Thursday, June 30, 2011

Ditto Landing, June 29th 2011

Alyse has a half day off every week on Wednesday. She asked me if I would take her out on the river. Of course, I was delighted to comply to her request. She met me at the Army Rec ramp with Sonic hotdogs and tater tots!

We launched the boat, idled out to the channel and gunned it for some good shade. Pulling up in some shade across the river, we ate a nice lunch together...something that we rarely get to do. Afterwards, she asked me when I was going to start fishing. Since it was the middle of the day, the water dingy and *relatively cold* at 80 degrees, blue sky, I told her that I wasn't really looking to fish.

After she goaded me into it, I picked up my rods and dipped the trolling motor...   :-)

I wasn't expecting to catch much, considering the conditions, although that I did noticed they were pulling GOOD current...maybe 3mph, so MAYBE we could catch some fish. I fished some rip rap banks next to the Army ramp without luck. We ran up right past Ditto Landing, on the opposite side of the river, where there is an intake for a pumphouse.

I found a little bump in the rip rap, which stuck out about a yard past the rest of the rip rap. There was a little top water action, along with some flipping shad which keyed me in on the area. I threw the sammy a little, without a hit. So, I picked up my crankin' stick with a Rapala DT-7 in Bleeding Olive Shad
First couple of casts,nothing. But we drifted just down river from the spot and I cast upriver, pulling with the current and had a SOLID bump, got him to the boat and he shook off. No big deal, really. It happens. Next cast, another hit...this time got him to the boat.
Nothing big, just a small keeper. I stepped on the trolling motor and positioned us back on the same spot. I repeated the cast and caught several more. But for every fish caught, one shook loose at the was like they really weren't stuck. After a few more casts, I was getting head butts, but not hooking up.

Hot and sweaty, I gave up and we flopped in the water. It is much more fun anyway.

I went up to the point of Hobb's and fished several more rip-rap banks.

I found something that seemed to matter. All my hits were coming off of multi-level rip rap, as in, under water layers of rock. If it was a single rock layer under water, I didn't get hits. But, if there were multiple layers, there were fish on them. I was having to crash the crankbait on the rocks to trigger hits. I don't think they were activly feeding, but instead, ambushing prey of oppurtunity.

Oh, and I caught this guy....

In the end, I only fished a little bit and spent the rest of the time relaxing with Alyse, which was much more rewarding!

Monday, June 20, 2011

MFC Tournament #18, June 18th 2011

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As the pre-tournament meeting drew close, I was very up-in-the-air about how to approach fishing it. Did I want to bring a ringer....someone that knew how to ledge fish? Did I bring dad to fish plastics on shallow transition zones and get my guest pass back? Did I go through the a boater or non boater? I still had questions about the integrity of the motor on the boat, and just to make sure it was running right, I took Alyse and the kids, Josh and Emily out on the boat after our softball game on Thursday night.

Since it worked well, I knew I wanted to enter as a boater. I decided that the ratio of boaters to nonboaters left a good chance that I could draw out and bring whomever I wanted to without burning a guest pass. It didn't happen that way, but I did draw Jack, the Tournament Director for the club. Can't go wrong when you are fishing with the guy that runs the weigh ins, right? This was decided to be a 3 fish tournament and run from 5-1pm. 10 boats entered it ,with standings for Angler of the Year VERY tight! I entered at 3rd in the standings, back from the leader by 5 points. This was a must win...or at least a must keep Mark from winning, else he would be hard to catch down the stretch!

Again, with the weather hot, ledge fishing was sure to be a factor. But I just don't know how to do it. I can't fish water deeper than 10 feet. I want to learn, but learning during a tournament is a recipe for disaster!So, Jack and I came up with a game plan:
We would fish shallow in Mink Creek, a place that I had done fairly well in, hoping to get a quick limit. Factor into that, at least 2 MAJOR tournaments: The TOC Coaches Kick Bass tournament, plus several other large scale tournaments, and it would be tough to fish water that hadn't been fished. So, I hoped that our first spot, 500 yards from the ramp, would produce.

We ran the short distance into Mink. I started with the Sammy, hoping for a quick top water bite. Jack threw an assortment of lures, including Skinny Dippers and a Pop-R. I bagged 3 fish within the first hour, but they were ALL short. Right at the 14.5 inch mark. The sun started coming up and it became evident that we might be in trouble, even at 630-7am.

Already, the gears were turning in my head as I heard literally hundreds of boats screaming down the river. I hadn't thought much past fishing Mink. If the bite were indeed deeper, I didn't have a chance. However, I did think....what if I could find some REAL shallow spots within 30 yards of deep water, which may not get fished much? With the rain having past the night before, perhaps the fish were tight to cover and shallow....having been driven up from the ledges. But where would I find an area with cover, in shallow water, adjacent to deep water? I thought of a place that I had success early in February, where the fish were trying to escape the deep water to come shallow to feed. I had alot of success on this spot, which I hadn't seen many boats fish.

I also knew there were some drains coming out of the rock retaining walls. Whether its a cold lake with warmer rainwater coming out of the drain, or a hot lake with cold water, I always seem to find fish on these spots. So, I cast to the drains. I was still throwing the Sammy...which had been the only bait that had worked thus far. You may recall that last weeks tournament, a bad tie on my part cost me the first place and my favorite Ghost Sammy. I couldn't find a replacement, but Dick's had there for sale for $12. I had swapped the front hook for a VMC red #4 on the front and was fishing on braid.

First cast, nice keeper. Finally, we had something in the live well. I targeted the second of the drains and cast to it. Twitch Twitch Bang. But the fish short struck it and I couldn't get it hooked up. But...maybe we were on to something. I put the rod down and picked up my swim baits, hoping to get a second chance bite. Nope.

As I stared at the sky in anger, I noticed the may fly hatch. They hadn't been there when we was like they JUST hatched! The fish started hitting topwater around us, but I couldn't get them to bite. And why would they when they have a free meal! I did catch another short fish. So, we left the spot with one good fish in the live well. Out of too many options, I headed to a ledge that I had penciled the night before. It was close to an old honey hole, so I thought...if I can't catch the ledge fish, at least I can waste my time where I have caught fish before. We motored over to Church House.
 I fished the up river most island on a really nice looking ledge. The Hummingbird 798 with Side Scan was marking fish like crazy!
I threw mostly a t-Rigged brushhog, but threw the crank bait a little too. Not much luck. But, we did have some excitement when a boat cut us off. I don't mean they went around us to get to a spot first, they went under us...right where we were we weren't even there. Same boat did it to other members of our club too.

So, frustrated, time running out, I thought the best chance we had at filling 2 more slots was in shallow water. So, we motored over to the lower most island, where I had caught a lot of fish. We made a pass quickly, moving from the lower most island, to the middle little island, to the upriver island. The only thing I caught was a nasty gar! I was really excited, as I thought I had a bass who was wrapped around a log. Turns out, it was just a 2 foot long gar....I didn't show him mercy as I retrieved my lure.

It was 12pm now, with an hour to go. One fish in the livewell. We motored back down to the lowermost island, fishing the little cove on the backside. I cast the sammy shallow, up against some reeds. BLAM! Big fish hit it. I had him on until it jumped and threw the sammy about 15 yards. I had Deja Vu of last week. All over again. At least I hadn't lost anything that time around......

I threw a little more to the middle of the cove and within a few casts, had a hit with a solid hookup. It was a measuring fish, but as soon as I had it in the boat, I knew it was in trouble. It was bleeding bad. The lower hook was sank in the underside of the gills. I went to work trying to save the fish, taking off my Costa Del Mar Zanes.

I laid them in the seat as I worked on the fish. When I freed him, he dropped in the seat, nosed under the glasses and then easily flipped them out of the boat and into the water. Gurrgle Gurrgle. $200 gone. Sigh.I can't have anything nice, it seems.

So, I did the best thing I could do. I picked up the rod and cast it. At the time, I thought about how asinine it was that I was throwing top water, on a clear day, at noon, in 90 degree heat and 85 degree water. But, hey, if it works....

And it did. Quickly caught a GOOD fish...I estimated at the time that it was between 3.5 and 4 pounds. We drifted to the center little island...1215 on the clock. I threw tight to cover...literally into the downed trees from the Tornadoes...and was rewarded with 2 identical fish. Suddenly, I didn't feel so bad.

About 5 minutes later, on a similar cast at a downed tree, I came up with a monster.
"Money fish!" I yelled at Jack. I prayed that the knot would hold and it did. We boated it, threw it in the front live well. with 45 minutes to weight-in, I told Jack that I would continue to put him on the fish, but I was going to concern myself with the health of the fish. I iced them, and we decided to head in early.

I thought I had no less than 12 pounds in the livewell. Although I was happy to say I culled all 3 fish so late in the day, I knew that one big fish would undo everything we had fought for all day. I watched the guys weigh in and listened to their tales about it being tough. These guys are terrific fisherman, but the sacks were coming in small. It wasn't that the fish were was that they were skinny.

We weighed in our fish...coming out with 8.82, which was good enough for 1st! The next weights were 7.14 and 6.81.

The competition for 3rd was amazing, as three different boats had 6.81, 6.61. 6.43 respectively! But I just couldn't get over how skinny the fish were. Like I said, I didn't think we had anything less than 12 pounds! And that 5 pounder I thought I had....3.34 pounds!

So, I am back in the mix for Angler of the Year, although I don't know how. I am sitting in 2nd, but my luck won't hold THAT long. These guys continue to amaze me. Sometimes you join small clubs so you can be the big fish...well, we have nothing but big fish in this club, but I wouldn't have it any other way!

I believe that I caught 11-12 fish. 5 of those were short. I culled another 3-4. All fish were caught on a Lucky Craft Sammy.
Here is where my keepers came from:

Monday, June 13, 2011

MFC Tournament ##5, Ditto Landing

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If I were to say that I wasn't looking forward to this tournament, I'd be a liar. As many of you know, I fish Ditto Landing almost weekly. That isn't to say that I had an advantage, as I have YET to finish in the money out at the Thursday night Wildcat. I could, however, say it might be an advantage that I know where NOT to fish! HA!

Because I wasn't sold that the boat was fixed, I entered the draw as a non-boater and drew Don, who is one of the officers in the club. It was a good draw, for sure..although there are no bad draws in this club. So, we chatted over the game plan on Thursday and decided that we would rather stick to local places, try and get a quick limit and then cover a lot of water in order to look for a larger one. All well and good, if the fish are biting!

At the blast off, we noticed that not only was there no current, but the river was as flat as I have seen on any deep water lake! No current. No wind. No clouds.

We ran up to Butler Basin:
I fished with a Zell Pop:
On the first cast, I had a hit from a small fish. That was bad news, as any angler knows. We didn't have another hit in Butler. It's the strangest thing. You know fish are there, and they are packed deep! You can see the pods of bait, you can see the fish on the depth finder. They just didn't bite.

I did catch my first flipping fish! It was a bream, though :-(

We ran from there to the upper point of Hobb's Island, but there was a boat on it already...and it was exactly where we wanted to be. So, we ran back down river to an area across from Ditto Landing which has a pump house and rip-rap. Again, no takers.

We fished the lower point of Hobb's, and saw some great sign. Big pods of bait fish flipping on the pod after another. Something was obviously chasing them, but we couldn't entice them to bite.

We ran up to the upper point of Hobb's again, and this time found room where we wanted to be.

Because the sun was high, the water still and clear, I elected to swap from a powder blue citrus shad to a more natural colored crankbait, the Rapala DT-7 in Olive Green

And I swapped from the zell pop to a faster moving top water, hoping to keep the fish from getting a good eye full. I went to my Sammy.

Now, as I tied the lure on the 50 pound braid, using a Palomar knot, in the back of my mind, I didn't think I tied it right. however, first cast, caught a short fish. Second cast, caught a keeper. Third cast, BOOM! Big fish!
"GET THE NET!" I yelled. It was a money fish. One of those rare fish on the river...a 5lb+++ fish. One that you know will get you check, even if you don't catch another fish. He jumped and flailed at the boat and I walked him so that Don could get him in the net. The fish acted pretty docile until he saw that net in the water. He made a turn away from the boat and charged, and like a bow on Christmas, it untied with ease and the fish took off with my hopes of a check and my 18 dollar lure. I can't tell you how angry I was. There was NO DOUBT that fish would have won us the tournament, with both a sack weight and big fish, giving me some much needed points in the Angler of the Year. Cussing, I tied on another Sammy and went to work, catching another 2 GOOD spots. The top water died very quickly and I went to work with the crank bait, catching another 2. But then the bite died all together.

We fished another couple of hours on that spot without luck. Don did come through for us and caught another 3 that filled out our limit.

I did catch another 40 pounds of fish though.....

So, we headed back to the ramp with our small limit, though I had hope. If I had such a time catching fish, hopefully so did everyone else. I was right...for the most part. It took 8.11 to win it, with a 2.12 for big fish. We weighed in at 6.67 with 1.94 big fish. My spotted bass I caught missed big fish by 0.2 pounds! Meaning that fish I lost would have easily have won us a bigger check and another 2 points.

I do get the satisfaction of getting the largest spotted bass thus far! So, there is that. I did get to fish with a new partner, so that is always awesome. There is always something to learn when fishing with new partners. And, of course, the good camaraderie with my club members!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Ditto Landing Wildcat, June 9th

You may recall that two weeks ago(my last post) that we had motor problems during the tournament. It went into "limp home mode" and wouldn't operate at wide open throttle. It is a safety feature to keep people like us from destroying motors. I had thought that MAYBE it was a fuel line restriction. Those fuel lines on the older boats aren't made for ethanol, and guess what, almost ALL gas has significant amounts of ethanol.

Alas, that was not the case as Dad and I worked on it days later. We removed the heads off of the motor and found a melted poppet valve.

So, I called my good buddy Chris Lide of the Boatwrench:

(256) 880-0621
11565 Memorial Pkwy Sw
Huntsville, AL 35803

Chris hooked us up with the parts. However, I didn't have enough time to get the boat running. Luckily, my friend Walt, who went to high school with me, was wanting to fish the tournament. So, I offered to pay the entry fee and we were off!

Unfortunately, we *thought* the tournament started at 530, so when I showed up at 445, I had to RUN to pay the entry fee. Walk showed up a few minutes later, but the tournament had blasted off! We decided that we didn't want to be the last boat to the honey hole...which we had decided to go to the dam, and instead ran downriver to the Redstone Army Rec area.

My uncle is always telling me that if I ever rode in a Skeeter, I would never want to buy a Bullet. While that isn't necessarily the case..I will say this: Walt's ZX225 with a Yamaha 225 on the back, was smooth as glass at 70mph. While it doesn't do the 90mph a Bullet will do, it feels awesome at 70. It's almost worth giving up the extra 20. Almost. :-)

So, all of that to say this: The water was a TAD low. There was a minuscule amount of current being pulled, and it was in the high 90s. Excuses aplenty just to say that we couldn't buy a bite. We did catch a 3 pounder, which promptly died on us. I caught a scrapper and Walt caught a good keeper in Butler Basin on a C-Rig.

We ran up to the upper point of Hobb's island and fished the sunken bridge. At 730 or so, the bite started to turn on as both of us starting getting hits on C-rig, throwing towards the river channel from 7 feet of water. But the fish were just picking up the bait and dropping it. Almost as soon as they started hitting it, TVA dropped the water 2 feet and that was it.

I didn't stick around to see what won, but it wasn't much. I only saw 2 5 fish sacks brought in. When I left, 6 pounds was in the money..if not in first. Our two fish was a little over 4 pounds, but a half pound deduction dropped us to 3 14.

Wish I had more to say, folks!

Monday, June 6, 2011

MFC Tournament #6, Guntersville Lake 5/28/11

We (the MFC) are finally in the back half of the season which includes fishing more lakes and tactics that I *usually* feel comfortable with. This tournament was out of Seibold, which Dad and I fish all the time. But, I hadn't been on the Big G in some time and  I was a LITTLE nervous about it since I had heard the fish were moving out deeper to ledges. I started to get in the groove of ledge fishing last year, but Dad has little to no experience in fishing ledges. But since my friend Jon had been catching them by the dozens in the shallows early in the day, I hoped that we could load the boat early and coast the rest of the day. I had a few spots that we could hit early and pick off the active fish, pick up the trolling motor, and run to the next spot.

As usual, I spent Friday afternoon organizing and cleaning. Gotta make sure everything is in order! Even washed the boat for first time in a year!

Dad and I arrived fairly late, and I started the motor as soon as we slipped into the water. It cut off a few minutes later and wouldn't start. I surmise that it sucked up a bunch of grass and started to overheat. It took literally to blast off before we could get it to start. Even then, as we floored it, it was in "limp home mode", which keeps it from operating above a certain RPM. It's so aggravating when it will run just enough...but not enough to get on plane.
HEre is where we fished...although you will notice that I am not marking it up a lot, since we didn't exactly wear the fish out:

So, that shot my idea of milk running.....Seibold is a great area, but it gets heavily fished and when it's off...its off. It really doesn't offer a lot of variation either, so if the pattern isn't just have to run a good bit to find it. Well, when you can't run, it makes it difficult!

I started out throwing a combination of Lucky Craft Sammy, my custom swimbait, and a Spro frog without any takers....strange! I mean, I couldn't BUY a hit. Dad managed to catch a couple of keepers and several shorts on Zoom lizards, mostly in natural colors.

My first solid hook up on the day was around 7am on a Spro frog, one of the new Rojas editions I bought at Gander Mountain. Good fish too! I really like the new series, although they are selling to the fisherman and not the fish!
I had a great blow up...I waited for a second and Let the fish have it...HAZAAAHH!!!! Jerked him up on the grass and started burning the reel home, but after about half a turn, the Citica LOCKED UP!I don't mean that it got hard to flat locked up. I kept pressure on the fish as I hit the release button, tried to get the reel to take in line. The fish stayed put for several seconds until it finally shook off. I don't normally curse. I certainly don't do it around my dad, but that was an exception.

The day didn't get much better for me. We idled to a few different places that we have always had luck with, without many takers. As I said early, in Seibold, it is a whole lot of the same old thing and the terrain seems to go on forever, unchanging. We idled over to an area of seibold that has good stumps. It's where I caught several 7s earlier this year. I even did something I NEVER do! I pitched plastics! I NEVER throw plastics, but I thought that this was a pattern that even stubborn fish would like. I would find the pockets in the grass where the stump were, toss the Ol Monster down there, pop it a few times...without the first bite.

With an hour left to go, we headed over to an area of condos close to the ramp. We had 1 keeper in the boat at this point and that poor fish has been there for 7 hours. But, I take care of my fish. I am a good host! I had given up an everything but the swim bait. I felt like, if anything was going to work, the swim bait would. And it did! The silverminnow with cast in rattle, started getting some big hits!

But, insult to injury, I couldn't keep them buttoned up! I lost two or three fish on consecutive casts, and not the "Oh, I had a hit" misses. The kind where you fight the fish half way to the boat and he gets on his comlink and says "Beam me up, Scotty" and disappears!

I even had a MONSTER come out of the grass next to the boat, and I mean, he hit the boat coming after my lure! I was finishing up a cast and was about to pull the bait out of the water, and this fish comes out from underneath the boat and hits it! Although we might not have won the tournament with him, it would have put us in the money for sure, as it would have culled a very short fish and added 4 pounds at least.

It was enough to put me over the edge. I was fishing mad. Fishing isn't supposed to make you angry or stress you out, but it did that day! But dad and I plugged along the last 15 minutes, and in a sort of miracle, filled out a sack in that last few minutes! I was just happy to have boated a couple of fish, although dad put me to shame! It wasn't worth writing home about, for sure! (although the irony isn't lost on me that I AM writing about it!)

we finished in next to last place with 11 pounds, while it took 20 pounds to win and a big fish of 6.81! That beat the rest of the field by 5 pounds! Best of all, only one fish died out of the 9 boats.

The good new is, that I left there and flew to Miami to pick up my new, to me, car! 1998 Camaro Z/28 hardtop 6 speed.
Now I just have to get the boat running!