Friday, April 22, 2011

Ditto Wildcat Tournament, April 21st

As it has done the past few weeks, come Wednesday night, the rain was pouring. This week, even more rain was expected on Friday. That muddy water ripping at 3-4mph sure makes the fishing awfully tough!Despite everyone telling me it would thunderstorm all day Thursday, I brought the boat to work. Dad and Uncle Jeff WERE going to fish against us, but they lost the nerve. Alyse said I was wasting my time. Someone was smiling on me, though, and my bet won out. It never rained after early Thursday morning. I was running a little late for leaving work, since we had some new (and awesome) rocket parts come in which needed to be inspected. So, I recalled that TJ and I had only used a little gas last week, so I skipped the gas station (and lightening my wallet by another 30 least!)

Josh and I met up at Ditto and prepared the boat. There were about 8 boats or so to fish against us. We weren't surprised to see how high the water was. Josh remarked that it wasn't QUITE high enough for a "trash can bite", which is when the parking lot is so full that you can catch fish LITERALLY off of trash cans and picnic tables.

We would, once again, try our luck down river while everyone else ran up river. Josh remarked about the definition of insanity.....and he is probably right! With the amount of "boat killers" afloat, we strapped on our life vests and prepared for close quarters combat with logs and debris. One other boat did decide to go down river, and they rocketed off in front of us. Being an old racer, I thought about racing them...but decided to stick in their wake and let them find all the limbs and logs at 60 rather than doing it ourselves. As it turned out, we couldn't or wouldn't be running wide open anyway, because in skipping the gas station, I had over estimated our gas capacity. We had a quarter tank in one and a little less than half a tank in the other. a little scary....since running wide open to Redstone Rec area is a full tank! But, being a cheap engineer, I knew that running 75% throttle saves about double the gas. About halfway there, there was a bump, and the motor shuttered. It wa running wide open but we weren't going very fast. I braced for the worst and shut the engine down. luckily we had just hit a small piece of trash which had gotten lodged behind the motor, creating a bit of drag. With the 4mph current, we coasted at 48mph., taking 15 minutes to coast into the area we have been fishing.

We start at the little creek just up river of the NASA barge tie ups....again, you have probably read about it already.

Since I am both lazy and unable to run a trolling motor against the current AND fish, I let Josh do it.
Sitting on the "eddy line" as we have been doing, I quickly caught two NICE white bass by bumping my strike king blue powder chartreuse series 3 off of the chunk rock bottom.  Was really burning the bait until it struck the rock and I would let it float.

This fish came unbuttoned as I swung him over, and he just sat there in the seat. I just told him that if he wasn't interested in getting out, then he could just sit there.

A few minutes later, I hung into a NICE fish. GET THE NET! I fought him to the boat and we never saw him until Josh netted him. My stomach sank. Freakin' drum. I HATE catching them. They stink, they are slimy, and they ALWAYS get the hooks caught in the net. I took 10 minutes to free the bait from the net!

The good news was, on the next cast, I caught our first keeper!

Josh pulled us up close to the creek inlet and started flipping into the cover. First cast, I was watching, and the line slammed to the side as a fish picked up the shaky head and ran. Josh set the hook and broke off! It was just like you see the pros...minus the breaking. We were mere feet from the fish!

He quickly threw a jig in there, the fish took it again, and he swung and missed. The jig flew past my head, but my "Matrix" like reflexes dodged it..haha.

We caught a few short fish and floated down the rip rap bank toward the entrance of the barge tie up. Turns out, the only boat other than us that went down river was fishing right where we wanted to be, which was on the inside barge tie up. That was no problem. It happens. So we stuck to fishing the point, which we would fish anyway. There is good chunk rock out from the point. with the ripping current, and me burning the bait, I was getting caught up a lot.When I didn't get hung up, I caught fish on the Strike King 6XD in Sexy shad.

Josh was throwing the shaky head into submerged bushes. As we chatted with the other boat, we managed to pull about 3 short fish right in front of them. The more they talked, the closer they got...HAHA! It's all good, though. Neither boat had anything to speak of, so it didn't much matter. Quickly enough, they fished the other side of the rip rap and ran down river. Just as they left, a bank beater was chuck-and-charling his way towards us, Zebcos in hand. He set up shop on the point and threw about 3 different rods out. The guy could really cast! He had lines in all directions and out about 50 yards......which I proceeded to catch about 5 different times. Every time I thought I was throwing away from him, I managed to catch him.

Meanwhile, Josh was back to flipping next to the tie up and landed a NICE fish...about 2.5 pounds.

We started to notice a little top water feeding frenzy, so we both started throwing Zell-pops.
 Oh to get on a top water bite! It paid off quickly as I landed another keeper on the Zell Pop. In the next 15 minutes, we managed to catch about 10 fish on top water around the 3 sides of the cove. I am fairly certain we caught over 20 fish in the 2 hours we were able to fish.  But nothing to speak of...:-(

With 30 minutes to weigh in, we started the motor and hoped we had enough gas to get back. Add to the the nerve wracking bit about driving in the dark with boat killers on the prowl...and I was a little nervous!  But we made it back. We came up more than a little short, as it took 15 pounds to win. Wow! I heard they caught them flipping, and it doesn't surprise me since our largest fish was caught by flipping and we missed another good one.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Fish have a memory....or do they?

This isn't a new post. In fact, this fishing trip happened over 2.5 years ago...but for some reason, I just got around to posting it.

It was a boring day at work, late August of 2009. Alyse wasn't working yet and Griffin was "relatively" easy to keep up with, being only a few months old. So, nothing better on a hot August day than frog fishing. I don't have to talk about my love for frog fishing any more than I already have.....

So, we headed to Humphrey lake. The summer pool at Humphrey lake is very small. I estimate that summer pool is about 4 feet lower than winter pool. With the addition of moss/grass (to be referred to from now on as "Somp" courtesy of Aubree), fish become grouped into tight clusters, mostly under the somp. This makes them easy pickins' for froggin'.

I usually swap between Spro, Snag Proof, and a hand full of solid belly frogs. I use the Snag Proof and Spro on thick matted vegetation because you can make them give the action you want. However, the Spro doesn't compress as easy, which requires a bit more finesse. However, they last longer than the Snag Proofs, which tear up very easy because they do compress. On this day, I stuck to the Snag Proofs. In these pictures, you can see two different color combinations. One is a black with freckles. The other is Shamu:

I also like Tweety:
Weird combinations, I know! But they flat catch fish!

I use the solid plastics for dispersed grass, utilizing their own kicking motion. I use the Ribbit bullfrog a good bit, as opposed to the Yums. I LIKE the Yums because they are cheap and are the perfect size, but if they are left in the heat, the legs loose their paddling ability. Conversely, the two toned Bullfrogs delaminate because of the two different pours associated with making two colors. I KNOW this, because I have similar problems with my baits.

I started out fishing the banks, casting to any spot of somp bigger than 6 inches in diameter. Fish, if they were under the somp, would instinctively NAIL the frog. I picked up a few fish by bank beating:

Nothing big, but it makes life fun. On this last picture, I was talking on the phone with the frog dangling just inches off the bank when this fish knocked it. I didn't even have to reel, I just swung it over. There is NOTHING like the thrill of a savage frog bite!

Of course, the greatest disappointment is missing fish on the frog. When something it weather, appetite, whatever....the fish will still hit it, but "slap" at it. Sometimes just swirling on the frog, other times knocking it clear out of the water.

I was on the far side of the lake, casting to the same group of stick ups, surrounded by somp, and the same fish kept hitting....and missing. I could tell it was a good fish, which just made it worse! 2,3, even 4 casts in a row, the fish would hit it and not hook up. I noticed that the hits were coming right when I was jerking the bait off of a pause. So, I cast it out, jerked it a few times, then "dead sticked" the frog....AKA, let it sit.

The fish crushed it. I mean, just obliterated it! So fast, I couldn't tell how big it was. Being on an Ultra heavy rod with braided line, I couldn't tell by the fight how big it was that way, either. As you can see from the pictures above, the water is covered with somp, so I didn't get a good look until I beached the fish.

It was so big, Aubree was terrified of it! My wife can attest that I jumped around like a little girl when I saw this fish! I screamed and screamed like I was a 12 year old at a Justin Beiber concert!

After a plethora of pictures, I released her back in the wild. With the spirit of adventure, suddenly Aubree wanted to go with me.

however, at this point I had fished all the areas I could get to by foot. So I loaded her in the little flat bottom boat and paddled us out. It had been about 15 minutes since I had released the beast, I didn't think anything I could do could own up to that...especially in such a small lake.

On the first cast....

That's right. Not only was it the same size...the same bait....the same place....It was the SAME FISH! How does a fish THAT old get THAT dumb? I guess it isn't true what they say. Apparently they don't learn!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Ditto Wildcat Tournament, April 14th

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Well, it was that time again! The day of the week I look forward to. Thursday night Ditto Wildcat tournament. If I am not mistaken, this is the 3rd or 4th this year. Josh couldn't fish with me and Dad was planning on turkey hunting. So, I called up TJ, who agreed to go. If you will recall, I fished a few weeks ago with Josh and we didn't do very well. That's not to say it was unexpected. This time of year, the good fish are caught near the dam...which is a stroke in the old Stratos. When you are talking about winning MAYBE $100 just isn't cost beneficent. There aren't many alternatives. Upriver is a collection of community holes such as Hobb's Island, Butler Basin, and Flint River. All of these areas hold fish, and I have always caught fish at one or all of these on any given trip. The problem is, that so has every one else.

As we motored out into the channel, I counted at LEAST 16 boats, all pointed up river. Seeing that I will be in the back of the pack, if not the slowest, I won't be making any of those community holes first. So, I pointed her down river. Again, you will recall that I tried this tactic last tournament with little success. The places down river, such as the Army Recreation area and the NASA barge ties, will hold fish, but get beat to death by bank beaters. Also, they just aren't setup that well for spawning fish. But that's better than fishing behind 15 other boats!

We shot down river as fast as the Johnson 150 would take us, arriving about 10 minutes later at the NASA barge tie ups. The current was about 1.5mph, 2 feet or so of visibility. Water temp was about 63 degrees. Here is a picture of the places we fished and where we caught fish:
The first spot we fished, which is the furthest upriver, has been relatively good to us the last few weeks. If you recall, we are sitting against the downriver bank, casting the the "eddy line" created by the current. There is a series of rocks that seem to hold fish. Although it is adjacent to 30 feet of water, the entire little cove is less than 2 feet. TJ quickly caught a short fish with a fire tiger shallow crank. Meanwhile, I cast a mixture of War Eagle blue herring spinner bait, slow rolling it against the bottom and bumping rocks, and a strike king series 3 citrus shad.

However, all I caught was a tree with the spinner bait. As I jerked the 6 foot 6 inch medium heavy St. Croix Premier rod around, it broke in half. $120 dollars, gone. UGG!!! Don't tell my wife! That's ok, I didn't like it anyway.

There goes any potential profits, though. Guess that means I get to build me my own spinnerbait rod. Take the good with the bad, make lemonade and all that jazz.

the more we sat in this spot, the worse it smelled. Like a dead animal. I started to wonder if that woodland creature we saw a few weeks ago had died. The smell was so bad that we abandoned the spot and floated down.

Fishing a set of downed timber and the end of the rip rap, I hooked into a solid fish and swung it aboard. It was 2.5 pounds and we could make a solid sack out of it! It wasn't quite a money fish, but it was something to build on!

We fished the area quickly and onto the bend in front of the tie ups. No takers, though I had several hard bumps. we noticed that the smell was getting worse! I finally figured it out as we got to the the concrete slab. The gentleman fishing was fishing with the foulest smelling bait I had ever smelled. As you can see by our map, we made an about face. As we neared the cylindrical pile-on, I cast a Model 6XD in sexy against the eddy line and got a solid bite. It didn't feel large, but when it surfaced at the boat, it was a good 3 pounder! That COULD be a money fish. I was pumped! Even if we only got 3 more bites, we had a solid chance!

Next cast, however, I was so hyped up that I didn't pay attention that the bait was wrapped around the rod and I threw it a billion miles....without a line attached. Fortunately, it I got it back :-)

Without any more bites...and a strong smell on the wind, we hopped upriver to the Rec area. No bites. Although I admit that I didn't fish long because it was over run with bank beaters, and I respect them and their right to fish. So, even against my better financial judgement, we ran all the way to the upriver point of Hobbs Island.

The current was WHIPPING us along. The gar were out in force, and  I figured that we were in the right spot if they were feeding. I was quickly rewarded with a measuring (when stretched) fish. However, the money spot isn't on the rip rap bank, but rather the flat area in front of the point, which extends about 50 yards. I just couldn't keep the boat on it, although the fish finder was going crazy! This summer, this is where we will catch a lot of our fish.

After two trips down the bank, several little fish caught, we shot down to Butler basin. However, there were at LEAST 5 boats in there and we didn't get to fish it.

As we idled out, and I let the motor eat...I forgot to pull the trolling motor up, and TJ and I got SOAKED! Insult to injury!

We were hoping that everyone else was having a tough day, but I knew better.

It took 11 pounds to win, and 2nd and 3rd place had 10 pounds or so. big fish was 3.5 pounds, so I wasn't too far outside on that.  We were midpack again, and I am not too upset. They all ran to the dam to catch fish and I could do that. It just costs too much money! You know, 4 bucks a gallon and all.

I really want to learn the down river section, as it is "dead water" to most people. It's between 565 and area that just doesn't get fished.

Oh well. Good fish were caught, good time was had!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Guntersville, April 8th

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With the looming (and now defunct) government shutdown, dad and I decided that Friday was a good day to go if any day were a bad day!

Aubree and Alyse were off to visit my sister in Arkansas, so I still had to take Griffin to daycare. Sometimes you have to do what you have to do, even if that means getting on the water at 9am. I don't know if there was a morning bite or not, but we missed it if there was one.

We put in at Seibold, which is the lower end of midlake area. It was absolutely packed with boats. Comanches, iClass, etc. All high end boats plus at least 3 Pro rigs. I guess the folks eliminated from the FLW event at Pickwick decided that it was better to fish here than to go home. Here is a picture of the path we took today in our fishing:
I wanted to try my new swimbaits. So, that's pretty much all I threw all day while dad threw mostly a green pumpkin lizard. We worked a lot of different types of areas including creek channel transitions, 6 foot spawning flats, bank beating, etc. The clarity was very low because of the rain earlier in the week. The wind was really whipping at points in the day. The water temp was back down to 55 or so.

Fairly early in the day, while fishing a 6 foot flat, I hooked into a good fish. I wa throwing my swimbait on my custom swim bait rod. Thinking it would be an awesome PR moment,.....getting pics/vids of me catching them with all my tackle, I told dad to forgo the net and get the camera. The fish jumped a few times, and I could tell it was a chunk. About the time dad got the camera, and the fish got to the boat, it rolled over and looked at me. I could almost hear it snicker as the hook popped out and it went about its way. If only I hadn't been cocky....but, it was within a handle of the boat, so I called handle pick-me-up.

We got really shallow in front of Claysville middle school and dad started getting fish. He was literally throwing the lizard onto the bank and dragging it off. Good fish, too. 2.5 pound footballs. I, however, wasn't so lucky. We fished all the way south to the very back of the cove. I could see sporadic grass that was getting alot of action...but it was too shallow to get very close. It appeared to be early spawners. So, I threw my swimbait up into those holes in the grass. I had about 5 consecutive hits, but none were really eating it. They were bumping it or simply picking it up and moving the bait. I would try to "dead stick" them...letting it sit on the no avail. I swapped to a frog, hoping to get a bigger bite, but had the wimpiest hit on a frog, EVER. It finned it and went on its way. Perhaps the most frustrating part of fishing the spawn is KNOWING a fish is there, making it angry enough to swirl or even hit the bait , but not eat it. I had one hit so hard that it knocked the 3D eyes out of the bait!

After fishing the back of the backwater, we fished the mouth of the sailing club, again with out much luck. Fishing around one of the islands, dad had a hit. It was so light he didn't even feel it. He took up slack and it didn't move. He had cast directly on top of a big fish. The fish chugged for deeper water and dad did his best to keep up with it. Thinking it was hooked good, he gave it a respite while I got the net. Again, luck was against us and the 5+ pound fish spit the lizard and was gone. It was a hoss.

We fished all the way around the island to a spot in front of Marshall Baptist Retreat center. The area between the island and the Center is just a huge shallow flat. Using the Hummingbird 798 with sidescan, we found a lot of fishing suspending in 12 feet of water adjacent to 6 feet. Dad was able to coax a few fish out with the lizard, but I couldn't BUY a fish!

To add insult to injury, this boat...looked like a tricked out Ranger Comanche with dual power-poles came screaming by us, wide open, within about 6-10 feet of us. Close enough to get wet...which is too close. What an inconsiderate jerk. The worst part is that he just stared me down as he flew by. Guess these big shots think the water belongs to them, since we aren't all pros. Ugg. That was the last straw. I had enough, plus we had to get Griffin.

I don't know what it is this year. I had 250 fish by this time last year and now I am on a quarter of it! Sure hope the Thursday night Wildcat is better! I guess the jury is still out on my swimbaits, although I did get a lot of good bites and at least one quality fish to hit.

Monday, April 4, 2011

New molds and designs

At the end of last year, I was finally making baits I was proud of. Unfortunately, I gave them all away. this year, I wanted to be able to make more complex baits. In this round of baits, I started with my favorite color, which is silver minnow. It was a silver base color with silver flake. I wanted chartreuse layers to it, which turned out to be QUITE the adventure to learn to do.

So, this round of baits are either 5 or 3 inches, have inserted rattles, chartreuse layer, hand painted gills, 3-D eyes and are double dipped. If you would like any of them, let me know. They are MUCH prettier in person! I will be adding a page to my blog with product information.

Wildcat Tournament #1, March 31st 2011

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Some of my favorite trips in 2010 were the Thursday night Wildcat Tournaments out of Ditto Landing on Tennessee River. You have something to look forward to all day at work, you blastoff at 5pm and weigh in is 830. If you win, terrific! If not, its still a good time because you didn't pay alot or invest a lot of time. Plus, since you can choose your own partner, there is always great camaraderie!

I missed the first tournament last week. Your kids are always more important, and Aubree had a game. So, Josh and I and were itching to compete! Because most of last years competitors went upriver, and the old Stratos is so slow, Josh and I starting thinking about fishing downriver. In particular, the Army Rec area, NASA barge docks, and the Triana area. Now, this is a pretty far run....longer than most people would invest to prefish. But, being a NASA engineer, I have access to both of these....literally minutes from my office. So, to prefish, I don't even have to fire up the big motor. If you recall, I prefished on the previous Tuesday without much success. That was ok. We know the fish will be there...eventually...but with the weather turmoil, the fish aren't in a hurry to pile in to the specific spots. Starting on that Tuesday, a cold front blew in, and Josh and I both knew that these spots might not be on fire yet. But that was better than going to places we had yet to fish this year.

A few hours before the tournament, I held the Marshall Fishing Club meeting for our tournament this coming Saturday. While speaking to Mark, one of the members, we were poking around the boat and he noticed that the prop on the boat was loose. The prop not was also loose. Upon inspection, we noticed the shear pin to keep the nut from backing off was completely gone. Terrific. Nothing like working on your boat at the ramp just to get it in the water. It was sure better than the alternative. The first time I threw the motor in reverse, the prop would become an UFO...under water flying object. HAHA!

So, with that fixed, Josh picked up, and the boat running and in the water, we blasted off down river. Not surprisingly, there were only a few boats in the tourney, and they were all headed up river. I couldn't say I blamed them. Normally, I wouldn't run full-tilt, as gas mileage becomes a major factor in winning, since the winnings are only around 100 dollars, split 2 ways. That cuts the victory pot A LOT, when you subtract out 30 dollars for gas. But, with limited day light, we decided that the time on the water was more important that the gas money. Off we went. The old boat was MOVING! The GPS recorded 59 mph, another new best. I am not that excited. Quite the opposite. There is an old saying: Motors run the best before they blow. Oh well. Can't do anything about that.

So, we ran down to the NASA barge docks. Actually, it was a little creek channel close to it. We sat in the river channel, throwing into the creek channel. Not takers. We threw into the flooded trees and bushes with no luck. As the current, which was still substantial, pushed us against the bank, something stirred underneath the bank. I couldn't tell what it was, aside that it was mammalian and didn't like my being that close to it. I THOUGHT about throwing a lure up there so I could get it to move around, but Josh warned me that I might not like what I caught.

However, as we floated away from it, we discovered a pattern! There is a "line" in the water, created from the differences between the slack water eddy and the current. If we sat downriver, against the bank, cast up that line, and retrieved either a spinner bait or a crankbait as slowly as possible, we could pick up hits as the lures bounced off the rocks.  I was throwing a Norman Lil' N.
However, most of the hits were fish slapping the lure. It didn't surprise me that it happened. The water was still muddy and 12 degrees cooler than it had been a week before. I quickly changed the front hook to a red number 2 hook. The first fish I caught was a short fish and I couldn't even tell that I had a fish on until it was close to the bank. This wasn't just because it was small, but because it was lethargic AND  I was dragging the crank bait against closely stacked rocks. However, a couple of casts later,  I caught a nice spot. Josh backed up my catch with a NICE white bass. Too bad those don't count. :-(

Off of that spot, we caught 5 or so fish, only one that was unquestionable. In fact, I am pretty sure we threw back at least 2 that WOULD have measured...thought they wouldn't have helped us much.

The only thing I caught the  rest of the day was trees. I was using my lipless crank bait rod, which is 7'11 and extremely heavy and long. I couldn't get the touch on the bait and it showed, as I had one or two lost, and one broken bill.

In retrospect, we should have followed the old adage "Never leave fish". But we did, and we never did catch any reasonable fish, although I did pick up on 14 inch fish late in the day. The final tally was 4 measuring fish for 5 pounds. Although we did throw back a couple that COULD have measured. That weight was mid-pack. 8 pounds won it, with a few ounces separated 1st and 2nd. 3rd was around 6 pounds.

Losing stinks, but the spots we are fishing will heat up in the next few weeks. Can't wait!