelter in the pavilion, where the tent was set up. The rain on the tin roof was soothing, and we enjoyed a few good laughs and the weather over a few beers and hot steaks.


In the early hours of the morning, the wind woke me up. It was ripping through the hollow. In fact, the wind was blowing the tent flat. So flat that tickled your nose as you laid flat on the ground. We had moved the tent into the center of the pavilion, but soon found that there was no escaping the windblown rain. Soaked and cold, but neither wanting to admit how miserable we were, we laid there listening to the rain. The thunder started up, lightening crashing, trees falling….but neither of us admitted that we were both terrified. Neither of us wanted to be the guy who said “I think it’s time to call it”. Instead, we marshaled our make believe bravado, laid flat on our back, expecting the worst.
Luckily, the winds subsided and we emerged from the tent as day broke. We were exhausted and freezing. It was then that we noticed just how much danger we truly were in. We had survived the Nashville tornado of March 14th, 2009. We celebrated our continued existence with one of the best breakfasts I have ever eaten.

Marshall Fishing Club Tournament 1, 2011

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Well, the first tournament for the Marshall Fishing Club rolled around….finally. This is a club for NASA civil servants and contractors. It couldn’t get here soon enough! Being a buddy tournament, I called my best friend Josh…whom fishes with me on weekly basis. We have fished many a tournament together and usually do fairly well. He naturally agreed to fish with me....as long as the boat would actually run (more on this later). I spent all Friday night poured over a topography map looking for the key areas. I felt like, with the rain and the cold front the Thursday night before, that the staged fish would be pushed back deep, out of the mouths of the creeks they had pulled up on. I looked for short sloughs on the river channel…preferably with rip-rap or retaining walls and sharp contour lines. We found a couple of areas we felt would work and marked them down.
 I also spent the evening modifying some crank baits. With all the pressure that the lake had, I felt like bait that could be ripped through grass, but didn’t offer the constant noise of all the other rattle baits would be best. If I could drop it through the grass, on top of their heads, without them being put off by the same-old-same-old racket, maybe I could coax fish that wouldn’t otherwise bite. I took some Academy Sports lipless cranks, drilled them, removed the rattles, and epoxied them back up.
With the air in the mid 30s, we slipped the boat into the water and fired the engine up. As many with older boats can attest, sometimes it feels like the battle is half won when the motor fires up. In my case, it was probably truer than most.
 Now...a little back story. A few weeks back at the NATA Open, we had a solid game plan…backed by a 20+ sack, anchored by a 7lb 2oz monster that I caught the day before during a prefish trip with my friend and coworker, John.
The game plan involved a lot of running and gunning….hitting rock ledges and retaining walls for staged fish. Saturday rolled around, and we put the boat in the water amid the hundred or so boats. However, the motor would turn over and over but wouldn’t fire. In fact, the spark plugs weren’t firing at all. We tried to get it to fire all morning to no avail. I even received help from some nice gentlemen who ended up being Marshall club members. (I can’t tell you what that means to have strangers offer help). So, sun burned, tired, and bummed, we loaded the boat up at 11am and called it.
So, you can understand the feeling of elation when the motor kicked over this past Saturday. We ran to the first spot we had marked. It was a narrow slough with one hard clay bottom point and one rip-rap point. We worked the clay bottom point first. Although we marked bait balls, we didn’t get any hits. Thinking maybe the fish were still staged in the mouth of the pocket, we fished a little deeper. We both were throwing a mixture of crank baits. I switched between a blue back citrus shad and my silent lipless crank, while Josh threw various cranks and a ¾ oz War Eagle spinner bait in blue herring. About 50 yards into the slough, I drug the crank bait through the clay bottom and it was inhaled. As I swept it, I knew it was a big fish. “Get the net!” The fish bulldogged me, and I knew it was either a big small mouth or something……else. When it rolled to the surface, I was quite surprised to see a monster cat. Between it’s barbs and my hooks, it took me a solid 10 minutes to free it…all having to listen to “croak croak.”

We swapped banks, moving towards the rip-rap. We were almost to the mouth of the slough when Josh swapped to a clown colored jerk bait on a sissy stick. First cast, it was destroyed. The fish pulled drag. Josh finessed the fish on 6 pound test. When the fish first rolled to the surface, I threw the net down in disgust. The fish was so big and white, I thought it was a trash fish. It wasn’t until Josh screamed some profanities at me that I realized that it was a big bass. I dipped it, even with the curses raining down on me.  We knew it was at least 5 pounds, so we threw it into the front live well…”solitary confinement”, I call it, as the front live well is only big enough for one fish.
That fish started a feeding frenzy at the mouth of the slough. On my next cast, I yo-yo’d the lipless crank off some grass where it was smashed. Josh dipped the fish and I spent another 5 minutes freeing the fish, as it had completely annihilated the bait. It had swallowed one hook entirely and had the other deep in it’s mouth. During my time struggling with the net, Josh boated at least two others. My next cast yielded another. Then another. I caught fish on 3 consecutive casts as did he. The fish slowed down, but we managed a total of 15 in a 30 minute spread.
Just like that, they quit biting. I looked at the clock. 7am. That’s a long time to keep a sack alive. Regardless, we pushed on. We ran down river to the next slough. We tried the same methods, but to no avail. We ran to north Sauty where we watched the future winner of the Everstart tournament sit on a rock in 14 feet of water, needling a swimbait. Again, no takers. We decided to run up river as we had planned.
As we idled out of Sauty, eating a sandwhich, a boat came speeding by us. No joke, folks. 6 feet. They were doing at least 50 and drenched us in spray. Although there were dozens of retorts I had in the back of my mind, none of them would come out. All I could do was yell.. "Hey!" Being in a slower boat, there wasn’t much I could do. So I swapped fuel tanks (since I get crappy mileage) and with the boat trimmed out, we ran from North Sauty to B.B. Comer. About a mile from Comer bridge, the motor started to buck and the speed dropped from 55 to 35. It was then that I started the old noodle thinking….Did I put oil in BOTH tanks? Did I put it in only one? But even at idle, it sounded like it was just missing a cylinder. I pulled the cowl off and sure enough, one of the wires had worked loose. Whew. Disaster averted, we pressed on.
We fished around the bridge with no takers. The highlight of the afternoon took place at the bridge. I was cranking my way around a point next to the bridge, right in front of some bank fishermen. I was cleaning the grass off the crank by slapping it against the water. I picked up the crank and noticed the line was a little worn. Oh well. I was too lazy to retie it. Next cast, I caught more grass. I slapped it against the water, back and forth. Back and forth. Back and….The lure was off to the moon. The bank fishermen laughed at me. A 3 pack a day laugh you couldn’t miss from across the lake…as I watched the lure skyrocket. I pretended it didn’t happen and retied. They laughed for 10 minutes at my expense.
Time was getting late on us and we had about a 3 mile haul. Time to get going. I hopped back in the driver seat and turned the motor over. It would turn and turn…but it didn’t sound just right. Having had this happen a dozen times, I didn’t flinch at all. I sat there for a second, listening. I heard a hum from the back of the boat. Sure enough, the trim switch had gotten jammed in the down position, running the battery low. It wasn’t dead, but it was dead such that the over ride on the motor wouldn’t kick on. At less than a certain amount of amps, the motor won’t run. Terrific. Not that big of a deal, really. But it’s always something.

We knew the day had been rough for a lot of people, and we felt pretty good about our sack. I guess we might have even been a LITTLE cocky. So you can imagine the surprise when a fellow club team posted a weight less than a half pound off of us and a big fish within a few ounces. Either way, the day was event filled for us. We posted a sack of right at 16.25 and a big fish of 5.25. There were over 100 pounds caught by our club…even on a rough day. It was a blast, as usual, and I look forward to getting striped by these guys at the next event.