Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Fishing Report for Tuscaloosa Lake 12/26/15

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I think it's a fair statement to say that I love fishing different lakes. I don't have huge aspirations of becoming a serious tournament fisherman, but I think everyone knows that I am a competitive fellow. While I have given up trying to be a great fisherman at Guntersville, which is where all the action is, I do think that being able to fish other lakes is extremely beneficial. It makes me learn different techniques and patterns.

One such lake is extremely different than any that I fish here in north Alabama. And, it just so happens that I have one of the lake's best fisher-families on that lake. 

My wife's uncle Tony has been fishing this lake all his life and he really knows how to catch them. And, I kept seeing his pictures on facebook of some magnum spots and even a five or six pound largemouth. Between he and his son, they had won nearly every club tournament on the lake this winter. And, unlike my clubs, they have no less than 20 boats per tournament.

Since we were going to be in town for Christmas, I asked if he was fishing on the 26th. He said he was and I politely invited myself to fish.

Of course, we all know what happened Christmas night: Over ten inches of rain. We knew that the rain might produce some problems with the patterns we would be running. But, we would catch them or we wouldn't. 

Uncle Tony had instructed me on what to bring. While I typically listen, I also typically bring a lot more. I decided that I would only bring what he told me and nothing more. After all, I need more time throwing jigs in 30+ feet, which I typically wouldn't do. Correction: I would never do. 

There were over 30 boats in this club tournament and we were to blast off at 7AM. 

A photo posted by Zach Taylor (@best5zach) on
So, when the sun came up, we made a short run to a main river point. I was throwing a PowerTeam Lures bull nose jig, watermelon with a watermelon Craw D trailer. I was having to relearn how to fish such deep water with a jig. For me, that meant letting it fall on slack line to prevent it from penduluming back to the boat without ever getting in the strike zone. Many times that meant stripping off additional slack line from the reel.

Doing that meant that I lost touch with the bait for around the first 10 seconds of the cast. That's important when a largemouth snaps it up on the fall. But, I was ready for it and boated a solid 2.5 pounder.

Hey, not a bad start! Solid fish in the boat in the first 30 minutes!

But, the spot went dead. We moved to another main river point. Nothing.

We probably moved two or three times before our next bite. That bite came on a smaller 1/4 ounce jig I had tied on, but I had the drag set way too loose and I stripped drag when I tried to set the hook. The fish took off with the trailer.

After resetting, I was able to boat another fish. This one was a small spot.
A photo posted by Zach Taylor (@best5zach) on
We could tell the rain and subsequent flooding had changed the fish. Uncle Tony said that the quickly rising water (the lake came up two feet over the course of the day) would make the spots scatter. While we planned on getting a quick limit before looking for a largemouth, we ended up spending more time that we wanted on the spots.

Uncle Tony picked up two spots to even up the score, though the four fish were terrible inadequate and we needed some significant upgrades.

We pulled up to a secondary point inside a large creek, one of the few large creeks that didn't look like chocolate milk. By this time, we had around two hours to fish and we hadn't had a bite in a few hours. I had resorted to throwing a magnum shaky head with a PTL 7" Tickler. I cast one one side of the point and uncle Tony cast on the other. No sooner had each bait bounced on the bottom than we both set the hook. We both hoisted aboard two solid spots, which both finished the limit and culled the smallest spot.

We moved further on, looking to fish some trash in the bottom of the creek channels. As I was throwing the jig and working it through brush, I jiggled it off of an underwater tree top and a bass pounded the jig. I was still taking up slack from jigging it through the trash and I tried to set the hook on slack line. Nothing was there.

I inspected the trailer and noticed the teeth marks on the Craw D all the way at the weed guard. They weren't just any teeth marks. The trailer was serrated. That was the mark of a three or four pound spot.

Turns out, that was just the fish we needed. We finished just outside the top five with 7.25 pounds including a 2.5 pound largemouth. It took just over 9.5 pounds to win. The separation between first and third was less than half a pound. All of those boats had a 3+ pound spot.

Word was that all of the winning bites had come from upriver in muddy water, which was a great surprise to us.

Still, it was a great time. I am just bad luck as a partner. Don't take me if you are on some fish, because I will kill any bite you may have!

Fishing Report for Pickwick 12/23/2015

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Though our last trip to Pickwick had turned out to be pretty awful, we wouldn't be dissuaded. It didn' t hurt that the near record highs for this time of year , in combination with the high current. After all, the trip before had been pretty solid. You can read about each of those trips by clicking the links below.

Fishing Report for Pickwick 12/17/15

Fishing Report for Pickwick 11/25/15

We were one of the only trailers in the parking lot, once again. Now, keep in mind that we weren't using McFarland as most anglers do. We used a ramp on the opposite side of the lake and closer to the damn.

We ran up to Jackson island, just as we have done each of the last few trips and began running the drifts. There was another boat fishing, which ended up being Ryan from Alabama Bass Guide. We struggled, only catching a few white bass. But, we stayed longer than we would have because we wanted to watch a guide and his two clients. Like us, all they caught was a few white bass while we were watching.

We scooted over to the rip rap, where we have consistently caught a solid 4 pounder. Nothing.

We talked about hitting the bluffs, which had been another pattern that produced fish. But, as we began our first drift, we noticed that the water was down about a foot from where it had been on our successful trip back in November. The last trip, the water had also been down and we had noted that the fish we caught back in November had been on areas with a secondary shelf under water. Today, as with the trip on the 17th, the secondary shelf was out of water. Indeed, we didn't have a single bite. It was starting to look like another tough day.

As we ran back up river, we noticed that the barge tie-ups at the exit of the barge canal had some very interesting looking eddy lines, created by the swift current (TVA reported over 100,000 CFS). We decided to fish it, as I had never fished it with current. We noticed that the eddy was between the first and second tie-ups, so we began fishing the eddy with A-rigs.

Quickly, we picked up a few white bass including a personal best. 
A photo posted by Zach Taylor (@best5zach) on
This bad boy crushed the A-rig, which I had baited with Powerteam Lures grubs and a single custom swimbait in the center.

We noticed the fish really wanted the A-rig slow. With Brad on the front of the boat, he was fishing a little further outside of the eddy than I. But, turns out that was where the largemouth were. He boated two keepers on back to back casts and I followed that up with back to back largemouths including a solid 4-pounder.

TVA changed the current, which shifted the eddy line up one barge tie-up. That shift changed the largemouth's position and we never figured out how to catch them again. I tried a little bit of everything, from magnum shaky heads to jigs to cranks. I did have a terrific bite, which I am SURE was a solid smallie. It came just off of a rock pile that we had marked fish with the Lowerance structure scan. We did catch a boatload of white bass, though. That was JUST FINE by us!

A photo posted by Zach Taylor (@best5zach) on

Monday, December 21, 2015

Fishing Report for Pickwick 12/17/15

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After the decent trip that Brad and I had back on the last week of November, we decided to give ole Pickwick another try. In case you missed it, you can read about that trip by clicking the link below.

Fishing Report for Pickwick 11/25/15

We have heard from many Pickwick experts that the lake was just getting right for the winter smallie bite. But, on Thursday, we knew we had faced some potential issues. Rain had rolled in Wednesday night, then quickly moved out. While the rain would push the current to levels that were needed for a good smallmouth bite, the post-frontal conditions could hurt the bite. 

But, we figured the smallies were not as susceptible to those type of conditions and, besides, you gotta go when you can go. 

With Wilson dam pushing 100,000 CFS and at least half of the spillway gates open as well as decent cloud cover early, we figured we would do ok.

We pulled into the ramp and were amazed that there were ZERO trailers. 

We idled out to Jackson island and fished the drifts. We had no bites on a variety of baits including A-rigs. 

We moved to the rip-rap banks on the left side (facing the dam). Brad's A-rig was smashed by a fish and he wrestled aboard a 4 pound largemouth. 

Pretty quickly, as I was flipping wood with a PTL jig, I slammed the rod on a fish....who immediately began rolling. I eased a 15 pound drum to the boat and retrieved my jig. Brad also landed a drum on the A-rig.

Before we knew it, it was 10 AM and the clouds had all but scattered. 

Without getting another bite, we moved to the bluffs, where we had caught most of our fish on the last trip. 

We both tossed A-rigs, but we didn't get a bite. While Brad continued to throw the rig, I alternated between a square bill, a shaky head, and a jig. 

We covered hundreds of yards without a bite. 

As he was messing with the trolling motor, Brad had a series of hits on the A-rig, culminating in a slightly short smallies. 

Having learned something, he began dragging the A-rig. A few casts later, another largemouth took the bait. 

The problem was, neither of us wanted to drag our A-rigs along the bottom of the bluffs as they are extremely sticky. Case in point, I lost both of my A-rigs. 

We ended the day pretty early as the bite was too slow to justify fishing. 

Can't make them bite, right?

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Family Fishing 12/13/15

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It isn't very often that we have such pleasant weather in December. While I'm not opposed to fishing in the worst conditions, my kids and wife are. 

So, when I realized that this past weekend was going to be in the high 60s, I planned to get some serious fishing in before the weather turned against me.

Friday, I was able to get in a little "prefishing" on my uncle's pond. After all, kids need to have constant action and the worst thing you can do is provide them with a slow fishing experience. 

Ok, the truth is that I had a little extra time on my hands and I wanted to go fishing.

I initially tied on a PowerTeam lures bull nose jig. I had some luck on it last year around this time on this very pond. I also could use all of the practice I can get with it. I was fishing it around a sunken brush pile where it snagged up and I had to break it off. That left me with few options, as I had exactly two other things I could throw. 

I elected to throw the War Eagle spinner bait for multiple reasons. It was very windy and the pond had a nice ripple on the surface. Additionally, the spinner bait would allow me to cover a lot of water, which is important as this pond is very large. 

I made a lap around the lake recording only a single hit. The fish ran right at me and I didn't have the chance to set the hook.

As I ended the lap around the lake, I made some casts into this small U-shaped corner. Within a few turns of the handle, a fish loaded up on the bait. On it's first jump, my heart stopped because it was a 4-pound fish. 

But, for some reason, I went stupid and decided that I should try and video the fish instead. So, I dug out my phone and tried to get some action shots. While I did get some decent shots, I played the fish too much and she threw the bait about 3 feet from me. 

As you can see, I didn't get any great pictures, but I did get these two.

Though I was happy to get the big bite, I really wanted quantity. So, I made a switch.

I tied on a 3/0 hook I had in the car and put a PTL Sick Stick on, hooked straight down the length, texas-rigged. But, between the wind and the use of a medium heavy rod, I had no feel for the bait. It was coming through the water too easily. There just wasn't enough resistance in the water. So, I pulled the bait and rigged it wacky style.

Indeed, that was the trick. Pulling it perpendicular to the rod allowed the bait maximum resistance and gave me some feel, though it wasn't much. 

On my first stop, I had my first bite, but it didn't come using my usual wacky rig technique. I had to essentially "dead-stick" the bait.  Sometimes they would pick it up after the initial fall, but I wasn't feeling the hit, I was watching the line. Instead of the fish swimming off with it, I was having to watch the line for "jumping." Additionally, I would keep a finger underneath the line. Sometimes I would feel the thump. 

Interestingly enough, the bites would come in groups of 3 or 4. I rarely caught just one fish, but I had to cover a lot of ground. In other words, the fish were grouped up OR I was having to fire up the school. 

These fish were actually solid size fish. I ended up catching around 11 or 12 in about an hour. Each would weigh between a pound and a pound and a half. Of course, I wanted revenge on the big fish I missed, though I doubted  I could get her to hit again. Even so, I slipped up to the corner and tossed the sick stick as close to the bank as I could.

She must have been sitting right on the bank because she annihilated it! I was so excited that I pulled it right out of her mouth! 

The best 5 of the day would go right at 10 pounds.

So, with that day in the books, I brought the kids out to fish. I set my wife up with a spinning rod and a light-weight jacked-wacker backed by a sick stick, both from PowerTeam Lures. 

Before I could even get the nightcrawlers baited on my kid's hooks, she had brought in 2 bass. 

Griffin, the middle child, didn't have any desire to fish today. But, he was happy to play with the biggest of the bass that my wife had caught, whom we put on a stringer so that the kids could play with him. Griffin named him "Bubbles" and concocted an elaborate plan on bringing him home. 

Aubree had to be convinced to fish. She, for some reason, was willing to "take a nap" even though she is 10 years old. Truth is, she wanted to play on a tablet and I wasn't going to let the happen. She caught a fish on her first cast and was already bored with it. This brought dismay on both of her parents who told her that she would spend her time either fishing or babysitting the baby. She elected the latter, so we shrugged and went on fishing.

I could not buy a bite, but Alyse had an easy time of it. She was up 6-0 on me before I finally dragged in my first and only bite.

Surprisingly, Griffin kept up with us, which is not his style. Typically, it is he that would rather sit in the car than fish. I was happy to see him having a good time, even though it upset him when I let Bubbles go home. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Deer Hunting 11/30/2015

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It wasn't that I didn't realize that deer season had been open for a week, it was just that I had a lot going on. Not that I am making excuses or anything, but.....

...we hosted two different Thanksgivings with a combined 100 people. Aubree had her last softball tournament and I received the stink-eye when suggesting that Alyse should take the boys to Birmingham by herself. Add on that a weekend trip to watch the Iron Bowl. Now that I think about it, there was a lot of extra time in there. But, frankly, we have been pretty tired and have elected to sit on our behinds in our spare time. 

Other than the one fishing trip Brad and I made to Pickwick. But, honestly, who can give up a chance to smallmouth fish in late November in 70+ degree weather?


The stars aligned and I was able to shake free for an afternoon hunts. So, still in my khakis and polo shirt, I shimmied in to my coveralls in the rain and tied up my newest set of boots, which ironically are a woman's size 10. Not sure how I ended up with women's boots, but I digress. They fit and they are comfortable. 

In case you haven't looked outside or you aren't from around here, it has been raining for three days straight. 

But it was the perfect kind of rain that my uncle said would bring out the monsters. Indeed, as I had pulled in to the parking spot by the green house I was hunting, no less than 20 turkeys and 10 deer were sharing a green field across the street. A good sign. 

The day started off slow, so I broke out a book that I have been reading and kicked back in the shooting house. These shooting houses are tall enough to walk in (for me, maybe not for you normal sized people) and insulated. In fact, I cracked several of the windows to feel the cool breeze while I listened to the rain pitter-pattering the roof. 

Directly across the green field, I spotted a lone deer step out of a fire lane and eat some honeysuckle. It stepped across the lane and I never saw it again. 

Minutes later, another deer stepped out of the swampy bottom near the parking area. It slowly made its way across the field towards me. I pulled the scope up and weighed my options.

I have learned some valuable lessons from my dad and uncle over the last three years. I probably average about one lesson a year, so in about 15 years, I might have things down. But, the first lesson I learned a few years back is that, when trying to judge a lone doe, you pay attention to the length of the snout. That's because you can't gauge the relative size of the deer without seeing other deer and the length of the snout typically gives an indication of age. While this deer did appear full grown, it had a short snout. It was also by itself, which almost certainly meant it was a young button buck.
It was hard to keep watching it as it sauntered close to me, but I knew it would be a mistake to shoot it. 

To my left at the very far corner of the field, a doe and two fauns stepped out of another shooting lane. They cautiously walked the edge of the field. The fauns appeared big enough that shooting the doe was fair game. But, I am a terrible liar and my wife always questions me hard about killing does. 

The light was fading fast and already I could only make out general shapes on the far end of the field. That was when I spotted something in another fire lane, which is a favorite egress point for deer. I pulled up the scope, and thanks to its 40MM aperture, I was able to see it fairly clearly. It was a basket rack six. The antlers weren't outside the ears, which is the determining factor for shooting bucks in our club. Additionally, we are required to kill two does before a buck, unless the buck is considered a monster. Now, monster is a general term. Monster to me would be a big 8. Monster to my dad and uncle would be considerably larger. But, I haven't killed anything that large yet and they have. 

Clearly this buck didn't meet any standards, so I had to pass. I was fairly certain that the day was over as the day light was fading fast and so far all the does had done their very best to stay out of range. 

That's when I noticed the grunting. That doesn't mean that's when I first heard it. In all honestly, I had heard it as I was profiling the basket rack, but because I was so intently watching the small buck, I had tuned the grunts out. 

Eventually, it wasn't the grunts that finally got my attention, but the bizarre behavior of the three does (the doe and two fauns). Where they had been cautious, they were now absent mindedly running around the field, just to my left. 

That's when I noticed that there weren't three deer anymore, but four. One had stepped out from just behind a huge tree which was between the corner they entered and myself. 

I put the scope on the fourth deer which was obviously larger and I had to really dial it up to see as the sun was fading fast. 

It was a buck, no doubt. I didn't have to look for antlers to tell that. It was a fairly massive deer. But, sure enough, there were antlers. The issue was that he was perpendicular to me and I couldn't tell how far out the antlers extended. What I could tell was that they were long and tall, which was a great start. But, I needed to see the spread in order to get an honest assessment of whether he met the monster clause. 

I whistled and he ignored. 

I called and he ignored.

Eventually I had to scream "hey! over here!" 

Not only did he look, but he also took off at a pretty good clip away from me. But, in that moment, I could see all I needed to see. He met my definition of a monster. 

I dropped the hammer and he dropped to the ground. 

I am so glad I have two seasoned hunters to help me out. In the past, I probably wouldn't have shot the first doe and ultimately it would have been a button buck. Or, I might have given up so close to dark. But, I listened and I was rewarded with an excellent buck.

He has an 18 inch spread and was wonderfully fat. He will be terrific eating. Additionally, he will be the first deer that I will have mounted. Because he has split G2s, I call him "Crabby."