Texas State Record Caught!

The morning dawned clear and chilly with a light southwestern wind.

I had worked the graveyard shift at the Borger Refinery & NGL Center (Phillips 66) and had gotten off of work at 5:30 in the morning. After having invited several friends to go fishing with me and listening to them tell me how crazy I was for going out in 35 degree weather, I finally had a taker. Now whether he was crazy too, or just loved fishing as much as I do, I don’t know, but we headed out with a sense of something to come, good or bad , I just knew something was bound to happen cause it was Friday the 13th of March.

Lake Meredith is located about 45 miles Northwest of Amarillo, Texas. It is a 16,550 acre lake with lots of rocky shorelines and deep dropoffs, (ideal for smallmouth) but not hardly any trees around it at all, so if ya’ll come for a visit, bring plenty of sunscreen. About 2 years ago they flooded the lake and put a lot of brush and small trees under water, so now it is coming on strong as a bass lake.

Now I don’t claim to be the best fisherman on this lake, but I do know how to fish this lake. I had caught most of my smallies on Crankbaits and Jigs until I started experimenting with a FleFly slab and curly tail grub combination. The smallmouths seem to attack that thing like it is their worst enemy. As I have said before, I had caught some nice fish in this area before, in the range of 3 to 5 pounds. I had a 3/4 ounce slab with a glow in the dark curly tail grub on it, and Tracy was fishing with a Little George. We were drift fishing in about 35 feet of water and bouncing them off bottom and pulling it up about 8 feet and then letting it flutter back down. On the first pass, something big hit that slab, but I missed it, so we circled back around and drifted across again. This time I was ready when it hit. I could tell that it was big by the pull of the rod. I pulled it up about halfway when it started its run out away from the boat. It surfaced about 35 feet out and we could see that it was a nice one. It decided it liked the deep water better and headed back down, I just let it go and then started reeling it back up when I felt it tire. This time it surfaced about 10 feet out, I looked at Tracy and his eyes were as big as saucers, as were mine. It made 1 more run to bottom and then gave up, and when we hauled it into the boat, we both knew that I had a lake record. There sure was a lot of whoopin and hollerin that went on in that boat.

I would like to take just a minute and talk about THE DREAM. You know the one I’m talking about. The one that every fisherman, be it man or woman and especially children, has when they are out fishing. The dream of catching a record size fish and having your name in the record books. I have had that dream since the age of 7, when I saw my dad reel in what I thought was a monster fish. Most people like to fish just for the thrill of the fight, but in the back of their mind, there is always the DREAM.

On March 13th 1998, I realized that dream. After taking the fish in and getting it weighed and certified for a lake record, it was then that I found out that I not only had a lake record but a state record. My fish weighed in at 7.93 lbs., was 23 inches long and had a girth of 19 inches. It was official, I now owned the Texas State Record for Smallmouth Bass. I named the fish Jason, because it was caught on Friday the 13th. I donated Jason to the Budweiser Share a Lunker program, and she is now residing in the Texas Freshwater Hatchery in Athens, Texas…located 75 miles Southeast of Dallas, Texas.

Because of Jason, I have had the opportunity to meet and talk to a lot of people that I would never have gotten to, if not for the record. So far it has been a very enjoyable experience, one that I would not trade for the world.

If you come to Lake Meredith, be sure to stop by Larry’s Marine and bait store and pick up some of the FleFly slabs. The phone number is (806) 857-3464. If you ever get down this way and need some information on our lake, you can give me a call at (806) 857-2445, or just call and shoot the breeze. I don’t claim to be a great fisherman, but I am a sincere one, and I will share my knowledge of the sport with you. So long and good luck.

“Take a kid fishing and help them get hooked on a dream that will last a lifetime.”

P.S. There have been some magazine articles that refer to my catch as an “accident”. It seems that since I mentioned that we went out that morning in search of some of the pre-spawn walleye that Lake Meredith is famous for (The Texas State Record for Walleye also comes from here) they took that to mean that walleye is what I was fishing for. I would like to set the record straight. I am a BASS fisherman at heart, and I work hard at bass fishing, but I do love to eat Walleye, although I do not claim to be a seasoned veteran at walleye fishing. My buddy and I had set out to catch some of the walleye to take to work and have a fishfry with our co-workers. After fishing for 30 to 45 minutes with no luck. I asked my buddy Tracy if he would like to switch to Smallies. I told him that I had been having really good luck with the smallies in the cold weather. He said “Sure, I’m just here to catch fish, no matter what kind.” So we switched out lures and headed to one of my honeyholes. So no matter what you may read elsewhere, at the time that I caught Jason, I was BASS fishing.

That’s my version of the story and I am sticking to it. Thanks for taking the time to read my story and I hope that you enjoyed it.

Early Spring

Early Spring starts as early as late January in the deep South to right after ice out up (April or even May) in the North East. Early Spring temperatures should generally defined as from 32 degrees to 50 degrees. Even before the ice clears away from the launching ramp, brave souls have broken through the ice to launch their boat to get to the ice free areas. In those areas that are ice free the water temperature is usually in the upper 30’s to low 40’s. While to most people that seems way to cold to start fishing you have to remember that the bass have been inactive and mostly in the dark for 3 or 4 months and with the ice gone and the sun warming the water to around 40 degrees that’s about an 8 degree jump in a relatively short period of time. The bass are going to move up into the shallows where the water is warmer and to look for whatever forage fish(perch, sunfish, minnows, etc.) have started moving around.

The best areas to find would be shallow water flats or ledges next to deep water. Such as coves on the Northern side of the lake. The reason that they warm up faster is that as the days get progressively longer and the sun moves higher in the sky the Northern areas receive more sun and therefore warm up faster. Also during the early Spring any cold fronts that move through generally bring winds out of a Northerly direction and the Northern sections of the lake would generally be protected from the wind.

Some good choices of lures would be to use natural colored crankbaits, spinnerbaits, suspending jerk baits or jigs. The best colors would be perch, shad, crawfish for crank baits. For spinnerbaits the best colors would be alewife, chartreuse, white, blue, or any combination of those colors. Jig colors generally would be black, black/blue, blue, crawfish and would be fished with a trailer either pork or plastic. Although this time of year a pork trailer would be better since it would be more flexible in the colder water.

TacticsLake Graphic2

    This time of year if you start early in the morning it would be best to start off with a slow retrieve at first. Increasing and varying your retrieve and speed as the water warms up.

Remember even though the water is still cold, as it gets warmer throughout the day it is still an increase in temperature and the bass will become more active! At first start in no more than in 10 feet of water and work your way shallower. Don’t be afraid to throw your lure shallow even if you think that the water is too cold for them to be that shallow, you just might be surprised!

Types of retrieves should range from an extremely slow crawl along the bottom with either a jig or crankbait or slowrolling a spinnerbait to “burning” a crankbait as fast as you can.You should also use as light a line as possible. This is for several reasons, the most important one being that it gives your lure more action and allows it to act more natural. Of course it all depends on the type of cover you are fishing, use your best judgement and common sense.

Tips

If you are using crankbaits particularly balsa wood like the Rapala’s replace the treble hooks with a set that are 1 size larger than what’s on there. Use a stop and go retrieve, the bait will generally suspend or will rise extremely slow when you stop the lure. This is an excellent technique to use if the water is still cold and the bass are being a little finicky. When you stop the lure watch your line because you generally will not feel them hit. All you will see is a twitch in the line.

 

Fishing Lure Reviews

Terminator Titanium Spinnerbaits

41MrTJTW6GLThat’s right! A spinnerbait that is made out of Titanium. You may be wondering why on earth would somebody want to make a spinnerbait out of that. Isn’t that what they make space ships and stuff out of?? That’s exactly the reason the the makers of the Terminator decided to use Titanium. It’s extremely strong, flexible and has an excellent “memory”. The term “memory” here refers to the metals ability to bounce back to it’s original shape. So a perfectly tuned Terminator Spinnerbait will always run straight no mater what you or the fish will do to it.

All reports indicate that the claims that they make as far as the bait running true out of the container are accurate. The only current drawback to this bait would be the price. It’s about double the price of your average spinnerbait. However if you have to keep replacing your spinnerbaits every so often because you, the fish or the places you fish just absolutely destroy them then the investment should be worthwhile.

You use these baits like any other spinnerbait (only with these you can throw them anywhere and they won’t get damaged). A typical retrieve for this time of year could be just a simple straight cast and retrieve, or something as complicated as a slow-roll just above some submerged weeds. Other techniques include “burning them” just under the surface so that they make a wake, combine this with an occasional stopping the retrieve so the lure “helicopters” down( giving the look of a dying shad or minnow) and the bass will just nail the living daylights out of it.

Rapala Husky Jerk

61jxpq5sEIL._SL1500_Although this lure has been around for a year or two this is one that should definitely be added to your tackle box and this time of year in the North and Northeast have one tied on at all times.

This lure comes in four sizes, from 3 1/8″ long (1/4 oz) to 5 1/2″ long (1/2oz). The most productive for Smallmouth’s being the 3 1/8″ and 4″ sizes. This is a thin narrow bait designed with no real built in action besides the standard wobble you get with a steady retrieve. The action depends entirely on the fishermen/fisherpersons using it. You have to give the bass the impression that this is a wounded baitfish. The most attractive feature about this and most other good jerkbaits is that it suspends when at rest. Meaning that when the lure is at rest it just sits there, neither rising or falling (just like a real baitfish) this bait also has built in rattles to help bass locate it.

Obviously you can use as heavy a line as you want but for clear water you want to use as light a line as you can. So far 8lb test is the lightest that’s been used here but you can probably go with 6lbs test if your very careful with your method of retrieve. Speaking of retrieving… the way to retrieve a Husky Jerk is after you cast it out give it a twitch or “jerk” then pause then twitch. You can vary this by giving your bait several twitches in a row before pausing or combining a swimming retrieve with twitching. How hard you twitch or jerk this bait depends on the strength of the line and the action of the rod you are using. When the water is still cold or when the fish are being finicky a lot of your hits will be when the lure is “suspending” or sitting still. You won’t know you have a bass on until you try to twitch it again. If they are aggressive they will try to take your arm off when they strike.

High Roller

11jssmsmymLThis is a relatively new bait from Florida (of all places!). It was originally made for Largemouth bass but it is also an excellent choice for Smallmouth.

The lure is made out of solid wood and will cast like you wouldn’t believe! Due to its shape it is ideally made to order for “walking the dog”. A good technique to use in addition to “walking the dog” is to combine the topwater retrieve with that of a crankbait retrieve. Cast past the spot you want to target and crank it close to where you want to go then stop the retrieve and let it rest for a few seconds or longer then start your topwater retrieve.

Although it doesn’t have a bill it will dive down to about two feet and it does have a little action when it moves through the water. It comes in a variety of colors and two sizes, 3 1/4″ and 4 1/4″. The 3 1/4″ size is a good size to use for most Smallie use.

The Original Floating Rapala!

21ORueaj3XLThis is perhaps one of the best Smallmouth lures ever invented! Every serious Smallie fisherperson should carry one in their tackle box whether you’re in a boat on one of the big Southern impoundment’s or floating down the New River in Virginia.

The lure comes in various sizes and colors, one of the best colors being the Gold/Black back. Sizes range from two inches to a huge seven inches!

The most popular method of retrieval is to throw it out next to your favorite piece of cover or over a shallow rocky flat and just let it sit there until the ripples fade away then twitch it. Wait until the ripples fade away again and twitch it again. Keep doing this until a Smallie nails it or it gets to your boat. You can also use it as a “jerkbait ” by giving it a good hard twitch or jerk which will pull the lure down about 12 to 18 inches. The bass will usually hit it when it’s under the surface usually just as it starts to rise. You should always use as light a line as you possible can to give the lure a more natural presentation.

This lure also has some built in action and can be used as a crankbait. It will dive to about two feet and has a natural wobbly type action. A lot of hits will come as an angler is retrieving the Rapala back to the boat (not paying attention of course) and the bass will hit and usually get off.

The Rapala Shad Rap!

51ILco5wbIL._SL1500_This lure really needs no introduction since it set a new standard in the lure industry when it was first introduced. For those of you who are not familiar with it, the Shad Rap most closely imitates the natural action of a shad, minnow or other small baitfish. Plus the profile of the lure also looks completely natural.

The most popular size is the #7 which is 2-3/4″ long, the smallest size is 2″ and the largest is 3-1/2″ long. It comes in 8 different colors and at least one of them should match the baitfish in your area. The most productive colors are the Shad and Perch colors (since these represent the most prevalent type of baitfish available).

These lures can be used in any body of water from small streams to large reservoirs. You can just cast into the current of a stream or river and retrieve the lure with the current around rocks and logs or use a stop and go retrieve over submerged weed beds in your favorite lake or pond.

One way to make your Shad Raps more effective is to change the hooks to one size larger. This will cause them to suspend or rise slowly when the lure is stopped. Using a stop and go retrieve with larger hooks is an especially deadly method when the water is cold and the Smallies are a bit sluggish.

Neal’s Handcrafted Lures

These lures are made by Neal’s Handcrafted Lures out of Virginia. The quality and craftsmanship of these lures is excellent. The lures pictured above are 1/8 oz. hair jigs, a 1/8 oz. spinner bait and two 1/4 oz. spinnerbaits.

In field testing I removed the weed guard from the black/brown jig as there were no weeds in the area and prefer not to have them on my jigs. In testing them on a spinning rod with 8 lb. test the jigs cast well, the paint isn’t susceptible to immediate chipping when worked over rocks and catch Smallies as well. The best retrieve for this time of year (water temperature was 46 degrees) was to work the jig in 9 – 11 feet of water (this was at the edge of a drop off) and after the jig hit the bottom pop the jig up about two feet and let it slowly descend. The bass would hit the jig as it was falling. Another method that is good is to swim the jig along the bottom. Keep the jig about a foot or two above the bottom or at least just touching the bottom and slowly and steadily retrieve the jig back to you.

The spinnerbaits performed excellently as well. The baits ran true without any pre fishing adjustments and the skirts pulsated freely behind the blades without getting tangled. These can be fished like any standard spinner bait but with the color combination of the 1/8 oz. pictured above you may want to work them in the same manner as I described the jigs. The results may just save the day.

Phil’s World Class Hair Jigs!

Phil’s World Class Hair Jigs are definitely the cream of the crop when it comes to not just hair jigs but all jigs. The workmanship, detail and just plain hard work that goes into them makes them perhaps the best hair jigs in the country.

The action that these jigs have give it a very life like presentation when used in a variety of retrieves. The most popular method of retrieve for these jigs is a swimming retrieve. After you cast out your jig you let sink down to the appropriate depth and reel the jig in similar to a crankbait only a lot slower. Just enough speed to keep it off the bottom. While retrieving you can also sweep the rod tip up or shake it a little to give it more action.

Another method is the stop and go method while dragging it along the bottom. Slowly drag the jig across the bottom pausing occasionally for a few seconds then continuing. This works better if the bottom is fairly smooth or on small gravel. If you try this with a lot of snags and a very irregular bottom you should carry a good supply with you.

The retrieve that has worked the best recently has been hopping it along the bottom. In this situation the bottom was broken up with all sizes of rocks from small gravel to car size boulders. After your jig hits the bottom jerk your rod tip up so that your jig hops up about a foot or two and keep tension on the line. This will cause the jig to fall towards you and when they hit you will usually be able to either see your line move or feel them hit depending on how aggressive they are.

Phil’s jigs come in 1/8, 1/4 and 3/8 oz. sizes.

Jensen Jigs Bou-Tubes!

The “Bou-Tube” combines a tube with a marabou tail and the results are fantastic! Already well renowned for their jigs by In-Fisherman Magazine they have broken new ground with this innovative design.

As for their action, imagine the flowing and flaring tail of the marabou jig and combining that with the versatility of a tube jig. The result is a much more lifelike action than that of just plain plastic tentacles. You can hop them like a tube bait or use a combination of swim/jerk for a unique erratic retrieve, similar to a jerk bait. With the head of the jig being somewhat protected by the tube it’s not as susceptible to hang ups as regular jigs are.

Here’s a testimonial to their effectiveness:

“I was guiding on a clear lake in Florence County. The water temp was dropping at night and your tube jigs worked very well. They were hitting my larger tube jigs and skirted grubs short. The crayfish patterns were effective on this clear water lake.”

“In fact I had to give one of the jigs to one of my clients (very good ones, they fish with me regularly) After he was catching fish I could not take it from him. I let them know where they came from.”
Mike Mladnick WI. outdoor writer and guide

And a tip from Mr. Jig who started using them (or a similar version) for some time now:

” I often fish it glided just over the bottom in spring as you would use a hair jig.
It is of course highly effective on the drop or lift dropped -“popped”, as the season progresses.”

River & Stream Tactics and Techniques

We realize that a lot of Smallmouth fishermen/ fisherpersons either don’t have a good Smallmouth lake close by or prefer the quiet and solitude of a good wooded river or stream.  We hope that the following is helpful and informative.

Know Your Environment!

While lake anglers seem to have more information about their body of water at their disposal than most river and stream anglers, here is the best possible source of a wide variety of information for your particular fishing area.   It’s the USGS(United States Geological Survey) Water Resources for the United States web site.  You can find out the current water flow for your river or stream plus the water quality and a host of other information.  Their home page is at http://water.usgs.gov/.  The specific information on each states water is under the Water Data heading or you can go directly to that page at http://water.usgs.gov/realtime.html.

This an excellent site to keep tabs on your favorite river or stream. It can help you in your planning fishing trips to your favorite areas or to new areas. Please bookmark their site and refer to it often, especially when there is any heavy precipitation in your area

Water Temperature

Before you venture out in into the river or stream of your choice you should try to determine what the water temperature is so you can plan your strategy for lure choices and retrieves.  If you are unable to take along any type of thermometer the following should get you in the general vicinity of what the water temperature should be.

Take the average high temperatures and the average low temperatures for the week add them together and divide by 2.  This should give you a pretty good idea of what the water temperature is.  For example: if the average high temps for the week were 75 degrees and the average lows were 45 degrees that would give you a total of 120.  Divide that by 2, and that gives you 60.  The water temperature should be right around 60 degrees.

Recommended Tackle

Medium or Ultra light gear is the mainstay of the stream person while those who fish rivers can use  heavier action equipment.  Shimano, Zebco and Quantum are some of the more popular brands of reels among our River and Stream anglers. While the choice of a good rod depends on the size of the lure you’re using , Shakespeare has been mentioned a few times by some of our regulars. Falcon has also been recommended as a high quality rod.

As for what line to use.  Since using light line and rocks don’t exactly go together try using some of the new “Super” lines like Berkley’s Fireline.  They have the diameter of 2 – 4 pound test but have the strength of 8 – 10 pound test.  This of course depends on what pound test line that you choose.

For lures you should generally scale down the size of the lures that you use and try to match the size of the baitfish of that particular river or stream.   Don’t be afraid to go down to 1/16 ounce  or lighter if you have to.   Just balance your lures with the type of rod and reel that you are using so you can present your lures in a somewhat natural manner.  Occasionally you may want to change to a larger lure if the smaller lures or the ones that you normally use don’t produce.   This gives the Smallies something different to look at plus it gives them the impression of a larger meal to eat.

Recommended Lures

   For streams, you can pack light, yet pack enough so that you will be prepared for the conditions that await you. Try to bring one plastic compartmentalized box, but you can pack tons of stuff in them.   A recommended lure selection would be as follows:

1. Three inch tube jig (natural shad colors in clear water and black or dark brown in stained water).

2. Three inch curly tailed grubs, like the  Kalin 3 inch triple threat grub rigged on a Bulldog 1/8 ounce jighead.

3. Blakemore 1/16-ounce Road Runner maribou.

4. Hair jig and Uncle Josh leech or twin tail trailer.

5. Small Smithwick Suspending Rogue.

6. Rebel Pop R, Hedden Baby Torpedo, Zara PuppySpook.

7. Use the  Berkley interlock small snaps for quick lure change and, no, they do not impede the action of the lure or weaken the knot to lure connection.

        Others prefer a 3 inch Power Grub  on a 1/16 oz narrow jig head in pumkinseed or white if the water is muddy. Another good choice would be a 2 inch Sassy Shad on a 1/16 oz jig head.

      The Tiny Torpedo is a must have for river smallmouth anglers. For best results however, don’t fish it straight out of the box. Add a split ring to the line tie and to both hook hangers. This will give the torpedo more action and will allow the hooks to swing more freely…less thrown baits by mr. smallie. You should also doctor the spinner a little. Take it off and bend each blade a little more, like the prop on an airplane. Also make sure you sharpen the hooks or replace them with better quality ones.  Regarding fishing techniques, The best presentation is some sort of stop-and-go retrieve, except for at night when a slow steady retrieve works the best.

HERE ARE SOME TIPS AND TACTICS!

    If you are planning to some or a lot of wading, especially in the early Spring be extra careful where you put your feet!  A wrong move could end your day (either temporarily or permanently!)  There are some manufacturers that make felt soles for extra gripping on slippery rocks and gravel.

    If possible always cast upstream.  This gives the bait a natural appearance or at least it will come from a direction that the bass are expecting.  When you bring your lure by a fallen tree or a little pocket on the down side of a rock, the bass are expecting some type of food to go by and if you come along with a small jig or lure the bass will be expecting it and nail it before it gets by them.   If you cast from the opposite direction you will bring it up behind them and just scare the livin’ scales off ’em!

   It’s always best to try to “match the hatch” as fly fishermen would say.  If you are fly fishing for Smallies then that is probably what you would say.  Generally you want to carry lures that match the size and color of the bait that is in the river or stream.  However there are always exceptions to rules and this is one of them.  While using small lures on good Smallie streams will generally produce tons of small bass try using lures that are a little larger than normal.  This will usually weed out some of the smaller bass and produce more of the quality Smallies that your after.

    If you are fishing an area that has gotten a lot of rain over the past several days or longer and the water is muddy, you don’t have to stay home.  If you can safely get out on the water use lures that are bright in color and make a little noise.  Smallmouth bass have to eat and just because it’s muddy doesn’t mean they have to starve.  When the water first gets muddy it will adversely affect them but after a couple of days they will sort of be used to the conditions and be looking (or actually hearing) for food.  Use fluorescent colors of Rat-L-Trap type lures, jigs with rattles and white spinnerbaits.  The key is to use a steady retrieve so the bass can home in on them.

I have that “Erie” feeling again!

WHOA!…..now THAT’S a good fish I thought as my rod doubled over. “Looks like you could use a little help” chuckled my friend and Great Lakes guide Nolan Edward’s. “Think you can handle that big girl all by yourself”? With a grin on my face that must have spoke volumes, I shook my head no. “I believe I can handle it”, I said. We shared a laugh between old friends that comes from the excitement and the accomplishment of the moment.

This was a BIG smallmouth I had on, I had no doubt. I was gaining line , but for the most part this fish was having its way with me. It fought with a dogged determination that is so symbolic of this species, no aerial acrobatics , 44-degree water temperature had seen to that, just a steady heavy throb. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity of butterfly’s and white knuckles the fish began to give in, slowly at first, but with each turn of the handle it came a bit closer to the boat. There she was, I could see her now some fifteen feet down in the crystal clear water, jerking her head side to side in a last effort to rid herself of the hook. She was magnificent I thought to myself as Nolan slid the rubber net under her. I let out a sigh of relief and just stared in amazement at the size of this smallmouth I had just caught. The scales told the story eloquently 5 lbs.,2ozs., I was right, that WAS a big smallmouth.

lake erie

“Lake Erie” is far and away the best smallmouth lake in America, nothing else even comes close” stated Dan Surra of the In Fisherman Show and Magazine. “There are just so many four pound fish being caught it’s incredible, a five pounder rates but a brief mention here” he added. I can attest to the truth and wisdom of these statements for on this, my FIRST day , I caught and released 6 smallmouth over five pounds, and 2 that were over 6 pounds . Talk about being in the zone, man I was in the TWILIGHT ZONE. Great days such as the I one just described happen from time to time on this storied fishery.

Thanks to the efforts of the New York State DEC, this outstanding fishery is there for all to sample and enjoy. Beginning in the spring of 1995 the eastern basin of Lake Erie was opened as a “Trophy Fishery” for smallmouth bass by the state with a creel limit of one fish per day over 14″. The season opens the first Saturday in May and coincides with the opening of the walleye season. The first few years there was little if any pressure, but in the past five years this area has become a hot bed of early season smallmouth fishing that has been sampled by fishermen throughout the country and Canada.

    WHEN TO GO

With out a doubt my favorite time is the first week of the season. Over the period of the past five years our records indicate most of the smallmouth we have caught that were over 6 pounds were taken during this period. Memorial Day weekend will coincide with some of the very best action you will ever find. This in my opinion , will offer you the best shot at finding that proverbial “Pot Of Gold”, and striking it rich with one of those 100 fish days. The action from June to mid July is still quite good, but with less of the really large fish being caught. Mid July through the end of August the action slows somewhat, but can still be quite rewarding. September through October can be some of the best fishing of the year and would be my second choice as “Best Bet” . The numbers and the size pick up as the “attack formations” of marauding smallmouth put on the fall feed bag. The action at this time can literally be non-stop and the fight these hefty Bronzebacks put up can make one pause to wonder what type of heart medication may be available. Few other fresh water fish rival their aerial acrobatics during the fall. Just try keeping them in the water.

    WHERE TO GO

Our “home base” so to speak is Dunkirk, New York. Located some thirty odd miles from Buffalo, New York. Lodging and meals are readily available in the area. My recommendation would be the Roadway Inn, which is located less than a ½ mile from the State Launch on Rt#5 . For accommodations call (716)366-2200. There are a “bevy” of fast food “joints” in the immediate area for those thrifty minded individuals and a service station and mini-mart directly across from the ramp that’s open 24 hours.

    WHAT TO USE

My personal preference is the grub, but tube baits and many other offerings will get the job done. I like the “Bobby Garland” hyper tail grubs in the following colors. 1) Mossy Green/Black Flake 2.) Avocado 3) Pumpkin/Green Flake. For tube fishing my preferences are the “Bobby Garland” Gitzit in the following colors 1) Green Craw 2) Pumpkin/Chartreuse 3) Smoke/Chart Red Flake. The predominant forage species is the Emerald Shiner and for that reason I really like the green hues. Just about anything you usually use to catch smallmouth on your home water will work here. You should have a large assortment of lead heads ranging from 1/16 to 3/8 ozs, these will fit all the situations you may encounter.

    EQUIPMENT

I have three rods set up at all times with a different size jig head on each. This allows me to quickly adapt to whatever the situation dictates. I prefer a Daiwa 6’10″ finesse spinning outfit paired with a Team Daiwa 1300 spinning reel spooled with 8 lb Berkley Trilene XL (Green). I would not recommend using a rod shorter than 6’6″. Much of the fishing we do is drifting over structure breaks in depths ranging from 18 to 40 feet in the early spring and the longer rod lends itself more readily for that job. Any quality rod and reel will handle the job nicely.

    SPECIAL NOTE

The main draw back to fishing Lake Erie in the early spring is the weather. Fronts are constantly moving through the area and conditions change almost hourly. If you plan to go for five days, you may be lucky to get out only twice. But most time’s two days is enough. Remember that this is a very large body of water that can get “nasty” real quick. Give her the respect she deserves. Remember , discretion is the better part of valor. Have a ball and hold on!

Float-N-Fly

spinning realSince the terminology from North to South is very different, it would be better to describe the basic language in this article at the beginning to help end some of the confusion.

A Float-N-Fly rod can be almost any rod that is about 8’ long to about 12’ long. I have used about every rod you can think of, from the long European Match Rods, Downrigger Rods, Noodle Rods, Crappie Rods and so on. I have settled on a Browning STS90N, which is a 9’ rod made of IM6 graphite and is what a fly fisherman would call a full flex rod, because it bends equally over the length of the rod. With the 9’ rod I use bobber to jig lengths 7 to 11 feet. If I have to fish deeper I go to 12’ graphite Crappie Rod that has good backbone and use bobber to jig lengths up to 15 feet.

A fly, any where in the country except in the south is hair, feathers, or synthetic material tied to a hook and fished most of the time on a fly rod. In the south a fly is a lead head jig that has hair, feathers or synthetic material tied to it. Simply called a hair jig any place else. Many, many people have tried to copy the fly that is made by Bullet Lures in Jonesborough, TN. (423-753-6151), but this fly took years and years to develop. It is made to resemble the young shad that die during a cold winter. Charlie and his brother Eddie, who now run the company, have found the secret to make the jig look real. If you hold their jig perfectly still in the water, it has the shape of a small shad. Most of the baits made to copy Eddie’s bait looks like a spider in the water.

A float in this case is nothing more then a 7/8 or 1-inch pear shaped bobber. Some people have made changes, but this is the original set up.

The original set up is to use a spinning reel loaded with 4 lb test that you start out by tying a 1/16 or 1/8 lead head jig, dressed with craft hair, to the end of your line. Then you move toward the rod tip 7 to 9 feet and take your bobber and only use the bottom end of the brass hook to attach your line. You take your 4 lb line and wrap it around the brass hook of the bobber 3 times. This makes your bobber stationary, but you must remember to tie often and also tie after every big fish. This is the original set up and is extremely affective, but when you guide and have people that don’t fish often, there are several changes you can make to save some headaches. When I guide I usually either jump up to 6 lb, test or use Fireline that is 14-6. I take a small 3-way swivel and tie my Fireline to the top eye. Since I am also a fly fisherman, I then take a tapered leader the length I need and tie that to the bottom eye. The tapered leader makes it much easier for new people to cast this rig. The third eye of the three-way swivel is where you hook the bobber. This saves a lot of broken lines and lost equipment.

Before I get into the real meat of this article, allow me to tell you how I learned of this method and how this whole thing got started. Sometime in the early 90’s, a great fellow, the late Charlie Nuckols, phoned me from east Tennessee and said, “I hear you know where those big Smallies are located on Dale Hollow Lake in the winter. I have a new way to catch those big Smallies in the winter when the water gets extremely cold and they get hard to catch”. To make a long story short, he came and showed myself and one of the best outdoor writers in the country, Don Wirth, how to use his new method and the rest is history.

This is a winter method in the South and could be considered a fall and spring method in the north. Almost every year at Dale Hollow Lake, we get a very hard freeze during the first or second week of Dec. that will drop the water temperature below 50 degrees. This hard freeze will stun the shad and cause them to start dying and most of the game fish will move under these big schools of shad for an easy meal. Each cold spell after that will cause the shad to group up in larger and larger schools and by Jan. and Feb. they are dying by the thousands. I will start using the Float-N-Fly shortly after that cold snap and will quit as soon as the water starts to warm again. That’s usually some time in late Feb. or early March. I’m a big lure big fish man and when I can I throw crankbaits, jerkbaits, and spinnerbaits, however, lots of guides stay with the Float-N-Fly method well into the spring.

The best place to start looking for these large schools of shad are in the little creeks and bays of the large creek arms. I usually drive around in the creeks, watching my Lowrance to get an idea of where the bait is located. When you find the bait in one creek, it will usually be in similar areas in the other creeks. Most of the time the bait will be located on fast drop off areas and most of your fishing will take place with your boat in fifty feet or more of water. You’re fishing for suspended fish so don’t worry that your bait is only 9 to 15 feet deep in 50 or 60 feet of water. Another reason that makes this method so effective at Dale Hollow is because the water is so clear. When vertical jigging spoons, I have actually seen Smallmouth and Spotted Bass come off the bottom in 40 feet of water to hit the spoon that is 15 or 20 feet deep. It gives you a lot of confidence to know that a fish will move that far to hit your bait.

If you have ever thrown a Carolina Rig, you will be in the ballpark making your first cast with a Float-N-Fly. You’re not trying to put your bait 6 inches from a stump or log, because most of the time you’re throwing to open water. As long as you’re hitting in the general area of the schools of shad, you’ll be in great shape. After you make your cast, wait for around 20 to 30 seconds for your bait to sink and suspend under the bobber. Start shaking or quivering your rod back and forth as you very slowly turn the reel handle. After 3 or 4 turns of the reel handle, stop and allow the jig to flutter back down under the bobber. Repeat this method until it gets back to the boat. At the same time your bobber is getting to the boat, open the bail and in one motion swing the bait back over your head, and as you hear the bait hit the water behind you, make your forward cast again. A hit can be so hard, that it sets the hook itself or so light that the bobber will just make little circles on the water. When they just barely tap your bait, stay patient and it will usually come back and take it hard. Play your fish easy, but remember that a long soft rod will give you a lot of help and is very forgiving. I don’t like a net, but I recently purchased one of the new rubber, shallow nets, because the fish are so hard to land by hand with all that line hanging below the bobber.

Just because you’re fishing a very slow deliberate method, don’t think you’re stuck in one area. You’re not going to cover the same amount of water as you do while running and gunning while throwing crankbaits, but you want to try as many areas as you can to come up with a pattern. Fish steep banks, pockets, bays, humps, roadbeds, etc., until you find where they are, and concentrate your efforts on similar areas.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re fishing the Float-N-Fly or throwing crankbaits, Smallmouth love that bad nasty weather and it seems it can’t get too nasty. Having that clear blue bird sky and you will have a hard time, just as with any other bait. This is like any other bait, you have to go out and fish it until you get confidence and then it is hard to put down.

Bass Fishing: Pro Tips

bass-hookedWHERE TO LOOK FOR PRE-SPAWNING BASS

In Spring and early Summer, look for Bass in “staging areas”, or areas where they are likely to hold for a while before moving to their bedding locations. These “staging areas” are often secondary points in bays, creeks,or ditches and depressions on flats.

HOW TO FIND PRE-SPAWNING BASS

Finding Bass is the key to catching Bass! Always use a systematic approach. I like to use plugs such as a Crankbait, Jerkbait, Spinnerbait, or Topwater. These lures cover a lot of water in a short time, and find the fish for me. When you find one or two Bass in a likely spot with these lures, don’t move on. It’s time to break out another bait. Quite often I change to a Worm, Lizard, or Jig, and take several more bass on the same spot.

WATER AND WEATHER CONDITIONS

Successful Bass fisherman are alert to water and weather conditions because they are a primary influence on Bass. It is important to understand these factors, and make wise decisions to determine likely location, patterns, and fish depth. I’ll talk more about that in the near future.

MY FAVORITE, THE CAROLINA RIG

This rig works equally well in Spring, Summer, or Fall. Successful fishing for Bass requires the proper tackle. The rod is the most important part. I use a 7 foot long Falcon Rod called a Carolina Lizard Dragger model #LFC617 paired with a Shakespeare Medalist Reel model #460UBC spooled with 20 pound test Super Silver Thread Line.The long rod is important for a long cast, and lets you get the proper “hook set” with a long sweeping motion. The hook set is the most difficult to learn. Remember, when a Bass bites, you must get the slack out, get the weight off the bottom, and hook the Bass all with one sweeping motion of your Falcon Rod. Use a short leader 18″to 24″ in shallow, stained water and a long leader 4′ to 6′ in clear and deep water. My favorite soft plastic lures are 6″ Riverside Lizard in Green Pumpkin or Watermelon Seed colors.

FISHING THE CAROLINA RIG

Most fishermen fish the Carolina Rig too fast. Make short pulls along the bottom moving the weight 6 inches to 1 foot at a time. Wait a few seconds between pulls. When the Bass strikes, take your time. Count to 3 while reeling up any slack line, and then set the hook!

WEAR THE RIGHT COLOR SHIRT FOR SPAWNING BASS

When fishing for spawning Bass in clear water, wear a gray or green shirt, and try to keep a low profile in the boat. Don’t make any sudden movements when approaching a likely spot, and try to be as quiet as possible. Loud talking and loud noises coming from your boat are sure to hurt your chances.

ALWAYS CAREFULLY RELEASE ALL SPAWNING BASS

Spawning bass are very vulnerable: So, to guarantee a successful spawn, always carefully release any Bass that you might catch.

CATCHING THOSE BIG “BUCK” BASS AT SPAWNING TIME

Often male or “Buck” Bass will stay on the spawning beds after the “Sow” or female BASS has deposited her eggs. The male will fertilize the eggs, and remain in the immediate area “guarding” the nest. He will usually stay around for some time as he will often guard the small “fry” after hatch. This is the time to catch these big bucks by finding the beds by sight and carefully looking for these prized Bass.

WARMER WATER MEANS LARGER LURES

In Summer, the warmer the water, the larger the lure you can use. In 60-65 degree water a 6″ Lizard or Worm is about right, but at 70 degrees I’ll often use a 6″ to 8″ Worm. At 75-80 degrees, I’ll choose a 10″ Worm. My favorite “Big Worm” is a 10″ Riverside Ribbontail in camouflage or black.

CREATE GOOD SUMMER FISHING WITH BRUSH PILES

To create good summer fishing try planting brush piles in your favorite lake. Be sure to check your state and local laws first. Put your brush piles or “fish shelters” on points, humps, or ledges in 10′ to 20′ of water depending on water clarity and thermocline. The clearer the water, the deeper the Bass will be found, and remember, thermoclines on reservoirs gradually get deeper and deeper as the summer progresses.

TRY NIGHT TIME FISHING IN THE SUMMER

On many lakes Bass become nocturnal feeders and are actively feeding at night. I heartily recommend night fishing. It’s often cooler and more relaxing when the weather gets really hot. Use 8″ to 10″ Riverside Worms in black, plum, and camouflage colors. Also, you might want to try a Spinner Bait. I prefer an Excalibur “Nite Roller” in black with a pork chunk trailer. Fish around brush, weeds, or any structure that you can find. Remember, stay close to deep water.

TOP WATER LURES ARE A GOOD BET FOR FALL ACTION

The Zara Spook and Spit”n” Image are great lures for fall Bass. “Walk the Dog” action can call Bass over great distances. try the main lake points and humps first. Fish the lures over 10′ to 25″ of water. You’ll get best results early in the morning and late in the evening on those cloudy, fall days.

USE SHAD OR BAIT FISH IN THE FALL

Shad or Bait Fish are the key to finding fall Bass. First locate the Shad or other Bait Fish and determine their holding depth. Then fish your live bait at the the same depth as the bait fish.

CRANK BAIT + STRUCTURE = BASS

This is my formula for fall fishing. Look for the Bass with crank baits along points and creek channel ledges.