Monday, October 31, 2011

Eagle's Wings Benefit Tournament on Lake Tuscaloosa 10/29/11

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One of the highlights of the fishing year has been to fish the Eagle's Wings Benefit.
Here is what they are all about:

Eagles' Wings, Inc. is a non-profit organization that provides day habilitation services for adults with mild, moderate and severe intellectual and physical disabilities, including those who are medically fragile.  We strive to provide a wide array of services to meet their spiritual, physical, emotional, social and vocational needs.  Our primary objective is centered on happiness for each individual in a respectful, secure, nurturing and structured environment which maximizes potential for independence, productivity and integration
with the surrounding community

Now, Lake Tuscaloosa is known for it spots. I have caught a few NICE ones on it. \

Not only is it for a great cause (make sure you read up on what they are all about), but  I get to fish with Alyse's Uncle Tony. Uncle Tony has been fishing his entire life on Lake Tuscaloosa. I doubt there is anyone, save for Pawpaw Doug, his father, who knows the lake better. I have fished 3 tournaments with Tony, and we have finished 2nd, 6th,...and (I won't spoil it, yet)....

So, when I received my flyer for the Benefit, I was writing the check when Uncle Tony called me.

"I just thought I would ask if you wanted to fish with me this year. We have done so well thus far."
"If you will have me, then absolutely. I was about to call you...."

So, we agreed on the terms and he said he would be prefishing and would call me about a week before. And, right as rain, he did so. He explained what we would need to throw. I admit, throwing rattlebaits this time of year was new to me. Up here, it's all about the top water and swim baits (at least to me). Even when I throw them, it's on braided line and it's all about ripping it through the grass. There SURE ain't no grass down there like on the G.  But when Uncle Tony tells you what to do.

The best thing about Uncle Tony is when he talks about the daily plan. It goes a little like this:

"Weather is going to be tough. Cold front moving out. High skies. But we gonna catch a bunch of fish. We gonna run to a few places and catch us a quick limit of spots and slowly cull up through the day. If it gets tough, we gonna get on some bluffs and docks and throw that bitzy jig on 'em. Look for that big bite."

What a great thing to hear...since normally "Weather is going to be tough. Cold front moving out. High skies." means..."We will be lucky to GET a limit."

Like last year, his son (and Alyse's cousin, TJ) would be fishing with his partner. TJ is an accomplished fisherman who is my age. He finished 4th last year and we finished 6th. Not a bad way to represent the Free and Taylor clans!

Finally, the weekend came around and we headed down to Tuscaloosa on Friday night to make the Pre-Tournament dinner. It's free (with your paid entry) for you and a guest. The Northport civic center hosted the event. The BBQ was terrific as always. The people were as warm and inviting as ever....even for a guy wearing an Auburn 2010 National Champions shirt. They gave out door prizes, gave the pre-tourament rules and explained what Eagle's Wings is all about.

We got some good shut eye and made it to the Rock Quarry Landing (the tournament uses split ramps because of the amount of boats in the tournament). Amazingly, there weer only 9 boats at Rocky Quarry. From what I could take, everyone was staying at the upper end of the river to look for largemouth. It's a solid game plan. Spots don't get much bigger than 2 pounds. You can have a solid 9 pound sack of spots and get showed up by a single largemouth with supporting small spots. So, most of those guys were looking for that 5 pound fish. I would be a liar if I said it never works. 2 years ago, we had an 11 pound sack of spots that decimated the field, only to be beaten by a sack of 4 small spots and one 5 pound large. Talk about a crushing defeat......

But Uncle Tony knew the odds. He said that the number of large mouth bass have dwindled in the last few years and he wasn't going to use ANY valuable time to hunt them. I agreed. So did the other 8 boats at the quarry. Most of which Uncle Tony knew. So either only we few knew what we were doing, or the majority of boats were going to whip us.

So, surrounded by $60,000 boats, the old 1980s Venture with the yamaha 90 blasted off #2.....and was quickly passed by the entire field! HAHA!

We didn't have to run far. Here is a picture of the area we fished. I won't give out exact spots, aside to say that we fished main river points. The boat stayed in about 35 feet of water, we cast to grasslines on the shore.

Uncle Tony threw the Strike King Red Eye Shad in the half ounce.

While I threw the same thing with a few caveats. First, I had "silenced" it by drilling it and removing the steel shot and using epoxy to seal it. This trick won me a tournament on Guntersville in February. It's great for fishing pressured areas. I was also fishing it on braid, which is highly visible. After watching Tony catching 3 quick fish off the first stop, I swapped baits to my all time favorite, the Xcalibur 1-knocker.
jerkbait. I adopted it and it paid off in spades.

We had a limit by 8am. Not a big one, but a decent one.

The other tactic that I thought was really interesting was that we never stayed still. I don't mean we ran alot..although we did do that, but Tony stayed on the trolling motor. There were times that we caught fish on consecutive casts, but we continued to zip down the sides of the points.

Even after seeing the proof, I still didn't understand how we were doing this. I am such a bottom and bank oriented fishermen that I had to ask.
"The fish are suspended, sometimes 20-25 feet deep." He told me. Which meant that they were coming up 20 feet to eat our lures. I guess that's what happens on ultra clear lakes. But, when it don't question it.

So, from 6:45 to 9, we skimmed those points and culled our limit time and time again. Sometimes an ounce. Sometimes half an ounce. I finally got the catch ratio to around 2:1, largely because I finally swapped to reels with clear flourocarbon. I also managed to catch 2 fish big enough to say I had a part in our limit.

Then the sun came up and stayed high in the sky without a cloud in site. Not good. The bite died on us. We moved to the rock bluffs and started running down those. I threw a War Eagle spinnerbait in Blue Herring in half ounce.
Again, I was amazed that even though we sat in 50-60 feet of water..10 yards off the bluffs, the fish would come and hit this spinner bait which was only 5 feet under the surface. Getting them to hook up was difficult, however.

Without much luck, we slowed down to throwing jigs. Best fish of the day was caught on the jig. We had 4 GOOD spots, all around 2 pounds each. But we had this one little guy. All we needed to do was cull him up with a 3 pounder and we would have this thing won. I won't lie..I felt good as it was. We had caught 25 fish or so in the 2 hours.

The fishing REALLY slowed down at this point, and we averaged about a fish or so an hour. Still good fish, just no help. I did pick up several on the spinnerbait, even one good one. As I swung him over the boat, the line broke and he flopped on the deck with that 6 dollar bait in his mouth. I have never hustled over a non-keeper as much as I did that fish! I managed to save the bait and boot the fish (gently) overboard.

Kind of bummed I couldn't find that big spot which I had found in the past, we headed up river to the ramp (we fished out of the lower lake, recall, but weigh in was at the other ramp).

I bagged the fish and headed to the scales. I noticed on the big board that there were a TON of Zero'd out boats...meaning they didn't even weigh fish. But, it was early and we were one of the first boats to weigh. I watched the few boats in front of us. 6s and 7s here and there, but mostly 5s. We weighed in our fish. 8.84 pounds. Not bad. Uncle Tony had said that there had been 3 100+ boat tournaments in the last month won with less than 9 pounds. But I knew it wouldn't stand. So, I helped myself to free hotdogs and drinks. 15 minutes later, I looked up at the board. We had been knocked out of 1st and into 2nd...but the numbers looked in, there were only about 5 boats that hadn't weighed in. Meaning, we had a check. I couldn't say I was TOTALLY surprised. 9 pounds of spots is SOLID.

Next thing you know, they call the weigh in done. Taylor and Free were in 3rd. Someone brought in 10 pounds...they had found the missing fish we couldn't find. 2nd had 9.06, which is literally a few drops of water in the fishes mouth from 8.84.

But 3rd pays good...and it certainly feels good with 70+ other boats not getting a check at all.

I will take a free fishing trip ANYDAY. And one where you catch 35 fish is even better! Add in some good country company and you have as good a day as it gets.

Best part is, it is for a great cause.

I want to thank Uncle Tony for his hospitality and faith to ask me to fish with him. He is a better guide than any guide I know...and he doesn't ask a dollar for it. The company is the best part.

Thanks to his son TJ for the good company and laughs. I know he will put it on me next year at this event.

Thanks especially to Eagle's Wing's and all the sponsors who put it on. I hope they do it next year, and if you have a chance to fish it, do so. Lake Tuscaloosa doesn't have the 20+ sacks..but it won't let you strike out, either.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Equipment Review for Duckett Rods

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***UPDATED 2/13***

I have owned the cranking rod for over a year. I have also owned several others. If you can get these through a club, they are a fantastic deal. This will normally run you up to $100, if you ask around. They are tough to beat for that price.

My only gripe, and pretty much every one's gripe, is that the cork butt will crack and fall off. Both of mine have done it, though I can repair rods. Most of the one's my friends have also have this problem. Otherwise, the rods are terrific and hold up.

***Original Post***

So, after playing with one, I decided that it was a good investment. I ordered the 7 foot medium heavy 'crankin stick. I paid the modest amount of money, and a few days later, it arrived. Josh had bought 2 rods at the same time. One was a flipping stick and the other was a multi purpose rod.

Here is the rod. Notice the detail! Split grips, micro guides...

I was amazed at the size of it. It's TINY! My other crankin stick are usually between 3/4 and 1 inch diameter ends. And heavy! This was so light and small. But, upon casting it, I saw where the weight went. I could feel EVERYTHING! I loved it.

However, both Josh and I have had the cork of the end caps break off. It didn't take long either. Maybe a month of use. That really stinks. They do have a good warranty policy. However, I just glued mine back on because I don't like to be without rods.

Over all, I am very pleased with it. The micro guides make it incredibly accurate. It's light weight and very sensitive.

This rod isn't very good for 3/4 ounce crankbaits, but it is perfect for smaller cranks such as a Strike King series 3, or any square bill crank.

Monday, October 24, 2011

MFC Classic 2011 on Guntersville 10/22/11

After 12 tournaments, I was grid locked in Angler of the Year standings. I held a slim 1pt lead over Mark, a fellow MFC Member. So, I had to do some thinking. Mark had really closed the gap on me the last few tournaments. At one point I held a good lead. I looked up about a week ago and I was a single point out, and he had won or at least beat me the last 3-4 tournaments.

So, what could I do? I could go in as a boater, take the chance that the boat actually worked. hope that I caught fish.  But, that left me with a plethora of ways to be beaten. As long as he placed above me, we would tie or he would win. If I struck out, which was possible, it meant that he automatically won. But, if I went in as a non-boater and drew him , I was guaranteed that we would at least tie....that being if he caught the Big Fish. If I didn't draw him, I was in no worse shape. We held a draw and pulled Guntersville, Mink Creek. Terrific. Guntersville had stoned me the last 2 trips out. Guess who I drew. Ole Mark. I literally jumped for joy. That's the most excited I have ever been over a $10 check (member fee for next year).

Of course, being the joker, he suddenly said he couldn't fish...and I retorted that I would happily fish on my own out of my boat...haha. Other members joked that I would knock his fish off if he caught the big one. But we were all just joking. After all, the Classic purse was a hefty one and it made more sense to work together.

It was in the 30s when we launched the boat. As usual, I thought I was bundled up, but I was wrong. As soon as the boat started running down the river, I realized that I was ill-prepared.

Because of the heavy fog, we fished around the highway 79 causeway in Mink. No luck. We fished the little islands inside Mink (look at my other Mink Creek reports). Again, only a few bites and one boated fish.

We decided that we would head up river. Fished inside of North Sauty with no avail. Decided to head way upriver to BB Comer, but the fog was ridiculous! we had to idle through the buoys. We spotted some blow up holes on the "miracle mile" in front of Goose well as half a dozen fishermen. I made a few casts into a hole I had seen minnows jumping with my Spro Dean Rojas edition Bronze eye frog.
A nice fish rolled over on top, but didn't take the hook. I threw back out there, but Mark implored me to "slow down. Way down". Never being to smart for advice, I did so. He had to slow me down even more. Literally to a crawl. The frog didn't even move forward. I just twitched it. The big bass blew up on it, but didn't inhale it(Insert Bill Clinton laugh).

Even though I was upset at missing my first hit of the day (at 9am....mind you), I did realize that Mark had managed to teach me something that should have been intuitive YEARS ago. He taught me that I should have more than 2 speeds on my froggin'. I had fast and faster. He showed me to fish the frog like a finesse plastic. For that, I commend him.

Certainly the trip upriver to Comer Bridge proved to be the most vital move of the day, but his advice is more empowering...give a man a fish...teach a man to fish...and all that.

The combination of the two (spoiler alert) was the difference in winning and loosing. We trolled back and forth on the highlighted route:

The bites were far and few in between. The fish NEVER hooked up the first hit. We had to throw back on top of them and work the bait. Sometimes 405 casts, all taking 2-3 minutes per cast. But we managed a sack, and even culled once.

The most disappointing part of the day was to see Mark bring in the winning fish. While I did catch one that was danger close to the same size, it was very apparent he had the bigger fish in our boat. It went 4.25.

We weighed in and won the classic with 14.5 pounds. Mark and I tied for the NASA MFC Angler of the Year. While it was a tie, I am still Angler of the Year. And yes. I am proud of it.

But it was Luck. All luck. Believe me. Oh, and it was a war of attrition. However, I have learned more this year because of the brilliant fishermen in our club, than I have in my entire fishing lifetime. So, while I have a little title to bestow upon myself, I have something so much greater. Comradeship with my club and the vast knowledge they have granted me.

Table Rock Lake

I guess it was Thanksgiving 2009 when Alyse and I were with our best friends Kevin and Beth in Bass Pro Nashville. We walked past this stand and some dude asks if we would like a FREE VACATION.

Well, yeah....

Short story, it was a Bass Pro promotion for their time shares (well, in conjunction with Blue Green). Which meant that I had to listen to a Time Share Speil. Go google Family Guy time share. That's what I expected. However, no one can convince me to do anything....except my wife. Whom I love and adore.

So, the fam plus my mom made the drive to Big Cedar Lodge. Right on the water. Awesome absolutely beautiful.

The best part, to me, was that they maintained a mini bass pro shop on the water, where you could rent Bass Trackers. So, for a RELATIVELY low cost, I rented a boat for about 4 hours. Not being very prepared, I just took off in the aluminum boat as fast as the 90 horse motor would take me. The first spot I found was a major river point with submerged timber. Several of the tree tops were above water and others were mere feet below the surface.

 I began throwing a C-rig but hung up too many times. I swapped to a Strike King 6XD deep diving crank in Sexy Shad
After working it, I was rewarded!

That proved to be a good spot. Regardless, not having much time, I took off in search of another place. To be honest, I can't remember where it was. But, it was a shallow flat, which is rare on that lake. I was throwing a War Eagle 1/2 ounce spinner bait in blue herring.

It was not a bad trip. Good fish. Short 2 hour trip.

So, I was fortunate enough to come back last week (Oct 16th). Dad and I rented another Bass Tracker. I took him to the same spot. However, 30mph winds and high skies made it impossible to fish. But, with me running the trolling motor, we were still able to catch fish! This on a Zoom magnum lizard.

Not much else to say, other than we had a blast and Table Rock has been another lake that is good to me.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Fishing Report for Oct 12th on Wheeler (Decatur)

One of my fishing buddies and co-workers, Jon, had been telling me about this spot that he had fished as a teenager. It is in a tributary of Wheeler and is too shallow to get a "real" boat in to. So, he had always fished it from the bank. Now as a financially stable adult, he bought kayaks to go fish areas that he couldn't otherwise reach.

I believed his stories of catching dozens of fish a day. Our lake in Tennessee is a lot like that. I SORTA believed what he said about the size of the fish caught. After all, I caught the biggest bass of my life in our lake in Tennessee.
But, the numbers of quality fish that he was promising were...well...let's just say I was skeptical. The other thing is, it's Wheeler. The numbers of 4 and 5 pound fish he talked about...well, I hadn't caught 3 5 pound fish on Wheeler. Ever.

The other thing is, let's be honest, MOST fishermen out there don't consider it REAL bass fishing unless you are in a bass boat. So, does that mean that my fishing report isn't valid? Is it any less of a trip?

Being a cheap engineer, of course I question that. Does that mean that to truly bass fish, I have to spend the effort in getting a boat out? Spending tons of gas money? Getting pulled over by the water police? Does being in a boat without a big motor to propel me to certain doom define fishing? Of course not. So, I was happy to let Jon show me this magic honey hole that no one knows of (and neither will you, since I was sworn to secrecy, alas to say that it is VERY close to Decatur and Ingalls Harbor. There. That ought to make this a worthy read.

So, we met up in and drove to his house, loaded the kayaks and headed on the 20 minutes route to get there. We drove down some muddy back roads, terminating in a gravel ramp. Jon's friend, Short, met us there. I have fished with Short one other time. He is quite the character.

At first glance, the creek looked FAIRLY large. It had a line of submerged timber around 100 yards from where we stood. It extended left to right some 400 yards or so.

What I would soon find out is, this area is flooded during the spring/fall which makes it extend past the tree lines I could see. In fact, the flooded area was larger than I dreamed, and I still never saw the end of it. What I did get to see was flooded timber, flooded corn rows, points, flats...all the things fishermen loved. Except that most fishermen can't get to it, even if they knew it was there.

But that's just a collection of water and shrub. What does it REALLY mean? Well, as many fishermen know, during and after floods, the fish come in droves to flooded lands to feast on newly exposed treasure troves of sustenance. Areas of land that haven't been picked clean of food by other fish. This would explain the numbers and size that Jon had promised. I bet every fish within 5 miles of Decatur streams into the creek bottom when they flood it.

Alas, we fished for an hour without a bite. being in a kayak was a new experience. I had to learn to balance myself so I could cast. I am weird, I know. I must stand to cast. And because I was in a kayak, my arsenal was limited. I flipped into corn rows. I bounced a frog on emerging grass lines. I swam a swim bait through submerged trees. No luck. So, I paddled further and further away until I found and area of action. I was seeing bass busting bait on grassy humps. So, I thew a Lucky Craft Sammy around them.

I had a hit, but it didn't take. I fan casted around to different areas, but I had in my mind to throw back. After a few minutes, I tested the waters again. Twitch Twitch. Bang.
I spied another bass busting, but this one was in the grass, so I tossed my Spro Dean Rojas edition frog out, hopped it on the grass, and the fish pounded it.
While smaller than the first fish, this fish swallowed the frog harder than I had ever seen one swallowed. It had both hook buried. That's impressive.

The wind picked up and made it harder to fish. I spent more time paddling than fishing. Because of that, the bites took longer in between. I had just about lost interest, still tossing the sammy around some flooded stick ups, when this beast annihilated the sammy. It about jerked me out of the boat. And I mean that. I had to sit down before I even set the hook. I am embarrassed to say that I screamed like a girl. So much so, that between the wake coming off the boat and the splash, Jon and Short thought I had fallen in. I bet they were sure of it when they heard my shouting with excitement. They paddled over to inspect me, but found me hoisting a NICE fish.

I have covered a lot of water on Wheeler, and this is the biggest fish I have caught on the lake.

I'm telling you folks. There was nothing like catching this fish on topwater, in a kayak. It was Brutal. That's the closest word to define it.

After I had caught a few more fish on the Sammy, I handed a spare over to Jon, who had not had a real hit, other than running across the back of a carp. On his very first cast, he had a hard hit. It was hilarious.

Over the next hour or so, we caught several more quality fish. I have to say that, out of all my trips on wheeler, this would have been the largest sack that I would have weighed. The best five fish would have gone 14-15 pounds. Guess I learned that bass fishing really isn't about blowing a lot of money on gas and going fast. It really is about the fish.

Thanks Jon!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Wheeler Fishing Report, Oct 10th

As a Federal Employee, I had Columbus Day off. But, the kids didn't. Because my wife has to be at work before the kids can be taken to school, I had to take them. Which means that I wouldn't get on the water until after 8am. Not really a big deal, but it cut into a sizable portion of the morning fishing.

I'll be honest that I wasn't really motivated. I didn't have anyone to go with me. The water hasn't been kind to me this year, as you are well aware. With money being tight, traveling anywhere other than to Wheeler, notably the Rec area, was out of the questions. But, who knows. Maybe it would be one of those days. Might not catch anything big, but maybe I could catch a whole bunch of small ones. I loaded up some drinks and a light lunch and headed onto the Arsenal.

At the gate, the guard asked if I was there for pleasure or business. Of course, I answered which he quickly told me that today only business was allowed on base. So, I told him that I had business, and he waved me through.

After fighting to get the motor started, I decided that I wasn't going to mess around. I had one full tank, and I wanted to catch fish....not look at new places. So, I ran the 3 miles or so to the upper point of Hobbs Island.

I was made very aware of the high rate of wind. It was about 20mph sustained, combined with a good 2-3 mph current. It was impossible to stay on one spot. I did the best I could, casting mostly crank baits, since I am not special enough to be able to run a trolling motor AND finesse fish. I used side scan to located the underwater rock fields we usually fish. However, the water was very low, and while I normally fished these in 10 feet of water, today they were 7 feet. I was amazed at how far out the point of Hobbs extends, too. You wouldn't want to run wide open through there, as it was about 2 feet deep over 50 yards off the point.

Not having any luck, I started looking around and spotted fish busting. I set the trolling motor on high and grabbed my Lucky Craft Sammy.
First cast, I didn't get a hit. So, I quickly cast back out. A fish knocked it hard, but didn't get stuck. But, it frenzied the other fish with him and suddenly they were fighting to see which would get hooked. I drug the first one in, and despite being RIGHT next to the boat, a whole school of 16 inch fish dashed around. Had I been smart, I could have drug a crank through them and prob had caught as many fish as I had rods. Now, how I would keep them from getting tangled, THAT would be impressive.

I took my sweet time getting the fish unhooked, and by the time I was ready to catch another, I had been blown way on down stream. In fact, I couldn't even remember where I was when I caught the first fish. I trolled back up stream, hoping they would bust again, but I never saw them. Instead, I fished down the point of Hobbs. I caught another fish pretty quickly.

I fired the motor up and ran back to where I THOUGHT I had spotted the schooling fish. I was rewarded quickly with a couple of hits. But, I spotted the marine police. And he spotted me. Instead of him motoring further up river, he made a lazy turn. I knew what that mean. And they ALWAYS seem to find you when you are on the fish.

He pulled up, asked for current registration. I dug in the glove box, but I already had a sinking feeling about why he asked for "current" registration. It was a few days past September 30th, which meant I had an expired registration. Of course, he quickly pointed that out.

I explained that the boat was in my dads name, and that I knew he had the registration, but he had just been too busy to put the sticker on the boat. It's hunting season and he is preoccupied with that. I admitted that I hadn't thought about it. Of course, none of that matters. He asked for my boating license. I had the certificate showing I had passed it, but I hadn't added it to my license, and I am sure you all know why. I had JUST renewed my license, and I was NOT about to spend a whole day, plus another XX amount of dollars to add it. The policeman informed me that having a printed out license wasn't actually a license......I am still confounded by that. Regardless, if it isn't on your license, apparently it doesn't matter that you took the course, paid your money, and have proof that you did so.

So, two tickets later, and I was ready to get off the water. It didn't help that during the exchange, I had been blown almost half a mile down river. With the howling wind, the ripping current, and the tickets, I called it quits as 12pm.

Well, almost. I made one more stop in Butler Basin. Didn't have a hit, but I did get up close with this: