Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Best5Chickens 3/31/2015

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After watching my dad raise chickens the last few years (translation: learn all the tricks and tribulations), we are now on the road to raising chickens(and promptly stealing all their eggs). We wanted to start raising them last year, but we knew we would be moving out of the 'burbs and into the country. Well, that's not true....we were open to moving anywhere that had enough room, but we preferred a place that we could....stretch out. That meant, having a garden and chickens without being the ban of our neighbors existence.  Now, considering that we haven't actually met ANY of our new neighbors, it remains to be seen if that will actually happen, regardless. 

So, in case you missed it (likely, since I JUST posted it), we started our preparations for our garden yesterday. You can read about it here:

Best5Garden 2015

Since I managed to misplace half the seeds and I didn't really want to delve into tilling quite yet, I decided to get a jump on our chicken coup. We had a few options when it came to a coupe. We could build a custom one or buy one. A custom one is great because you can build it sturdy, add cool options, and most importantly, build it for as many chickens as you would like. The only downside is, well, you have to build it. And, construction material and tools are prohibitively high. I admit that woodworking tools aren't something I have really invested in. And, I knew my dad had sunk around $1,000 into his coup. I don't have that kind of money.  This isn't a hobby. It's a learning experience that might end up saving us some dough. 

Dad found these chicken coupe kits at Tractor Supply for right at $200. Great deal, right? Just line up the tabs, screw in some hardware, and you are all done, right? Well, sorta. The issue here is that the coup only will house 2-3 birds. In fact, there are only 2 laying boxes. This coup is really meant to raise the chickens to adulthood and then put them in a much bigger coup. But, we are starting small and I can make this work. Also, it was cheap. 

So, I busted out the box and found the instructions, which were very limited...which is great for a man who doesn't really like to read them, anyway. 

In 30 short minutes, I had the whole thing assembled, despite having a 3 year old who was CONVINCED this was meant for him. 

Couple of pointers: don't try to move it without it being nearly fully assembled. Why? It's fairly flimsy. The roof adds most of it's rigidity. So, either build it in the right place (which I actually planned to do...and executed perfectly..whoot) or wait until the roof is on, then use two people to move it. 

Make sure the land you build on is level. It's awfully hard to get the sides lined up on uneven soil. Sounds stupid...until you find out the hard way. 

That's really all I have on pointers. It was easy enough. 

Being an engineer, I couldn't leave it alone without modifying it. The lay box (seen in the bottom right picture, on the left of the structure) has gaps around it's edges. We plan on heating the main house (center-left of the structure) but with the gaps, the heat would bleed out quickly. So, I caulked the gaps. 

The screw holes in the roof were predrilled. I was hoping to not have to put holes in the roof to attach it, but that is part of the design. I don't want the thing rotting, so I caulked the screw holes (after fastening, of course). This will prevent the fasteners from rusting and from the wood rotting where the bare wood around the shingles would be exposed. 

Again, these weren't big modifications. Those might come later.

So, what else do we need? Well, chickens, obviously. But dad has that taken care of.

The next few tasks are:
  1. Fence in the coup
  2. Design an automatic door for the fence. Looking at a solar arrangement, which would be preferred. 
  3. Add a heater. Alyse has looked up solar heaters, which I think I can make happen real easy. That would involve aluminum cans, some grill paint, a vacuum cleaner hose, lexan, and a few pieces of wood. 
  4. Build a water collection and distributor for the chickens. Planning on using a rain barrel setup
  5. Build a food distribution center. Will use PVC and attach to the back of the shop, most likely. 
  6. Find a way to expand the coup to house up to 6 chickens. 
  7. MAYBE build a run around the garden to allow them to eat all the bugs
The kids have loved playing with my dad's chickens, and they offer a ton of benefits, not limited to just the eggs they lay.

Consider the amount of bugs these guys eat. They eat ALL the bugs. Which means, limited affects of bugs on your garden. Additionally, for those in wetter areas, less mosquitoes. 

The chickens produce great poop for composting, both in the amount and the quality. 

And, there are the eggs. Which, they should lay 1 a day, but be safe and consider that you will get a 75% lay rate among your chickens. So, currently, we plan on 5 chickens who lay around 4 eggs a day. Eggs are currently $1 a dozen. So, we need 200 dozen to break even with current investment. So, we are currently at a 600-day to break even investment...not counting by products.

Just keeping it real. 

Anyways....until next time!

Best5Garden 2015

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Well, 2014 was the last garden at our old house. I will kinda miss it. Not really. It was getting really tired of having to kick the dog out of the way so that I could open the fence to get to it. Every year seems to be a learning experience. To read about our 2014 garden, click the link below.

Best5Garden 2014

To say that we have been busy the last month would be a drastic understatement. We have moved. We have to shuttle our kids across the county for school every day. Two of the kids are playing ball, currently. AND our softball seasons are about to start up. Yes, I said SEASONS. We are going to play on only TWO teams this year. 

But gardening is part of who I am, and though I could go without it, the thought of not passing on the experience to my children isn't acceptable. 

In today's society, the first reason anyone think of gardening is for saving money. Though you can certainly save money compared to the asinine prices of fresh produce, if you factor in the cost of all the tools and setup, you aren't really saving money. 

No, the real reasons I want a garden is to remind myself and teach my children some valuable lessons. First and foremost are the lessons learned in successfully growing a garden. Their are tricks and tips. There are pitfalls. There is a lot of problem solving. But, the other intangibles include things such as:
  1. learning to respect for farmers and the hard work they put in, which really is never profitable. 
  2. appreciate the value of manual labor in a society that dodges it at all costs
  3. learning long term planning, the meaning of an investment and appreciating the pay off in a society that values immediate gratification
  4. valuing the taste of fresh food that was paid for by your own sweat, and how much better it is than "fresh produce" bought elsewhere. 
That's only a small smattering of things I want them to learn. 

Ok. So, let's get to it. 

By this time in previous years, I would already have a ton of sprouts growing with my indoor gardening system. That is, a tray and a hanging grow light. But, it is still packed away...somewhere....so I had to wait a little later so that I could use real sunlight. 

Unlike previous years, I plan to limit the number of tomatoes planted. Truth be told, I have nearly a 100% success rate with the seeds and growing system I use. Not only do I normally plant 3 seeds per cups, but I usually had 12 or so cups per type of tomato. Which means that each year, I have to separate out 2 small plants and either replant them or toss them. Additionally, I end up with more plants than I can take care of. 

The past few years, I have used biodegradable cups to plant in. But, the cups I have been using come in a 12 pack that are all attached. When I get ready to plant the individual cups, I have to break them apart. More often than not, it makes a huge mess. Additionally, the roots tend to get wrapped into one another. 

This year I am going with larger individual cups. It will prevent the mess and allow more growing room. 

Yesterday, the kids and I filled up 3 cups for both roma and cherry. Turns out, I had left the seeds for beefsteak and big boy in Alyse's car. I filled each cup 3/4 full of potting mix, then 2 seeds, then topped it off. We then label the cup with the name of the tomato type. After a slight shake to settle it and a light watering, we again topped off the cup with soil. I then place them all into a Rubbermade tote so that I can easily transport them. A side benefit of the tote is that the cups will remain wet, as the water that leaks through will collect in the tote and will be reabsorbed as the plant dries. 

Though I said I will only plant limited amounts of each type, I will plant a few more of the beefsteak and big boys. The cherry and romas are high production rate plants. Additionally, they are nearly impervious to insects and disease, so you need far less of them than the rest. If I had 2 of each, that STILL might be too much. Romas and cherr tomato plants produce in the gallons. I plan on 6 of each of the beefsteak and big boys and will hope for the best. 

We also planted a few herbs such as cilantro and parsley. I admit that I don't have much luck growing herbs, but I have had success in buying half grown plants and raising them.

Additionally, we planted some flowers for mommy. 

What's next on the docket? Plenty. We have to till the land, rake it up, sew in lime and fertilizer...just to get ready to plant.

What else do we plan on planting? Well, on top of the tomato, I plan on a few pepper plants, plenty of okra, squash, cucumbers, and MAYBE beans. 

Afterwards, we got started on our chicken coup! That's right! We are raising chickens!  You can read about it here:

Best5Chickens 3/31/2015

Monday, March 30, 2015

Fishing Report for Wheeler/Elk River 3/28/15

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Saturdays without ball games are going to be rare for the next few months. If it isn't both, it's one or the other. So, when those few Saturdays roll around where there aren't any games....I better get out and fish. John must have been thinking the same thing, because he called me asking if I wanted to get out. I was game, until I looked at the weather. See, contrary to what you may think, I don't watch the weather too close. Part of it is that I am scatterbrained and part is because I simply don't trust the weathermen around here. Why? Because they aren't just wrong most of the time, but are usually about 180 degrees from correct. 

No, weather wasn't the first thing I thought about, but what lake I would like to fish. See, the Big Bass Splash was on Guntersville, which draws every fisherman in 3 states (and probably more) to try their luck at cashing a fat check for 1 fish. Sure, there is over $100,000 in cash handed out, but I don't like the format of the rules. Ok. So, the REAL reason is that I don't think I have enough lucky to catch a fish big enough. 

John had fished Pickwick twice this past week and it had been tough. I believe his exact words were..."I think I've seen enough of Pickwick for awhile."  So that left only two lakes for us: Wilson and Wheeler. 

Now, you may recall that Brad and I wacked the fish pretty good on Wilson, on our way to a solid 3rd place finish in a club tournament last week. If you didn't read about it, go here. Watch the vid. Enjoy. 

Army Cargo Club Tournament on Wilson

That's when I looked at the weather. Monday through Wednesday was awesome. Slight rain on Thursday followed by  a cooling trend on Friday that would end Saturday with a low at 28 degree. It was at that point that I seriously reconsidered fishing at all. But, I had forgotten that the NASA fishing club (called MFC) had a tournament on Wheeler out of Elk River. 


Why EEWW? Well, I guess the Elk gets a bad rap. Some of it's earned, I suppose. Elk is fairly dangerous for boaters because it is pretty shallow. Where it's shallow, it has stumps, lots of them. And, the flotsam and jetsam is everywhere. So, you got to stay in between the buoys. And even between the red and green, you got to go slow. Or at least you SHOULD, but that hasn't stopped plenty of people from losing props and more. 

On top of it's poor geographical features, the word is that that there are no big fish in the Elk.
I've fished the Elk exactly 1 time, and it didn't make it past the first secondary point. 

So, I figured, if I was going to brave the cold, I wanted something to be on the line. Instead of hitting Wilson where I had caught plenty of fish the week before, we decided to fish the place with the bad reputation that I have never fished. So, that's what we would. Makes sense.

So, at 4:45, I was leaving my house to meet John. I hadn't gone more than a mile when something THUMPED the side of my car. 

I am a very wary driver, having grown up in the country and I never saw anything on the side of the road looking to cross. But, I knew exactly what had happened. Something was running full-tilt through the woods, got to the edge and couldn't stop, and ran into the side of my car. I resisted the urge to slam on the brakes, which would likely do more damage. Determining that I didn't have a flat tire and my headlights still worked, I decided to wait until  I wasn't in the middle of nowhere before stopping my car in the middle of the road. 

When I got to John's house, I found hair stuck between the rim and the tire along with....gore. I didn't try and identify the gore. But, no dents. So, I went on with my life and loaded up the boat. 

As I finished dumping my things in the boat, I was climbing down the boat when my phone fell out of my pocket as it has done hundreds of time. That's why I have this awesome Lifeproof case, right? Well, this was the magic time. The screen busted. So, a text to my wife from another man's phone at 5am to let her know to head to AT&T and we were off. Such a wonderful start to my day, and we hadn't even started fishing yet, which I was dreading because I just KNEW the high skies and cold trend would kill any bite. 

John asked me what I thought it would take to win. 8 pounds or 1 good fish. 

The game plan was to stick to the same pattern I had used on Wilson. The main river ledges on Wheeler, just outside of the Elk River inlet, are known to hold small mouth. One of the better smallmouth fishermen I knew was also fishing with us, and when he headed out towards the main river, I knew this was the right decision. I told John that Wilson hadn't been about a particular spot, but about the pattern. Run as fast as we can. Run everything that looks similar. I would throw that square bill and cover a lot of water. If it took 1,000 casts, it wouldn't be too many. 

We started on an island at the mouth of the inlet. It featured 45 degree banks that dropped to 30 feet and had rip-rap. I went to work with my Luhr-Jensen square bill. On the 3rd cast, I had a 2.5 pound largemouth in the boat who had destroyed the crank. He ate it all the way to the front hooks.  It happened so fast that I didn't even have the GoPro on. It's on. 

Never mind. 

3 hours later we had exhausted the island and any main river bluffs, without a single bite. That random fish will get you every time. Remember kids....1 data point doesn't equal a trend. 

It didn't help that the wind was absolutely HOWLING at us. It must have been a 15MPH sustained. Lukcily, I was wearing my H2O XPRESS gear, which has been awesome. It did an excellent job of cutting the 30 degree cold with the wind. If you don't know anything about their jacket and overalls, check out my review of them.

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

So, after giving up, we consulted some of the info we had from other fishermen who frequent the area. They had suggested that we hit small pockets right off of the main creek channel. So, we did as we had been told, though we do so reluctantly. In the first pocket, I bagged a nice 2.5 pounder as I cast the square bill into some laydowns on rocky banks. We fished the stump-filled pocket out without a bite. But, on the other point, I pulled in another small measuring fish. It wouldn't beat anyone, but at least we were getting close to a limit. 

We fished the next pocket down from that one, but it looked a little different. It didn't have the deeper banks. Instead of rock, it was red clay. We fished it for awhile before deciding to consult the map for a similar pocket to the one that held the 2 fish. 

As we sat down to a typical fisherman's lunch of PB&J and a Coke, we spotted a pocket just across the way that exhibited EXACTLY what we had found to work. That's a pocket right off the main creek channel that had steep bluff walls on either side and the pocket itself was fairly deep. 

We stopped short of the pocket and fished the bluffs just outside. We marked several bait balls with fish on them short of the point. John had a short strike really quickly, but the fish didn't hook up. I tossed in behind him and boated a short fish. After tossing it back, I had another quick catch. 

We now had 4 in the livewell that might have gone 6 pounds. It was looking just like I expected it to. 

John decided that he needed to switch tactics. Until that point, he hadn't really had any bites. Though there were high skies and no wind in the pocket, he elected to go with a big white spinnerbait as we entered the pocket. 

Man, did that pay off. 

He set the hook on a fish and the fish pulled back. I scrambled to the front of the boat, turned the GoPro around, picked up the net, and boated a beast. It was every bit of 4 pounds, which is a good fish for Wheeler, no matter where you catch it. It far exceeded either of our expectations. Man, what a cull. I needed it and I KNOW he needed it. If you are going to catch just 1 fish, that's the one to catch! 

But he wasn't done yet. In inconceivable fashion , his next cast netted an even bigger fish. That culled a 12 inch fish I had caught and gave us an instant 3+ pound cull. At that point, I was CERTAIN he had just won this tournament for us. While I knew many great fisherman had caught 20 pound sacks on Wheeler, it was almost ALWAYS on main river bluffs and on premier weather days. 

So, around the boat I pranced with my chest stuck out like a turkey. And why not? We had 15 pounds or so, which I felt would double up everyone else. Personally, I had never caught two 4+ pound fish on Wheeler on the same day. Now, I ADMIT that the lower end of the lake holds better fish, and I KNEW that if I were to see that kind of sack, it would come from this end. But, I felt the weather would trump all that. Like I said. Cooling trend. 30 degrees. High skies. 

I even told John that we would have a little fun and slow play everyone, like we didn't have any fish.

Welp. The joke was on us, it turns out. 5 out of the 6 boats had at least 1 fish over 4 pounds. But, it was my friend Ross, who pulled out a solid kicker as his first fish. Then another 4+. We migh be in trouble....

Then a 4th. Then a 5th. He didn't have a fish bigger than 4.3, but all 5 fish were over 4 pounds. His best 5 went 18 pounds. WOW. 

What was even more amazing was the local wildcat that weighed in the same time as us featured a 23 pound bag and two fish over 6 pounds! 

That's what I get.

All things considered, it was a pretty good day. We learned a ton about the area. 

See ya next time! 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Book Review for "The Old Man and the Wasteland" by Nick Cole

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  • Paperback: 148 pages
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (April 5, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1461076382
  • ISBN-13: 978-1461076384
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (937 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,003,367 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

"Forty years after the destruction of civilization... Man is reduced to salvaging the ruins of a broken world. One man’s most prized possession is Hemingway’s Classic ‘The Old Man and the Sea.’ With the words of the novel echoing across the wasteland, a survivor of the Nuclear Holocaust journeys into the unknown to break a curse. What follows is an incredible tale of survival and endurance. One man must survive the desert wilderness and mankind gone savage to discover the truth of Hemingway’s classic tale of man versus nature. Part Hemingway, part Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, a suspenseful odyssey into the dark heart of the Post-Apocalyptic American southwest. A book lover’s action flick."

With my reading history, this book kept popping up in my suggested reading. It soon became one of my most anticipated reads....but not because of what you think.  Eventually I bought it. And waited. And waited. And waited. And a month later, I emailed the seller only to find that they never shipped it. So, I ordered again. It showed up a few days later. At that point, I was foaming at the mouth to read it.

As luck would have it, I had some 2nd shift radiography work, which meant a lot of slow time. I read this book over the course of two evenings. 

So, as it has been mentioned above, this work borrows heavily from Cormac McCarthey's The Road, which I reviewed and you can read about it here. Suffice to say, The Road is one of my all-time favorites, though it is an extremely depressing work. However, The Road is the most realistic expectation for the end of the world that I have found. Not only does the realism surround people's behavior, but the expected effects on the environment of some sort of large scale NBC attack.

The book was very interesting, straightforward, and easy to read. I certainly enjoyed it. However, there is nothing unique about it, other than it is fairly well written for content, though the plot is not deep. Obviously it is more of a short story, as 

The Old Man and the Wasteland follows the same road, but not to such an extent.It is a PG-13 edition of The Road.  Instead of 9 or ten years after the extinction event, the Old Man takes place 40+ years in the future after the event.  The environment is harsh, but not as harsh as The Road. In The Road, flora and fauna are all but extinct. The Old Man takes place in the Arizona desert, but other than references to fallout in other cities, the natural environment is the real challenge. The people are harsh, but also not as harsh as The Road. Though The Old Man deals with some unsavory characters, some that are as wild as animals, you can't help notice that, unlike the Road, he comes from a settlement. And, The Old Man talks of OTHER settlements. The people in these settlements work together in harmony. In The Road, there are no settlements, and every single person they come into contact with, or make mention of, is a savage bent on survival by any means necessary, notably cannibalism. Rape and murder are a rampant theme in The Road, where these acts could happen at any time. There is never any fanfare or lead up to that. If the man and his child are ever found, it is taken as gospel that these things will happen.  Although this book makes mention of that, it doesn't seem to as likely a threat to the old man. In both of his contacts with outsiders, his immediate response to seeing and meeting people is one of cautious optimize instead of shear terror. In The Road, killing people before they ever see you is a likely measure for preservation. In The Old Man, killing is never really considered, and the Man does nearly anything to avoid it. 

Like The Road, the main plot driver isn't the main character, but a child. Though the man (in both stories) has self-preservation on his mind, his thoughts and actions are almost always on and for the child. In The Road, the man is protecting his son. In The Old Man, the Man's reason to exist is his granddaughter. Neither has any desire to live for themselves, and the thoughts of suicide are always prevalent, though the Old Man considers only the idea of suffering from injury, where as the Man from The Road considers it as a release from the harsh environs that they must endure. 

As I have stated many times, The Old Man mirrors The Road, but it is almost polarizing, as if done on purpose. 

The landscape on in The Road takes place on the east coast, in areas that would have been considered the temperate heartland of America. However, the effects on the environment have made it a desolate and cold place, devoid of any sustenance. Hunger is the main concern and water is not. Conversely, The Old Man takes place in the Arizona desert, where the land has always been harsh and hot. However, necessity has caused the Old Man to learn to live on the land, particularly on the lands natural inhabitants like snake. Going hungry is never really an issue, though water is constantly on the Old Man's mind. 

Both of the men in the stories carry revolvers. The man in The Road starts with 2 bullets which he refers to as one for him and one for the boy. Eventually he discharges one to save them, leaving him with just one for the remainder of the book. The Old Man starts the novel with 5 bullets, leaving one empty slot in his revolver. He refuses to use it on men. It may mean nothing, but to me, the number of shots each man has and how he chooses to use them shows parity between the two works. 

Both men find an oasis of sorts. In The Road, the man chooses to leave it entirely and permanently and make his way to the coast, though the sustenance he leaves behind is more than he ever has in the book. In The Old Man, the Old Man also chooses to leave, but to bring his people BACK to the place.

In both works, the men die of what we assume is sudden onset organ failure brought on by radiation-induced cancer within hours of accomplishing their goals and we are left with the child becoming the focus of the work, though they were not the main character. 

The man in The Road has an inner monologue that is extremely negative and hopeless. Paired with the gloomy and dark landscape, the read is very depressing and bleak. He expects the worst from ever situation and the situation is always cold and dark.  The Old Man, despite being in his 60s, usually has a bright outlook, considering his situation. Similarly, nature around him is bright and warm, creating a very different feel. 

As with The Road, the how and why of the apocalypse really aren't given, which allows for a streamlined design with few questions or possibilities of plot holes. It does leave the reader with many questions on the past, specifically on WHY the Old Man has become an outcast (the reason is hinted at a Hot Radio) just as The Road has an event with the Man's wife leaving which leads us to assume that this is the reason for taking to The Road. 

I could think of more polarizing ideas, but you get the idea.

Overall, it was an easy read that kept me very focused, though the mental load is light. Although The Road leads readers to a lot of internal reflection and speculation, The Old Man is just a fun read. I have made the assumption that this was a short story that the writer hoped to wager into a full blown novel at some point. It left a lot of open ends on both sides.

Of course I was left with a lot of questions on just how much realism was in this work. My main question was this:  Why was the man so unwilling to kill others when he almost always knew what the outcome would be? Even in situations where he had ample opportunity to end it, he didn't and instead forced himself into even more grave danger. Surely, he would have dealt with these situations in his 40 years in the wasteland.

Anyway, a fun and easy read. 

I give it 3.5 Stars. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Army Cargo Club Tournament on Wilson Lake 3-21-15

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Tournament time on Wilson, you say? Well....alllrriiigghhhttt. 

The oft overlooked lake has been good to me. No, I'm not saying I am GOOD on it, just that I have been successful. Or lucky. Or both. Go read about it. 

As I said last week, most people only fish this lake because they want to keep up in their Angler of the Year points. Few actually put in efforts to learn the lake. Not I. I love this lake. It changes from day to day and forces you to be ultra resilient and versatile. At least, that's my story. Or, you could always go to the dam and throw swimbaits and A-rig. Ok, so you don't ALWAYS have to be resilient and versatile. But, I prefer to be. 

Ok, so if you read my blog post from last Monday, we may recall that we caught around 13 pounds of fish while prefishing for this tournament. I didn't give a lot of details and I didn't take any video. The former is because we figured out some things that were a little unique. The later was simply because the day was tough and I didn't feel like the 10 fish we caught (full disclosure, Brad caught most) were worth videoing. 

Now, if you look at my Fish of 2015 page, you would have known what we were planning on throwing all day.  Sure, I only boated 2 bass on Monday, but that was kinda by design. At least, that's what I keep telling myself. Anyway, the two baits were listed there. If you are lazy, click these links.

Brad has had some great luck over the last year on Wilson on the A-rig. I hate throwing it. Other than this one time that Josh and I caught fish during the NATA Open, I've never had much luck. Also, my surgically repaired shoulder hates me for 2 weeks after throwing it, so there is that. He knew it would work, the question was WHERE it would work, and just what A-rig setup would be "the one." Don't worry, I'm not going to give away his secret, because it isn't my secret to give away. Sure enough, the A-rig worked that day, though we had discovered that the fish were NOT on main river bluffs, as he had hoped, but instead were on main creek channels adjacent to secondary points, which featured standing grass. We would catch males on the grass line. One after the other. And, while they were good fish, they weren't tournament winning fish. So, we pushed the boat out to the next contour line and looked with his Lowerance units. Sure enough, we would find groups of 3s and 4s sitting on the 20 foot contour line. While Brad plugged away with the Rig, I used a mixture of baits from PowerTeam Lures jigs to Spro Lil John DDs. 

After we caught 2 nice females in the deep water on the Rig, we knew we had a plan, so we left them. And, as I said, I caught 1 tiny fish combined on all the OTHER baits I threw and 1 fish on the A-rig. Meanwhile, Brad caught 8 or so. 

If I knew anything, which I probably don't, I would say that the males had pushed up and the females were staged. 

That's where things got tricky. With colder air and at least 2 days of rain in the forecast, we had to make a few choices. We made the assumption that the colder weather and rain would push the fish back out onto the main river ledges, despite having caught all of our fish in creek channels. 

We were half right, I guess. Well, let me take that back. The weathermen were half right. The rain really never developed, though the temperature drop significantly. So, we weren't REALLY sold on the idea of leaving the fish we found Monday.....yet. 

The real decision came when we pulled into Lock 6 and saw that the parking lot was COMPLETELY covered with boats. Honestly, I have never seen more than 20 trailers in the entire lot. And, it was completely covered. Considering that we had seen more boats in Shoals Creek on Monday than anywhere else, our minds were made up. We assumed (correctly) that most people would either go to the dam or to Shoals creek. Come blast off time, we hit bluffs and everyone went up river to the dam or into Shoals creek. 

Though I was sold on the idea of throwing the A-rig and doing so all day, I knew that the A-rig was a selective bite type bait. Half the battle is having a limit, and I wanted a limit. So, while Brad threw the A-rig, I threw the OTHER bait that I knew would produce. I tossed the Luhr-Jensen Speed trap. 

I had a solid hit on my first cast, but the fish pulled off. The same thing happened several times on Monday. I questioned whether I had new hooks (which I did) or maybe they didn't really like the color. But, I tossed back in to the same spot and a measuring fish pounded it. Got him in the livewell and made another cast. Another fish smacked it, but held on. 2 keepers within 2 minutes. Within minutes of that, I popped another fish, but it was a 15 inch smallie, which had to go back in the drink. Brad managed to catch a nice stripper on the A-rig.

We finished covering that stretch of bluffs, which has been very productive for Brad. We had 2 keepers in the tank and several short fish on a single 100 yard section of bluff. And, it happened so fast that I didn't even have the camera turned on to catch all of it. It wouldn't have mattered, as it was too dark anyway. 

But, hey, it was a great start, even if the fish were small. 

On a second pass, the fish weren't as forthcoming, so we decided to hit some other main river bluffs were Brad has had luck. 

The 2nd and 3rd bluff yielded nothing, though I admit that we were fishing dirty water behind multiple boats. 

So, we started talking. If the bluff bite was on, but only in areas that most people would avoid, there was only 1 other bluff we had fished that had yielded fish. I had caught a nice 3 pounder on Monday on a Speed Trap in this pocket. So, we motored down and fished it. Sure enough, we caught a couple of fish, but they were really spread out and didn't have much size to them. The bluff came to the a small cove and it looked interesting, so we decided to fish it. I went to throwing a Spro Lil John DD on the main point and quickly picked up 2 fish, one of which was a good cull. As we entered the pocket, I threw the Speed Trap up shallow for another fish, but it was a few casts later where Brad changed the game. 

Throwing into mere inches of water, a fish freight-trained the A-rig. It stayed low in the water and it wasn't until it was 10 feet from the boat that we saw it. It was a massive brown fish. A 5+ smallie. And, it slid right in the net. Suddenly that small 8 or 9 pound sack had jumped to a respectable 12. 

Now, this area wasn't something that we had expected to produce. Instead of being a stretch of bluffs, it was a small pocket bracketed by bluffs and featured a pea gravel shoreline. 

So, we fished the whole cover, all the way to the other point, which is when Brad gave us another game changer. After sticking the A-rig to a rock, he jigged it free, where a waiting 4 pound largemouth was waiting. The fish engulfed the A-rig and within a few cranks, Brad had culled us up another 2 pounds to around 14. 

We were starting to feel really good about ourselves, especially since it was 9:35. But, we weren't out of the woods yet, and we knew it. Even though we had a limit and a kicker, we had at least 2 fish in the livewell that were small. I ventured a guess that a 3 fish sack from the dam could probably beat us. So, there wasn't time for back slapping. It was time to grind. 

So, we ground that spot for another 4 passes. We fished shallow again with limited results. It wasn't that we weren't catching fish, just the wrong ones. On one of the passes, we marked some nice arches that we surmised where females. So, we pushed out again and I went back to work with the Little John DD. That paid off, yet again with a 3 pounder. It wasn't a massive upgrade, but it was another pound and allowed us to get rid of one of the squeakers in the livewell. I guessed we were up to 14.5 pounds. 

At some point, I was fishing the speed trap when I snagged something. It felt it move and swim, but dang if it didn't feel like a ROCK. I was right on both accounts as I had caught a turtle. Luckily, I was easy to remove the hook and the dude went on his way and I managed not to lose any fingers in the process. That didn't make the final cut of the video, but I will upload it later. 

After grinding that spot for 3 or 4 rounds, we decided that either A) we had caught all the fish or B) we needed to let them rest. 

We decided to ride back into Shoals creek and see if it would produce for us, as it had on Monday. We had to wait in line (first time for everything) to fish where we wanted to fish. Indeed, Brad caught 2 fish in about 3 minutes while he was on the phone with our friend Taylor. It is funny to watch it in the video, because Brad never checks up. Granted, both fish were small. 

After running that spot, we decided that it wasn't going to be any help. We got to thinking, could we find areas similar to the one that had produced for us? That is, bluff walls book ending a shallow cove with pea gravel? Sure enough, we found 2 of them right next to each other. The first one was a bust, but the second produced a couple of fish on the A-rig, which didn't help us...but one fish off the speed trap that DID. It wasn't much, but it was a solid half pound cull. We had now gotten rid of all the small fish. Minutes later, I had a fish absolutely CRUSH the speed trap as I bounced it off some log jams. But, it ran right at the boat and pulled off. It could be the combination of a smart small mouth and dull hooks. It was the biggest fish I had felt all day. For all I know, it was the one we needed. But, what you gonna do? Straighten your cap and make another throw. That's what you do. 

With 1 hour until weigh in, I decided that I would put the speed trap down and go big. After all, the 3 largest fish we had came off the A-rig that Brad had been throwing. I hadn't throw the A-rig all day, instead throwing a mixture of the Spro and Speed Trap. The speed trap had produced all the numbers for us, pacing the day with around 15 catches. The Spro Little John had another 3, but all those catches had come off of main river contour breaks, which we would not be fishing. So, I picked up the A-rig. 

Not to spoil it, but I didn't catch anything on it. Brad did catch another smallie, which was slightly heavier than our smallest largemouth at 2 pounds even. I had guessed we had right at 16 pounds. Again, the issue wasn't that I didn't think it was enough, but that someone had caught 2 monsters to our 1. You can sure make up a lot of ground with 2 5+ pound fish. We spent that last hour looking for it, but to no avail. 

So, it was off to weigh in. May of the boats had weighed in already, and I spent much of my time talking to some of my friends whom I know from the fishing community who also fish this club. From what I gathered, everyone caught at least a few fish, but quality fish were hard to come by,The first bag I saw weighed in was over 18. The second was 15 and change. At that point, I just shrugged and figured EVERYONE caught them good. The last bag I saw weighed was Taylor's and it was also over 18 pounds. Ours went 15.97 and I figured we were just out of the money. That really didn't bother me. I don't like losing, but we caught a lot of fish and it was a pleasurable day. There wasn't much to complain about. 

And, I was honestly surprised when we made 3rd place. The weights were 18.39, 18.22 and then our 16 pounds. After that, there was a 15 pound bag, 2 13 pound bags and then nothing. That being said, I was really surprised that there were multiple large fish caught. There were at least 8 fish over 5 caught and the big fish was over 6! 

So, we won a little cash, which is better than no cash. I only lost 1 crankbait, which is always a win in my book. It was easily the best day I have had this year. Even if we didn't win, I would be smiling ear to ear. Wilson continues to produce for me, even when I don't fish the things I typically fish. 

My crankbaits, on the other hand, did take a beating.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Fishing Report for Wilson Lake 3/16/15

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Not having a boat is tough. Let me rephrase: not having a boat after having a boat is tough. You never know how nice it is to be able to fish on your own terms until you don't have the ability. Luckily, I have lots of friends who I can fish with. This Saturday, one of the clubs I fish in is having a tournament in Wilson lake. To most people, Wilson is kinda like a fly-over state. It is located between Guntersville and Pickwick (with Wheeler in between, but Wheeler is still sorta relevant). Though I think highly of Wilson, and so do many other, most clubs put it on the schedule just to add some variety. As a result, most people fish it just to "check the box" on their way to Angler of the Year aspirations. 

Having family land on Wilson, I have fished it fairly often. Not nearly as much as Guntersville and Wheeler, but usually 5 times a year. As a result,  I have had some stellar trips, including many tournament wins. I know some good areas. 

My thoughts on Wilson? Well, without  going into a 10-page diatribe, I will sum it up as easily as possible. Wilson is a very short lake. Aside from a slight bend at mid-lake, you would be able to see from dam to dam.  There aren't a lot of creeks in it, though there are a good many cuts and draws. Along the main lake is almost entirely bluff wall. The creek channels, cuts, and draws, stay fairly deep, all the way to the banks, where it shallows up quickly. Flats are fairly far and few in between. As a result, Wilson fishes small.  To fish Wilson, and be consistent, you need to be a versatile fisherman. Wilson, for the most part, is a fairly deep lake, and as a result, the fish are constantly moving in transition, especially this time of year. You can always fish the dam, but that's a very popular spot this time of year. If you don't want to go that route, you are left to find fish with your electronics. Granted, I see a lot of people fishing shallow. I guess there are always fish shallow, but, again, consistency is the key. 

Let me put out a disclaimer that I am not going to give a lot away....today. That's for two-fold reasons. First, my partner asked me not to. Secondly, we sorta kinda figured out some stuff, and since I know several of my competitors read this blog, I don't want to tip them off. Yes, I am aware this is a bit of a departure for me. And, if this was any other lake, I probably wouldn't hesitate to give everyone the low down. Alas, this is a fly-over lake that no one takes the time to learn. And, I have taken the time and put in work on it. So, forgive me if I am a little hesitant to throw out my little nuggets. Come next Monday, I will let you all in. 

Next disclaimer: That doesn't mean that I found the motherlode. We didn't. We went looking for a pattern and some locations. I have several key areas that have always held fish. The issue with them, and Wilson itself, is that the ability for the fish to transition from 25 feet to 2 feet from day to day means that bait selection is THE KEY on this lake. You can flip for the same fish today that you caught on a deep diving crankbait the day before. And, I mean the EXACT SAME FISH. We found a pattern. The locations...well....no so much. Maybe I shouldn't be too hard on myself. Every single one of the spots I knew held fish...still held fish. 

Ok, so the water temp was in the mid-50s. I expect it to warm up significantly with the sunshine and rain over the next few days. Don't be surprised by 60 degree temps by Saturday. 

So, we started off fishing main river bluffs, as Brad had seen some lucky before.  While he led with crank baits and other power baits, I followed him up with a PowerTeam Lures Bull head jig in Susky Slayer backed by a Craw D'oeurve in Delta Destroyer. With the water cold and muddy, I wanted the fish to bite, and hold on. So, I doused the trailer in Hog Tonic. 

Within the first 5 casts, I watched my line zip to the side. There is no telling just how long the fish had been swimming with the jig. I checked for weight on the end, then slammed the rod back. The fight lasted about 2 seconds before the fish spit it out. I guess that was a wakeup call. Jig fishing is sorta new to me, and I admit that the finer aspects of jig fishing are sometimes lost on me. Notably, that you have to watch the line just as much as you feel it. If it weren't for the Hog Tonic making the fish hold on as long as it did, I might never had even known I had a hit. 

Without another hit on the jig, I picked up a square bill and tossed it around. Over the next hour, I had multiple fish slap at the square bill without hooking up. I was considering a color change until one actually hit it with some gusto. It wasn't terribly big, but it was something. In the meantime, Brad had landed 2 largemouth and a smallmouth off the main river bluffs. But, we had to run a lot of bluffs to get those few bites. 

I guess you could call that a pattern, of sorts. But 5 fish in 3 hours while hitting every bluff in sight wasn't exactly what we wanted to nail down as a game plan. 

We decided to move off the main lake and into some of the major creeks. Though we had seen few boats on the main lake, Shoals Creek was covered up with boats. We decided that we didn't want to spend too much time there, though we did catch a few 2-2.5 pounders on main creek channels adjacent to shallows. 

Moving up the lake, nearly to the dam, we found some other main creek channels that produced fish. Again, I don't want to give information away just yet, but it was the bait that did the damage, not the areas.

Brad was able to catch several quality fish, including this nice 4 pounder. 

Meanwhile, I decided to try something that I hadn't tried in a LONG time. I picked up the Bama rig. I bet it's been 2 or 3 years since I caught a fish on it. I finally had a quality bite that I thought was THE ONE. I fought it and fought it until it rolled on me. Then, I knew. I admit that it was a gorgeous blue cat. But, blue cats weren't what we were after. Brad suggested that I hold onto it and sell it. 

While Brad wracked up on one specific bait, I struggled while throwing a plethora of other baits that had produced. When I was satisfied that his bait was THE bait, I decided to start throwing it. I was finally awarded with a fish after struggling for nearly 5 hours from bite to bite. By the end of the day, we had caught a scant 10 fish, but the best 5 would have been 13 pounds. That's not going to be enough to win, but we weren't interested in killing them today. We wanted a gameplan. What's that gameplan? Well, I'm not ready to say. What I will say is this: I fully expect half the field to run to Wheeler dam to fish for smallies. Is that a good plan? Yep. Absolutely. We know that several quality fish were caught there yesterday. There are always quality fish there, including some magnum smallies, which is what you need to win a tournament. However, the dam, from my experience, fishes EXTREMELY small. Though this tournament won't be very big, the dam bite can't accommodate 10 boats, which is what I expect to be there. In full disclosure, there is 1 good rock pile at the dam that consistently holds a winning bag of fish. It's up to the boat that makes it there first, and who decides to grind it out, who will win. To do that, they must also deal with the elements, namely the insane amount of current that will be generated. There were 5 flood gates open yesterday and there is a lot of rain in the forecast. By Saturday, there may be even more gates open. For all I know, there may be so much current that it will be unfishable. I have seen it that way before. 

I expect 1 boat to have 18 pounds of fish from the dam, come Saturday. Ultimately, that will be the winning bag. That being said, there is a good chance that the dam may not be fishable, or that 10 boats will be sharing the winning bag, or that the fish don't bite at all. 

Which is why we will not be doing that. My plan is to cover water in the major creeks. We have a pretty specific plan, which I will talk about next week....if we win...or lose. One of those will happen, right?  Either it will be educational or humorous. 

My greatest fear is that the nice weather of the next few days in combination with the rain is going to push the fish back out of their current positions. It is likely to happen, so we will have to be versatile and we will definitely have to rely on our electronics. 

Ok, so who is ready for story time? Cause I got one to tell!

It was late in the afternoon and we were really dialing in our pattern, such as it was. We had moved to a new spot and were implementing "the plan." Brad caught the nice fish you see listed above. It was a nice 4 pounder and we were beginning to understand what was going on. We were going to pick up and move to another similar spot and try it again when we saw a guy waving at us. He yelled that his motor was out and wanted to know if we would help.

Of course we would help. What did he need?  He needed a tow. Well, Brad and I looked at each other. We knew he saw us catch a nice fish. I would think that a fisherman would be considerate when asking for a tow and say "hey, take your time." But this guy was in a hurry. So, we stowed our stuff and motored over to him.

How far did he need to go? He named some place, but neither of us knew where it was. So, he said "It's about half a mile."

No big deal.

At the 2 mile mark, Brad turned around and asked how much further. The guy said "around the next point." We didn't immediately see another point, so we kept going.

At the 4 mile mark, Brad stopped the boat and said "ok dude. You said half a mile. It's been over 4. Where are we going?" The guy pointed to the next point down, another solid mile. He said "you see that big boat dock with the white top?" Well, barely. It was a long way away. But, we had already gone this far.

We made it to the spot he had said. As I was unhooking the line from Brad's boat, the guy said "It's actually in the back of the pocket. Can you take me back there?"

Well, we already had a bad vibe from the guy. And, we had already wasted over an hour of our time and a lot of gas. So, I asked if his trolling motor worked. He said, "Yeah. Why?" I told him, "good. Cause you are going to need it from here."

We went on to tell him that we didn't want his money. We were happy to help, but the dishonesty was very aggravating. We would have towed him regardless, but knowing what we were into would have been helpful.

I don't like thinking the worst of people, but either this guy was extremely inconsiderate, or he was going to try to rob us. In fact, one of the sketchiest parts of the whole deal was that as we neared his destination, he got a paddle out of the locker, despite the fact that he had a working trolling motor. Additionally, he says he was a local. And, he had a phone...which he talked on several times. Why couldn't he call a friend?

Moral of the story is this: don't base your charity on the amount of effort it is going to take you, but know and understand the expectations up front. The Bible teaches us not to question our charity, but simply to give it. It tells us to walk 2 miles when asked to walk 1. It wasn't my place to question why he was on the other end of the lake with motor problems. Or why he couldn't call for help. Or why he couldn't have us tow him to the nearest marina. We are instructed to give help without question. Neither of us wanted his money. We would have helped regardless, even though it was inconvenient. But, it would have been better knowing what we were in for.

Also, always be aware of your situation. "Just a little bit further" is one of the oldest con games out there, and it can get you into serious trouble. We were aware that this guy was sketchy from the beginning. Most everyone, myself and Brad included, would ask for help working on the motor before asking for a tow. And, we would have considered other options, like towing us to the nearest marina...which there was one nearby. Could he just have been an inconsiderate person on hard times? Sure. Most likely, that was the case. But he could have been some guy who saw two young greenhorns that he could take advantage of.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Best5Zach's Best 5 Offensive Questions Heading Into Spring

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Spring practice is HERE and I am DYING to read, write, and talk Auburn football. 

That being said, I am going to try and avoid repeating the same stuff you have undoubtedly read from our beat reporters. Those guys get paid to give you their opinions, and those opinions are already all over the web. If I say the same thing, why would you want to come on the blog and read what I have to say?  I want you coming here to read a differing opinion. 

Ok ok ok. So a lot of it WILL be similar. After all, it's easy to see some of the glaring holes and huge story lines. It's easy to get SUPER HOPPED UP ON JEREMY JOHNSON. 

K. Well, I'm getting ahead of myself....

Let's talk offense, and before I get started...let's cherry pick what you have already read about. Try and read past a lot of the sarcasm in some of these bullets. 

CAP (SEC-leading rusher) is gone. Auburn will have to decide between Roc Thomas and Jovon Robinson. 

Coates is gone. Duke returned. Whoop. Whoop.

Jeremy Johnson is a better QB than Marshall. 

Golson is going to slide over to center and replace Rimington Award winner, Reese Dismukes. 

I have to admit, the flavor I get from all of the articles I have read is that Auburn is upgrading errrwhere and that the offense will be bigger and better than ever. 

But Auburn losses almost all of its offensive production and *perhaps* the most valuable interior lineman in the modern era. It also losses guys like Uzomah and Fulse, who provided stability at their position for 4 years. Toss in a bonus early departure in Pat Miller and you have an offense that losses more men than it returns. 

Let's talk it out. 

The Jeremy Johnson Era

Am I excited about JJ taking over? Absolutely. But, in a different sense than most Auburn fans. College fans have this annoying habit of dismissing players who don't go out on top in favor of "the next man up." In this case, Nick Marshall exits Auburn as *perhaps* the greatest clutch player in Auburn history. Sound like heresy to you Cam fans? Sorrynotsorry. Cam is certainly the most dominate player to play at Auburn, and in the SEC, for that matter. But Cam didn't face the week to week struggle of winning games *despite* his defense....for two years. For all intents and purposes, Marshall was virtually UNSTOPPABLE. Yet, he didn't finish on top, so fans are eager to move on. Years from now, he will be forgotten as his stats slide down the ledger and we will forget the stats that matter. Things like how Auburn lost 3 games this year despite scoring 30 or more points. Of the 7 games he lost in his career, he was held under 20 points JUST ONCE. 

No. I am NOT excited because Johnson is a better QB than Marshall. 

I am excited because the QB that takes snaps on opening day won't be a total mystery. In 1994, I had pretty high hopes for Auburn, despite losing Stan White. Why? Not because I thought that Pat Nix was BETTER. But because, in the limited action I had seen (as a 12 year old, mind you), he wasn't worse. I was reasonably certain that Auburn wouldn't face "breaking in a new QB." Teams are extremely vulnerable, regardless of the rest of the pieces around them, when breaking in a new QB. Let's keep in mind that Auburn opens up against an EXTREMELY formidably Louisville team who has had a game wreaking defense predicated on turnovers. While they allow points, they are a top 10 fantasy team because of the amount of sacks, fumbles, and INTs they produce. Other than Houston, I can't think of another team that did it better in 2014. If Johnson hadn't benefited from playing time early in his career, I might actually be a Louisville lean, as it is a neutral site. But, Johnson has a handful of starts under his belt. His start against Arkansas in 2014 was nearly flawless. 

Now, let me clear up some things. Jeremy Johnson is a polished passer who can make every single throw, and do it with a cannon of an arm. Is he better than Marshall, as a passer? Yes. I think so, but not by as wide a margin as I read about. First off, regarding arm strength, we tend to dismiss Marshall's arm strength. This is the guy who had all Auburn fans salivating when his highlight reel showed him throwing a 70 yarder....on the run.  I think back to many throws he made, like one in the SEC Championship game where he threw a rope on a dead sprint to a tiny window in the endzone. I am not belittling Johnson. I am setting expectations. And, let's be real...we all really want JJ to be a success for reasons other than winning

Everything I read outright states that Auburn's offense with Johnson will be a pass-happy offense that will be much more efficient than the previous mode. I see Marshall's completion percentage put into question, but the truth is, Coates was targeted more than any other receiver by a wide margin in 2014, but he caught 40-something percent of those passes. Though he was rough in 2013, Marshall was as sharp and crisp as any other QB in the country, yet he had a receiver core that had struggles with dropsies, Coates most of all, who put that on display at the NFL combine, proved many of my observations about him. He needed another year in college

To sum up, again, Johnson is a different animal, not necessarily better or worse. Just different. To me, the arm strength comparison is a push. The accuracy is a slight edge to Johnson, though we have not seen him under real pressure. Escapebility and the ability to create yards has to go in Marshall's favor. Is there a reason for hype? Sure. Auburn won't take a big step back on opening day, and that is worth getting excited about. Will Auburn have an even better offense BECAUSE of JJ? Well, no. That depends on the parts around him, which is a lead into....

The Development of Receivers OUTSIDE of Duke

This time last year, I was preaching about how Auburn MUST develop other receivers outside of Coates, specifically a slot receiver. Duke came exactly as advertised, but Auburn really rolled when Bray was involved. Bray turned in his best year in 2014 with 40 something chain-moving catches. Louis continued his status-quo with another inconsistent year. I learned my lesson with Trovon Reed. You can get better in a lot of areas in college. You can get faster. You can get stronger. You can run routes better. But, if you can't catch....you can't catch. And, Louis can't catch. He is a fine speed-sweep guy. If he can get better blocking the perimeter, he can really contribute. But he will not be what Bray was. 

To that extent, Auburn must bring on the veterans who have seen so little playing time. Ray, Davis, and Stevens have all shown flashes any time they have been targeted. One might think that their limited use in the passing game may come down to their play away from the ball, but they are almost always in the game in running situations. So, I simply don't understand why they haven't been used more. It makes you wonder if they just aren't that good. These guys are good targets, but i haven't seen any game-breaking skills after the catch. What I have seen leads me to believe that they are at least AVERAGE. But, average doesn't win national titles. Auburn needs elite playmakers with the ball in their hands.  If these guys aren't it, who is? 

During the National Signing Day week, I wrote about Auburn's need for another game-breaking WR. Truitt has been billed as a shifty speedster who can take it all the way after the catch. But, we didn't see him do it last year after spending all year on the bench with injuries. Auburn signed two guys who both have the ability to fill in for Bray's absence and even provide an upgrade.  

Kerryon Johnson may be the next McFadden or Bush. Ok. So, I don't REALLY believe that. That isn't a slight on KJ, honest. I REALLY think he is a great player. And, I REALLY think it is amazing that Auburn retained him, despite the late push from every other school.  No, I believe that because I don't think Auburn is that lucky. Or maybe it's the step-child syndrome kicking in. Maybe it's my evaluation of his talent. So, though I don't think he is as great as those 2 guys, I do think that he is as flexible and electric as Auburn has seen. And, since he won't be the focus of the offense, it gives him the ability to really shine when he does get the ball.

The other option is Slayton, who really jumped out to me on film. I won't say much about him, but if you want my thoughts on him, go read them here. Suffice it to say that I am really excited about this receiver and what he can do. 

So, long story short, Auburn has Duke, which is AWESOME in and of itself. But, if the offense is going to evolve into a big time passing unit as everyone expects, the rest of the receivers need to come along...and soon. 

Who is Next at Tight End
Honest question here. I don't know. Now, I admit that I was puzzled this year with the limited use of the tight end, so many may say "who cares?" Uzomah is probably puzzled as well, as a good year in 2014 would have translated into a solid NFL pick. However, it wasn't in the cards and he saw fewer targets than many had figured. He was snubbed at the NFL combine, but showed out at his pro day. Auburn also losses fellow senior tight end, Fulse, who was more of an in-line blocker. Ricky Parks, a consensus top TE prospect, was kicked off the team TWICE. Who will fill in? Regardless of if the need is for a pass catcher OR for a blocker, Auburn lost a TON of talent AND experience....and no one is talking about that. I kinda want to see Braden Smith continue to line up out there. I don't know if he can catch, but I know he can block. The kid is an athletic monster who reminds me of JJ Watt. 

Next at Center
To me, this is the biggest question of the spring. This is the guy who makes all the coverage calls. Who handles the ball on every single play. Auburn is losing perhaps the best one it has ever had, and certainly the best in the country in 2014. Everyone loves talking skill positions, but this is the position where we lose the most talent and experience, bar none. How do you replace a 4 year starter who was the best at his position in the entire country? More importantly, how does this happen and no one talk about it? We all want to talk about who will get carries out of the backfield, but no one wants to talk about how or if the ball will get there.

The speculation is that Golson will take over center duties after sitting out a transfer year. The highly touted kid from Ole Miss is a terrific lineman who turned heads at Ole Miss before he left. He was one of the top prospects in the country coming out of high school. But can he play center in the SEC? I read things like "sliding over to center" like it's no big deal. It is. Which is why I stated that center was an understated need for Auburn at signing day. Auburn did land Kim, who was one of the top centers in the country. But, the last kid to start as a true freshman is the guy he is replacing. And, the chances of Kim being as good as Dismukes are.....slim. 

Auburn has Dampeer, who backed up Dismukes. That's about all we have heard about him. 

So, it's down to Dampeer and Golson. One of them will be making their first starts against a very good foe in 6 months. Sure hope we get the right one! I wouldn't be surprised if this battles goes into the fall. 

Will Auburn Copy Bama's RB System

Ok, so bear with me. This may be a stretch. 

Most of the conversation about Auburn's backfield has centered on who is taking hand-offs  between Barber/Thomas/Robinson. Or, if Thomas is going to take over the 2 back duties that Grant leaves open. However, I look at their skill sets and I wonder if we are thinking about this all wrong. We shouldn't be thinking in terms of hand-offs, but in total touches. We shouldn't be thinking about  forcing players into a mold, but how to better use them. 

Since Saban arrived at that stinky city on the river, Alabama has used a 2 (or sometimes 3) back system. Coffee and Ingram. Ingram and Richardson. Etc etc. To me, it has gotten better each and every year, culminating in 2014 with an absolutely electric backfield that took a backseat in Kiffin's pass happy offense. Despite not being as featured, Bama's system works, and works well. Auburn, under Malzahn, has used a differing approach. Though it also uses 2 backs, the backs are used very differently. Instead of lining up behind the QB, Auburn lines the 2md RB up all over the field, using pure speed.  It appears to me that while Bama's approach has gotten more efficient, Auburn's 2-back- attack was stifled outside of CAP. The speed sweep was not a factor in 2014. And, Grant wasn't featured in the passing game. Yet, Auburn used the same look all year without success. I imagine we might see more of the same in 2015, yet the current cast isn't set up nearly as well as the previous. 

What makes Bama's attack so efficient has been the use of backs in the passing game, a thing that has been all but forgotten by Malzahn. Whether it's hand-offs, screens, or short passes, Henry, Yeldon and Drake have been absolutely deadly with the ball in different ways despite lining up in the same position. I got to thinking about it. The more efficient use of Auburn's 3 backs isn't by putting them in different positions using them for only 1 use, but by using them in different ways from 1 position. Much like Drake, Thomas has shown promise with the ball in space after the catch. Robinson is a bruiser. Barber is somewhere in the middle. So, none of these guys can really be an every down back, yet, none really fit the mold of the backs Malzahn has used. 

The easiest solution would be to adopt the system that Bama has used. Line them all up in the same position and use them different ways. Auburn's offense has been labeled as using window dressing by moving players all over to confuse defense. But, sometimes the best camouflage is to use the exact same look to do differing things. Bama did this to near perfection for nearly a decade now. 

So, most fans are discussing which big time back will get all the hand offs and who will line up in Grant's place. But, I am willing to bet that we will see a departure from that in 2015. 

So, that's my best 5 questions for offense leading into spring. I'd love to hear your thoughts!