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Troll For Dog-Day Bluegills

August 15, 2014 in Articles, Fishing

by Dave Mull

A big bluegill on our trolled rig was welcome, but it was no surprise. Our targets were trout on the deep Michigan lake that August afternoon, but right away we could tell what grabbed the Stinger Scorpion spoon trolled behind a downrigger set 25 feet deep didn’t fight with a trout’s darting runs.

Trolling for bluegill is a great technique for kids to get in on the action. Here, Kathy Terpstra and Andrea Essenburg admire a bluegill Andrea reeled in after it hit a small Stinger Scorpion spoon trolled with a downrigger on a Michigan lake.

Trolling for bluegill is a great technique for kids to get in on the action. Here, Kathy Terpstra and Andrea Essenburg, 6, admire a bluegill Andrea reeled in after it hit a small Stinger Scorpion spoon trolled with a downrigger on a Michigan lake.

Instead, it stayed deep and struggled in a shivering circle.

“Wow, nice bluegill!” I remarked to my buddy Kevin Essenburg, who let his 6-year-old daughter Andrea reel it in.

We scored three trout and another decent bluegill before sunset, and the panfish weren’t necessarily flukes. Trolling with the solid intention of catching a mess of bream and crappies is hugely effective and pretty easy. Trolling is especially effective for bluegill in the summer, when bigger panfish move away from the weedbeds that served as their nurseries and suspend over open-water lake basins where they feed on zooplankton, emerging insects and minnows.

Trolling for bluegill isn’t a new approach for me. Each August, my grandfather used to slowly row with double-hook rigs and a bell sinker at the end of the fishing line for large bluegills. It seemed we were fishing in the middle of nowhere. With two or three flyrods coupled with old baitcasting reels and braided Dacron line, he’d present a smorgasbord of crickets, leaf worms and catalpa caterpillars to fish hanging 20 to 35 feet deep over even deeper water.

He would measure out different lengths of line and half-hitch it to the reel handle. When a fish hit, he hand-lined it in like a fly angler stripping in flyline, letting the braid coil in the bottom of the boat. Fish landed, hook rebaited, it was easy to put the bait back to the productive depth and then adjust the other lines to put more baits in the same vicinity.

In those days, before fish-finding sonar became standard issue on fishing boats, it was a hit-and-miss proposition. These days, thanks to electric trolling motors, great electronics and an assortment of lures suitable for ultra-light tackle, trolling for suspended panfish can be a hot ticket for steaming, breaded fillets fresh from the fryer.

My fishing buddy Al Malsch, of Lawton, Michigan, showed me a panfish-catching system that’s as simple as it is effective.

Two #14 Spin-N-Glos with bait can be deadly when trolling for bluegills.

Two #14 Spin-N-Glos with bait can be deadly when trolling for bluegills.

The key components are diminutive Worden’s Spin-N-Glos, which are basically colored cones of hard, buoyant foam with wings that spin when pulled through the water. One or two Spin-N-Glos are tied on a leader of 4-pound fluorocarbon, with a bead separating the spinner from a long-shank No. 6 hook. Bait, whether live waxworms, redworms or a small, scented artificial grub such as a Berkley Gulp! 1-inch Pinched Crawler, seals the deal with panfish drawn to the commotion of the spinner. Small metal blades and the Smile Blade from Mack’s Lures also make effective bait-trolling rigs.

In the summer, once the lake water settles into a warm surface layer above cold depths, Malsch trolls deeper water away from any structure as well as the deep side of weed beds. In an electric motor-powered, square-back canoe, Malsch sets out three rods for himself, and hands a fourth to his usual fishing buddy, grandson Tyler Malsch.

Crimping a couple of split shot ahead of the 3-foot leaders, Malsch makes sure each line is paid out a different distance to cover different depths, then he trolls just fast enough for the Spin-N-Glos to revolve. While longer rods go out to the side, one of the hottest rigs is often a 2-foot-long ice fishing rod with a tiny spinning reel. The bait is set to run in line with the Minn Kota electric motor, right behind the disturbance of the prop.

“I think the swirling of the propeller brings ’em right to the boat,” Malsch says, noting that many fish are missed by fishing too deep. “Bluegills especially are often looking for food right on the surface, so many times lines with little weight running in the top few feet of water will catch a lot of fish.

“Of course that’s not true every day, and lots of times baits taken deeper with a little more weight will get those fish hanging right at the depth where the water separates from the warm surface layer to cold water.”

A wide variety of lures work when trolling for panfish. Clockwise from bottom left: Two Worden’s #14 Spin-N-Glos baited with a Gulp 1-inch Pinched Crawler, Mack’s Wedding Ring with two Power Bait Wigglers, Size 04 Rapala X-Rap, Spro Mini Jerkbait, Lindy 3/16-ounce River Rocker, Storm 3 ½-inch Mad Flash Thunderstick and Reef Runner Mini-Rip.

A wide variety of lures work when trolling for panfish. (Clockwise from bottom left) Two Worden’s #14 Spin-N-Glos baited with a Gulp 1-inch Pinched Crawler, Mack’s Wedding Ring with two Power Bait Wigglers, Size 04 Rapala X-Rap, SPRO Mini Jerkbait, Lindy 3/16-ounce River Rocker, Storm 3 1//2-inch Mad Flash Thunderstick, and a Reef Runner Mini-Rip.

Crappie often hang right at this temperature break, technically called a thermocline, and attack bait rigs as well as small crankbaits such as Reef Runner Mini Rips, No. 4 Shad Raps and 3/16-ounce Lindy River Rockers.

The depth you fish with spinners and bait depends on the amount of weight you add to the line, how much line you let out and the speed of your boat. Crankbait depth largely depends on how deep the specific lure can dive and how far back you set it.

To achieve and duplicate effective depths, the ‘rod-sweep’ method works well. Just put the bait in the water with the rod parallel to the surface. Point the rod tip almost directly astern. With the bail open—but finger ready to stop the line—sweep your rod almost all the way to the bow.

At the end of the forward sweep, stop the line, slowly point the rod back astern, letting the lure drop back, and repeat the forward sweep. Ideally, each sweep lets out the same amount of line.

When a rod gets a bite, match the amount of line out on the other rods. You might not know exactly how deep the baits are, but you can reset them with the same number of sweeps and know you’ll to about the same depth.

This summer, give panfish trolling a try—you might be surprised at how quickly you get the fixings for a fish fry.

 

 

The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance website is designed to provide valuable articles about hunting, fishing and conservation for members of AFL-CIO affiliated labor unions and all sportsmen and sportswomen who appreciate hunting and fishing and want to preserve our outdoor heritage for future generations. If you would like your own story and experience from the outdoors to be considered for our website, please email us at USAmembers@unionsportsmen.org.

Beat The Heat, Fish At Night

August 5, 2014 in Articles, Fishing

by Dave Mull

Fishing is fun any time, but it’s especially enjoyable when the lake is calm and quiet—and you’re catching fish.

Night fishing is a great way to beat the summer heat, and it produces plenty of fish. Most stocked trout are small, but all of them put up a fun fight.

Night fishing is a great way to beat the summer heat, and it produces plenty of fish. Most stocked trout are small, but all of them put up a fun fight.

During the summer months on inland lakes across the country, it can be difficult to concentrate on getting bites due to the plethora of personal watercraft, wake boarders and water skiers that churn the lakes to a froth.

Difficult, that is, unless you fish at night. No only do peace and quiet reign supreme once darkness falls, but you can get your best summer action on stocked trout and a variety of other species, too.

It’s easy to do with minimal special equipment.

Michigan, where I call home, has loads of inland lakes that get stocked with rainbow trout every year. Although these fish can be caught year-round, the best time to target them is from now to September, especially in the still of the night.

Now is a great time because of a natural phenomenon called the thermocline, which is the horizontal line that stretches across the deeper basin of inland lakes and separates the warm surface layer of water from a colder deeper layer. Trout are biologically designed to thrive in colder water temperatures, while most of the baitfish and bugs the trout feed on hang out in the warmer water. This means that the stocked trout hang right at the point where the water temperature changes, zipping up into the warm water to feed.

Decent sonar units show you the thermocline, reflecting signals back from the concentration of plankton and other little critters that suspend right at the temperature change.

Mike Eberstein is a barber by day and an expert nighttime trout angler by night who launches his Lund into lakes that receive annual rainbow trout releases around his home in southwest Michigan. Setting up in the evening before the sun has set allows Eberstein to get his gear organized and prep his passengers—often neighborhood kids—on how to bait up and use the light spinning tackle.

Location is important. The lakes that receive trout are all deep, and Eberstein prefers a location that funnels the fish to his boat. Basically, that means a spot where the thermocline abuts the lake bottom on a steep break. Trout on the prowl for food stay at the thermocline and follow the contour of the lake around, and Eberstein wants to be in position to intercept them. Instead of dropping an anchor, he puts his Minn Kota trolling motor into “spot lock” mode, which uses GPS to automatically stay on the spot.

Mike Eberstein, of Schoolcraft, Michigan, likes to set up in the waning minutes of daylight to get gear organized and make sure his companions—often neighborhood kids—know how to use the light spinning gear.

Mike Eberstein, of Schoolcraft, Michigan, likes to set up in the waning minutes of daylight to get gear organized and make sure his companions—often neighborhood kids—know how to use the light spinning gear.

The most important piece of gear for nighttime success is a light that shines in the water. Some anglers use Coleman lanterns hung over the side of the boat; others, like Eberstein, employs one or two floating lights that run off of a 12-volt trolling motor battery. (Not all states allow these lights, so make sure you check your state’s fishing regulations.)

At night, the lights serve as “food-chain attractors.” Zooplankton swims to the light, which attracts minnows and in turn game fish. Note that when targeting trout, you’re likely to catch bluegills, crappies, bullheads and the occasional bass, too. You can actively target these other species once your trout limit is in the livewell by putting your bait in the warmer water above the thermocline.

Speaking of bait, stocked trout are hatchery fish that are used to eating pellets. Some anglers use corn. Eberstein favors Berkley PowerBait or Gulp!, which are brands of soft plastics impregnated with scent and available in kernel shapes. Other baits that work well include live minnows, wax worms (this writer’s personal favorite) and leaf worms or night crawlers. Artificial lures work, too, especially small jigs with plastic trailers. Another good lure is the small Jigging Rapala, which is most common in ice-fishing arsenals, but it gets strikes in open water with its swimming, gliding action when jigged over the side of the boat.

Floating lights that run off of a 12-volt battery bring the plankton, which bring minnows, which bring game fish to your spot.

Floating lights that run off of a 12-volt battery bring the plankton, which bring minnows, which bring game fish to your spot.

Another piece of gear worth bringing along is a butterfly net. Sometimes the trout and crappie get finicky and only want the native minnows, and a butterfly net allows you to scoop some of those that swim into your pool of light.

Fishing for these trout and other gamefish at night is about as simple as fishing gets. Any gear works, but ultra-light spinning gear not only seems to get more bites, but adds some sport. If you use basic tackle with heavier line, it’s a good idea to add a leader of 4-pound test fluorocarbon, which is invisible to the sometimes overly perceptive trout and other fish. Pinch enough split shot on your line to make lowering it to the thermocline level easy. Then just measure off how much line will put the bait at the temperature break and watch your rod tip for a bite.

This summer, if the daytime lake traffic gets too intense, don’t fight it. Just wait for the sun to go down. Fish at night, and enjoy some of the most peaceful and productive action you can find.

 

 

The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance website is designed to provide valuable articles about hunting, fishing and conservation for members of AFL-CIO affiliated labor unions and all sportsmen and sportswomen who appreciate hunting and fishing and want to preserve our outdoor heritage for future generations. If you would like your own story and experience from the outdoors to be considered for our website, please email us at USAmembers@unionsportsmen.org.

Farm Pond Bass Guaranteed

July 23, 2014 in Articles, Fishing

 

by Beau Tallent

I love all types of fishing, from deep-sea bottom fishing to high-mountain fly rodding. Give me a farm pond that’s home to a few bass, put me in a low-sided jon boat, and hand me a sculling paddle. I’m in my fishing heaven.

Farm ponds provide a perfect, relaxing setting for a day of fishing. And the bass catching can be phenomenal!

Farm ponds provide a perfect, relaxing setting for a day of fishing. And the bass catching can be phenomenal!

The attractions to a farm pond or small lake are many, not the least of which is a very peaceful, relaxing setting. Daybreak on a secluded farm pond is good for the soul, and it could make a lifetime angler and outdoors lover out of the most jaded of city slickers. Bass breaking the surface at daybreak of a farm pond—that’s just magical.

The reason I love farm pond bass fishing the best? I love catching bass. Farm ponds—even those that aren’t slam-dunk lakes teeming with bass—can provide great action. Small-lake bass are hemmed up, and the bass catching is even better if you have a plan of attack for a small body of water.

The Dock

Most farm ponds and small lakes have a dock. Many of these docks are in rough shape—half fallen in, and they might even have a bush or other growth sprouting up through the wooden slats. The older the dock the better has been my experience.

This most obvious piece of farm-pond structure is often the most overlooked. Or, at least, it’s often attacked incorrectly. I’d venture to bet most anglers, when they arrive at the lake’s edge to fish a farm pond, begin by walking out on the dock and stacking up gear before loading up the jon boat and pushing off to begin the day of fishing. Those anglers just spooked any bass that call that dock their living room, and in a small pond, those bass probably included the biggest bass in the lake. When the anglers come back by the dock an hour or two later and fish it, a dink or two is all they might muster.

Ease down to the dock like you’re stalking a big buck, and fish it from the bank. Run a topwater along the sides, and then work the dock posts with a Texas-rigged lizard. If you don’t get a bite, you might consider finding a new farm pond to fish because the dock should be a sure thing for a bass or two.

First Light Topwater

The reason most anglers make a bunch of noise scaring bass away from the dock is because at daybreak they hear bass breaking the surface somewhere down the bank. Understandably, everyone is in a hurry to get after those bass, and for good reason. Especially in the heat of summer, that topwater bite won’t last long. When the sun hits the water, it’s typically over.

Here’s how we attack the awesome, albeit time-limited morning topwater bite. Whether you’re in a boat or fishing from the bank, make casts as close and parallel to the bank as possible. You want to cover water quickly. Try to pick off as many active bass feeding in the shallows as possible before the sun hits the water. A buzzbait is a great lure for this technique. When pond fishing, I prefer a soft “bubbler” buzzbait rather than a loud, clacker-style bait. A white or chartreuse 3/16-oz. Strike King Tri-Wing Buzz King or similar style buzzbait works well in farm ponds, where shallow bass can be more skittish than in a big-water, reservoir-type situation where wave action and noise are common.

If a bass swipes at your buzzbait and misses, or if you’re in an area where a bass has been active in the shallows but isn’t interested in the buzzbait, try a Bang-O-Lure with a rear prop. This bait, for whatever reason, is a big-bass magnet, especially on small lakes. Twitch the Bang-O-Lure so the rear prop throws some water over the bait, and then let it sit for as long as you stand it. Another good option is a Pop-R, a small bait that also has a subtle topwater presence. The Bang-O-Lure is a big-bass bait, while the Pop-R is usually better for numbers.

The Dam Corners

Once the sun hits the water, those easy bass slamming topwater in the shallows often evaporate. My next target is the corners of the pond dam. I’ll make sure to fish these two spots before the sun gets high and the temperatures really begin to climb. A bass angler older and wiser than me started me on fishing dam corners, and I remember asking him why this is almost a sure-thing on most farm ponds. His theory was that aggressive bass in a small lake often move shallow to feed, and they then cruise the bank. The pond corners are like a busy intersection, he theorized.

A dam corner usually has good flat that drops off into some of the deepest water in the pond. If there are good flats, both corners will usually have bream beds during the summer. Run a spinnerbait through these areas, especially around the full-moon period when bluegills are bedding. You can also ply the edges of these flats and drop-offs with a Texas-rigged lizard or worm. I’ve found that a Zoom Super Salt Plus lizard in pumpkinseed or green-pumpkin colors is hard to beat.

Open-Water Fan Cast

Bank cover gets most of a bass angler’s attention, especially in a farm pond. But some number of bass are usually going to be off the banks, either loafing or cruising the open water in the middle of a small lake. These bass might not be actively feeding, but a reaction bait can often draw a strike.

The bass in most small lakes can't resist a Rat-L-Trap.

The bass in most small lakes can’t resist a Rat-L-Trap. Try moving out to the middle and fan casting with this lipless crankbait.

A technique that often produces some additional bass when we fish a small lake is to move out to the middle and fan cast with a crankbait. For this, I love a Rat-L-Trap. I use the old standard, a ½-oz. Trap in the chrome-with-a-black-back color. You can cast this lipless crankbait a country mile, and bass love it, especially bass in a farm pond where fishing pressure is light.

When fan casting a Rat-L-Trap, I usually start with a fast retrieve. I make a long cast, let it sink about halfway to the bottom, and then I burn it back to the boat. I’ll quickly work the open water all the way around the boat. Then, from the same spot, I’ll try a stop-and-go retrieve with the Trap.

Finally, I’ll let the lure sink to the bottom and use a pump-and-fall retrieve, sweeping the rod and reeling up the slack while letting it fall back to the bottom. Cover all of the deeper, open water away from the bank with a Rat-L-Trap or your favorite crankbait.

Dissect a farm pond or small lake with these techniques, and more often than not you’re going to leave with a roughed up thumb from lipping largemouth bass.

 

 

The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance website is designed to provide valuable articles about hunting, fishing and conservation for members of AFL-CIO affiliated labor unions and all sportsmen and sportswomen who appreciate hunting and fishing and want to preserve our outdoor heritage for future generations. If you would like your own story and experience from the outdoors to be considered for our website, please email us at USAmembers@unionsportsmen.org.

 

Southern Sharks

July 10, 2014 in Articles, Fishing

by Bob McNally

It was a gray, slick-surface morning; hot and sticky even for nearshore Georgia, but a perfect setting was emerging for dead-drift saltwater fishing.

Consistent bites, incredible fights and boatside adrenaline await anglers who go after sharks.

Consistent bites, incredible fights and boatside adrenaline await anglers who go after sharks.

Charter captain Greg Hildreth, of Brunswick, looked left and right along the southeast Georgia coast. He took careful note of the current and tide, then declared the spot was just right off beautiful and scenic Cumberland Island to put out baits and chum a bit.

We were looking for tarpon, trying to locate the first silver kings for friends Jake Markris and Kevin Olmstead, visiting from their homes in Fairhope, Alabama. On board, too, was my son Matt, a long-time tarpon addict.

We were fishing with a couple whole, dead menhaden baits trailing astern, while chunks of cut-fish chum were tossed into the ocean and drifted back. Suddenly there was an oversize boil at the surface near some chum, then another, and another. Everyone was up, tense, and standing beside rods with baits trailing back 50 yards from our 24-foot center console boat.

A rod bowed sharply under the weight of a big fish, and Jake immediately was on it, pulling it from the gunnel holder and setting the hook hard a couple times. The fish bulldogged away, fast and straight; so powerful it slammed Jake’s knees against the side of the boat as he frantically put on a fish-fighting rod belt.

Before Jake could settle into a comfortable fight, a second rod bowed, and Kevin was soon hooked up to another drag-screaming fish.

Ten minutes into their fights neither fish had jumped, like tarpon should, and I broke the news to Jake and Kevin.

“Probably sharks guys, not tarpon,” I told them.

“Man, I don’t know what this is, but it’s big, strong, and I’m gonna get it to the boat,” Kevin growled as he put heavy rod power to his sunken adversary.

Ten minutes later Kevin drew a 75-pound blacktip shark to the boat, where Greg handled it and unhooked it. That was quickly followed by Jake’s fish, a like-size blacktip.

Blacktips and spinner sharks are common along the southern coasts. These sharks bring an added attraction—they jump like tarpon!

Blacktips and spinner sharks are common along the southern coasts. These sharks bring an added attraction—they jump like tarpon!

Soon they were laughing and high-fiving, glad for the hard fight, and ready for another go at sharks.

And that’s what we got that day—many, many times over.

Jake and Kevin each caught a tarpon that morning, nice fish that jumped and ran, fought tough and well. But it was the sharks we fought most. We caught sharks until our arms ached… blacktips and spinners that slammed jigs and jumped at least as well as our targeted tarpon. Then we caught hammerheads and small bonnet heads, with Atlantic sharp nose, duskys and we even saw a small tiger shark at the surface that refused a lure.

That’s how it is with sharks. They’re big and powerful, and while they don’t draw the attention and raves other more glamorous species do, they are hard-fighting fish that can be counted on to make a showing almost anywhere in the saltwater South.

Two of the most sporting and abundant sharks are spinners and blacktips. These sharks can be caught trolling, chumming, blind-casting, sight-casting, inshore, offshore, over reefs and wrecks and on the flats. They’re available throughout the South, and they are great light-tackle targets. Both shark species hit surface plugs, fly-cast streamer flies and poppers, as well as jigs, sinking lures and, of course, natural baits. They jump and spin, and these sharks run like unleashed piscatorial demons. And they commonly weigh 50- to 100-pounds.

It’s difficult to distinguish blacktips sharks from spinners, since both species are similarly shaped and they each have blacktip fins. Even fisheries biologists who specialize in sharks can have trouble discerning blacktips from spinners.

Many light-tackle anglers, though, could care less if the high-leaping and twisting shark at the end of their line is a blacktip or spinner. Both shark species are a joy to catch, and they’re available in the warm months to millions of Dixie anglers.

Other than blacktip, spinner and mako (rare in the South), few other sharks jump; instead preferring to fight it out deep and tough, requiring heavy tackle. These shark species generally are caught with natural baits, and they include tiger, hammerhead, dusky, sand, lemon, bull and sandbar sharks. Among this group, the bull, tiger and hammerhead are especially noteworthy because of their massive size, and their well-known reputations as man-eaters.

Sharks will readily take a variety of baits, from cut and live bait to lures and even fly-fishing streamers.

Sharks will readily take a variety of baits, from cut and live bait to lures and even fly-fishing streamers.

A tremendous 1,780-pound tiger shark was caught off South Carolina in June, 1964 by Walter Maxwell. This catch must rank as one of the most incredible of all time, since Maxwell caught the monster shark from the Cherry Grove fishing pier near Myrtle Beach using a 16/0 fishing outfit which held 1,400 yards of 130-pound test line. A whole skate (like a stingray) was used for bait, and the massive fish leaped twice despite its incredible bulk during the 4 1/2-hour battle. The shark made more than 30 runs, some up to three-quarters of a mile long. The fish was not weighed until 15 hours after it was caught, and many estimates are that the shark lost 10 percent of its body weight in that time. The huge tiger had a 103-inch girth and measured 13-feet, 11-inches long. Incredibly, Maxwell hooked, played, but then lost another tiger just a few days earlier that he and friends insist was much bigger than the 1,780-pounder, which is still an IGFA all-tackle record for the species.

Hammerheads are notoriously aggressive, and several different species of these sharks are caught in the South. The great hammerhead is the largest and can grow to 18 feet, with 12-footers common. While many sharks are quite shy, hammerheads are not, and they have a decided preference for   live baits intended for other species like king mackerel and sailfish. Hammerheads also regularly dine on 100-pound tarpon having giant scales the size and texture of computer disks. It takes a pretty good shark to sever a giant tarpon with a single bite. But it happens almost daily wherever tarpon congregate—like Boca Grande Pass in the Florida Gulf during the the area’s famous May to June tarpon migration.

It is there that Bucky Dennis set the all-tackle world record for hammerhead in late May, 2006. That 14-foot shark weighed an incredible 1,280 pounds, but Bucky says much bigger hammerheads are available at Boca Grande when tarpon are in good supply there.

May and June are prime for oversize hammerheads at Boca Grande. Incoming tides early in the morning are best. Almost anything big and alive can be used for hammerhead bait, with jack crevalle and sting rays good choices. Baits are simply free-lined in current, without chum, and only single hooks are employed because double-hooks are too dangerous in manhandling giant sharks at boatside.

But record-weight shark fishing is specialized sport, and shark fishing for most anglers is not this heavy-duty nor sophisticated. It is usually light-tackle action primarily for blacktips, spinners, bulls and lemons. That’s good for plug, spin and fly fishermen, since most such sharks are in the 30- to 80-pound range, with occasional fish weighing more than 100 pounds. These sharks are just the right size for screaming reel drags and bending stout-action rods, but not the kind of knuckle-busting, knee-bruising brawl bigger sharks dish out.

This is great fishing for families and anglers who simply want to bend a rod on a tough, toothy customer.

Catching sharks isn’t the same sport as jumping tarpon or sight-casting to cobia. But sharks are plenty strong, and some species jump. On reasonably light tackle, casting baits or lures to feeding sharks makes your knees knock and your palms sweat—and that’s good enough for most anglers.

 

 

The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance website is designed to provide valuable articles about hunting, fishing and conservation for members of AFL-CIO affiliated labor unions and all sportsmen and sportswomen who appreciate hunting and fishing and want to preserve our outdoor heritage for future generations. If you would like your own story and experience from the outdoors to be considered for our website, please email us at USAmembers@unionsportsmen.org.

Fly Fishing Popping Bugs

June 30, 2014 in Articles, Fishing

by Beau Beasley

Fly anglers have a seemingly endless supply of patterns to choose from when they head out for a day of fishing on the water. Streamers, nymphs, dries and emergers all make for great fishing. But if I were only limited to fishing a few patterns, it is the humble popping bug that would easily make the cut. Poppers are among the most productive patterns imaginable and are fished in all 50 states to one degree or another.

Smallmouth bass will readily strike popping bugs.

Smallmouth bass will readily strike popping bugs.

Sure, when you think poppers you think Texas, Florida, and Alabama—but even Alaska, Minnesota and Montana are home to fish that will fall hard for an appropriately placed popping bug. You can use poppers to fish for everything from stripers in saltwater bays to pike in high mountain lakes to panfish in nearly any warm-water river. And let us not forget that emblem of childhood, the venerable largemouth bass in the idyllic farm pond down the road.

Yes, the all-purpose popping bug may be your best choice for your next day of fishing.

Deep Cover Bass and Trout

Usually by the end of May and most certainly by June, warm-water fish such as smallmouth and largemouth bass will eagerly come to the surface for a meal. These large sunfish are cousins to the humble bluegill and put up a good fight when anglers are lucky enough to get them on the line. To avoid being caught in the branches, work your cast in slowly with a few practice throws before heading to the best water. Few things are as irritating as casting your favorite popper onto a tree limb. If you should get hung up in a tree, don’t overreact. It is possible that, with just a gentle amount of pressure, your fly will plop right down where you want it. And since the helpless, falling terrestrial was what you wanted the fish to see in the first place, your mishap may be a blessing in disguise.

The author often fishes with his children using popping bugs.

The author often fishes with his children using popping bugs.

The poppers that you use to fish for trout will most likely be imitating terrestrials like ants, hoppers, and especially spiders. Let your pattern float just like any other dry fly and avoid as much drag as possible. You may elect to begin tossing your pattern close to the bank where trout like to hide. The trout sit under the bank and scope out the passing food in the same way that you can see a plane fly by in the sky from the cover of your garage. You needn’t step on to your driveway to see that plane, and trout needn’t leave the cover of the overhanging bank to spot their food. Their eyes are peeled for tasty morsels, however, and a black or brown leggy-looking popper may be just what it takes to get that trout to make his move from the comfort of his “garage.”

Bay Candy

Few sites are more exciting than watching a school of actively feeding stripers, especially during the spring and fall migrations when there may be hundreds of feeding fish. Anglers who elect to fish on the surface with poppers have a few things to contend with that subsurface anglers do not. First, the larger fish tend to be at the bottom of the school picking off the injured or stunned baitfish that sink in the water column. I for one am willing to forego a few pounds in exchange for the exciting surface water hits when they do occur.

Second, anglers casting poppers—especially those in the 1/0-3/0 range—must consider wind resistance. Make sure you have at least an 8-weight when casting poppers in saltwater; 9- and even 10-weights are appropriate rods for casting these large and often cumbersome patterns. Can you use a smaller rod? Sure you can. However, the smaller rod will require much more strength and energy to cast as the flex in smaller-weight rods may not compensate enough for the wind.

Types of Poppers

The two basic styles of popping bug—slider and popper—are versatile and effective when fished correctly. The slider is cone- or bullet-shaped. This style of fly skims across the surface of the water and makes a wake like a small baitfish pushing water. It tends to be a bit more subtle, and although designed to skim the top of the water, can dive below the surface if fished correctly. Rainey’s Flies has patterns that are cut on a deep angle to make it much easier to dip them below the surface.

Popping bugs come in a variety of shapes and sizes and are fished all over the country.

Popping bugs come in a variety of shapes and sizes and are fished all over the country.

The popper style is flat- or cup-faced and displaces much more water. Sound travels seven times faster in water than it does in air, and fish with long lateral lines like bass can easily feel the disturbance in the water’s surface as well as hear its movement. Poppers are the more common of the two styles of popping bug and often come with legs that make them look as though they are moving even when they’re sitting still on the surface. No stripping action is typical; the key here is to try the pattern out in a variety of settings to see what works best for you. At times I’ve found short, choppy stripping action quite effective; at other times the fish seem to want poppers to move ever so slightly.

While most poppers are made out of cork, some are made out of foam or hard plastics. Some fly anglers actually prefer to use spun deer hair and other similar patterns in lieu of traditional poppers, but these still impart the traditional popper action. Heck, I know guys who have made poppers out of old flip flops. In the end, if it floats and pushes water you can probably use it as a popper. While I don’t know about each and every pattern that’s out there, the following companies have a pretty good Boogle Bugs (205) 969-2211,Rainey’s Flies (435) 753-6766, and Umpqua Feather Merchants (800) 322-3218 all make poppers.

Beau Beasley (www.beaubeasley.com) is the author of Fly Fishing Virginia and Fly Fishing the Mid-Atlantic. He lives with his wife and children in Warrenton, VA.

 

 

The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance website is designed to provide valuable articles about hunting, fishing and conservation for members of AFL-CIO affiliated labor unions and all sportsmen and sportswomen who appreciate hunting and fishing and want to preserve our outdoor heritage for future generations. If you would like your own story and experience from the outdoors to be considered for our website, please email us at USAmembers@unionsportsmen.org.

Fish Alaska

June 17, 2014 in Articles, Fishing

by Bob McNally

Ours was the second float plane into Kagati Lake, headwaters of the fish-filled Kanektok River, on Alaska’s west-central coast.

An angler battles a salmon as the float plane he just arrived in taxis away for take off. Such fly-in spots to remote areas of Alaska is among the best of the best for visiting anglers.

An angler battles a salmon as the float plane he just arrived in taxis away for take off. Such fly-in spots to remote areas of Alaska is among the best of the best for visiting anglers.

We were about 90 minutes behind the first plane that had half our eight-man fishing group. So when we circled the Kanektok River outflow at Kagati Lake, we could see some of our party of anglers from the first plane already had unpacked and assembled tackle. They were standing and fishing on gravel bars in the vodka-clear river.

As we buzzed our friends in the float plane, we saw they were surrounded by, and fishing for, thousands of salmon—mostly pinks or humpbacks and sockeyes—stacked shoulder-to-shoulder in colorful, undulating waves. The sockeyes stood out bright as ripe strawberries in the sun-washed, transparent river. The pea-green-colored heads, bright-orange flanks and large size of the sockeyes made them easy to identify from the smaller, mottled-colored “humpies.”

Mass spawning of Alaska salmon is a sight to behold for visiting anglers, and the fishing is outstanding.

Mass spawning of Alaska salmon is a sight to behold for visiting anglers, and the fishing is outstanding.

Our pals literally were standing in a salmon factory, and to the man, everyone was hooked fast to a fish. For several minutes we circled, enjoying one of the more unique sights any of us in the float plane had ever seen, watching from the air as four fishermen hooked, played and released salmon after salmon.

Finally, the pilot set the plane down on Kagati Lake, and we taxied to a gravel bank on which our campsite for the evening had been set by the outfitter. The plane door was opened, I stepped out onto a pontoon, and from shore friend Bob Montgomery shouted a hello with a broad smile and dancing eyes like only a fisherman catching fish can have.

Author Bob McNally has fished Alaska often. He says visitors can tap the state's excellent fishing a number different ways.

Author Bob McNally has fished Alaska often. He says visitors can tap the state’s excellent fishing a number different ways.

“Watch this!” he shouted with a shark’s grin to our newly arrived bunch of anglers, who now all stood on the float-plane’s pontoon over 4-feet of air-like water.

My buddy arched a long cast toward us, and the spoon settled to the surface about 2 feet from our pontoon. The orange-silver “Pixie” flashed a time or two as it sank, but it hadn’t moved a foot when three humpies shot up from the bottom toward it. The first 4-pounder slammed the spoon sideways, but before it could get a good grip on the lure, a second salmon ripped the artificial from the first fish’s mouth. Bob set the hook, and the humpie fought and boiled the surface all around our feet.

“Our humpback salmon are so plentiful and mean we call ‘em ‘humpies from hell,’” said guide Dan Bechtold, of Dave Duncan & Sons Outfitters. He stood smiling beside my buddy on the bank, while wearing a unique Alaskan T-shirt bearing that same salmon message and a cartoon showing a school of toothy, crazed “attack” humpies.

That trio of aggressive humpies at the plane, and Dan’s laughable T-shirt, set the stage for one of the most remarkable fishing trips any of our party ever experienced. Over the next eight days we covered 100 miles on the Kanektok River in four rafts, enjoying wilderness camping and remote angling that Alaska is famous for.

We caught countless humpie, sockeye, chum and silver salmon and char, plus fat, colorful and high-leaping rainbow trout. We also caught some grayling and a few heavyweight Chinook or king salmon.

Float fishing remote Alaska rivers allows anglers access to places few people ever see, or fish.

Float fishing remote Alaska rivers allows anglers access to places few people ever see, or fish.

It was without question the most perfect fishing trip possible to Alaska, with all the pristine wilderness trappings and highlights available. We saw huge numbers of eagles, brown and black bears, moose, wolves, abundant other game, and not another person outside of our group for a week in the wilds. At the beginning of the float we were surrounded by sky-reaching snow-capped mountains. It ended just a few miles from the cold, salty and dangerous Bering Sea.

Such fly-in float trips are the best of the best for a fisherman bent on taping Alaska’s rich waters. But it is far from the only way to get in on some of the 49th state’s spectacular angling.

Another great way to fish the state is out of a base lodge, with anglers venturing out daily in boats or airplanes to various locations. This lodge-type arrangement often is a fly-in spot with a required minimal short hop in a small plane.

My first trip to Alaska was to the Aniak River, where lodge and camp owner LaMont Albertson Jr. had a plush tent camp many miles upriver from his home in Aniak. We traveled to the camp by float plane, then ran out from the tent camp daily via small boats powered by jet outboards. It was mostly wade fishing, and the non-stop action from salmon and char was unforgettable.

Trips to the Aniak can be set up at the Aniak River Lodge.

In some areas anglers can fly into a large city or town, where they are then transported to a fishing lodge via car or small airplane. Visitors should understand that small airplanes are like automobiles to most native Alaskans. In fact, there are about as many pilots in the state as there are people with conventional driver’s licenses.

One of the most accessible, yet remarkably fish-rich areas of southeast Alaska is Ketchikan (well south of Anchorage), where daily jet air service is available out of Seattle and other U.S. cities. Ketchikan also is a popular cruise ship destination, and fishing trips can be set-up while on ships.

Beacon Hill Lodge offers outstanding Ketchikan area fishing in freshwater rivers and in saltwater. Fishing there during one trip with owner and guide Ron Moyer we caught silver salmon (cohos) in the open Pacific Ocean on every cast. The fish weighed 8 to 15 pounds and hit streamer flies and spoons with abandon. In a typical day of such fishing we watched eagles, humpback whales, seals and orcas, making the fishing adventure truly unforgettable.

Saltwater fishing out of Ketchikan and some other Alaskan coastal areas also is spectacular for halibut, snapper, sea bass, ling cod and other species.

Anyone visiting Alaska can arrange for an easy day trip of fishing out of most of the larger towns and cities, including Anchorage. Such day-long adventures during the peak of the summer salmon season can be remarkably successful. Visitors can do some fishing on their own if they have a rental vehicle and tackle.

But with limited time and area fishing knowledge, a day charter with a guide is advised, which should be set up in well advance through a tourist bureau or travel agent, who invariably are only too willing to help anglers succeed in their Alaskan fishing mission.

 

The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance website is designed to provide valuable articles about hunting, fishing and conservation for members of AFL-CIO affiliated labor unions and all sportsmen and sportswomen who appreciate hunting and fishing and want to preserve our outdoor heritage for future generations. If you would like your own story and experience from the outdoors to be considered for our website, please email us at USAmembers@unionsportsmen.org.

USA’s Kevin Grubbs talks conservation and Asian Carp invasion on The Union Edge radio show

June 11, 2014 in Articles, Fishing, General

flying fish flyer

Promotes 2014 Flying Fish Festival and Bowfishing Tournament

USA’s Kevin Grubbs and and Sharon Williams, CWA, West Central Building Trades, chat with show host Charles Showalter about conservation and promoting a fantastic Flying Fish Festival and Bowfishing Tourney coming up in July in East Peoria, IL to help combat the invasive Asian Carp species.

Listen to the show here: CLICK TO LISTEN


Direct download here: The-Union-Edge-Talk-Radio-Show-6-3-14_seg1.2_2.mp3

Lead-Core And Copper Lines Not Junk

June 4, 2014 in Articles, Fishing

by Dave Mull

If it’s true that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, it’s hard to figure why many Great Lakes salmon and trout trollers refer to lead-core and copper lines as “junk.”

Copper line helped take a spoon into this king salmon’s strike zone.

Copper line helped take a spoon into this king salmon’s strike zone.

Sure, they’re super long and can be a pain to reel in, but the so-called junk lines work. They often catch fish when lines on downriggers and divers turn ice cold. In fact, they are usually the top rig when the sun climbs high, attracting strikes all day long.

That reason alone is enough to put them into your arsenal. Let’s look at how to fish with them effectively and tangle free. Well, more or less tangle free.

Junk lines are segments of lead-core line or braided copper line that, basically, are a long sinker that takes lures down closer to deep fish. Such segments are usually at least 30 feet long, and can be as much as 600 feet long. Lead-core and copper both have fans, and some anglers use both types. The main difference is copper lines sink farther and faster than lead core.

For hard-fighting salmon, anglers put backing underneath the weighted lines on the reel—almost always baitcasting reels with large line capacities—to allow these fish to run and tire. Backing is usually 30- to 50-pound braided line or 20- to 30-pound monofilament. Anglers must also tie on a leader—usually as short as 8 feet or as long as 60 feet depending on personal taste—between the sinking lines and the lure.

Most modern salmon trollers put these lines out on planer boards, either the ski-and-tether system that uses large “skis” and clips that hold the fishing line to the tether line, or, more commonly, “on-line boards” that clip to the backing.

Copper or lead-core lines combine with planer boards and allow anglers to spread lines to the side and at various depths.

Copper or lead-core lines combine with planer boards and allow anglers to spread lines to the side and at various depths.

Boards accomplish three main things that help put more fish in the boat. First, a board takes a line out to the side of the boat into undisturbed water—the boat can actually spook fish out to the side and into the path of a lure.

Second, the boards add strike-triggering action to the lures behind them. As the boat makes slight turns, the boards on the inside of the turn slow down, making the weighted line and lure sink, while the boards on the other side speed up, making those lures rise in the water column. This vertical movement of the lure makes it act more like an injured baitfish when it slows down and sinks; it acts like a fleeing baitfish when it speeds up and rises.

Third, unlike a lead sinker that pendulums back toward a fish that hits the lure, copper and lead core provide a direct connection to the planer board, resulting in surer hookups.

Weighted lines on boards also allow you to fish multiple lures on each side of the boat, covering different depths with different colors and sizes of lures. Salmon boats commonly troll two or three per side—I’ve put as many as five per side, more to see if I could do it than to see if I could catch more fish. I achieved the feat, with a flotilla of 10 Church Walleye Boards flying in formation around the boat, but I figured the spread of lures was at the point of diminishing returns: The chance of a tangle outweighed the possibility the spread would catch more fish.

To avoid tangles between board lines, the shorter, shallower lines are set first and go to the outside of the spread.

The author caught this king on a Moonshine Spoon taken deep at mid-day with lead-core line.

The author caught this king on a Moonshine Spoon taken deep at mid-day with lead-core line.

Each line set to the inside is longer and goes deeper.  Most fish that get hooked tend to swing behind the moving boat, those hooked son the shallower outside lines rarely dive down and tangle lines inside of them. More commonly, tangles happen when fish hooked on inside lines swim up and to the side into lines outside of them. One way to help avert such a tangle is to let the outside boards out farther when an inside line hooks up.

Resetting outside lines and getting them past inside lines (impossible to do on a ski-and-tether planer board system) takes patience and timing. You must let all the weighted line into the water, attach the boards to the backing and then let the board out behind the boat occasionally thumbing your baitcast reel to keep the line from sinking all the way to the bottom. When you’ve let enough line out that the board will plane into formation, engage the reel and immediately put the rod in its rod holder. Usually the board will pick up enough speed to lift the line over the inside lines.

Even the best, most experienced Great Lakes trollers occasionally get a tangle, some of them so bad that the lead core or copper does end up as junk. Maybe that’s how they got tagged with that moniker. Whatever, they rarely get called “junk” on my boat. That’s because they catch more than their share of fish.

 

The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance website is designed to provide valuable articles about hunting, fishing and conservation for members of AFL-CIO affiliated labor unions and all sportsmen and sportswomen who appreciate hunting and fishing and want to preserve our outdoor heritage for future generations. If you would like your own story and experience from the outdoors to be considered for our website, please email us at USAmembers@unionsportsmen.org.

Tops For USA Tarpon

May 22, 2014 in Articles, Fishing

by Bob McNally

Few fish are more game than tarpon.

Tarpon are amazingly strong and leap with the best of game fish. To hook and battle a tarpon should be on every angler's bucket list.

Tarpon are amazingly strong and leap with the best of game fish. To hook and battle a tarpon should be on every angler’s bucket list.

They jump like wild fire, they are remarkably strong, and they readily strike plugs, flies and bait. Tarpon are abundant in tropical and semi-tropical settings and grow to enormous size. Fish in the 80- to 100-pound class are common, and tarpon over 150 pounds are caught regularly. And “baby” tarpon under 25 pounds are even frequently found in run-off ditches, coastal ponds and golf course water hazards.

Best of all, you don’t need a passport to have great tarpon fishing. Much of the world’s best silver king angling is available right at home, in the good ol’ U.S.A.

Here are some choice locations for great domestic tarpon action.  

Boca Grande, Florida

Located at the mouth of Charlotte Harbor near the town of Fort Myers, Boca Grande has the largest known concentration of tarpon in the world. Historically, May and June are the top months for Boca Grande tarpon.

Fishing for silver kings is practiced several ways, with fly-rodders enjoying superb sight-casting sport on beach flats and at times for offshore “rolling” fish. In the pass, dozens of boats vertical jig or fish live crabs deep for tarpon. It’s crowded, but fishing is superb and crossed lines are surprisingly rare.

Full and new moon phases offer best pass tarpon fishing. During a good falling tide, fishermen can jump as many as a dozen fish. Tarpon run big at Boca Grande, with 80- to 130-pounders not uncommon. This is no place for a swim, either, as huge sharks (mainly hammerheads) mass to feed on tarpon. And it takes quite a shark to munch a 100-pound fish.

While this fishing can be done on-your-own, it’s smart to hire a guide, at least initially to learn the ropes. For fly rodders, one of the best is Phil O’Bannon (941-964-0359), www.Obannonscharter.com. Dave Markett (813-927-3474) is a top choice. Joel Brandenburg (813-267-4401) is another good one.

Hold on tight, and hope. Both are good required to get a tarpon boatside.

Hold on tight, and hope. Both are good required to get a tarpon boat side.

St. Simons Island, Georgia

Georgia has exceptional tarpon fishing near the famed “Golden Isles,” around the coastal town of Brunswick. Fishing is done within a couple miles of shore, and tarpon show in early June and offer consistent fishing through September, often well into October. On a good day, anglers will “jump” several fish, sometimes landing three or four. Anglers get a lot of 100-pounders, and some of these Georgia fish weigh close to 200 pounds—giants in the tarpon world.

Best action is during moving tides for anglers chumming with menhaden and using whole menhaden for bait.

Much of the best fishing is in broad sounds, bays and river mouths, and also just offshore area beaches near St. Simons Island. Although offshore tarpon fishing near Georgia’s barrier islands may sound like a big-boat game, this is ideal small-boat fishing. Offshore waters during summer normally are placid, and because the fishing is done within just a few miles of inlets and good marinas and never out of sight of land, it is perfect small-boat fishing. Tarpon over 100 pounds can be seen busting menhaden baits within 50 feet of the beach. There are opportunities for surf fishermen to hook tarpon, but landing them is a different matter.

Greg Hildreth (912-261-1763/866-GA-FISH9, www.georgiacharterfishing.com, and Tim Cutting (912-230-1814; www.fishthegeorgiacoast.com know the tarpon waters well in the St. Simons Island area.

Top hotels, motels, resorts and restaurants can be found on Sea, St. Simons and Jekyll islands.

Marathon/Islamorada, Florida Keys

This is as close to caught as most tarpon ever get. Almost tarpon these days get a quick photo and are released.

This is as close to caught as most tarpon ever get. Almost tarpon these days get a quick photo and are released.

February and March is when tarpon begin to show in good numbers in the Middle Keys, most notably near the towns of Marathon and Islamorada. When the water temperature reaches 74 degrees, anglers using live silver mullet work around Seven-Mile Bridge, south of Marathon. They anchor or drift in channels around the bridge early and late in the day, and on a good outing can jump 10 to 12 fish. This is the best time to hook a truly big tarpon weighing in the 150-pound class, though most weigh 80-to-100 pounds.

In April, tarpon swarm around the bridge connecting Bahia Honda Key with West Summerland Key. Anglers fishing with mullet in the channel enjoy peak fishing from mid-May to mid-June.

Tarpon fishing remains good throughout the Middle Keys to the end of July. Through the summer and early fall plenty of small “resident” tarpon in the 30-to-60 pound class can be found around bridges at night, passes, and in canals.

Many gifted tarpon guides work the Middle Keys. Some of the best are Lenny Moffo (305-872-4683), Bus Bergman (305-743-7021), Dave Denkert (305-852-1425/305-393-5134), Eric VanDemark (305-258-9917/786-564-1540) and Steve Friedman (305-393-3474).

Venice, Louisiana

The nutrient-rich Mississippi River mouth, combined with the clear, deep and warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, form a unique water mixture that has created some of the most incredible fishing found anywhere—and all of it is within fast striking distance of anglers working out of the town of Venice.

This area is an hour drive southeast of New Orleans. It was ground zero for hurricane Katrina, but the fishing is back in a big way, and facilities again are top-notch for visiting anglers.

From mid-summer through October, huge tarpon are found in bays near Venice and nearby Grand Isle. Fish commonly weigh 100 pounds, and every summer silver kings over 200 pounds are recorded. One recent autum, Louisiana legendary tarpon guide Lance “Coon” Schouest (inventor of the Coon Pop lure, 985-688-7633) led anglers to several 200-pound class tarpon, including a 210-pounder, caught, weighed, and released by Coon himself.

These are world-class fish, and they were all caught sight casting to cruising tarpon schools with special Coon Pop jigs.

Bill Butler has an excellent, full-facility fishing headquarters. There are superb facilities for visiting anglers, including launch ramp, lodging, restaurant, marina and tackle shop.

There's a ton of fight in a 100-pound plus tarpon.

There’s a ton of fight in a 100-pound plus tarpon.

In addition to Coon Schouest, veteran angler Brandon Ballay guides for tarpon out of Venice Marina (985-534-9357).

Homosassa, Florida

Anglers who know tarpon speak about Homosassa on Florida’s central Gulf Coast the way golf fanatics revere Georgia’s Augusta National.

Few places on the planet have as many big tarpon as Homosassa. It’s a place made famous by world record fish caught by anglers like Al Plueger Jr., Stu Apte and Billy Pate. Fish over 150-pounds are ho-humers, and 200-pound fish are available, though few are landed.

Homosassa is most famous as a fly-rod fishing spot. But its clear, deep flats also are good for spin and plug fishermen.

If you’re new to tarpon fishing or want to catch your first on a fly, Homosassa is not the place to start. This is all sight fishing in deep water (10 feet common), and it’s not easy by any stretch of the imagination. Learn the tarpon ropes in the Florida Keys or Boca Grande. When you’ve got some fish under your belt, hire a guide and try Homosassa, and expect to consume humble pie—but you’ll likely see tarpon the size of urban autos.

Good tarpon fishing here can start in April, peaking in May and June. Some resident fish are always around, with 60- to 80-pounders average. Guides are a wise way to go. Try Phil Chapman (863-646-9445) or Mike Locklear (352-628-4207).

 

The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance website is designed to provide valuable articles about hunting, fishing and conservation for members of AFL-CIO affiliated labor unions and all sportsmen and sportswomen who appreciate hunting and fishing and want to preserve our outdoor heritage for future generations. If you would like your own story and experience from the outdoors to be considered for our website, please email us at USAmembers@unionsportsmen.org.

Fly Fishing the Smoky Mountains

May 16, 2014 in Articles, Fishing

by Beau Beasley 

I like to fish as often as I can, but like most of my fellow fly anglers, my family is not keen on fishing during the entire stay of any particular location. Ok, if you are newly married you might get away with that for a while as long as you pay attention to your better half at the end of the day.

Anglers fishing the Smoky Mountains often have to contend with tight cover.

Anglers fishing the Smoky Mountains often have to contend with tight cover.

When kids come along, however, all bets are off. Family time is precious. If you’re able to fish at least two days of a weeklong vacation, you should consider yourself lucky. With that in mind I spent some time recently in the Smoky Mountain National Park (SMNP) and did so with the expectation that I should spend time with my wife and kids as well. That meant fishing somewhere that lent itself to entertainment other than fly fishing.

If you do plan on fishing in the SMNP, you’ll of course need a license. The good news is if you’re a resident of Tennessee or North Carolina, you are good to go as these states have reciprocal agreements within the park and the park straddles both states. Also thankfully for those that are keenly aware of how expensive things are today, an additional trout stamp isn’t required. The National Park Service doesn’t sell fishing licenses, but these can be purchased at various stores or online.

A special permit is required to fish in the City of Gatlinburg http://www.gatlinburg.com/, which has a nice trout stream running right through town. Since the city has its own hatchery and stocks their local waterways with regularity, it’s well worth springing for the extra license if you plan on fishing or staying in Gatlinburg.

Fishing in SMNP is limited to single-hook artificial lures or fly only. Tandem or dropper rigs are permitted in the park, but you’re limited to only two flies.

Fly rods and lines are what you might expect here with 3 through 5 weights in the 7- to 9-foot class making up the bulk of the work. Floating lines are used nearly all the time, but sink tips are used in the deeper portions of the river and where the current is faster. While fishing shorter rods is helpful in tight cover areas, there are many rivers and streams where having a longer rod assists the angler. Longer rods are indeed helpful when nymphing, which is quite common here. Having a handful of split shot and a few indictors isn’t a bad idea either.

Brown trout like this will often take nymphs fished sub-surface.

Brown trout like this will often take nymphs fished sub-surface.

Flies here are what you might expect with high-elevation fishing. Since the SMNP is covered with trees, terrestrials are staple of any fly angler’s box, and fly sizes generally run from 14 all the way down to 22 depending on the season and pattern. Good all-round patterns for most of the year include Adams Parachute, BWO, Griffith’s Gnat, Black Caddis, Brown Caddis, Elk Hair Caddis, Stimulator, Sulphur, Light Cahill, Tellico Nymphs and various hoppers.  For sub-surface patterns, try brassies, BH Hares Ear, Olive Stone Fly, March Brown Nymph and soft hackles. Rumor has it the occasional wooly bugger has been known to trick a few mountain trout, too.

More Than Just Fishing

The Smoky Mountain National Park in Tennessee is easily accessed off of Interstate 40 by taking exit 407 where you can then easily access the park in about an hour. This path runs you directly through three towns, all of which are unique and vying for your tourist dollar. First is the town of Sevierville http://www.seviervilletn.org/ which has a nice selection of restaurants and a host of outlets where the wife or girlfriend of the average angler fly could shop until they dropped, or maxed out your credit card. They also have an excellent corporate Orvis Fly Shop www.orvis.com/sevierville  which has up to date information on what is hatching in the SNP, and of course a plethora of local patterns.

Next on the list is Pigeon Forge http://www.cityofpigeonforge.com/, the home of country music icon Dolly Parton and Dollywood    http://www.dollywood.com/.  Pigeon Forge, sometimes referred to as the Las Vegas of Tennessee (there is no gambling here), is chocked full of family themed shows ranging from “Lumber Jack Feud” to the “Hatfields and McCoys.” These shows often come complete with home-cooked dinners, which are served during the show. Music lovers will find Pigeon Forge particularly attractive since it sports places like the Smith Family Dinner Theater, which host all sorts of musical events as well as a program highlighting the popular TV show, the Dukes of Hazard. The town also has a variety of attractions for kids including, put-put, go-cart racing and various arcade establishments.

Pigeon Forge, Tenn., located just outside the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, has attractions like the Titanic, which are fun for the whole family.

Pigeon Forge, Tenn., located just outside the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, has attractions like the Titanic, which are fun for the whole family.

One of the most interesting things in Pigeon Forge my family saw was a museum dedicated to the Titanic http://www.titanicpigeonforge.com/.  Customers here board a replica of the ship and see actual relics harvested from the ocean floor where the Titanic sank on its maiden voyage. Attendees are given a name and a number when they enter the exhibit which correlates to an actual passenger on the Titanic. At the end if your visit you discover whether your passenger survived the voyage or not.

The last locality you’ll pass before officially entering the park from this direction of Tennessee is the town of Gatlinburg. The town sports what appear to be endless opportunities to take in the sights and sounds of the region, nearly all of which are within walking distance of your lodging. For visitors not staying in downtown Gatlinburg, a trolley runs every 30 minutes and will drop you off at a variety of locations.  Ironically a large aquarium run by Ripley’s Believe it or not lies in the middle of Gatlinburg, as do various shops and other tourist attractions. Several quaint chapels dot the town, as well as candy shops and a large collection of local artists. Best of all, visiting anglers can stop by the Smoky Mountain Angler www.smokymountainangler.com and get the local low down on fishing.  If you call far enough in advance, you might be lucky enough to book a guide. A word of advice here, call well before your planned trip if you want to book that guided trip.

Locations that offer great fishing in this region include the Little River, which is arguably the best-known river in the park. It has a great deal of pressure on it, but it also affords easy access. You simply drive into the park until you see a good place to pull over and then go at it. Other locations include the Roaring Fork, which is located near the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, the West and Middle Prongs of the Pigeon River and a host of other streams and creeks too numerous to list. You can literally drive into the park and then decide where you want to fish when you see a likely place.

Note: Beau Beasley (www.beaubeasley.com) is the author of Fly Fishing Virginia and Fly Fishing the Mid-Atlantic.  He lives with his wife and children in Warrenton, VA.

 

The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance website is designed to provide valuable articles about hunting, fishing and conservation for members of AFL-CIO affiliated labor unions and all sportsmen and sportswomen who appreciate hunting and fishing and want to preserve our outdoor heritage for future generations. If you would like your own story and experience from the outdoors to be considered for our website, please email us at USAmembers@unionsportsmen.org.

Great Lakes Salmon: Best Bait Wins

May 6, 2014 in Articles, Fishing

by Dave Mull

Bud Roche, veteran Great Lakes salmon troller, has a mantra when it comes to catching big king salmon on Lake Michigan.

Uncle Bud Roche poses with a dandy steelhead that hit and then shook the bait out of a Bechhold Bullet Baitholder fished behind a Bechhold Fishcatcher flasher.

Uncle Bud Roche poses with a dandy steelhead that hit and then shook the bait out of a Bechhold Bullet Baitholder fished behind a Bechhold Fishcatcher flasher.

“He who has the best bait wins,” says Bud, a retired union electrician from Chicago who now calls the quaint port of New Buffalo Michigan on Lake Michigan his home. “I’ve found that to be true in saltwater when fishing for groupers and snappers, and it’s true with Great Lakes salmon, too—they originally came from the Pacific Ocean, right?”

A commitment to bait is not a common thing throughout most of the Great Lakes, where artificial lures such as spoons and flashers with flies are the main weapons in most salmon anglers’ arsenals.

But Bud, better known as “Uncle Bud,” believes using bait targets big fish.

“Big king salmon didn’t get that way by eating spoons,” Bud said. “They got that way by eating meat.”

His tournament record would seem to support his contention. In the past seven years he has either won or finished second in his local salmon club, accumulating the most weight over the course of monthly contests throughout the season. A couple of years ago he finished second among 75 boats on the amateur side of a pro/am event out of Ludington, Michigan. This year in two open tournaments out of Michigan City, Indiana, he finished second in each, narrowly missing wins in both.

Did we mention that Bud just turned 81 years old in April?

Bait, for Great Lakes salmon trollers, is mostly herring that’s frozen and shipped to the Midwest after being netted in the Pacific or Atlantic oceans. Some anglers, including Bud, also use alewives, a silvery fish that invaded the Great Lakes from the Atlantic and has successfully reproduced in the freshwater seas for decades. They are the main natural prey of salmon and trout in the big lakes. Although some anglers fish these herring or alewives whole, most anglers fillet them or buy herring as fillets or “strips.” Alewives are only available commercially as whole fish.

Dave Vondrak, one of Bud Roche’s tournament partners, shows a king that hit a sushi fly trolled behind the Dreamweaver Spin Doctor flasher he holds in his left hand.

Dave Vondrak, one of Bud Roche’s tournament partners, shows a king that hit a sushi fly trolled behind the Dreamweaver Spin Doctor flasher he holds in his left hand.

All four states bordering Lake Michigan allow three rods per person, and with three people aboard his 22-foot Grady-White, Bud deploys nine rods. More often than not, all nine will be rigged up with bait, either fillets in plastic bait heads or fillets wrapped underneath the popular tinsel flies, creating what has become known as a “sushi fly.”

Bud buys whole frozen herring usually in the “blue label” size, which means 6 to 7 inches long. He usually catches his own alewives, often while perch fishing. On his electronics, schools of perch hang close to the bottom or have a bullet-shaped appearance, while alewives are less dense and generally in bigger schools, coming up higher in the water column. When he spots a group of the silver fish, he tosses a six-hook Sabiki rig in their midst, often catching several per cast. These go directly on ice in his cooler until he vacuum packs and freezes them as soon as possible. He keeps both herring and alewives frozen until the night before a fishing trip, filleting them while they’re still quite frosty.

Bud fillets both herring and alewives, removing one fillet from the backbone, then cutting the head off the remainder, leaving a headless half of a baitfish with the backbone, fins and tail. He often uses the boneless fillet as the tasty part of a sushi fly or under a plastic squid. The fillet with the backbone gets pegged in a plastic bait head specially designed to hold a strip of real fish, creating a presentation complete with the baitfish tail.

Good bait means fresh bait and Bud Roche uses a big chunk of ice to keep pre-rigged flasher-sushi fly combinations and extra bait strips cold and unspoiled.

Good bait means fresh bait. Bud Roche uses a big chunk of ice to keep flasher-sushi fly combinations and extra bait strips cold and unspoiled.

Once the fish are filleted, Bud salts them down with non-iodized salt. This preserves them and makes them tough enough to last a few hours trolled through the water. He also adds a squirt of herring oil to the baits for extra scent.

Bud notes it’s important to keep the baitfish cold until you put them out for fish. The ends of his special bait cooler have six large “Big Gulp” type plastic cups in which he places flashers, baithead (or fly) and bait. A big chunk of ice is in the middle with more cut bait on top of it.

Fishing with Bud can be an exercise in patience, and when he has an array of flashers and bait out, smaller fish seem to ignore them.

“I’m not fishing for small fish,” Bud says. “I might go for quite awhile without a bite, but when one of those rods gets a hit, I’m pretty sure it’s going to be a good one.”

 

The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance website is designed to provide valuable articles about hunting, fishing and conservation for members of AFL-CIO affiliated labor unions and all sportsmen and sportswomen who appreciate hunting and fishing and want to preserve our outdoor heritage for future generations. If you would like your own story and experience from the outdoors to be considered for our website, please email us at USAmembers@unionsportsmen.org.

Shoot Docks For More Crappie

April 22, 2014 in Articles, Fishing

by David Hart

It’s crappie season, and the good lakes are crowded. It seems like every beaver hut, laydown and dock has a boat sitting on it. All those spots hold crappie this time of year, but the easy crappie, the ones on the outside edges of the obvious cover, tend to get picked off in a hurry.

Shooting jigs under docks can put your lure in places other anglers can’t reach, and that's where more crappie can be found. Practice makes perfect.

Shooting jigs under docks can put your lure in places other anglers can’t reach, and that’s where more crappie can be found. Practice makes perfect.

That’s why Darrell Baker, a crappie guide on Alabama’s Weiss Lake, prefers to fish far up under docks and other low-hanging cover by shooting a lure under that cover. He can put a jig in places other anglers can’t, and he can catch crappie that haven’t seen a hook all season. Dock shooting can be a tricky technique to master, but once you get the hang of it, you can put more and bigger fish in your cooler.

“It’s really just a matter of practice. Do it enough times and you’ll get good at it,” says Baker.

Ready, Aim, Fire

Dock shooting for crappie involves nothing more than carefully grabbing a lure by the bend of the hook, pulling the lure back so the rod bends like a bow, and then releasing the lure and the line in your other finger at the same time. As Baker says, the basic technique can take a little practice, and shooting a lure accurately can take even more time.

“The most important thing is how you hold the lure. Make sure you pinch the bend of the hook between your thumb and index finger with the hook point clear of your fingertips,” he explains.

Open the bail on your reel and hold the line over the tip of your finger just as you do when you make a standard cast with any spinning reel. Pull the lure back toward your waist so the rod forms a tight bow, and then let go of the lure and the line at about the same time. Keep doing it, and you’ll strike a balance between when to release the line and when to release the lure to get the maximum velocity from the lure.

Keep the hook point clear of your fingers when you grab the lure.

The taut line and loaded rod are going to send the jig flying. Keep the hook point clear of your fingers when you grab the lure.

“Try holding the rod different ways until you find a position that’s comfortable and that works well,” says Baker. “Once you get the basics down, you can work on accuracy.”

You might have to drop to your knees or even crouch low and hang over the edge of the boat a little in order to reach the tightest spots, especially on low docks.

Choose Your Weapon

While some crappie anglers will make a snappy sidearm cast and put a jig a few feet under a dock, anglers like Baker can shoot a jig even farther under the structure. That’s because he uses a rod specifically designed for the technique. It’s a short, whippy rod with just enough backbone to withstand the stress placed on it when it’s bent like a bow. The B’n’M Sharpshooter is just 5 feet long and has an extended butt designed for dock shooting. The guides are also made specifically for this technique.

“Shorter rods allow you to control the jig better. They also won’t slap the water when you shoot the jig like a longer rod might,” says Baker.

The weight of the lure is less important the rod choice, but Baker favors jigs as light as 1/32-ounce only because the fall through the water slower. A slow moving lure stays in a the strike zone of the crappie longer. They also skip across the surface better, a great way to get even more distance from each “shot.”

Choose Your Target

Dock shooting isn’t just an effective technique on lakes with heavy fishing pressure, it works anywhere crappie are found around docks.

Dock shooting isn’t just an effective technique on lakes with heavy fishing pressure, it works anywhere crappie are found around docks.

His weight choice also depends on the depth of the water. Crappie will congregate under almost any dock, but Baker looks for a few ingredients before he breaks out his shooting tackle. He likes docks over at least 4 feet of water and within 10 to 20 yards of a deeper ledge or creek channel. Crappie like quick access to deeper water.

“I like larger docks that sit low on the water and that have lots of posts and crossboards,” he says. “If the dock has brush under it or out in front, that’s even better.”

He also favors isolated docks only because he can work them thoroughly before moving on to the next one. Docks that sit alone tend to hold more fish than those on a long stretch of docks.

Don’t spend all your time looking for a single dock with all those ingredients, though. Just fish. Crappie fishing, like most types of fishing, is a process of elimination. You may have to spend some time figuring out a pattern before you can zero in on the right spots. Baker will shoot a jig from a variety of angles, covering each dock thoroughly before he moves to the next one. Eventually, he’ll hit a bull’s-eye.

For more information on dock shooting for crappie or on fishing at Weiss Lake, visit www.weisslakecrappieguides.com. For fishing reports on Weiss Lake, visit www.gon.com.

 

The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance website is designed to provide valuable articles about hunting, fishing and conservation for members of AFL-CIO affiliated labor unions and all sportsmen and sportswomen who appreciate hunting and fishing and want to preserve our outdoor heritage for future generations. If you would like your own story and experience from the outdoors to be considered for our website, please email us at USAmembers@unionsportsmen.org.

Balsa Slip Floats For Precision Fishing

April 8, 2014 in Articles, Fishing

by Bob McNally

If you don’t use slip floats for fishing, you probably should. And if you do use slip floats but haven’t tried new sensitive, “high-tech” models made of balsa wood, it would be wise to give them a chance.

Sensitive slip floats are effective for a wide variety of fish. This one is fitted with a small jig, targeting crappie and bass.

Sensitive slip floats are effective for a wide variety of fish. This one is fitted with a small jig, targeting crappie and bass.

Why? Because it’s almost a sure bet you’ll catch more fish if you do. This innovative float system is deadly, simple, and effective year-round.

Simply stated, these well-balanced, versatile and very specialized high-tech balsa slip floats produce bass, walleyes, panfish and other fish species for anglers when plain, old-style bobbers fail. This is because the new breed of today’s modern slip float is so sensitive, so specialized, so perfectly designed, that it can detect even the smallest nibble from the most finicky-feeding fish. These innovative and remarkable fishing floats allow anglers to present baits and lures to fish that are impossible to present offerings correctly to any other way.

There are a number of different slip-float styles offered by companies such as Lindy, but all allow a fishing line to slide through them, either through the center of the float, or through rings or holes strategically placed on it.

When a slip float hits the surface following a cast, the lure or bait spirals down enticingly, pulling fishing line through the float quickly as it falls. Fitted onto the fishing line above the float is a small knot called a “float stop,” designed to jam against the hole or ring in the float, which thwarts the fishing line from running through a float, and thus halts the fall of a lure.

By sliding a float-stop knot up or down the fishing line, the depth water a lure or bait is fished is perfectly controlled. So an angler can effectively strain the entire water column, presenting a lure at whatever depth fish are holding in.

Some slip floats glow in the dark, making night fishing easier for crappie, bass, walleye and other species.

Some slip floats glow in the dark, making night fishing easier for crappie, bass, walleye and other species.

With a slip float, you can effectively present baits and lures in 2, 10, 20, even 40 feet of water or deeper. And by altering the size and style slip float, you can fish in calm ponds, rough reservoirs, small slow-flowing streams and broad, swift rivers.

Small jigs and lightweight natural baits are used with light line and small floats for panfish and when finesse fishing for bass and walleyes. As lure and bait weights and lines increase in size and weight, the size slip float is increased, too. So big shiners, suckers, chubs and other baits can be used as well.

In water with current, floats are best fished from a stationary position, like an anchored boat or from a dock. Ideally, a sliding stop knot should halt the lure or bait just a foot or two above bottom. Rigged and fished this way, river current pushes a float and lure far back under dock pilings or under overhanging trees and brush, to places an angler never could normally cast a lure. A bright-colored slip float bobs and moves around a piling here and there, near a dock cross support, and bumps against bulkheads. Periodic twitches of a rod tip imparts action to a lure or bait suspended below a float.

With a modern, balanced, sensitive high-tech slip float, you can put a lure or bait right at a fish’s eye level, even over snaggy, weedy or mossy bottoms that make a mess of other presentations. Modern floats make all fishermen better anglers, and they open a new world of possibilities in numerous angling situations.

One important key to successful slip-float fishing is matching the right size float to the lure or bait employed. Small slip floats just a couple inches long can be used with 1/32-ounce jigs and/or natural baits for spooky fish like trout in clear water. Such little lures and baits suspended from small, very sensitive floats allow anglers to work a single spot in the water column for as long as necessary for finicky, suspended fish, a deadly method for tempting reluctant trout into hitting. Small, weighted fly-rod nymphs and little streamers also can be fished with a slip float and are a breeze to cast with light spinning tackle due to the weight of a float.

Many big walleye have fallen to anglers employing slip floats. These two heavy fish were taken using live minnows around a sunken hump, fished from far up-wind.

Many big walleye have fallen to anglers employing slip floats. These two heavy fish were taken using live minnows around a sunken hump, fished from far up-wind.

Many anglers using old-style bobbers find casting difficult, especially when deep water is fished because the distance a bobber had to be positioned above a sinker and bait made for an unwieldy, lob-cast motion. But because a slip-float rests just above the lure before a cast, a float and lure cast like one single unit. So an easy, normal, accurate casting motion can be made. Once a float and lure land at the target they separate, with the sliding float staying at the surface, the lure or bait dropping to the desired depth pre-set by positioning the stop knot on the fishing line.

The additional weight of a slip float greatly improves casting efficiency when small, light lures are needed. This proves helpful in fishing clear or shallow water where long casts are needed. The use of a big slip float can aid in catching schooling summer fish feeding on small baitfish. The added weight of a float helps reach distant fish when small, light lures and baits are required.

The applications for slip-float use in many kinds of fishing are almost limitless. The technique is deadly for suspended fish in flooded timber. A compact float-and-lure can be drifted easily in river current to work bridge abutments or dock pilings. Flip floats can be cast upwind of shallow submerged points and mid-lake humps, then drifted across fish-holding areas without disturbing them with boats or motors.

In thick cover, rigging a slip float with a soft plastic weedless grub or mini-tube lure having a light slip-sinker or split shot is deadly on big fish that hold around deep edges and pockets in submerged hydrilla. The key is to locate the deep sunken edge by utilizing the lure and float as a depth finder. Cast amd let line out until the float lays over on its side. This shows a bait is on bottom. Adjust the slip-float knot closer to the lure, make another cast, adjust the knot again if the float lays over. When the float remains upright after a cast, the bait is hovering just off bottom. Then a slow retrieve is begun, and you can be sure the lure or bait is brought back just above deep weeds, which invariably draws strikes from predator fish.

Some high-tech slip floats glow in the dark, so they shine for low-light and night fishing.

Choosing and using high-tech slip floats is not difficult once anglers learn some basic principles, and you’ll find applications for using them for multiple fish species through all seasons of the year.

 

The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance website is designed to provide valuable articles about hunting, fishing and conservation for members of AFL-CIO affiliated labor unions and all sportsmen and sportswomen who appreciate hunting and fishing and want to preserve our outdoor heritage for future generations. If you would like your own story and experience from the outdoors to be considered for our website, please email us at USAmembers@unionsportsmen.org.

Pier Fishing Basics For Saltwater Fun And Fillets

March 14, 2014 in Articles, Fishing

by Bob McNally

A saltwater fishing pier gets no respect.

In fact, the general impression many people have is that folks who fish from a saltwater pier are young, elderly or don’t own or have access to fishing boats. While that may generally be true, there are some savvy saltwater anglers who know that under the right conditions, the best place to consistently catch fish is from a good marine pier.

Plenty of great-eating fish are caught from saltwater fishing piers, including flounder.

Plenty of great-eating fish are caught from saltwater fishing piers, including flounder.

Important fish species are caught regularly from piers, including flounder, sheepshead, black drum, whiting, pompano and others. Heavyweight tarpon, kingfish, snook, seatrout, even sailfish have been landed from piers, too. And a number of world-record catches have been made from piers, including Walter Maxwell’s 14-foot, 1,780-pound tiger shark near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina that took five hours to land.

Timing may be the single most important factor contributing to successful saltwater pier fishing. Not only do anglers have to know what the most productive tides are for fishing at a given pier, but to be most successful, trips must coincide with major “runs” or migrations of fish species.

Experience is the best teacher in learning to time runs. But talking with pier-fishing regulars, reading local newspaper fishing reports, speaking with tackle-shop proprietors and pier anglers is a quick way to learn when certain fish species are most likely to be available.

Such inquiries should yield information about when, for example, the Spanish mackerel run works in close to a pier, or when bluefish “are in,” what time of year sheepshead are available, or kingfish, snook, pompano, etc.

It helps to be observant, too. When possible, visit a pier to learn what’s going on. When piers are unusually crowded, there’s good reason. If 100 people line the end of a Florida Panhandle pier in spring, it’s a good bet they’re not there to soak up sunshine.

Pier fishing is fun for many anglers, offering hard-charging fishermen a place to wet lines, as well as for leisurely anglers to kick back and dangle a baited hook.

Pier fishing is fun for many anglers, offering hard-charging fishermen a place to wet lines, as well as for leisurely anglers to kick back and dangle a baited hook.

When such a congregation of fishermen are spotted, take special note of the tide phase they’re fishing, wind direction and speed, water clarity, weather conditions, and where anglers stand along a pier and on which side when casting baits and lures. None of these things are just chance events, and wise are anglers who keep a notebook log of such conditions.

And don’t be shy about talking to pier fishermen. The fraternity of anglers on “the boards” is usually very friendly, and many folks are more than happy to share information about how, where and when they’re catching fish.

The best pier tide phases usually are moving ones, often the early stages of flooding or ebbing tides. But this isn’t always the case, and only by checking a tide table and watching which way saltwater runs near a pier will you know what the tide is doing. Wind speed and direction play an important part in tide flow and its speed. By noting the wind, and its relationship to tide, you’re adding important input to your mental computer to duplicate fishing conditions that dictated the action had at a pier during a given day.

Tide phase and wind also affect water clarity. The clarity of the water frequently is paramount in the type fish caught from a pier, their location, how they’ll feed and what they’ll strike. Weather is vitally important, too, with often the best action coming just before or immediately after violent storms.

A special “lift net” is valuable in raising large fish from the water surface to a pier.

A special “lift net” is valuable in raising large fish from the water surface to a pier.

Wind, waves and tides slamming into a pier typically form an undulating bottom around pier pilings, as well as sloughs or troughs that usually run at a right angle to a pier and parallel to a beach. Varied bottom depths and gouged-out sloughs form underwater highways for marine fish just like they do for freshwater fish.

However, in saltwater such bottom structure frequently is shifting, which can alter the location of baitfish and sportfish. Pier fishing regulars realize this, and through experience know where the best sloughs and holes are located during a given tide phase, at a certain time of year, for a specifically-sought fish species.

Some days, for some species, the up-tide side of a pier may be most productive, for example. Other days, the down-tide side, in a deep slough, yields the most fish. By watching where savvy pier anglers habitually cast during tide phases, times of day, year, etc., a neophyte angler quickly learns where to fish a pier.

If you’re completely new to the pier fishing game, make a scouting survey of the action—and the players—before joining the fun. Take stock of the rods, reels, baits, lures, and other gear they employ. None of it is nearly as hodgepodge as it may seem to an untrained eye.

Serious pier fishermen usually tote all their angling paraphernalia in a cart or wagon of some type, since it’s usually a long walk from a beach parking lot to a pier fishing spot. In a wagon an angler can place bait bucket, tackle box, rods (some anglers rig wagons with rod holders on their sides), cooler for drinks, lunch and bait, and other needed gear.

One important item all pier anglers need is a specialized hoop net or pier gaff, which is used to lift good-size fish from the water up onto a pier. Even a fish of a few pounds easily can break fishing line or pull hooks out if it’s simply hauled up 50 or 100 feet from the water’s surface.

Varied types of tackle, baits and lures are employed for different types of pier fish and fishing conditions, and only by watching and asking questions of pier regulars will anglers know what to use, when, and for what species. Virtually all types of tackle can be used successfully on piers, at least some of the time. Heavy 16/0 revolving spool big-game outfits to tiny ultralight spinning gear all has its place.

Sheepshead are a popular marine pier angler target. They are fun to catch and great on a dinner plate, too.

Sheepshead are a popular marine pier angler target. They are fun to catch and great on a dinner plate, too.

The heavy stuff generally is used for sharks, tarpon, stout drum and other giant fish that run far and fight hard. Mid-size revolving spools and spinning tackle is serviceable for kingfish, cobia, jacks, snook, flounder, and other species. Light-action spinning or even fly gear can provide anglers with top sport for ladyfish, pompano, bluefish, sheepshead, whiting, croakers, spots, weakfish, grunts and others.

Most good commercial fishing piers have bait-and-tackle shops on them or at least nearby. Usually just the right baits (sand fleas, shrimp, crabs, mullet, mud minnows, etc.) can be purchased at a pier. All piers have their regional favorite lures for varied fish species, and wise is the angler who has some of them with him. But a standard good saltwater lure selection of jigs, spoons and plugs should serve any pier angler well.

Pier fishing is as simple or as complex as you care to make it. You can go whole hog with sophisticated tackle, have lots of rods and bait, use a fully-rigged pier wagon, and aggressively pursue fish all around the pier.

Or, on the other hand, you could just take a can of bait and simple spinning outfit, cast out, sit down, and let time pass you by as you wait for fish to chance by.

For the $5 or so it costs for admission, the saltwater fishing pier may be the best angling bargain in America. Where else can a person enjoy the sea, either solemnly or in company; watch the sun sail serenely over the sea; probably catch enough fish for supper; and maybe even land a fish that’ll set a world angling record?

 

The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance website is designed to provide valuable articles about hunting, fishing and conservation for members of AFL-CIO affiliated labor unions and all sportsmen and sportswomen who appreciate hunting and fishing and want to preserve our outdoor heritage for future generations. If you would like your own story and experience from the outdoors to be considered for our website, please email us at USAmembers@unionsportsmen.org.

Early Season For Big Smallmouth Bass

March 4, 2014 in Articles, Fishing

by David Hart

The lure stopped dead just two turns of the reel handle into the retrieve. It’s almost impossible to hang a spinnerbait on a rock or log, but there I was, snagged just a few casts into the day.

A warming spell in March offers a great chance for your biggest smallmouth bass of the year.

A warming spell in March offers a great chance for your biggest smallmouth bass of the year.

The snag, however, pulled back. I snapped the rod tip upward and started cranking the reel handle as fast as I could. After a brief give-and-take, Shawn Hash scooped the smallmouth bass into a net, removed the spinnerbait from the corner of its mouth and gently laid the fish across a tape measure.

“Twenty-one inches,” proclaimed Hash, a New River, Virginia guide and owner of Tangent Outfitters.

It wasn’t just the first smallmouth of the day, it turned out to be the biggest bass of the day, my biggest in a couple of years and a true trophy in any smallmouth river. We ended up with a dozen or more over 17 inches, a great day considering it was mid-March, the water was in the mid-40s and the air only slightly warmer. Even better, there wasn’t another soul on the river.

It isn’t just the New River that holds so much promise in late winter and early spring. Smallmouth rivers everywhere, from the Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna to the John Day in Oregon, offer an honest shot at your biggest river smallmouth of the year. They may be a valley, a state or even a continent apart, but the fish are the same, especially the largest ones. Warming trends pull them out of their winter slumber and they eagerly scarf up minnows and crawfish and lures that imitate them.

“People always call my shop and ask what the water temperature is, but that’s not what’s important. I want to see an upward trend, no matter what the actual temperature is,” says Hash.

He admits that smallmouths are difficult to catch when the water dips below the 40s, but as soon as it ticks upwards a degree or two, he’s heading to the river. Any spike, whether from 39 to 42 or 50 to 52, is enough to stir winter-weary smallmouths and get them active.

He prefers the last day of an early spring warming trend, ideally one that lasts three or four days. Hash will schedule an outing for the third day. He also thinks an impending cold front stirs the feeding impulse, as well. Whatever the reason, Hash will be throwing just a handful of lures to a variety of locations.

He relies on crankbaits, spinnerbaits, hard jerkbaits and jigs and tubes this time of year. They may not all work on any given day, but a lifetime of chasing smallmouths has taught him that at least one will coax late-winter bass into his raft. What works sometimes depends on the water temperature, but not always. Fast-moving baits have worked on the coldest days and jigs and tubes will catch bass right through the blistering heat of summer.

Look for late-winter smallmouths in slower pockets along the shoreline and behind fallen trees and mid-river ledges and boulders.

Look for late-winter smallmouths in slower pockets along the shoreline and behind fallen trees and mid-river ledges and boulders.

A warming trend doesn’t just nudge big bass into biting, it can pull them out of deep, slow holes and onto shallower flats, particularly on sunny days. That’s because the bottom tends to warm a bit more and various bait like minnows and crawfish become more active over those warmer flats. Hash has caught trophy-sized smallmouths in as little as two feet of water on mild late-winter days. He’s also caught them in as much as 30 feet.

“You have to spend some time searching until you figure them out. I’ll work a variety of depths with a variety of lures until I start catching fish,” he says.

Patterns can hold up throughout a warming trend, but they can also change, even over the course of a day. If shallow flats stop producing, don’t assume the fish aren’t interested in eating anymore. Work deeper water or try a different lure or retrieve. Jerkbaits in particular can produce lots of fish, but smallmouths tend to favor a specific retrieve on certain days. They might like a steady, quick jerking retrieve or they may react better to longer pauses, up to three or four seconds. Try a variety of retrieves, colors and locations with other lures, as well.

Most fish tend to hold in pockets of slower water near current. They also seem to favor current breaks near the river’s banks, but Hash has caught plenty of quality smallmouths in deeper water below mid-river riffles and ledges.

No matter what you throw or where you throw it, just be prepared to set the hook, even when you think you are snagged on a rock or log. It could be the biggest smallmouth of your life.

For more information on early season smallmouth fishing, visit Shawn Hash and Tangent Outfitters  website at www.newrivertrail.com.

 

The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance website is designed to provide valuable articles about hunting, fishing and conservation for members of AFL-CIO affiliated labor unions and all sportsmen and sportswomen who appreciate hunting and fishing and want to preserve our outdoor heritage for future generations. If you would like your own story and experience from the outdoors to be considered for our website, please email us at USAmembers@unionsportsmen.org.

Nymphs For More Trout

February 18, 2014 in Articles, Fishing

by David Hart

Trout fisherman sure love watching a dry fly drift across their favorite stream. Who can blame them? There’s something alluring, even a bit romantic, about dry flies. Too bad trout often ignore them.

Watching a trout rise on a dry fly is what it's all about for many fly anglers. Often, trout don't want to feed on the surface, or even in the middle of the water column. That's when a bead-head nymph is the way to go.

Watching a trout rise on a dry fly is what it’s all about for many fly anglers. Often, trout don’t want to feed on the surface, or even in the middle of the water column. That’s when a bead-head nymph is the way to go.

The truth is, trout take most of the food underwater, not from the surface. That’s why every serious trout fisherman should at least learn how to fish a nymph. It may not be as glamorous as catching them on dry flies, but it’s the only way to catch trout when they aren’t rising. The good news is that catching fish on nymphs isn’t nearly as difficult as it seems.

Match The Hatch?

The bad news? Trout can be as picky as a 3-year-old. There’s no hiding a stalk of broccoli from a kid. Just as trout can reject a dry fly that doesn’t closely resemble a specific insect, they will turn away from a nymph that doesn’t look like something they are used to eating. Thankfully, there are countless nymph patterns are designed to closely mimic a variety of aquatic nymphs. There are plenty more that are close enough.

Hare’s ears, pheasant tails, brassies, zug bugs or copper Johns, known as attractor nymphs, all resemble something found in just about any stream, even if only vaguely. Take a variety. If you aren’t catching fish, switch flies. Try a different size or a slightly different color. Keep changing until you hit on the right fly for the day.

Get Down On It

If you still don’t catch anything, it could be your technique. Or more specifically, your fly may not be getting down to the fish. Trout feeding near the bottom tend to ignore even the best-looking nymph that drifts above their head. They may rise a little to take a swing at a nymph, but they won’t come up very far. That’s why it’s vital to get the fly in front of their faces. That’s easy. Lots of nymphs are made with a weighted bead on the hook. Known as bead-head nymphs, they will get the fly down deep enough in most situations. You just have to give it time to get down before you lift your rod tip and make another swing. Cast well above your target to allow the nymph to fall to the right depth. In deeper water, anything over 5 or 6 feet, or in swifter current, you may have to add a little extra weight in the form of a tiny split-shot or a moldable weight.

A nymph drifted past a big undercut rock will make an angler forget the frustration of dry flies ignored by fish that can seen but not made to bite.

A nymph drifted past a big undercut rock will make an angler forget the frustration of dry flies ignored by fish that can seen but not made to bite.

You’ll also need a strike indicator to tell you when you have a bite. It’s difficult, if not impossible to detect a strike on a nymph without one. A strike indicator is little more than a piece of water-proof yarn, a small piece of pinch-on foam or an actual plastic float attached to your leader. Not only will it help you see strikes, it will also help control the depth of your nymph.

Set The Hook

Generally, you want your nymph close to the bottom, but not too close. Nymphs don’t often hang on rocks. They tend to be light enough that the current will carry them over or around hard obstacles. They can, however, hang on sticks, leaves and other debris, creating the illusion of a strike. Set the hook. Every time you think you might have a bite, set the hook. You have nothing to lose.

By snapping your rod tip upward every time you think you might have a strike, you eventually learn to read your strike indicator and the subtle changes in its movement. Pay close attention. If something looks like a strike, it could be, so set the hook. Swirling currents can pull them under, but sometimes it’s tough to tell the difference between current and trout. If you aren’t sure, set the hook.

Deep Water, Shallow Water

Detecting a strike is certainly easier when the nymph is drifting through a slow, deep pool, but those can be tough places to dredge up a trout. Any trout that gets a long look at a nymph will likely figure out it’s a fake or them may see your tippet. It certainly can’t hurt to make a few drifts through one of those bottomless holes, but don’t overlook the same places you’d throw a dry fly.

Faster water, the tail of riffles, even the riffles themselves can be ideal places to drift a nymph. Any fish that sees your fly in that faster water won’t have time to analyze it. They either have to eat it or miss an opportunity at a free meal. Catching trout on a nymph may not be as glamorous or exciting as catching them on dry flies, but it sure beats catching nothing.

 

The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance website is designed to provide valuable articles about hunting, fishing and conservation for members of AFL-CIO affiliated labor unions and all sportsmen and sportswomen who appreciate hunting and fishing and want to preserve our outdoor heritage for future generations. If you would like your own story and experience from the outdoors to be considered for our website, please email us at USAmembers@unionsportsmen.org.

Going For The Big Bass Bite In February

February 6, 2014 in Articles, Fishing

by Bill Cooper

Hawg hunters know that February can produce some of the biggest largemouth bass of the year. But it takes knowledge of the correct tactics and a lot of patience to wait it out for four or five big bites of the day. Here’s how.

Jigs and creature baits are great options for the big bass of February. Slow-moving baits are best as bass are sluggish in the cold water.

Jigs and creature baits are great options for the big bass of February. Slow-moving baits are best as bass are sluggish in the cold water.

Lake of the Ozarks, located in central Missouri in the northern part of the Ozark Mountains, is a bass-producing phenomenon. Built in the 1930s to provide electricity to the center of the state, few could have realized that in a couple of decades the lake would attract the attention of bass anglers all over the nation.

The winter scene at Lake of the Ozarks (LOZ) can be brutal. The cold winds and harsh winter weather of February hold all water sports enthusiasts and all but the hardiest of fishermen at bay. However, those fishermen who venture out in snowsuits, heavy gloves and insulated helmets experience some of the best bass fishing of the year, especially for big bass.

LOZ is famous for its springtime bass fishing, but many say that the fishing is even better in February before the spring warm up. At least the absence of crowds provides far more favorable conditions for anglers. Fishermen have the opportunity to pursue bass under some of the most natural conditions of the year.

No discussion of bass fishing at LOZ is complete without mentioning the numerous boat docks at waters edge. Anglers are naturally drawn to the structures because they are the most visible cover on the lake. Most of the year, the docks are very productive, including February. However, the best cold-weather bass fishing can be found far offshore on secondary points in major tributaries and on main-lake points. These features attract baitfish and also funnel currents. Therefore, bass concentrate over these deep structures.

Anglers need to search the flats and higher up on the points when the floodgates are open at both ends of the lake. The flowing current and accompanying stained water brings bass out of the deeper water. Throw in a couple of warm days, and fish will follow baitfish back to the coves. This scenario creates the perfect setup for tossing baits to the sunny corners of docks.

Born and raised at LOZ, Keith Enloe now has 30 years under his belt as a bass fishing guide. A big man, Enloe has a soft nature and a softer place in his heart for big bass. He grins as his voice spikes when talking about big LOZ bass in February.

From his three decades of guiding on the lake, Enloe has zoned in on the north shore and the Gravois arm for his February bass hunts.

“Water clarity is the key,” he began. “Water clarity and temperature determine how deep I fish. On the average, I fish from 12 to 25 feet deep during cold weather.”

Lucky Craft and Smithwick Rogue jerkbaits are Enloe’s starting lineup for February bass.

“I like to run these baits over brushpiles, which I have marked on my GPS unit,” he said.

If the surface temperatures dip below 40 degrees, there will likely be a shad kill on the lake.

“When the water temperature is 38 to 39 degrees, I slowly bring my baits over the structure to imitate a dying shad.”

Although the lures Enloe utilizes are referred to as jerkbaits, he uses a different technique.

“Bass are lethargic in cold water and are not going to chase a bait. I literally pull the bait slowly rather than jerk it. I drag it 12 to 18 inches and then let it sit for at least 30 seconds and sometimes as long as a minute,” he said.

The technique takes patience, especially for anglers used to the warm-season action of ripping spinnerbaits and walking-the-dog with topwater baits. A good rule of thumb is to follow the old adage: “when you think you have slowed your bait down, slow it down some more.”

A Lucky Craft Pointer jerkbait in Tennessee Shad color is a great option for February bass, but until the water warms, it should be fished very slowly. At Lake of the Ozarks, guide Keith Enloe recommends "pulling" the bait with slow sweeps of your rod instead of jerking it like you would during the springtime.

A Lucky Craft Pointer jerkbait in Tennessee Shad color is a great option for February bass, but until the water warms, it should be fished very slowly. At Lake of the Ozarks, guide Keith Enloe recommends “pulling” the bait with slow sweeps of your rod instead of jerking it like you would during the springtime.

Enloe says that the suspending Lucky Craft jerkbaits work best for the sitting-still routine.

“Anglers must pay close attention after stopping the bait,” he said. “Often, the line only begins to feel heavy. Bites are usually light. Sometimes, the line sorta jumps. This bite is very difficult for beginners to adjust to.”

As water temperatures climb into the upper 40s, Enloe adjusts his techniques. “It may seem like a subtle difference, but it works,” the expert angler related. “Rather than drag the lure, I pop it and then let it sit.”

For the cold weather months, Enloe prefers his baits in either Tennessee Shad color or Aurora Black with silver sides. The silver side looks like the natural side of a shad. He rigs his reels with 12-pound Maxima and P-Line in the same weight.

Jigs may be the best big-bass bait ever, and February is a great time to methodically work a jig over deep-water structure.

Jigs may be the best big-bass bait ever, and February is a great time to methodically work a jig over deep-water structure.

Enloe stated that one of the best things a newcomer to cold-weather bass fishing can do for themselves is to hire a guide. “I still hire a guide myself when I am fishing a new lake or trying a new technique.”

By late March, LOZ bass begin moving out of the main lake.

“When water temperatures reach the 48-degree range, bass head for the deep secondary points off of the main lake,” he said. “When temperatures rise to the 45- to 50-degree mark, bass make the big move. I look for them in softball-sized rocks and along shelf lines. Jigs and Chompers work best under these circumstances. I like to drag ‘em down and shelf hop my baits. Imagine walking down a flight of stairs. Just as you feel your foot make contact with each step, you should concentrate on feeling your bait as you work it slowly down the rock ledges.”

In closing, Enloe stated, “Bass fishing is a blast. I love it and have committed much of my life to it. If fishermen can develop patience, which is 80 percent of the game, the rest of it will fall into place.”

 

The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance website is designed to provide valuable articles about hunting, fishing and conservation for members of AFL-CIO affiliated labor unions and all sportsmen and sportswomen who appreciate hunting and fishing and want to preserve our outdoor heritage for future generations. If you would like your own story and experience from the outdoors to be considered for our website, please email us at USAmembers@unionsportsmen.org.

Operating Engineer reels in donations for St. Jude’s Kids and some nice fish with Brotherhood Outdoors TV!

January 23, 2014 in Articles, Brotherhood Outdoors TV, Fishing, General, Press Release

The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance’s national outdoor TV series, Brotherhood Outdoors, takes veteran union operating engineer Bradley Richmond to Florida’s famed Boca Grande to fish for tarpon 11 a.m. ET on Sunday, Feb. 9, on the Sportsman Channel.

Bradley Richmond fishes tarpon in Florida's famed Boca Grande with Brotherhood Outdoors Feb. 9 at 11 a.m. ET, on the Sportsman Channel.

Bradley Richmond fishes tarpon in Florida’s famed Boca Grande with Brotherhood Outdoors Feb. 9 at 11 a.m. ET, on the Sportsman Channel.

Pulling in a trophy silver king is something Bradley Richmond, a 14-year member of Operating Engineers Local 150 in Rockford, Illinois, had only dreamed of. An unexpected invitation from Brotherhood Outdoors to fish for tarpon in Florida with co-hosts Daniel Lee Martin and Julie McQueen and the show’s crew offered him the chance.

“I fish bluegill and crappie just about every weekend,” said Bradley, who is committed to conservation efforts as a member of his local fishing club. “Our club is looking to make it easier, cleaner and more accessible for those in our area that are as nuts about fishing as we are.”

Bradley, who said he began fishing as a young boy, is also committed to helping make life a little nicer for children battling cancer as a dedicated volunteer of St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. It’s the only pediatric cancer center where families never pay for treatment not covered by insurance and where no child is ever denied treatment because of the family’s inability to pay.

For the past four years, Bradley has helped raise money for St. Jude’s Kids through an annual Rock River catfishing tournament. This year, Bradley is also involved in the planning and coordination of a fishing outing for children with disabilities with the hope of raising enough money to fund a new lift at the town’s community pool. “Over the years I have volunteered with many charities and have come to the realization that each and every one of us should be able to find some way to help those who cannot help themselves,” he said. “Helping others, even in the smallest way, can and does make a difference.”

Bradley also recognizes the importance of helping and supporting one another on the job. “It does my heart good to help the apprentices and give them a hand whenever needed,” said Bradley. “I had someone take me under his wing in my first few years and that man and I are still friends. We are in this together, all for one, one for all.”
Hard, good work is what his weekdays are about, but for Bradley, weekend-time means fishing-time.

“My dad started taking me fishing when I was four years old and it’s been a great love of mine ever since,” he said.
In this action-packed episode of Brotherhood Outdoors, Bradley reels in snook and mackerel and aims for the prized silver king as he and the Brotherhood Outdoors crew swap big fish stories. Viewers will feel the excitement when he ties into his very first tarpon, a 200-pounder that gets away, and cheer him on when he ties into another big one.

Tune in to Brotherhood Outdoors Sunday, Feb. 9, at 11 a.m. on the Sportsman Channel.

Brotherhood Outdoors, winner of “Best Combination Show” in the 2011 Sportsman Choice Awards, awards union sportsmen and women who are committed to preserving North America’s outdoor heritage with a guided trip or the opportunity to show off their guiding skills and local hunting or fishing destinations on national TV.

Presented by Bank of Labor, Brotherhood Outdoors is also sponsored by the following unions, contractors and corporate partners: Buck Knives, Carhartt, Employee Benefit Systems, International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers, International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, National Electrical Contractors Association, ULLICO and United Association/International Training Fund.

For more information about Brotherhood Outdoors, the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance or Sportsman Channel, visit www.BrotherhoodOutdoors.tv and www.facebook.com/brotherhoodoutdoorstv.

About the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance: The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA) is a union-dedicated, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, whose members hunt, fish, shoot and volunteer their skills for conservation. The USA is uniting the union community through conservation to preserve North America’s outdoor heritage. For more information, visit www.unionsportsmen.org or www.facebook.com/unionsportsmen.

About Sportsman Channel: Launched in 2003, Sportsman Channel, and Sportsman HD, is the only television and digital media company fully devoted to sportsmen in the United States, delivering entertaining and educational programming focused exclusively on hunting, shooting and fishing activities. Sportsman Channel reaches more than 32 million U.S. television households and is available in HD. Visit www.thesportsmanchannel.com, follow on Twitter, @SPORTSMANchnl (twitter.com/SPORTSMANchnl) and Like on Facebook, facebook.com/sportsmanchannel
Tune in to Brotherhood Outdoors Sundays at 11 a.m. on

Women Fly Anglers Rise And Shine

January 21, 2014 in Articles, Fishing

by Beau Beasley

More times than not when folks learn I’m a fly angler I hear a statement like, ‘I’ve always wanted to do that, but never took the time to learn.” This is a real shame since most of us work for decades at jobs that we might not like because it pays well, (or perhaps because it doesn’t). This can leave you with a sense of wanting to be out doing something you really enjoy instead. The problem is we often wait too long to pursue our passions.

Wanda Taylor tours the country on behalf of Temple Fork Outfitters teaching fly casting techniques to hundreds of folks each year.

Wanda Taylor tours the country on behalf of Temple Fork Outfitters teaching fly casting techniques to hundreds of folks each year.

One thing I’ve noticed lately is lady anglers aren’t interested in taking a back seat in this sport, or waiting for someone else to lead them. In fact, lady anglers are entering the sport of fly fishing at a rate that might surprise you. Need proof? Let’s take a look at a few lady anglers in the fly fishing industry and you can see for yourself what I mean.

This coming April the Virginia Fly Fishing Festival (www.vaflyfishingfestival.org) is offering more classes taught by female instructors than ever before. Why? Simply put, the demand is there, and as a fly fishing festival that want’s to grow, they are reaching out to lady anglers. Last year the VFFF saw female attendance increase, and their experience varied from seasoned river guides to brand new anglers. The festival saw an influx of women that were already interested in spending time outdoors, but wanted to find a new way to connect with their husbands or boyfriends on the water together. To them, fly fishing seemed like a perfect fit.

Women from their late teens to mid-60s can easily get involved in fly fishing, but their key to success is often good instruction. To that end women often want to learn from other women because their learning styles are often different from men. Like all of us, women are much more likely to ask questions in an environment where they feel safe. I don’t mean physically safe, I mean safe in the sense that at times having a female instructor makes them feel less intimidated when it comes to asking questions that might seem silly to us, but are real to newbies entering the sport. The truth is some men also prefer female instructors because they feel less of a need to be a know it all. Let’s face it fellas, we rarely want to ask anyone for help, especially another man if we think we might be viewed as less than the perfect outdoorsman. Don’t believe me? When was the last time you stopped someone and asked for directions!

Three lady anglers I know that are making great strides in the fly fishing world are Wand Taylor, Tracey Stroup and Kiki Gavin.

Kiki Galvin fishes all over the country and has been a professional guide for many years

Kiki Galvin fishes all over the country and has been a professional guide for many years

Wanda Taylor and Tracey Stroup make up the “Fit Fly Gals” and are touring the country on behalf of their sponsor, nationally known rod maker Temple Fork Outfitters (www.tforods.com). These ladies give classes custom made to help new anglers learn how to cast and be better prepared for taking on a day on the water. Wanda hales from Tennessee and is a nationally recognized casting expert who has worked for years as a professional guide. She is the first women in the country to earn the title of Certified Master Casting Instructor from the International Federation of Fly Fishers. I’ve been a fly angler for many years and consider myself a pretty good caster. I have to be honest though and say I don’t hold a candle to Wanda, she’s just that good. To make things even better, Wanda has no ego about her abilities and she’s a joy to be around.

Tracey Stroup is formally educated in the fitness field and provides advice on healthy living, as well as good fishing form. She calls Pennsylvania home and lives within a stone’s throw of the famous Little Juanita River. Tracey specializes in helping anglers prevent injuries while on the stream or helping them adjust to injuries which they may already have. She takes on health related issues such as chronic shoulder pain, tennis elbow, and chronic knee problems which often plague anglers and keeps them off the water. Her business Trained by Tracey  (www.trainedbytracey.com) has been so successful she currently working on a book to help even more anglers get on the water.

Working on the next generation of women fly anglers. The author out fishing with his daughter Maggie, who loves fishing.

Working on the next generation of women fly anglers. The author out fishing with his daughter Maggie, who loves fishing.

Kiki Gavin owner of Ms. Guided Fly Fishing (www.msguidedflyfishing.net) a well-known fly fishing guide and physical trainer living in northern Virginia who does custom fitness training at her client’s homes. Thankfully she’s just as comfortable guiding her clientele for trout on a mountain stream as she is giving them tips on how to stay in shape. Kiki is a superb angler and travels widely pursuing her passion of fly fishing from chasing smallmouth bass in the waters of Virginia, to tracking down trout out west on famous rivers like the Madison and Big Horn. Kiki is the type of angler that wants to share what ever information she has to next person on the stream. In a nut shell, Kiki is precisely the type of angler I want to be around.

Just like men, women connect with being in the outdoors and getting away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Once they take the plunge, you may find that lady anglers will go from being mildly interested in fly fishing locally to going on exotic locations to fish for specialized species like tarpon or bonefish. I only have one word of warning; if the lady in your life takes up fly fishing, watch out. In a few short years she may be able to put you to shame.

Let’s be honest guys, fly fishing isn’t really hard, it’s just different. Like any other sport it takes time and effort and there’s simply no reason that women anglers can’t join the ranks of fly fishers if they wish. If you’re a lady angler and you’ve decided you want to try something new, then put yourself out there and go for it. Don’t know where to begin? Try contacting your local Trout Unlimited Chapter (www.tu.org) or the International Federation of Fly Fishers  (www.fedflyfishers.org) in your area. Either one of these fine groups would love to help you get into fly fishing. I can assure you that women are more than capable of being excellent fly fishers, and the three ladies above are living proof that women can hang out on the stream with a fly rod, right along with their male counterparts.

Note: Beau Beasley (www.beaubeasley.com) is an award winning conservation writer and the author of Fly Fishing Virginia and Fly Fishing the Mid-Atlantic. He’s a captain with Fairfax County Fire and Rescue where he serves on Engine 427. Beau is also a member of Local 2068.

 

The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance website is designed to provide valuable articles about hunting, fishing and conservation for members of AFL-CIO affiliated labor unions and all sportsmen and sportswomen who appreciate hunting and fishing and want to preserve our outdoor heritage for future generations. If you would like your own story and experience from the outdoors to be considered for our website, please email us at USAmembers@unionsportsmen.org.

 

Union Sportsmen’s Alliance urges Environmental Protection Agency to heed findings of impact study and block mining efforts in Alaska’s Bristol Bay

January 17, 2014 in Articles, Conservation News, Fishing, General, Hunting, Press Release

Pebble Mine project threatens devastating impact on environment, salmon population

Fred Myers, Executive Director of  the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance, (USA), North America’s largest labor-based, outdoor conservation and sporting organization, joins 1,000-plus other like-minded outdoor-related organizations and businesses in urging the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to halt a pit mine in Bristol Bay, Alaska. Impending issues outlined in a recent report published by the EPA, has the outdoor sporting community mobilizing to preserve and protect the Bristol Bay watershed, a critical spawning and rearing habitat for nearly 50 percent of the world’s wild sockeye salmon, a vital resource for native tribes and a celebrated destination for sport fisherman.

Findings unveiled in the report, by the EPA, reveal potential, serious concerns about adverse effects on the environment and Alaskan way of life due to a large-scale mining project proposed in the state’s southern region.

“Alaska is truly one of America’s treasures, a dream destination for so many hunters and anglers, and home to critical fish and wildlife habitat,” said Fred Myers, Executive Director of the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance. “We strongly urge the EPA and the Obama Administration, to put its findings that large-scale mining in Bristol Bay watershed would have a devastating impact on the area’s wild sockeye salmon population to action, by permanently blocking the Pebble Mine project.”

In addition to outlining the impending and likely devastating effects of large-scale mining in the region on the sockeye salmon population, the report also speaks to the effects on the state and local economy as well as its native people’s subsistence way of life.  The report recognizes the Bristol Bay watershed in southwestern Alaska as home to 25 federally recognized tribal governments and its containment of significant mineral resources.

Excerpt from the EPA’s report:
“The potential for large-scale mining activities in the watershed has raised concerns about the impact of mining on the sustainability of Bristol Bay’s world-class commercial, recreational, and subsistence fisheries and the future of Alaska Native tribes in the watershed, who have maintained a salmon-based culture and subsistence-based way of life for at least 4,000 years.”

“With the EPA’s release of its watershed assessment for Bristol Bay, the verdict is clear,” said Whit Fosburgh, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership and USA Board Member. “A large-scale mining operation such as the Pebble Mine could irreversibly harm the region’s unmatched fishing and hunting opportunities, unique fisheries and wildlife habitat, and related jobs and economy. The EPA must conserve these world-class natural resources.”

Note: The EPA calls the report an assessment focused on the effects that a single large mine at the Pebble deposit would have on salmon and other resources in the Nushagak and Kvichak River watersheds, including its outline of cumulative effects of multiple stressors and scenarios.  Read full report here: http://www.epa.gov/ncea/pdfs/bristolbay/bristol_bay_assessment_final_2014_ES.pdf

About the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance: The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA) is a union-dedicated, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, whose members hunt, fish, shoot and volunteer their skills for conservation. The USA is uniting the union community through conservation to preserve North America’s outdoor heritage. For more information, visit www.unionsportsmen.org or www.facebook.com/unionsportsmen.

Union Sportsmen’s Alliance achieves landmark climb in membership to 213,000

January 13, 2014 in Adopt A Park, Articles, Conservation News, Fishing, General, Hunting, Press Release, Work Boots On The Ground

Increase in support powers expansion of conservation, youth initiatives

The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA) rings in the new year with landmark growth in its membership to 213,000 members. This positions the organization for ambitious growth and expansion in its delivery of wildlife conservation, outdoor access and youth mentoring projects.

Josh Kelly, 9, of Garden Ridge, Texas, sets his sights on a target from a custom deer blind in the Texas Hill Country. The successful completion of this USA’s Work Boots on the Ground conservation project, in partnership with volunteers and donations from the Houston-area Union community, affords kids with mobility issues to experience the thrill of the hunt safely and comfortably.

Josh Kelly, 9, of Garden Ridge, Texas, sets his sights on a target from a custom deer blind in the Texas Hill Country. The successful completion of this USA Work Boots on the Ground conservation project, in partnership with volunteers and donations from the Houston-area Union community, affords kids with mobility issues to experience the thrill of the hunt safely and comfortably.

As part of its growing events program, the USA plans to host 30 sporting clays shoots and 30 conservation dinners this year to bring together men and women from diverse trades for fellowship and fun while recruiting members and raising awareness and funds to support the USA’s conservation mission. Some of the USA’s celebrated conservation projects in 2013 included work on the Minnetonka Gun Club to expand shooting opportunities, the Annual Ohio Special Needs Youth Hunt, the construction of a custom deer blind in Houston, Texas, for kids with mobility challenges and a trail access improvement project at Virginia’s York River State Park. Each was made possible by a host of expertly-skilled volunteers who signed on to strengthen the outreach of the USA’s Work Boots on the Ground program.

USA Executive Director Fred Myers said aggressive membership drives, in partnership with its union partners tied to exciting national promotions with dedicated corporate partners like Remington and Carhartt, along with the expansion of its events program are some of the factors that fostered the organization’s significant increase in membership.

“As the USA membership grows, we are able to organize and engage more and more union sportsmen and women to volunteer their time and unmatched trade skills to improve access to the outdoors and further the conservation of wildlife and our natural resources,” Myers said. “Our members share a passion for hunting, fishing, shooting and the great outdoors and are eager to share it with today’s youth. Working together, we can make great strides in passing on our incredible outdoor heritage to future generations.”

About the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance: The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance (USA) is a union-dedicated, 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, whose members hunt, fish, shoot and volunteer their skills for conservation. The USA is uniting the union community through conservation to preserve North America’s outdoor heritage. For more information, visit www.unionsportsmen.org or www.facebook.com/unionsportsmen.

10 Top Tactics For Redfish

January 6, 2014 in Articles, Fishing

by Bob McNally

As a general rule, redfish are obliging predators… abundant, not difficult to find, and much of the time willing to hit lures and baits. But there are times when redfish can be difficult to dupe. It’s at such times that the following tactics can turn a poor day of fishing into a memorable one.

One of the author's keys to redfish is to keep a fishing log, because where, when and how you catch reds today can be telling about trips you’ll make a year or more later.

One of the author’s keys to redfish is to keep a fishing log, because where, when and how you catch reds today can be telling about trips you’ll make a year or more later.

Tip 1: Rock ‘Em

Redfish love rocks, says veteran angler Capt. Bo Hamilton, of Ocean Springs, Mississippi. Rocks, he says, alter current and tide flow, and holds baitfish, crabs and other food.

Many of the best redfish-holding rocks are comparatively nondescript, often not visible above the surface. Bo advises to thoroughly check for rocks around inshore roadways, railroad embankments, marinas and other man-made sites. Even small residential canals, dredged areas and bridge overpasses can have productive rocks for redfish. Some places have great riprap structures near ramps, but rarely do anglers launching boats work these redfish magnets.

To consistently catch the most reds from rocks, Bo believes anglers have got to locate key changes—or breaks—in bank features, things like little points or bulges, an old sunken boat, etc.

The slightest thing different along riprap can hold fish. Another key spot along a rock jetty is anywhere a gouged-out place exists where water washes swiftly through during windy weather or in strong tide. It’s a good bet reds will be nearby waiting to ambush hapless bait swept along. Usually the down-current side of such rocks is best.

 Tip 2: Weed ‘Em Out

Fishing deep weed edges for redfish is a deadly method of catching them. But the nature of fishing such water presents problems, contends Ken Chaumont, of Lake Charles, Louisiana. In water 3 to 6 feet deep, weedless lures, including jigs and spoons, don’t have a high hook-up percentage.

Standard jigs with exposed hooks barb redfish well, but they snag weeds. Many weedless jigs can be “redfishless,” as well, he contends.

For deep weed fishing, Chaumont uses an innovative lure by Egret Baits called the Ultra-Light Jig. It’s uniquely shaped and designed to slide over and through weeds without fouling, yet hooks nearly every redfish that strikes. Ken likes the 1/8-ounce model with a 3.5-inch Wedgetail grub. With it he says it’s possible to work a weed edge without fouling vegetation, while keeping the lure near bottom through a retrieve.

Ken positions his boat right on deep weed-bed edges, casting parallel to a weed line while maneuvering along with an electric motor. He allows a jig to sink to bottom on a tight, braided line. While keeping his rod tip low, he imparts a snappy, erratic retrieve, which allows the lure to spearhead through sparse vegetation. He also pauses a lure retrieve often, so it maintains contact with bottom where most redfish feed.

The lure works through weeds because the jig head is shaped like a wedge and knifes through most snags. Hook sets are sure, and Ken can feel every little bump along bottom or strikes from redfish.

Tip 3: Bow-Line Redfishing

Capt. Joel Brandenburg, from Apollo Beach, Florida, learned a few years ago about a lure-retrieving technique that goes against everything he knew about redfishing—yet the tactic catches more big fish than he ever thought possible. Joel says it’s a system many anglers overlook because it’s contrary to what most fishermen have learned about retrieving lures in tidewater.

“It’s simply allowing a ‘bow’ or ‘sideways U’ to form in my line during a lure retrieve, which I previously thought was a disadvantage,” explains Joel. “When I fish a creek and cast across current, the first thing that happens is I get a big arc or a wide turn in my line as the lure swings. My thoughts about a bowed line had always been that I’d lost control of the lure, didn’t know where it was going, and couldn’t feel lure action or fish striking.

“But I’ve now learned that the wide arc in my line—or ‘bag’ as some people call it—is a very important part of being far enough away from big fish that I don’t scare them. It also enables me to use light lures deeper without extra weights that big fish rarely see presented in such a natural manner. Small soft plastic shrimp or crab imitations, or near weightless soft-plastic jerkbaits are very deadly fished this way because as they swing and settle with current they look just like real shrimp, crabs or baitfish being pulled with a tide.”

To get a bow or U in fishing line, anglers generally cast up-current or up-and-across current, which starts a lure sweeping with a tide as a slow retrieve is begun. As the lure swings with tide or current, an arc or bag in the line is formed. This makes a small, light lure flicker and flutter lifelike in the water—like real bait. It also allows a lure to settle deeper in the water column, which is advantageous when employing many lure styles in flowing tides.

Tip 4: Pointing To Redfish

Points are a major source of redfish forage, said Florida inshore fishing guru and D.O.A. Fishing Lures owner Capt. Mark Nichols. And he said where food is found, reds usually are nearby. While broad points harbor the most forage, and therefore draw the most redfish, they also are the most obvious for anglers to locate and so receive the heaviest fishing pressure. On-the-other hand, small or narrow points—especially ones out in open water—are overlooked by many anglers and can harbor unmolested reds.

Tune in to Brotherhood Outdoors on Sportsman Channel on Sunday, Jan. 12 to watch IBEW member Eric Patrick try his hand at kayak fishing for redfish in the Gulf Coast.

Tune in to “Brotherhood Outdoors” on Sportsman Channel on Sunday, Jan. 12 to watch IBEW member Eric Patrick try his hand at kayak fishing for redfish in the Gulf Coast.

Finding such subtle points is not as difficult as it may seem. Often a quality inshore chart reveals points extending far from shore not easily seen by even the most observant angler. This is especially true in less clear, or turbid waters, where depth changes are not so easily discerned.

Sometimes even an easy-to-find submerged point has redfish-holding spots not so obvious to average anglers. Occasionally a point branches into “fingers,” or forms a “Y” or series of “Ys,” that are not shown on even the best charts. Only by carefully fishing a point, and all its turns and bends along contour drop-off edges, will anglers locate fingers, slight rises or humps, slots and depressions in a point that most fishermen overlook.

Tip 5: Rollin’ And Tumblin’

“Rolling” lures along bottom can score on redfish that can’t be caught any other way, says Capt. Jim Romeka, a redfish tournament angler from Middleburg, Florida. The tactic works well with jigs and spoons, in water shallow to deep.

Rolling lures works best in strong current, and one of the most important keys to perfecting the technique is to employ just the right lure weight to maintain bottom contact—but not so heavy that it inhibits a lure’s ability to tumble, or roll, along bottom.

You want a lure that sinks to bottom, but slowly rolls with current. Normally the roll speed desired is significantly less than actual current, maybe 1/4 as fast. Experiment with lure weights to get the right tumbling speed.

A good rule of thumb is to start with a light jig or spoon, then move up in size. If the lure tumbles too fast, or doesn’t maintain contact with bottom well, simply increase lure weight. It takes a bit of practice learning to gauge the size lure needed. But it’s not difficult once you catch a few reds using the technique and see first-hand what you’re trying to do with making a “rolling” lure presentation.

Tip 6: Inlet Action

Capt. Kirk Waltz of Jacksonville, Florida, targets late summer and early fall redfish at inlets, because that’s where many of the biggest reds predictably can be caught.

Kirk fishes deep, near inlet channels, drop-offs and ledges, using heavy tackle and cut crab baits. He opts for heavy gear so redfish weighing 15 to 50 pounds can be landed quickly, and released without harm. For bait, he likes large blue crabs broken into quarters or cut mullet.

Kirk moves around a good bit until big schools of redfish are discovered. Inlet reds, he says, are usually in large schools. So if you’re not catching fish from an anchored position in 30 minutes or so, it’s time to move.

If new to an inlet or pass, sometimes slow drifting with bottom baits is a good way to pinpoint schools and hot spots. Once a hefty redfish or two is caught while drifting, anchoring on the spot may be a good decision.

Tip 7: Keep A Fishing Log

“Biologists have proven by tagging studies that large, mature red drum are home bodies, meaning they return to their natal river mouths for spawning, much the way anadromous salmon do,” says Spud Woodard, who is Director of Georgia’s Coastal Resources Division and actively involved with the state’s redfish tagging program. “For many years scientists have known that for the first three to five years of a redfish’s life, they reside inshore until they reach sexual maturity at about 12 to 15 pounds. At that they point they escape to the open ocean, where they school with other similar redfish and prowl the coast.

“New to that information is that escaped redfish annually return to their coastal rivers for spawning. I personally caught a 42-inch Wolf Island, Georgia redfish, tagged it, and re-caught the same fish at the same Wolf Island sandbar 364 days later. We’ve shown this is a common trait for tagged redfish in late summer and early fall when they return to their home waters to spawn. This is well-documented science, and it’s true for redfish everywhere. We even had one spawning red tagged at the Savannah River mouth that was recaptured on the same sandbar it was tagged, at the same time of year, seven years later,” Spud said.

This is why it’s wise to keep a detailed log on redfish trips. Where, when and how you catch reds today can be telling about trips you’ll make a year or more later.

Tip 8: Spinnerbait Savvy

Capt. Kirk Stansell, of Hackberry, Louisiana, has had outstanding success catching redfish on spinner-baits for over a decade, though he says employing spinnerbaits is still overlooked by many saltwater anglers.

Ninety percent of the redfish Kirk catches on spinnerbaits are via a technique he calls waking or bubbling the lure. With his rod tip held high, he makes a moderate, steady retrieve, which causes the lure to rise and wake or slightly bubble the surface. This is a shallow technique, best used in water less than 6 feet.

While all spinnerbaits can produce redfish, Kirk prefers extra-large models, with twin blades, which are best for waking the surface. Gold, white and chartreuse spinnerbaits weighing 1/2 to 3/4 ounce, with gold or silver willowleaf blades are excellent. Such oversize spinner-baits Kirk believes produce better-than-average-size red drum.

Spinnerbaits are excellent for adding “sweeteners” such as scented soft plastics or natural baits like whole mud minnows or mullet, bait belly strips or pieces of squid or shrimp. Such adornments aid in tempting reluctant redfish, especially in deep or cool water, or outsize ones in hard-pressured fishing areas.

Tip 9: Follow The Food

Capt. Skip James, a redfish expert on Sabine Lake, Texas, believes a consistent key to locating nomadic redfish is locating baitfish schools. Skip spends much of his guiding time on open water watching through binoculars for diving birds and surface-busting redfish.

“Birds lead the way to swirling balls of baitfish,” he explains. “Bait isn’t always easy to spot, but birds tip me off to where bait is found.”

Once he locates diving birds, casting sub-surface plugs and jigs quickly tells Skip what’s feeding. Often they are big schools of ladyfish, but sometimes it’s redfish, and they are caught fast in short order.

“When reds are pushing baitfish schools up to the surface it’s a melee of diving birds, surface-boiling fish, and often so many reds they turn the water color orange.”

Chasing bait and red schools feeding on it works for Skip from spring through fall on his home water of Sabine Lake, but he says the same thing can be found in many other areas where redfish abound.

“Find the food redfish feed on, and you’re going to be in the right place when schools of reds show,” he contends.

Tip 10: Electric “Eyes”

Sensitive fathometers are important in reading bottom formations that may hold redfish, according to Capt. Sam Heaton, with Humminbird depthfinders, who’s also a top fisherman and guide with worldwide saltwater fishing experience. Sometimes a sharp turn along a drop-off can be the vital spot holding a major school of reds. Using good electronics in pinpointing a rock pile, hard shell bottom, or a ledge along a bank can be a key to discovering a hot school of feeding redfish.

Not only are deep hot spots best revealed with a good fathometer, but often fish found deep are easy to catch because they may be overlooked and not harassed by fishermen.

“Frequently the availability of deep water (over 6 or 8 feet) makes a spot most attractive to redfish,” says Sam. “Find an oyster clump, old boat hull, or deep weed bed with a fathometer on an uncharted place, and you may have found the hottest redfish spot of the day.”

Tune in to “Brotherhood Outdoors” on Sportsman Channel on Sunday, Jan. 12 to watch IBEW member Eric Patrick try his hand at kayak fishing for redfish in the Gulf Coast.

 

The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance website is designed to provide valuable articles about hunting, fishing and conservation for members of AFL-CIO affiliated labor unions and all sportsmen and sportswomen who appreciate hunting and fishing and want to preserve our outdoor heritage for future generations. If you would like your own story and experience from the outdoors to be considered for our website, please email us at USAmembers@unionsportsmen.org.

The Slow-Roll For Winter Bass

December 28, 2013 in Articles, Fishing

by Bob McNally

On a December night as dark as a witch’s heart, the boys on Bull Shoals Lake were “slow-rolling,” and they had a boat full of bass that would make any angler proud.

Slow-rolling is a technique that has been catching largemouths for decades, and it’s still productive today.

Slow-rolling is a technique that has been catching largemouths for decades, and it’s still productive today.

It was the era before electric motors and depth finders. Some rods were still made of steel and split-cane. And fish stringers were in vogue, not livewells.

The boat was small and aluminum, with sharp, V-angle sides. The outboard on the stern was the latest model – an old round-top Evinrude. Sitting in the stern, at the tiller handle, was Forrest Wood, back in the days when he was still a guide in Flippin, Ark. Bass boats with steering wheels and the name Ranger Boats were not yet a twinkle in the eye of the guide with the Stetson hat.

Sitting in the bow of the boat was my father, Tom, and at age 9, I felt pretty grown up fishing at midnight on the sprawling Arkansas reservoir with a pair of well-known and very successful bass fishermen.

But the thing I remember most about that after-hours Christmas fishing trip back in 1959 was the number of bass we caught – and their size. It seemed like someone aboard our little skiff had on a fish every 20 minutes or so, and all of them were huge by the bassin’ standards I’d learned growing up in the Upper Midwest. The fishing technique seemed strange to me, too. Never before had I fished lures the way Wood said would work, and work they did.

It wasn’t until the next morning in the dazzling sunshine when I inspected our enormous stringer of bass that I realized what an incredible night of cold-water fishing we’d had. Attached to the floating boat dock near the old and famous Crow Barnes Resort was our night-caught bass stringer, and I still remember I couldn’t half lift it from the lake’s clear waters. But I ogled those fish for hours that day, and it was hard for me to believe I’d been part of their catching process. There were nearly two dozen largemouths, all between 3- and 6-pounds. More and bigger bass than I’d ever been around, and it was all because of the “slow roll,” as Forrest Wood so simply called the fishing technique that duped those lunkers.

Instead of casting big plugs to shoreline cover or weedless spoons to lily pads, which was standard practice in that era of bass fishing, Wood had us cast large 1/2-ounce black jigs to rocky points of land. All night we cast toward the points, while Forrest kept the skiff in deep water. The key to working the jigs, I remember him saying, was to fish ‘em slow, just rolling the lures along bottom. He said it made the jigs look like bottom-hugging crawfish and other forage Bull Shoals bass wanted.

We used ball-head jigs, most made of bucktail, but some had marabou dressing, and a few I recall were tipped with all-black Uncle Josh pork-rind eels. But no matter what the refinements in the lures were, the essential element in the success of the jigs was they were rolled meticulously down the sides of submerged rocky points, right along bottom, then pumped ever-so-slowly back to the boat. Most of the strikes came as the jigs crawled over rocks and gravel of Bull Shoals’ points. But some fish hit in the last half of the slow roll, when the lures had reached their deepest level and had started the long retrieve up to us in the boat.

I remember being amazed that fishing black jigs at night along bottom was so effective in catching bass so far from shoreline cover that most fish I’d caught previously were taken. Also, we worked the lures so slowly I thought back then that Bull Shoals bigmouths must have been unique in their feeding preferences. Naturally, that Bull Shoals bassin’ trip had little bearing on my youthful fishing on my native waters when I returned home to Illinois. I kept right on casting surface chuggers and “River Runts” to shoreline cover, and I caught my share of bass just like everyone else.

It wasn’t until I was a teenager, again in Arkansas, that the significance of slow-rolling finally sunk in. It was December, again, and I was with college friend Tim Sampson on Norfolk Reservoir. All the locals we learned were fishing at night using plastic worms, and working them slow and deep off points. Memories of fishing with Forrest Wood and dad instantly came to mind, and by fishing the exact same way we had on Bull Shoals, only using the “new” breed of plastic worms, Sampson and I enjoyed outstanding fishing on Norfolk. From Norfolk we traveled west and north to Table Rock Reservoir, and though none of the resident anglers were fishing at night, we scored well by slow-rolling worms after the sun set.

We knew we were on to something, and we brought back the technique to Illinois, and discovered it was deadly on many of the winter bass waters we both knew well. We found we caught plenty of bass slow-rolling even during the day. The tactic produced big largemouths in southern Illinois at rocky and deep Devil’s Kitchen Lake and on sand-bottom Crab Orchard Lake. Slow-rollin’ also scored on smallmouths for us on clear, deep tough cold waters like southern Wisconsin’s Lake Geneva and Grindstone Lake in the northern part of the state.

Spinnerbaits are great for slow-rolling, especially in the winter months and the early spring when bass are hugging the bottom on deep points and flats.

Spinnerbaits are great for slow-rolling, especially in the winter months and the early spring when bass are hugging the bottom on deep points and flats.

As the years went by, the arsenal of successful lures we used slow-rolling grew to include big, heavy, single-blade spinnerbaits. Ball-head spinnerbaits were best because they fouled less on bottom than other head designs. And while willowleaf and Indiana-blade baits were okay, a large number 4 or 5 Colorado blade was tops because it thumped greatly during the slow-roll retrieve, and thus telegraphed its action nicely up the line and rod to our hands. Any break in the rhythmic thumping of the spinnerbait during the slow-roll retrieve signaled a strike.

In more recent years, I’ve learned that quality and sensitive graphite rods s an important asset to the most successful slow-rolling because of the superb feel an angler has during the lure retrieve. Also, I’ve learned that when deep, clear waters are fished, particularly for smallmouths, lures as light as 1/8-ounce, used with spinning tackle and 6-pound line, can be slow-rolled with remarkable success.

Another modern twist to slow-rolling has been modern braided lines. New, fine and ultra-sensitive braid allows lures to sink fast with a tight line, and with little line stretch lure “feel” and strikes from fish are greatly improved. One side note, with braid, anglers should use a stiff fluorocarbon leader about 20 inches long. This helps avoid limp braided line fouling in a spinner-bait’s hardware.

Slow-rolling has produced winter Kentucky bass, as well as stripers and even white bass for me in 30 years of using the technique.

Like most fishing tactics, the slow-roll isn’t productive through all seasons of the year. It’s most effective during winter and again during the broiling days of summer, times when bass commonly are deep. Submerged points are among the most productive places to practice the slow-roll. Deep points having stumps, sunken brush piles, and creek channels along their drop-off edges are ideal places to slow-roll lures. Many other good bass-holding structures can be fished using the technique, too.

Weedless, single-blade spinnerbaits cast parallel to riprap edges and slow-rolled over rocks and debris along bottom is sure to get the attention of bass living and feeding in an area. A slow-rolled jig bumped around a bridge support once produced a 19-pound striped bass from Florida’s St. Johns River while I was fishing for largemouths. And I’ve caught plenty of marine fish using the same technique, including redfish, flounder, snook and tarpon.

One time on a deep, rocky hump on Ontario’s Lake Manitoumeig, I took a 5-pound smallmouth while slow-rolling a Mann’s Big George. Heavy tail-spinner lures now have been included in my personal arsenal of slow-rolling artificials.

On clean or sandy bars, humps and points, I’ve had good success slow-rolling heavy spoons, which tumble and flash as they’re rolled and look much like an injured baitfish on the bottom. Northland’s Forage Minnow spoon is a personal favorite, as it has an oversize treble hook, ideal for big bass and other species. Last winter while probing deep shell bars with Forage Minnows I caught a staggering number of large channel catfish while looking for largemouth bass. That’s right, catfish, and some weighed to 10 pounds.

Rocky ledges are another great structure for slow- rolling. Not only does the technique catch bass (especially Kentuckys and smallmouths) that are holding in and near crevices of the ledge itself, but during the last half of a U-shaped, slow-roll retrieve, suspended bass frequently are caught. These bass of the third dimension can be among the most frustrating to locate, but often a slow-rolled lure will find a suspended school of fish. Once such bass are located it can be a pretty simple matter to catch plenty.

While proper feel is important in most bass fishing, it’s vital to success when slow-rolling. A good, sensitive graphite rod helps, as previously noted. But an angler also must make a conscious effort to keep a tight line throughout the slow, bottom-hugging retrieve. Having a tight line at all times helps telegraph what the lure is doing during the retrieve, and this aids in detecting strikes. This is why braided line is so helpful.

Sometimes the “buggier” looking a lure the better it is for slow-rolling. Thus many of the larger, crawfish-style bass flippin’ jigs work well. Grub jigs, plastic worms, lizards and “creatures” (made of plastic, hair or feathers) in many sizes, shapes and colors are great for slow-rolling. Pork rind or soft plastic trailers such as Berkley GULP can be used on many lures to enhance them.

Instead of imparting action to the lure as many anglers do when using other techniques, a slow-rolled lure should just be bumped or tight-lined along bottom. The reel handle is turned ever-so-slowly. Sometimes a slight hop can be imparted to a slow-rolled lure (best with tail-spinners and spinner-baits), but it’s best to be judicious with such action in cold water. Simply wiggling a rod’s tip slightly will send vibrations down a braided line, which will seductively twitch a slow-rolled lure.

When retrieving a slow-rolled artificial, keep in mind what Forrest Wood explained to me so many years ago. He said bottom-bumping lures were meant to imitate crawfish and other critters inching along a lake or river floor. Remember that, and imitate such forage action during a retrieve. Done correctly, it’s almost a sure bet the time between strikes will be less for slow-rollers during those tough fishing days in summer and winter.

 

The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance website is designed to provide valuable articles about hunting, fishing and conservation for members of AFL-CIO affiliated labor unions and all sportsmen and sportswomen who appreciate hunting and fishing and want to preserve our outdoor heritage for future generations. If you would like your own story and experience from the outdoors to be considered for our website, please email us at USAmembers@unionsportsmen.org.

Pay Attention To Line Choice, Fishing’s Critical Link

December 9, 2013 in Articles, Fishing

by Capt. Bert Deener

Line size and style matters. Complicating the issue is that there are lots of options on the market these days to confuse anglers.

Line size and style matters. Complicating the issue is that there are lots of options on the market these days to confuse anglers.

I remember my first heartbreak related to line failure like it was yesterday. I was 12 years old and fishing my grandmother’s pond with my dad’s spinning outfit. A 4-pound bass was cruising the shoreline, and I flipped a plastic worm in its path. As it approached, a little twitch is all it took to get the fish to engulf my offering. The fight only lasted a few head shakes and a strong run before my line popped. Heartbroken, I told the story to my dad and learned that it was probably the original line from when he bought the outfit years before. That was the day, at age 12, I took over managing the line on my fishing outfits. Line is a most-critical component of fishing, but casual anglers often overlook its importance.

Do you remember the days when you were either a Stren or Trilene user? Each brand had its devoted followers, and just like the Ford-Chevy debate, each side made fun of the other for their choice. Then came Trilene XT and XL, Stren Magnathin, etc., etc., etc. Anglers began demanding and companies began designing lines for specific applications. Today, the choice is staggering. If you do not believe me, just stand in front of the line wall at a Bass Pro Shops store. Although there are many variations of each, all the different lines fall into three basic categories – monofilament, fluorocarbon, or braided line. When you understand the properties of the three main types of line, you will more effectively apply the proper one to the fishing situations you encounter.

For decades, monofilament was the only type of line available. I was in my early 20’s when braided line first hit the market. Of course, it was heralded as the only line you needed. Sales of monofilament took a beating when braid was first introduced, but it did not take long for serious anglers to learn that braided line was just like everything else…a tool to be used in certain circumstances.

When I first spooled up with braid, I headed to Lake Oconee to toss spinnerbaits at some big bass I had located. Initially, I loved the extra thump I could feel as the blades turned. On my first flooded brushpile, I hooked a 6-pound class bass. The fish jumped and spit the hook. I was ticked. About three casts later on the very next brushpile, I hooked and jumped off a 7-pound class bass. I was crushed. At least I was not in a tournament. Since that time, I have learned that braid is not my favorite for spinnerbaits because it is too sensitive for me. I have a tendency to set the hook before a bass inhales my offering. By the same token, the extra sensitivity of braid is fantastic when punching through vegetation with a Texas-rigged crawfish and you have to try to detect a bite as the lure works through the matted vegetation.

The author recommends the following line choices: for casting a football-head jig, fluorocarbon line; for fishing a spinnerbait or jerkabit, monofilament; for punching through thick vegetation with a Texas-rigged creature bait, braided line.

The author recommends the following line choices: for casting a football-head jig, fluorocarbon line; for fishing a spinnerbait or jerkabit, monofilament; for punching through thick vegetation with a Texas-rigged creature bait, braided line.

Understanding the characteristics of various lines will help you make decisions about which is best for various presentations. Braided line is usually very limp, has virtually no stretch, floats, cuts through vegetation well, and is much more visible in the water (to both humans and fish) compared to the other two lines. In wind, braid is prone to wrap around your rod tip or tie itself into “wind knots”, thus wasting valuable time untangling or retying. Fluorocarbon line is stiff, has little stretch, sinks, is abrasion resistant, and is extremely clear compared to the other two lines. Fluorocarbon has a tendency to burn itself when tightening a knot, thus weakening the knot. Monofilament lines vary but generally are not too stiff, have a memory (coils if it has been on the spool a while), have some stretch, come in a variety of colors to match water conditions or provide better visibility, and are the most affordable of the lines.

Once you understand these properties, you can make the right line choice for each situation you face. There is no cut and dry choice for every situation, but it is a balancing act with the properties of each line. For instance, say, you are going to fish jerkbaits this winter on your favorite lake. I love monofilament for jerkbaits because that extra stretch keeps me from setting the hook too soon, and it also gives the lure better side to side action on the jerk. But, if the lake is gin-clear, like many are during winter, I would opt for my rod rigged with fluorocarbon and give up a little stretch to have a clearer line.

Conversely, when punching a Pure Craw through thick vegetation, I would trade the weed-cutting ability and sensitivity of braid for the moderate sensitivity and clarity of fluorocarbon, even in a clear lake. Now, that clarity and moderate sensitivity of fluorocarbon would be the perfect choice for dragging a football jig down a rocky point on a clear water reservoir. There are endless possibilities, but here are a few situations listed by fishing technique and then my suggested line for that technique.

Topwaters: Mono

Shallow/Mid/Deep Crankbaits: Mono

Jerkbaits: Mono

Jigs (Casting – Football): Fluoro

Jigs (Flipping-Pitching):  Mono

Punching Vegetation (TX Rig): Braid

Carolina-rigging: Fluoro

Drop-Shotting and Shaky Heads: Fluoro

Spinnerbaits: Mono

The days of taking one medium-action rod spooled with 12-lb. test and flinging all of your lures are over. Dialing in which line to use in each situation will definitely cash more checks for tournament anglers or put more fish in the cooler for those fishing for meat.

 

The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance website is designed to provide valuable articles about hunting, fishing and conservation for members of AFL-CIO affiliated labor unions and all sportsmen and sportswomen who appreciate hunting and fishing and want to preserve our outdoor heritage for future generations. If you would like your own story and experience from the outdoors to be considered for our website, please email us at USAmembers@unionsportsmen.org.

IUOE Member Reels in Donations for St. Jude’s Kids and Some Nice Fish with Brotherhood Outdoors

December 3, 2013 in Articles, Brotherhood Outdoors TV, Fishing, General

Pulling in a trophy silver king is something that Bradley Richmond, a 14-year veteran of Operating Engineers Local 150 in Rockford, Illinois, had only dreamed of. An unexpected invitation from Brotherhood Outdoors to fish for tarpon in Florida’s famed Boca Grande with Daniel Lee, Julie and the show’s crew offered him the chance.

“I fish bluegill and crappie just about every weekend,” said Bradley, who is committed to conservation efforts as a member of his local fishing club. “Our club is looking to make it easier, cleaner and more accessible for those in our area that are as nuts about fishing as we are.”

Bradley Richmond fishing with Brotherhood Outdoors in Florida's famed Boca Grande.

Bradley Richmond fishing with Brotherhood Outdoors in Florida’s famed Boca Grande.

Bradley, who said he began fishing as a young boy, is also committed to helping make life a little nicer for children battling cancer as a dedicated volunteer of St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. It’s the only pediatric cancer center where families never pay for treatment not covered by insurance and where no child is ever denied treatment because of the family’s inability to pay.

For the past four years, Bradley has helped raise money for St. Jude’s Kids through an annual Rock River catfishing tournament. This year, Bradley is also involved in the planning and coordination of a fishing outing for children with disabilities with the hope of raising enough money to fund a new lift at the town’s community pool.

“Over the years, I have volunteered with many charities and have come to the realization that each and every one of us should be able to find some way to help those who cannot help themselves,” he said. “Helping others, even in the smallest way, can and does make a difference.”

Bradley also recognizes the importance of helping and supporting one another on the job. “It does my heart good to help the apprentices and give them a hand whenever needed,” said Bradley. “I had someone take me under his wing in my first few years and that man and I are still friends. We are in this together, all for one, one for all.”

Hard, good work is what his weekdays are about, but for Bradley, weekend-time means fishing-time.

“My dad started taking me fishing when I was four years old and it’s been a great love of mine ever since,” he said.

Come along on this action-packed episode of Brotherhood Outdoors when Bradley checks in to the exclusive Gasparilla Inn in picturesque Boca Grande, Florida. Follow him along on his off-shore adventure as he reels in snook and mackerel and aims for the prized silver king. Listen in and laugh along while Bradley and the Brotherhood Outdoors crew swap big fish stories. Feel the excitement when he ties into his very first tarpon, a 200-pounder that gets away. And see who wins the fight when he ties into another big one.

Tune in to Brotherhood Outdoors Sundays at 11 a.m. ET on the Sportsman Channel.

Inshore and Off…Dream Louisiana Fishing Trip for Deserving IBEW Member

December 3, 2013 in Articles, Brotherhood Outdoors, Brotherhood Outdoors TV, Fishing, General, Press Release

A walk around the offices of IBEW Local 196 in Batavia, Illinois tells you a lot about Eric Patrick, the union man who runs the ship. He greets you with a warm welcome and leads you on a tour of the local that he has been a part of since 1988, introducing you to his staff along the way. His delivery, including an unrehearsed explanation of their roles, makes it apparent that he sincerely values each.

Walking the halls with Eric reveals a lot about his leadership style too. This business manager is accessible, involved and friendly, popping into offices to say hello and check in as he goes with a genuine smile and a gait that is quick and energetic.

“He’s very driven,” said Andrew Taft, one of Eric’s employees. “He actually looks at the union members almost like his own family. He shows a lot of concern when people need help, and he’s really out there to make sure that they’re okay.”

Eric Patrick fishing in Venice, Louisiana

Eric Patrick fishing in Venice, Louisiana

Eric’s wife, Joanna, said he doesn’t ask for much and calls him, “the most humble, modest person she’s ever met. He doesn’t do things for recognition,” she said. “He does things for the betterment of others.”

The positive impact Eric displays on his local extends into the community as well with his recent volunteer participation in a USA Work Boots on the Ground conservation project to benefit the Torstenson Youth Conservation Education Center in Pecatonica, Illinois. His crew of union volunteers removed dead tree limbs that hovered over a youth campground on its 750-acre farm. There, Illinois kids learn how to become future stewards of our natural resources through the study of clean air and water, wetland habitat, wildlife management and more. “It’s important to give back to the community,” Eric said.

While Eric hasn’t asked for much, this avid outdoorsman has dreamed of fishing big tuna near New Orleans one day. So, when Brotherhood Outdoors learned about Eric’s caring qualities and about how much he enjoys watching the show, they invited him to go on what he calls, “the trip of a lifetime.”

“I love the outdoors…and have always wanted to fish the trip that I was picked to go on in southern Louisiana,” said Eric, a USA member of almost five years.

In an upcoming episode of Brotherhood Outdoors, go along with Eric and co-hosts Daniel Lee Martin and Julie McQueen to Venice, Louisiana where Eric learns the not-so-easy ins and outs of fishing redfish and trout from a state-of-the-art Hobie kayak. When the crew moves offshore, chumming, cutting bait and spotting fish at the surface are all in a day’s work for Eric when he is volunteered to serve as deckhand. Experience the thrill as he pulls in a half dozen red snapper and four big cobia that Eric says, “hit like a tank, and ran like a missile.”

Will he return home with his `dream tuna’…or a big-fish-tale about the one that got away?

Tune in to Brotherhood Outdoors Sundays at 11 a.m. ET on the Sportsman Channel.

Longline Trolling For Late Fall Crappie

November 19, 2013 in Articles, Fishing

by Capt. Bert Deener

Crappie are fickle creatures. The bite can turn off and on like a light switch, and they can move a bunch. One day you can catch them near a bridge, while the next they are in the back of a creek picking off shad from the typically huge fall shad schools. For those who do not know all the prime crappie holes on their lake, a great way to find them is long-line trolling.

Longline trolling is a great technique for finding and catching late fall crappie.

Longline trolling is a great technique for finding and catching late fall crappie.

The tools needed to be very effective are several crappie-sized rods and reels, a good trolling motor, a GPS unit, a box of jig heads and bodies, and a keen desire to put together the puzzle of speed, depth, jig head size, body color, etc.

I rig my boat with a flat-line rod holder on each corner pointed out and two 45-degree rod holders in the middle of the transom. In the flat-line holders, I use 8- to 12-foot graphite jig poles, depending upon how wide of a spread I want to present. In the middle holders, I use five to six-foot light-action spinning rods (5 1/2-foot ultralight Berkley Cherrywood HD rods are perfect). My reels are spooled with 6-lb. test 100 percent Berkley Fluorocarbon (if fishing deep) or 6-lb. test clear Stren monofilament if fishing shallow (less than 15 feet deep). I like to fish the same pound test line on all reels so that I can change lure depth by changing my jig head size.

Rigging your rods for trolling is as easy as tying either a single or double jig head to your line and skewering on your favorite plastic. I tie loop knots whether using a single jig head or double rig so that the jig has more action and the fish do not get leverage to throw the hook while shaking their head. To make a loop knot, I thread the line through the jig head eye and pull plenty of line through the eye (make sure to allow extra line if tying a double rig), wrap both lines around three fingers, tuck the jig head three wraps through the loop you just made, and tighten it up after wetting the knot. If tying a double rig, repeat the knot with a second jig head about a foot down the tag end of the line. This is much quicker to tie than many other loop knots, and I have not had any problem with it holding its line strength.

I usually use a 1/16-oz. jig head if fishing it single and 1/32 or even 1/48-oz. heads for double rigs. Over the last few years, I have had better success keeping slabs hooked up by using jig heads with a sickle-shaped hook. They seem to penetrate deeper than standard round-bend hooks.

Many plastic lures will work, but those with curly or paddle tails attract the most attention

The tools needed for effective longline trolling are several crappie-sized rods and reels, a good trolling motor, a GPS unit, a box of jig heads and bodies, and a keen desire to put together the puzzle of speed, depth, jig head size and body color.

The tools needed for effective longline trolling are several crappie-sized rods and reels, a good trolling motor, a GPS unit, a box of jig heads and bodies, and a keen desire to put together the puzzle of speed, depth, jig head size and body color.

when trolled. My most productive style over the years has been a Bass Assassin 2-inch Curly Shad, and the shad or chartreuse hues have worked best. This fall I am excited about a new lure from Bass Assassin – their 2-inch Crappie Dapper swimbait. It looks exactly like a crappie minnow and has a wide wobble from its paddle tail. The lure should work perfectly as a trolling bait.

Boat handling is extremely important when trolling for crappie. You have to pay close attention to your presentation. For instance, when trolling downwind, you have a tendency to go too fast. A GPS unit takes the guesswork out of how fast you are moving. Additionally, I speed up a little when crossing shallow areas or points or making a turn so that the jigs on the inside of the turn do not settle to the bottom and get hung. To start, I usually hover around 0.8 to 1.0 miles per hour and vary it until I dial in the most effective speed.

Line distance is critical to keep from tangling. Putting the lines all back at the same distance is the recipe for disaster, so I like to stagger them. The two outside poles are about a long cast out and slightly staggered a little. One of the middle poles is about two long casts out, and one I fish about a half-cast out. You can count how many “pulls” of line out the lure is if you want to get exact, but you will get a feel for it once you troll for a couple afternoons.

Trolling allows you to cover vast amounts of water in search of areas holding crappie. Next time you are having trouble finding the crappie, give this presentation a try.

Ordinary Heros, Veterans Among Us

November 10, 2013 in Articles, Fishing

by Beau Beasley

Occasionally in life, you meet a person whom you truly admire—a hero, if you will. Some of the folks who we offhandedly call heroes today are simply people who possess a certain magnetism, charisma or talent that gets them noticed. When you ask children who their heroes are, for example, you’re likely to hear a litany of names of sports figures, actors, or musicians—people who make a gazillion dollars for dunking a ball or mooning at the camera or crooning a tune. But those are not the heroes of whom I’m speaking. I’m talking about the “ordinary” hero, the one who rarely gets noticed and isn’t likely to be seen on television.

Retired Lt. Colonel King Montgomery fishes as often as he can.

Retired Lt. Colonel King Montgomery fishes as often as he
can.

One such hero is a friend of mine. King Montgomery was a hotshot fishing guide on Virginia’s Potomac River when I met him; since then, he has become an award-winning outdoor writer and sought-after seminar speaker. He is a recognized expert on Mid-Atlantic warmwater fly fishing. He has also developed an insatiable desire for pursuing trout with a fly rod.

I fish with King whenever I get the chance. Over time, I noticed that he walked a bit slower than usual and winced with pain on occasion. I teased him a little, telling him that he was getting old. He laughed and agreed, saying that an old war injury caused this particular twinge. Now, most of us are kidding when we use that expression—but not King.

King Montgomery is a retired army officer who served this country faithfully for 23 years. He was a rifle company commander in Vietnam and saw more combat than he cares to discuss. He caught a round in his leg while engaged in a firefight, and it is this injury that causes my friend to limp periodically. King is a great example of those Americans who put it all on the line for people like you and me every day, day after day. He wouldn’t tell you about the medals he received or about his personal acts of heroism; I found out about them by accident myself. The ironic thing is, of course, that King would deny with his dying breath that he is a hero. Undoubtedly, he would say that he was just doing his duty and that you can find the real heroes resting in places like Arlington National Cemetery.

King and his brothers and sisters under arms have served this country all over the world. Some stormed the beaches of Normandy in France; others served as submariners. Some veterans flew airplanes (like King’s father, who fought in World War II and the Korean War); others parachuted out of them. Some were medics who fought desperate daily battles to save lives; others flung themselves on hand grenades or charged machine gun nests to protect their pinned-down comrades. But all answered the call of duty when they heard it.

The author, a Union member from Virginia, fishes with his friend King Montgomery as often as he can.

The author, a Union member from Virginia, fishes with his friend King Montgomery as often as he can.

A few of these heroes have been recognized and have even shaken hands with the President of the United States. Most, however, have gone and will continue to go unrecognized. Their reward for valor? Six feet of cold ground and a simple white headstone. A name engraved on a granite wall or a bronze plaque. Many families don’t even know how, when, or where their courageous loved ones died. All that remains of these heroes is the memory of their faithfulness to this country’s ideals and principles.

Today, United States armed forces personnel on land, sea, and in the air continue their vigil, in a world as dangerous as it ever was, so that you and I can go about our daily lives in peace. Like King, they would tell you that they are just doing their duty—nothing more. My fervent hope is that as you are out on the stream or in the field enjoying your sport and your peaceful leisure, you will remember these men and women in uniform. The next time that you bump into a member of our armed forces in your neighborhood, I challenge you to thank him or her for keeping us safe. Perhaps you could even offer to buy that serviceman or woman a cup of coffee—or just offer a handshake in appreciation for their faithfulness to duty.

If you are now or have been a member of the armed forces, please know that we the American people are forever in your debt. You, and those who went before you into the breach, are the reason that we live in freedom today. If ever we cross paths on the river, remind me that I owe you a cup of coffee and a handshake. I should be easy to spot: I’ll be the fellow eagerly picking up angling pointers from a hero. And my fishing partner King will be easy to spot, too: he’ll be walking with a bit of a limp.

Editor’s Note: Beau Beasley (www.beaubeasley.com) is a captain with Fairfax County (VA) Fire and Rescue Department where he’s worked for over 29 years. An author of two popular guide books, he’s also a member of the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 2068.   He lives with his wife and children in Warrenton, VA.

 

The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance website is designed to provide valuable articles about hunting, fishing and conservation for members of AFL-CIO affiliated labor unions and all sportsmen and sportswomen who appreciate hunting and fishing and want to preserve our outdoor heritage for future generations. If you would like your own story and experience from the outdoors to be considered for our website, please email us at USAmembers@unionsportsmen.org.

The Fall Fishing Feed Up

October 21, 2013 in Articles, Fishing

by Dave Mull

Autumn means that anglers can find bass, walleye, northern pike and panfish in predictable locations—and predictably hungry, too.

The classic Beetle Spin tipped with a soft plastic minnow and cast over the tops of remaining weedbeds works fall wonders for a variety of species including walleyes.

The classic Beetle Spin tipped with a soft plastic minnow and cast over the tops of remaining weedbeds works fall wonders for a variety of species including walleyes.

As days grow shorter and waters cool, fish put on the feedbag to bulk up fat reserves for winter and prepare for spawning in the spring. Not only do they actively feed throughout the day, but the places they look for food are shrinking, making them easier to find. Shorter days and less sunlight causes weeds to die off and concentrates baitfish in the cover that remains. Find the surviving weedbeds, and you’ll find your target species hunting for food nearby.

On many lakes and Great Lakes bays across the Midwest, cabbage is king. These long-stemmed, leafy weeds grow in deeper water right up to the edge of drop-offs and create a wall of opportunity for the savvy angler. Bass, pike and walleye lurk along this edge looking for prey, while schools of panfish such as bluegills, perch and crappie frequently suspend just out from the greenery.

Cabbage is a perfect location for casting deep-diving crankbaits for bass and pike. Position your boat so that you can cast right down the deep side of this weedy wall, as close to the weeds as possible—if you don’t occasionally hook into the weeds, you’re not casting close enough. A medium-action baitcasting combo spooled with 10-pound test monofilament works great. After you cast, point your rod tip at the lure, and when you feel any resistance, snap the rod toward you. You’ll either rip the lure free of weeds or set the hooks into a fish. A great back-up lure to the crankbait is a 1/4- to 1/2-ounce jig-n-pig or jig and soft plastic crayfish trailer. Work this along the deep edge for fish close to the bottom. If pike are present, add a short, fine wire leader to avoid getting bit off—it usually doesn’t keep bass from biting the jig.

Many times, predators will be hunting food over the tops of the weeds, and an effective lure is the classic Beetle Spin—basically a jig with a safety-pin style spinner. A minnow-shaped soft plastic trailer (Berkley Gulp Minnows are a personal favorite) gives the spinner the look of a baitfish and will get attacked by a variety of species.

This nice pike ate a Beetle Spin tipped with a soft-plastic minnow cast over the top of a weedbed.

This nice pike ate a Beetle Spin tipped with a soft-plastic minnow cast over the top of a weedbed.

These diminutive spinners can be buzzed just under the surface or worked slowly, snaked through the weed tops without hanging up. When you spy a hole surrounded by weeds, let the spinner flutter down, giving the appearance of a wounded baitfish—it’s hard for any gamefish to resist. A medium-light spinning rod, its reel spooled with 20-pound test braided line lets you cast the light lures a good distance while lending enough strength to muscle big fish out of the thick weeds.

Cooling waters also draw baitfish, crawdads and the gamefish that eat them onto expansive, shallow flats. Here again, clumps of healthy weeds are good targets for your casts, but fish often are hunting in the more open areas, too. Long casts with tube jigs or soft-plastic grubs let you cover lots of water and represent both a minnow and a crayfish. For soft plastics, a 7-foot spinning rod with 8-pound monofilament lets you wing your offering a country mile. An effective retrieve is to pull the lure forward, then drop the rod-tip, reeling up slack as the lure falls. Fish often grab the lure on its way down, and you’ll hook up on your next pull.

Wind is your friend when fishing these shallow flats, for a few reasons. A significant ripple on the water gives fish a sense of security, as they are not easily captured by birds. A wavy surface also diffuses light, keeping gamefish from getting a good look at your artificial offering and promoting reaction strikes. You can also fling your lure with the wind for longer casts while covering the shallow water without using your trolling motor much, which can spook fish back to their deeper haunts.

Panfish fans find bluegills and crappie suspended over deep water when the days grow shorter. While traditional anchoring and still-fishing with bait below bobbers works, you’re likely to catch more fish by covering water and casting small jigs tipped with soft plastics or bait. Or try trolling small spinners or Spin-N-Glos in front of bait. Follow the general contour of the weedline, slowly and quietly moving the boat with an electric trolling motor, trying different amounts of weight and line out until you start connecting with fish.

Crappie often suspend over deeper water outside of weedbeds in the fall. Small jigs on ultra-light tackle offer a great way to catch them.

Crappie often suspend over deeper water outside of weedbeds in the fall. Small jigs on ultra-light tackle offer a great way to catch them.

Along with actively biting fish, fall-time angling offers another bonus: Most of the recreational boats will have been stored for the winter. No jet skis, no water skiers and lots of cooperative fish make for a fine time on the water.

 

The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance website is designed to provide valuable articles about hunting, fishing and conservation for members of AFL-CIO affiliated labor unions and all sportsmen and sportswomen who appreciate hunting and fishing and want to preserve our outdoor heritage for future generations. If you would like your own story and experience from the outdoors to be considered for our website, please email us at USAmembers@unionsportsmen.org.

Autumn-Run Redfish

October 9, 2013 in Articles, Fishing

by Bob McNally

Huge fall-run red drum are available throughout the southeast United State. From North Carolina to Texas, redfish push into rivers, inlets and coastal bays for spawning, and huge reds to 70 pounds are caught by anglers fishing from shore, piers, docks, kayaks, boats and the surf.

Big red drum offer outstanding catch-and-release angling action for Lindsey McNally.

Big red drum offer outstanding catch-and-release angling action for Lindsey McNally.

Anglers in the know understand that if there’s a sure thing in the Coastal South during September, October and November, it’s that redfish action will be the best of the year. And while reds of all sizes are available, spawning-run giants weighing 25 to 50 pounds are caught almost daily in Virginia, North & South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.

Smaller keeper, or slot-size, redfish in the 3 to 12 pound range offer great autumn fishing in these coastal states, too, chiefly in tide-water rivers, back bays, bayous, creeks and sounds.

But for consistent big fish, those spawning-run behemoths that live offshore most of the, it’s the major Atlantic and Gulf Coast inlets, passes and river mouths leading to open water where action is best.

Virtually all oversize reds are released unharmed. Fish over about 15 pounds have course flesh that is not particularly good to eat. State laws also require most big spawning reds to be released unharmed. Alabama and Mississippi allow harvesting just one giant red over the slot limit, but conservation-minded anglers release all the 15+ pounders they catch. And they catch a lot of them!

Virginia’s barrier islands surf fishing offers superb heavyweight red drum action in October. Fish are in the surf feeding on crabs, menhaden and mullet as water temperature cools. Excellent fishing can be found in the surf off Smith, Myrtle, Ship Shoal, Wreck, Cobb, Hog and Parramore islands. All are uninhabited, and allow fishing, except at night.

Captain Buddy Vaughn (www.easternshoreadventures.com, phone (757-615-7723) leads surf anglers to prime fishing by running his boat in the sheltered, western inshore bays of the barrier islands. He then beaches his boat or anchors near the islands, unloads surf tackle into carts, and walks to the eastern side of islands where surf fishing for giant red drum is red hot. Fish in the 30-pound range are common, and redfish to 50 pounds are possible.

North Carolina’s Pamlico Sound has dozens of shoals that attract spawning and post-spawning monster red drum, called channel bass locally. The entire western side of the sound and the “backsides” of Ocracoke and Hatteras inlets abound with shoals where redfish feed. Among the hot spots are Royal Island Shoals, Brant Island Shoals and Swan Island Shoals.

The tail end of the spawn runs through October, when reds pull out of the Neuse and Pamlico rivers, bulk up feeding around Pamlico Sound shoals, and begin their migration back out of the sound through Hatteras and Ocracoke inlets. Great fishing can be had in the sound and inlets, with 50- to 60-fish days not uncommon for a boat of good anglers.

Pamlico Sound reds are caught by anglers anchored near shoal water, soaking cut mullet baits on bottom. Mullet is preferred over crabs because reds are less likely to take cut baits deep, which is important for easy de-hooking and releasing giant, spawning-size drum. Chumming with cut mullet draws drum but often isn’t necessary when multiple baits are cast around a fishing boat.

Hard-fighting red drum are caught throughout the coastal South during autumn.

Hard-fighting red drum are caught throughout the coastal South during autumn.

Captain George Beckwith (phone 252-671-3474; www.pamlicoguide.com) met his wife Anna while doing redfish biological work on Pamlico Sound. Both are marine biologists. George has been a redfish guide on the sound since 1994, grew up fishing reds in the area and is a good source for local information.

The area near Georgetown has five South Carolina rivers draining into the Atlantic Ocean. This creates a perfect spawning and nursery ground for red drum, and October is the height of the fishing action for them.

The Georgetown jetties, the shoal system off Cape Romain, the mouths of the North Santee and South Santee rivers, and the Bull Island bar system hold big schools of giant spawning red drum. Inshore, huge schools of smaller redfish can be found in Winyah Bay, North Inlet and Bulls Bay.

Georgetown charter captain Tommy Scarborough doesn’t begin fishing until he locates thick schools of menhaden or mullet. Often bait schools are clearly visible or can be shown by diving pelicans. Other times bait can be detected by large “muds” created by feeding fish deep below menhaden or mullet schools. At the Georgetown jetties, the tips of rocks create swirling eddy currents, and that’s always a choice spot for bait and redfish. Offshore sandbars (up to 2 miles out and only in 10 to 30 feet of water) draw bait and an abundance of sharks. Redfish follow sharks and baitfish, staying deep, devouring bait chunks from shark feeding.

Inshore, shrimp and mullet washing out of nursery marshes creates superb inshore action for smaller, though extremely abundant redfish.

For bulls, bottom fishing with cut menhaden baits is deadly, producing 20-fish days of reds weighing 20 to 55 pounds. Scarborough owns Georgetown Coastal Adventures, and can be contacted at phone (843) 546-3543; www.captaintommy.com.

In Georgia, almost every inlet along its barrier islands yields heavyweight reds. Huge fish to 60 pounds feed around sandbars sometimes in water just a few feet deep. Live baits like menhaden and pieces of cracked blue crab score well for guides like Capt. Greg Hildreth (www.georgiacharterfishing.com; phone 912-617-1980) who’s headquartered in Brunswick and fishes the so-called “Golden Isles” area around Jekyll, St. Simons, Little St. Simons and Cumberland islands.

Hildreth also specializes in sight-fishing for reds to about 15 pounds in backwater bays, where light tackle and fly fishermen do well.

Florida’s biggest redfish are most consistently caught in the northeast and in the Panhandle. The mouth of the St. Johns River gives up giant reds for guide Capt. Kirk Waltz (www.enterprisefishingcharters.com; phone 904-241-7560). The St. Marys River mouth is a good bet for heavyweight redfish, too, and Capt. Don Whitman (phone 904-261-6751) knows all about it.

In Florida’s Panhandle, Capt. Daniel Pike (www.inshoreanglercharters.com; phone 850-862-9722) specializes in heavyweight redfish in Gulf passes near Destin, but also works inshore flats where sight-casting can be done.

Farther west in Alabama, great fishing for fall reds is found in and near Mobile Bay. Oyster shell bars abound, and reds of all sizes are caught from them. Reds also hit near state-made artificial inshore reefs and oil rigs in Mobile Bay.

Yet no place offers more consistent giant redfishing at this time of year in Alabama than at “Dixey Bar,” which forms a natural sand ridge feeding station near the open lower portion of Mobile Bay. Cut mullet, crabs and live croakers worked in the shallows during a falling tide is an almost guarantee of 20 to 30 pound reds, sometimes as fast as you bait a hook and cast. Contact Capt. Kevin Olmstead (www.pointclearfishingadventures; phone 251-401-FISH) or Capt. Barnie white (www.whitefishingteam.com; phone 251-363-4794).

In Mississippi, big fall reds can be caught along most of the coast – in marshes and bays, tidewater creeks and near inlet bridges. Some of the most consistent action for oversize fish is found near cuts and channels around the barrier islands that shadow the coastline about four miles offshore. The Biloxi area is especially good in deep ship channels ranging 25 to 40 feet deep.

Capt. Bo Hamilton, of Ocean Springs, Miss., shows a heavyweight fall-run redfish caught near his home water.

Capt. Bo Hamilton, of Ocean Springs, Miss., shows a heavyweight fall-run redfish caught near his home water.

Good Mississippi redfish guides include Capt. Scott Simpson (phone 228-669-6204) and Capt. Bryan Drieling (phone 228-806-2990).

Louisiana has outstanding fishing for giant redfish, too. The vast fertile coastal grass marsh regions have a wealth of 5- to 10-pounders that go on a feeding binge and make for great inshore fishing. But heavyweight reds are available, as well, with many fish in the 20 to 40 pound range caught every autumn, though usually in more open water.

Many coastal ports offer great autumn redfishing, with Venice, Grand Isle, Cocodrie and Lake Calcasieu some of the most popular fishing spots. Capt. Mike Scardino (phone 985-787-3529) can hook up anglers for redfishing out of Grande Isle. Lodging and guides abound for Calcasieu fishing, with Hackberry Rod & Gun Club (www.hackberryrodandgun.com; phone 888-762-3391) one of the best and largest operations catering to visiting anglers. Near the mouth of the Mississippi River, Capt. Bill Butler who owns Venice Marina (phone 985-534-9357; www.venicemarina.com) is the man to see for giant redfish.

Texas is a hotbed of autumn redfishing. While “bull” reds in the 40+ pound range are not as abundant as in places like Virginia and North Carolina, outstanding marshland fishing is available, and plenty of heavyweights are caught, too.

San Antonio Bay and the Estes flats near Rockport are shallow areas with shell-bottom reefs loaded with bait that draw big schools of autumn redfish. Also the rock jetties at Port O’Conner for oversize bull redfish are choice at the same time. Port O’Conner jetties draw giant “bull” reds in from the open Gulf of Mexico for spawning. Moving tides (incoming or outgoing) are important for best flats fish action, as well as jetty giants.

Captain Petra Schultz, with her husband Don, have run the Green Hornet guide service out of Rockport since 1994, and have been guiding in the area since 1989. Contact them at 361-790-9742; www.greenhorneetguides.com.

 

The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance website is designed to provide valuable articles about hunting, fishing and conservation for members of AFL-CIO affiliated labor unions and all sportsmen and sportswomen who appreciate hunting and fishing and want to preserve our outdoor heritage for future generations. If you would like your own story and experience from the outdoors to be considered for our website, please email us at USAmembers@unionsportsmen.org.

Custom-Painted Baits

September 30, 2013 in Articles, Fishing

By Beau Tallent

My first introduction to the world of custom-painted crankbaits came on the front deck of bass boat. On the trolling motor was a local tournament angler who was helping me with an article on the fall migration of baitfish and bass into the creeks from their deep-water summer hangouts. We both wanted a couple of nice bass for pictures, but as is typical for a day when a writer is in the boat, the fishing was tougher than expected.

Jake Greenstein of Dakota Lakes Tackle works on a custom-painted crankbait.

Jake Greenstein of Dakota Lakes Tackle works on a custom-painted crankbait.

Then the secret crankbait box came out. The crankbait bodies were the same as the store-bought, 5- to 7-foot-deep divers we’d been throwing, but the colors were nothing like I’d ever seen. The plug he tied on was a shade of green I recognized as a favorite on this particular Kentucky reservoir, but it had black and chartreuse tiger stripes that were unlike anything I’d even seen—so different I silently considered whether he was playing a practical joke on me.

Then he made his first cast on the same small rocky point we’d already fished thoroughly with off-the-shelf crankbaits and caught only one 10-inch dink. Three turns of the reel, and my partner’s rod bowed with the pressure of a 5-lb. bass that later became famous as the lead photo in a magazine article. What did not appear in that article was a picture of that weirdly painted crankbait. I was forbidden to show it. Custom-painted baits were making this guy too much money on the tournament trail.

Can the color of a crankbait make that much difference? Dang right it can. Not all the time, granted. There are days when bass are stacked on a roadbed and will eat a spark plug with a hook in it. It’s those other days—which are much more common—when fish are finicky for whatever reason, whether it’s fishing pressure or the barometer or a north wind or the fisherman not holding his mouth right. It’s those days when custom-painted baits are paying dividends for anglers.

And the secret is out. Go to the Internet and Google custom-painted baits. Do a search on eBay. Everybody and their brother seem to be in the business of selling custom-painted crankbaits, jerkbaits, swimbaits and topwater plugs. You can find any color imaginable, but before you randomly spend money on colors and patterns that look pretty, I’d recommend starting with the primary color that’s been productive on your home lake. I’m a strong believer that fish on certain lakes prefer certain colors. Why, I’ll never be able to explain or support with concrete data. But I’ve been around enough anglers who make a living fishing to believe that certain colors produce better on certain lakes. From that base color, and then it’s the open palette of possibilities that custom-painted baits offer that can improve your catch ratios.

Can’t find the color scheme you’re looking for? You might want to consider painting your own baits. Before you scoff and dismiss the idea, know that the equipment is not expensive. You also don’t have to be an artist, and you’ll likely have lots of fun creating patterns and color schemes that catch fish.

Jake Greenstein is the author of “How To Paint Custom Crankbaits,” a book for beginners showing how to get started with step-by-step color pictures to paint four different baits along with other information on painting your own baits. His company, Dakota Lakes Tackle, sells custom-painted baits but also has a focus on helping anglers learn to paint their own baits. Jake has made YouTube videos that quickly take you through the basics of painting your own baits.

“I grew up fishing for walleyes, perch and northern pike. I have great memories of fishing with my dad and grandpa through my adult years,” Jake said. “I got into fishing for largemouth bass about seven years ago when we moved to Fargo, North Dakota and had unlimited lakes within a short drive in Minnesota. I was instantly hooked on bass fishing.”

It was that newfound passion for bass fishing combined with idle time where Jake discovered custom painting.

“With our long North Dakota winters, I found myself dreaming of bass fishing and saw an article about lure building and painting on a website. I bought a cheap airbrush and a few different colors of paint. I started repainting old cranks and later found a place to buy unpainted crankbaits and started to paint them. After a couple years of stockpiling baits I painted, I started to sell them on eBay. A short time later I started dakotalakestackle.com to sell my custom painted baits. I now offer mostly unpainted baits on my website and help other people in the custom bait painting hobby with You Tube videos, a book and answering emails.

“I have painted baits for a few people that fish tournaments with good feedback. I have given away more baits than I can count to people I see at gas stations or on the lake. I always have baits in my pickup to give to people,” Jake said.

Like both tournament and weekend anglers, Jake has seen that a new look can make the difference when it comes to tempting fish.

“Custom painted crankbaits offer a different look to the fish on lakes that have a lot of pressure. Some people like certain color combinations that are either discontinued or have never been available. It is a very rewarding hobby. There is nothing like pulling in a fish on a bait that you painted,” he said.

Custom-painted baits often come in wild, vibrant colors.

Custom-painted baits often come in wild, vibrant colors.

“I started with an inexpensive airbrush and a few colors of paint. I used an air compressor that I already had and my wife’s hair dryer to set the paint. My total starting investment was around $50. Since I have been doing this for about seven years, I recommend to people starting out to spend a little more on an airbrush. You defiantly get what you pay for. I recommend the Iwata Revolution BR, which is about $100. Pick about five to eight colors of paint that they like or work well on the lakes they fish. Paint is about $4 a bottle and last a long time using a few drops at a time. You can start by repainting old baits at the bottom of your tackle box,” Jake said.

Jake’s You Tube videos are an excellent starting point if you think you might be interested in painting your own baits.

“Be careful. It is an addictive hobby,” he added.

 

 

 

 

The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance website is designed to provide valuable articles about hunting, fishing and conservation for members of AFL-CIO affiliated labor unions and all sportsmen and sportswomen who appreciate hunting and fishing and want to preserve our outdoor heritage for future generations. If you would like your own story and experience from the outdoors to be considered for our website, please email us at USAmembers@unionsportsmen.org.

What Washington State’s Octopus Hunting Ban Means For Fisherman

September 23, 2013 in Articles, Fishing

by Louis Hammersmith

It was an otherwise typical Halloween afternoon last year, when then 19-year-old Dylan Mayer harvested an 80-pound giant Pacific octopus from the Puget Sound in West Seattle. What the teenager didn’t know, was that his prized catch would result in death threats and eventual changes to hunting laws in the state.

The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission voted unanimously on Aug. 2 to outlaw recreational octopus hunting at seven Puget Sound beaches. The firestorm started after curious onlookers at Alki Beach, the popular park where the harvest took place, snapped photos of Mayer and his hunting partner pulling the octopus out of the water while still in their scuba gear. Mayer took photos of himself posing with the dead octopus and posted them on his Facebook page as well. Local diver Bob Bailey, said he informed local media and every dive shop in the area after allegedly seeing the two young men punching the octopus, according to MyNorthwest.com. The Northwest Institute of Diving posted photos of the harvest to its Facebook page, which went viral and made Mayer public enemy No. 1 to animal rights activists.

Mayer Did Nothing Illegal

Live and cooked octopus are both considered delicacies in many parts of the world, including the U.S. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) took aim at several New York restaurants in 2010 for what it coined the “cruel” chopping up of cephalopod mollusks when they are still conscious, according to The Gothamist. Mayer told KOMO News days after the incident that what he did was perfectly legal and that he catches octopi for the meat. The only statutory requirement when hunting octopi in Washington is that they are harvested by hand, without any sharp objects to stab them, according to the Seattle Times. But animal rights activists argue that just because it’s legal doesn’t make it right, and criticized Mayer for harvesting the octopus at a touristy beach.

Why The Outrage

People travel to the Puget Sound from all over the world to visit its beaches and see the wildlife, particularly the giant octopi. Octopus enthusiasts point to the high intelligence of octopi, which they say is higher than that of a dog. Jacques-Yves Cousteau, in his book “Octopus and Squid: The Soft Intelligence,” notes that an octopus can teach itself virtually anything, whereas a dog training collar is sometimes necessary to reinforce simple canine commands like “sit” and “shake.” Octopi are kept as pets by some, but are difficult to care for because they are strong and intelligent enough to escape aquariums.

What The New Law Means

Despite the changes, state law still allows licensed fishermen to harvest one octopus a day as long as its outside one of the newly outlawed areas. Craig Burley of the Fish and Wildlife Commission told ABC News that the octopus population in the Puget Sound is healthy and there is no danger of extinction due to hunting. Commissioner Conrad Mahnken said protecting the species is essential to the state’s economic well being.

The rules take effect this fall and outlaw octopus hunting at, among other places, Redondo Beach, Three Tree Point and Deception Pass.

Grand Fishing At Grand Isle

September 16, 2013 in Articles, Fishing

by Bob McNally

We hadn’t fished but just a few minutes, and the stout-action rod Scott Gardner was holding bent double. There was no need for Scott to set the hook, just start cranking and try to keep whatever fish it was away from the line-cutting potential of an oil rig we were tied to.

A hefty red snapper caught near an oil rig comes to net near Grand Isle, Louisiana.

A hefty red snapper caught near an oil rig comes to net near Grand Isle, Louisiana.

The fish battle sea-sawed for long minutes, but Gardner finally got the upper hand, horsing the fish away from the towering rig beside us.

A few minutes into that fight, another of our crew, Ed Mashburn, grunted as his rod bowed heavily as he fought a second fish. Then Al Ristori followed with yet a third fish, and soon I was hooked to something big and deep and running far and fast.

The complete chaos of four big saltwater fish simultaneously fought from a 27-foot open boat beside a big oil rig is difficult to describe without it sounding overstated. But it was complete piscatorial pandemonium as our lines cross, reel drags screamed, anglers hooted and hollered, grunted and groaned, and our guide Capt. Mike Scardino worked hard to keep some degree of order among his fishing crew.

We lost one of the four fish at boat side in clear Gulf of Mexico water. It was a heavy mangrove snapper we estimated weighed 10 pounds, and Ristori laughed when the fish pulled free. Garner’s fish was a 20-pound red snapper. Mashburn landed a bull red drum, an estimated 30-pounder that was released. Mine was a 20-pound cobia that we kept for eating.

And the good fishing was just starting.

The next several hours became kind of a blur, as the fish fighting, hooking, re-rigging, landing, and releasing was virtually non-stop. And the wide variety of fish species caught was remarkable.

Mangrove snapper action is excellent, and they’re big, as shown by this 10-pounder held by author Bob McNally.

Mangrove snapper action is excellent, and they’re big, as shown by this 10-pounder held by author Bob McNally.

Using whole dead menhaden baits, also known as pogies, we caught spotted seatrout, weakfish, ladyfish, 100-pound class sharks, lane snapper and likely some other fish species I’ve overlooked.

Our primary targets were large red snapper, and our crew of six anglers put a dozen of those fish, an easy limit, in the boat in short order. All were at least 12 pounds, and several fish weighed 20. The mangrove snapper limit was five per person, and we had nearly that number before heading back to shore. None weighed less than 5 pounds, most were close to 10 pounds.

Additionally there were cobia, sea trout, weakfish, and a couple smaller (though delicious eating) lane snapper.

The 150-quart cooler that Capt. Scardino uses as an on-boat fish box was filled, and we had to press into service another 100-quart cooler to hold more of the catch.

And we were done fishing, heading back to our port of Grand Isle, Louisiana by noon.

THAT is good fishing, and indeed it was by far the best snapper action I’ve ever experienced anywhere.

But you don’t get to Grand Isle by accident. It’s a small fishing village with a population of just 1,500 at the farthest reaches of Louisiana Highway 1, smack dab in the southern mid-coast of the state, completely surrounded by saltwater.

Grand Isle is a small coastal Louisiana village offering world class marine fishing.

Grand Isle is a small coastal Louisiana village offering world-class saltwater fishing.

As the crow flies, Grand Isle isn’t so vary far from New Orleans, maybe 75 miles south. But the road from New Orleans winds west and south, and then east, and treks across bayous and bays for more than 100 miles before reaching Grand Isle.

Such isolation from the trappings of modern life makes for few visitors. And most of them are fishermen, since the place surely ranks as one of America’s great angling destinations. Grand Isle not only is remarkable in the quality of its angling, but also the variety of fishing that can be found in the nearby area.

The labyrinth of bays and bayous, marshlands and tidal rivers east, west and north of Grand Isle are rich in shrimp, crabs and oysters. And this marine life base results in some of the most fertile fisheries in the world. Red drum (redfish) and spotted seatrout fishing in this region is world class, and anglers regularly catch five-fish limits of reds per day and 25-fish limits of seatrout.

If big-water, big-fish action is your passion, offshore fishing around the hundreds of area oil rigs is outstanding, since the rigs act like giant artificial reefs in attracting fish. Snapper action is world class, as described earlier. In addition hard-fighting cobia are abundant around oil rigs. Farther offshore amberjacks, grouper, and king mackerel are common.

Trollers working even deeper water catch giant yellowfin tuna pushing 200 pounds, wahoo half that size, plus blackfin tuna, dolphin and even blue marlin.

While anglers who have their own boats, motors and skills can trailer their craft to Grand Isle and fish on their own, hiring a guide is recommended, at least for fishermen new to the region. The area has a wealth of excellent native captains and guides who know the area like you know your backyard. Guides and charter boats are available for virtually everything ranging from snapper and bottom fishing to inshore action for trout and redfish, to rig fishing for cobia and trolling for tuna and others.

Fishing can be great year-round, but summer through early autumn, and spring, are prime.

Capt. Mike Scardino charters his 27-foot aluminum center console, Hard Times for snapper, cobia, kingfish and other species. He’s also the contact man for anglers wanting seatrout, redfish and offshore trolling action, too. Capt. Scardino can be reached at (985) 787-3529.

Motels and restaurants catering to fishermen are on the island, including the Sand Dollar Motel, where we stayed in quiet comfort within walking distance of restaurants and a full-service marina.

The Grand Isle Tourist Commission is a good contact for visiting anglers wanting information on facilities and guides. Go to www.townofgrandisle.com or call (985) 787-2997.

 

 

 

The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance website is designed to provide valuable articles about hunting, fishing and conservation for members of AFL-CIO affiliated labor unions and all sportsmen and sportswomen who appreciate hunting and fishing and want to preserve our outdoor heritage for future generations. If you would like your own story and experience from the outdoors to be considered for our website, please email us at USAmembers@unionsportsmen.org.

Chumming For Panfish

August 14, 2013 in Articles, Fishing

By Bob McNally

Some people are blessed with a special flair or inborn ability to locate panfish no matter the time of year, weather or water conditions. But for most anglers, consistently pinpointing concentrations of bluegills and other sunfish is a difficult, hit-or-miss proposition. And you can’t catch panfish unless you know where to find them.

Little fish spell big fun, but even panfish can use a little boost to get them biting at times. That's where chumming comes into play.

Little fish spell big fun, but even panfish can use a little boost to get them biting at times. That’s where chumming comes into play.

This is precisely the reason some people have learned that the best way to locate panfish is to help panfish find the fishermen. And the easiest way to have panfish seek you is to place bait or “chum” in the water to attract feeding fish.

“Chumming” for panfish is an old country method of fishing that’s been around about as long as fishermen have used cane poles and earth worms. The idea is to put some type of fish food or attractant in the water at a predetermined spot for a few days. Then, after the fish are drawn or attracted into that area, anglers work the place over with lures and baits and catch fish “trained” to feed in a given place.

It’s a simple and remarkably effective system of fishing, that’s particularly effective for panfish. It works for bluegills, shellcrackers, in fact, all of the sunfishes. It’s death on panfish in shallow water, deep water, clear water, murky water, weedy water and rocky water. It works in summer and winter. Moreover, other fish can be ‘chummed’ and caught right along with panfish, including bass, crappie, catfish and a multitude of inshore marine species in brackish water.

One of the original methods of “chumming,” and a technique that still works well today, is to simply stuff a burlap gunny or “croaker” sack with stale bread, rice or corn meal. Next, toss in the sack a brick or rocks for weight, tie it closed, and pitch it into a likely panfish spot. Naturally, a rope should be secured to the sack so it can be retrieved.

The essence or “scent” of bread, rice or corn seeps through the burlap sack and draws feeding minnows, panfish, catfish, and other sportfish from long distances. Fish feed on tiny particles of meal that leeches through the burlap. But they can’t get at huge amounts of food, nor pull the sack away from the precise, designated chumming spot. So they hold in an area feeding for long duration.

Cat food in a wire basket or mess bag and tethered to a dock is a sure-fire bet for plenty of panfish action.

Cat food in a wire basket or mess bag and tethered to a dock is a sure-fire bet for plenty of panfish action.

A can of cat food also can be used, and works well from inside a mesh chum bag commonly used in saltwater. The cat food should be only slightly opened, and the weight of the can holds down the bag.

Before actually fishing it’s normally best to “feed” or “chum” a place for several days to draw lots of fish to an area and also “train” them to feeding with abandon. Fish quickly become accustomed to chumming, and once a few fish start flocking to the chummed spot more and more are drawn to it.

By keeping a good supply of chum in a likely panfish location for a day or so, it’s a sure bet a good catch of panfish can be made quickly at the place. Almost any proven panfish bait or lure can work in filling a limit of frenzied panfish following chumming.

Chumming also can be refined to be even more effective than using a croaker sack, brick and bag of rice.

One improvement is simply a convenience in the type bait used as chum. Soybean or cottonseed can be purchased from hardware and feed stores in large 25-pound “cakes.” Such cakes are about two inches thick, two-feet wide and four-feet long; thus they are very convenient to use.

Large blocks of “cake” can be broken into easy-to-handle chunks, and the grain is so tightly compacted and dense that it sinks like a brick. It’s important that chum be heavy, because meal that floats or suspends, drifts away from a specific location. This is a vital key to the success of chumming for panfish. The food must be placed in a small, precise spot, which draws and concentrates fish in a well-defined area – a place where baited hooks or lures can be cast repeatedly to hungry, aggressive panfish that have been “programed” to feed without predator fear.

Cakes of cottonseed make a great panfish chum. These attractants are available at most feed and seed stores.

Cakes of cottonseed make a great panfish chum. These attractants are available at most feed and seed stores.

One tactic that works especially well when using “cake” chum is to bait several panfish spots, each about 200 feet apart, with a single “cake” about the size of a dinner plate. Bait with that size cake for three consecutive days, then on the fourth day, put in a “cake” about 1/4th as large. This draws hungry, aggressive panfish pronto, and they’ll be sure to hit your baited hooks in a hurry because of the reduction in chum used during fishing.

Commercial fish feeders also work well for chumming panfish. Some are special water-resistant models that are excellent for this purpose. The important benefit of such feeders is they have self-timers. Such a feeder need not be maintained consistently by an angler because it holds 50 pounds or more of feed or chum. The feeder can be “programed” to spread special sinking fish food pellets at specified times. Fish soon become accustomed to the “programed” feeding schedule, and when you fish near the feeder you simply adjust it so it doesn’t broadcast feed at a “set” time. Instead, just toss in a small handful of fish food pellets, and begin catching frenzied, hungry panfish drawn to the feeder location.

Economy-minded anglers can use a minnow bucket as a very effective holder of chum for panfish fishing. Merely place commercial fish food or sow or hog pellets inside the bucket, weight it with a brick, and sink it in a chosen panfish fishing spot with a line attached. A five-gallon plastic bucket with a tight-fitting lid (commonly found discarded at construction sites) also can be made into a very effective chum bucket. Simply drill small 1/8-inch diameter holes in the bucket, put weight inside, and fill with commercial fish food or pig pellets. Several such chum buckets sunk on a few choice panfish fishing locations can almost guarantee a fish-filled day on the water.

Don’t think that chumming for panfish only works in small creeks, farm ponds and little lakes. Chumming is fruitful virtually everywhere it’s used, including large open water systems. In fact, on big reservoirs and rivers, the fish populations are large and highly mobile, and that makes for an almost limitless supply of panfish that can be readily attracted to anglers who spend the time and a little effort to chum.

 

 

The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance website is designed to provide valuable articles about hunting, fishing and conservation for members of AFL-CIO affiliated labor unions and all sportsmen and sportswomen who appreciate hunting and fishing and want to preserve our outdoor heritage for future generations. If you would like your own story and experience from the outdoors to be considered for our website, please email us at USAmembers@unionsportsmen.org.

Swimbaits For Bass

August 9, 2013 in Articles, Fishing

By Capt. Bert Deener

During the last decade, swimbaits have grown from a novelty lure that just looked a lot like a real fish to a major lure in the bass fishing world. Whether you fish tournaments on huge reservoirs or just like catching lots of bass in a local pond, you can find a swimbait that fits the bill for you.

Pro angler Patrick Pierce prefers solid body swimbaits that hold up better in thick cover.

Pro angler Patrick Pierce prefers solid body swimbaits that hold up better in thick cover.

The versatility of these plastics is indisputable, but the selection can be overwhelming to a beginner. The two main styles of swimbaits that I will deal with in this article are hollow body swimbaits and solid body swimbaits. While they both resemble baitfish, they have very different properties and varied applications. To help you sort it out, bass pro Patrick Pierce and regional tournament angler Tommy Sweeney offer their swimbait tips.

Hollow body swimbaits became popular out west in the gin-clear water, and their popularity moved east following tournament wins. Star Tron pro Patrick Pierce of Jacksonville, Florida fishes the B.A.S.S. Southern Open trail and P.A.A. events and uses both hollow body and solid body swimbaits. Pierce usually picks up the hollow versions when heading outside of his home state to reservoirs where structure instead of cover is the target. He employs them to fish points, drains, and creek channels and usually opts for a six-inch Strike King Shadalicious.

“I like to fish the hollow body swimbaits in clear water and in open areas where shad school and suspend, and I fish them all the way back to the boat,” Pierce said. “A lot of times they will use the shade of the boat and follow the swimbait all the way back in and cream it right at the boat.”

In his native waters of Florida, Pierce usually gives solid body swimbaits the nod. The main reason is the cover.

“Solid body swimbaits come through cover great and hold together well. With all the vegetation in Florida and the more stained water, I’m usually throwing a solid bait,” Pierce shared.

Swimbaits come in a myriad of styles. Here are some the pros have used to win recent tournaments. Left is a Bass Assassin Die Dapper 3.5-inch rigged on a Capt. Bert’s Pugnose Jighead (also shown above bait). In the middle is a Keitech 3.8-inch Fat Swing Impact rigged on a Capt. Bert’s Flashy Swimbait Hook, and on the right is a Pro Swimbaits 5-inch Pro Minnow rigged on a Pro Swimbaits Spring Lock Jig Head.

Swimbaits come in a myriad of styles. Here are some the pros have used to win recent tournaments. Left is a Bass Assassin Die Dapper 3.5-inch rigged on a Capt. Bert’s Pugnose Jighead (also shown above bait). In the middle is a Keitech 3.8-inch Fat Swing Impact rigged on a Capt. Bert’s Flashy Swimbait Hook, and on the right is a Pro Swimbaits 5-inch Pro Minnow rigged on a Pro Swimbaits Spring Lock Jig Head.

He fishes the solid baits in places where he throws a spinnerbait or swim jig. These prime locations includes blow-down trees, grass edges, and docks. He uses the Strike King Swimming Caffeine Shad in both the four and five inch sizes and rigs them with Capt. Bert’s Swimbait Hooks and Flashy Swimbait Hooks with a light weight, often 1/16-oz. He likes the spring on the front of the hook, as it securely holds the bait, allowing him to fish it right in heavy cover and skip under docks without mangling his lure.

“I like to wake the baits, reeling them fast, but not breaking the surface,” he said. “You can reel the bait over holes in the grass and the big females will come up and trash it!”

For fishing swimbaits around cover, Pierce chooses a 7-foot heavy action Legend Extreme rod paired with a high-speed reel to allow him to take up slack quickly. He spools with 50-lb. test Vicious braided line and ties directly to his hook. In the stained water, he does not believe that you need a leader, and the fewer knots the better. This is the same setup that he uses for fishing hollow frogs over heavy vegetation.

Tommy Sweeney, a regional tournament angler from Waycross, Georgia, uses solid body Keitech Fat Swing Impact swimbaits (in the 3.8 and 4.8-inch sizes) all around the southeast to bring big sacks to the scales.

“I have not seen any other swimbaits that have such tremendous action on the fall,” he said. “I cast past a shoreline target, reel up to it, kill it for a second or two, and then pick up the retrieve, and they eat it.”

Sweeney rigs the Fat Swing Impacts on Capt. Bert’s Swimbait Hooks built around an extra wide gap Mustad hook that fits the shape of the Keitech perfectly. He has recently begun using Capt. Bert’s Flashy Swimbait Hook with a small willowleaf spinner on the bottom to give the lure a little extra flash to trigger bites. During spring while field-testing the bladed swimbait hook, he saturated a bay with a spinnerbait without a tap and then switched to the bladed swimbait rig and crushed a 6-pounder and several other bass.

Color selection is an interesting variable with swimbaits. Hollow bodies swimbaits have some tremendously detailed finishes, and western anglers fishing gin-clear water swear that subtle color changes make a difference in their catch rate . Solid bodies lures are typically not as detailed, but resemble the overall color schemes of baitfish and shad. Pierce throws shad colors, and adds a watermelon-red version frequently when fishing Florida grass. Sweeney also uses a gold flash Keitech when fishing Georgia and Florida waters with a high population of golden shiners. The key, as with most plastics, is to throw the color you have confidence in, while taking into account the baitfish you are trying to imitate and the water conditions.

Dial in the color and size swimbait that works well in your local waters, and you too will be hooked on swimbaits.

 

 

 

 

 

The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance website is designed to provide valuable articles about hunting, fishing and conservation for members of AFL-CIO affiliated labor unions and all sportsmen and sportswomen who appreciate hunting and fishing and want to preserve our outdoor heritage for future generations. If you would like your own story and experience from the outdoors to be considered for our website, please email us at USAmembers@unionsportsmen.org.

The Timeless, Versatile Bucktail

July 30, 2013 in Articles, Fishing

by Capt. Bert Deener

Pitching jigs in swift water to shoreline current breaks for stripers… dragging across a blowdown tree for largemouth bass… trolling deep in an upland reservoir for stripers… casting to eddies in mid-Atlantic rivers for smallmouths… and casting to busting stripers in the Chesapeake Bay.

The author boats a coastal-river striped bass caught on a big bucktail jig.

The author boats a coastal-river striped bass caught on a big bucktail jig.

This varied list of fishing applications were all fulfilled by an often forgotten material—deer hair, usually referred to as “bucktail.” If you have that deer-in-the-headlights look, just ask your grandpa about bucktails. Two generations ago, before the proliferation of plastic lures, bucktail jigs were a staple, especially for saltwater species. While most of the pegs in your favorite tackle shop are laden with soft and hard plastic baits, there are likely a few pegs with the blah-looking hunk of lead and plain-looking hair. Once you understand just how adaptable these hair-bodied lures are, you will linger longer in that section when selecting fishing lures in the future.

Bucktails are so versatile that there are hundreds of applications for them. Two of the more effective presentations with bucktail jigs are for smallmouths in rivers and for striped bass in saltwater and reservoirs, and these are the two I will focus upon.

Three decades ago, bucktail jigs were a staple in any river smallmouth angler’s tackle box. They were small, bulky ties intended to imitate a crayfish rather than baitfish. An Uncle Josh #101 pork frog was the usual trailer, but small plastic crayfish trailers were starting to be accepted. These miniscule offerings were (and still are) incredibly effective when cast to edges between still and moving water or dragged through slack water created behind boulders. When a smallmouth inhales the jig, you feel a tell-tale “tick,” and slam the hook home. The sizes I most often use are 1/8- and 1/4-oz., and crayfish colors usually work best. Olives, blacks, and browns get the nod most of the time when chasing smallmouths.

Although bucktail jigs will catch almost any species of fish, they are particularly effective on river smallmouths.

Although bucktail jigs will catch almost any species of fish, they are particularly effective on river smallmouths.

Striped bass aficionados are the most likely to use a bucktail jig today. Coastal tackle shops in the mid-Atlantic striper areas typically have many pegs filled with a variety of the natural hair jigs. Bucktail jigs have no fancy wobble like a swimbait or plastic crankbait. But, what they lack in show, they make up in effectiveness. The long, hollow hair catches water and sways enticingly like a baitfish just kind of “hanging out.”. That is what triggers the predatory instincts in the linesides.

My favorite way to present a bucktail is to cast to current breaks, such as bridge or dock pilings. Stripers will hold in the current breaks and wait for baitfish to wash by them. Figure out the correct angle of presentation, and you will score. Most anglers fish the back eddie, working the bucktail through the swirling current. This can be very effective, but on the Savannah River in Georgia, I have had the best fortune by fishing the bulge of water immediately upstream of the piling. The hydraulics of the piling create a small area where a striper can sit and wait for a meal. I approach the piling upcurrent and plunk a heavy bucktail upstream of the piling. I let the jig freefall until it hits bottom and then methodically work it into position until it is near the piling. It is tricky getting just the right depth and angle, but the effort is rewarded with a hard-charging striper ripping through pilings. For this presentation, leave the light equipment at home. Heavy-action rods in the 7-foot range and 50-lb. test braided line are the norm. Braid cuts through the current better than mono, and gives you a better feel on the take. For heavy current, 2-oz. jigs are not out of the question, but I love it when the flow lets me get away with a 3/4- to 1-oz. version. Lots of colors have fooled stripers, but it is hard to go wrong with either white or chartreuse bucktail jigs. I often use white in clear to slightly stained water, and chartreuse when the water is dingy.

Many anglers in the mid-Atlantic areas use natural hair jigs as a favorite striper lure.

Many anglers in the mid-Atlantic areas use natural hair jigs as a favorite striper lure.

Trolling is another popular approach in the mid-Atlantic striper fisheries. Fancy umbrella rig spreads including big plastic shads are very popular during winter and early spring when the giant “rockfish” are around, but a smaller boat can score by trolling single bucktails. Find a productive area, such as a feeding flat or point, and pull several bucktails until you figure out what size, depth, and speed you need to get bit. To keep your baits shallower, you can use a smaller head, increase your trolling speed, or add a trailer to your jig (for example, a plastic eel or shad). To deepen your presentation, just do the reverse. With trolling, you can use lighter tackle than pitching to cover, as the fish are typically fought in open water.

Landlocked striped bass can also be fooled with a well-placed bucktail, whether trolled or cast. I have had great success on Clarks Hill Reservoir in Georgia by trolling a spread with a variety of sizes of bucktails to cover the water column. I constantly watch my depthfinder and GPS speed to try to figure out how to effectively present the baits to feeding fish. Dial in the perfect speed and jig size, and the rods will stay bent.

Next time you are chasing striped bass or smallmouths, give the oft-forgotten natural bucktail jig a try.

Union Sportsmen’s Alliance and WI Unions Reel in Great Event

June 17, 2013 in Articles, Conservation News, Fishing, Work Boots On The Ground

In a world where modern technology has become the entertainment of choice for many children under the age of 16, it is becoming increasingly important to introduce them to the outdoors at a young age.  Statistics show that the earlier kids get involved in outdoor activities, such as fishing, the more likely they will be to respect and enjoy the outdoors; programs like the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance’s recent Take Kids Fishing Day event are fantastic opportunities to begin teaching basic skills.

On June 8th and 9th at Peititebone Beach Park in La Crosse, WI and at Braun’s Bay Carson Park in Eau Claire, WI, the USA’s Boots on the Ground program coordinated the 2013 event with the help of local unions: Western WI AFL CIO, Greater Eau Claire CLC, Western WI BCTC, UA 434, IAMAW District 66 and the USW International.  Over the course of those two days, 25 volunteers logged 150 total volunteer hours and donated fishing poles, door prizes, snacks, tackle, and banners to help teach kids techniques, such as tying your own hook and reeling in a fish.  They also educated the kids on the size and bag limits for keeping fish and the laws for fishing with a license.  While the majority of those participating were under the required age for a fishing license (15), volunteers found the event to be a great opportunity to inform parents and children on license requirements and public access rules.

Take Kids Fishing La Crosse (66)

“Take Kids Fishing Day is the perfect opportunity to educate youngsters on the benefits of fishing,” said USA National Events Coordinator Tim Bindl. “It’s also a great way to show families the abundance of public access opportunities available in their own communities.”

Boots on the Ground programs such as this are great examples of the USA’s conservation mission in action. The experience that the 150 kids gained during the event can positively affect and influence their preferences for and love of conservation and outdoor activities for years to come.

“Take Kids Fishing Events are perfect illustrations of what the Union Sportsmen’s Alliance is all about,” said USA Executive Director Fred Myers.  “Being able to reach a young population, as this event did, enabled us to make a lasting impression and hopefully inspire kids to be more involved in conservation.”

Click Here to See More Photos from This Event

To find out how you can get involved in local conservation projects, contact Tim Bindl at timb@unionsportsmen.org or 608-397-1023.

Wet the line.

April 17, 2013 in Tips

USA Staff

orvis.mon_400

When tying any knot always wet your line so as not to damage the line, like the Orvis Generation 3 Clear Intermediate Fly line pictured above. This will guarantee that the knot will maintain 100 percent strength.

 

Sharp Hooks

April 17, 2013 in Tips

USA Staff

hooks.tips_400_01

Keep your hooks sharpened for best results and fewer lost fish. Use an inexpensive hook file or an electric hook sharpener to touch up edges and points on spinner and crankbaits and soft-bait hooks, like the Bass Pro Shops XPS .

 

Organized Tackle

April 17, 2013 in Tips

USA Staff

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An organized tackle system, like the Plano Bill Dance 1234 tackle box pictured above, is the key to fishing success. Have the lures you plan to use readily available. Rods and reels are properly set up for the fishing you plan to do. Everything is prepared the day before your trip so when the time comes there’s nothing to do but fish!

The Fix It All

April 17, 2013 in Tips

Peter B. Mathiesen

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If there’s one item that every boater, angler and human needs, it’s duct tape. Keep a roll in the garage, the truck and especially the boat.  You can stop a hole in an aluminum boat, a plastic canoe, a pair of waders, and even form a comfortable cork handle on a bass rod after a puppy teethes on it. Just make sure the surface is dry before you roll the sticky stuff on.

 

Free of Fog

April 17, 2013 in Tips

Peter B. Mathiesen

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If you wear glasses, there is one thing you can count on in the outdoors—they will fog up. Fishing is equally frustrating, just try looking through misty glasses and a pair of fogged Polaroid clip-ons at the same time.

Well, there’s hope. All it takes are some simple household items like dishwashing liquid and a soft cotton cloth and you’re good to go.

Rinse your glasses in cold water. Take a liquid dishwashing detergent like Dawn, Joy or Palmolive and apply one to two drops on the front and back on your lenses. Grab a clean lens cloth or a very soft piece of cotton and polish until it’s streak free.  When you’re done, your glasses will be clean and won’t fog for five to six hours even in the most humid conditions.

 

Fly Rescue

April 17, 2013 in Tips

Peter B. Mathiesen

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If your flies or bucktail jigs are looking tired and tattered, you can bring them back to their fluffy past with 212 degrees of steam. Just fire up a pot of boiling water and grab an oven mitt and a pair of hemostats (pliers will also work). Hold the fly over the steam and you will be amazed at how the most matted, trashed fly will regain its shape and buoyancy.

Reel Rules

April 17, 2013 in Tips

Peter B. Mathiesen

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1. Don’t dunk your reel in lake water. Even clear lakes have sand and other particulate matter floating in the water.

2. Use an approved reel oil and grease and don’t use WD-40. It’s a beeswax-based lubricant that when heated will leave a very hard finish that’s brutal to remove.

3. Rinse your reels at the end of every day on the lake with tap or bottled water.

4. Less oil and grease is best. Jamming too much lubricant into a reel will just slow it down.

Vertical Fishing

April 17, 2013 in Tips

Peter B. Mathiesen

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One deadly summer and fall bass technique is to helicopter a spinnerbait against vertical structures like tall trees, bluffs walls, and bridge pylons. Bounce the bait off the structure, open the bale and let it drop vertically while maintaining line control. Watch for the slightest hesitation in the line, and set the hook. You can fish miles of wall structure in lakes and rivers that many anglers pass.

Match the Egg Hatch

April 17, 2013 in Tips

Peter B. Mathiesen

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One of the best places to find big trout is where salmon are spawning. Trout or char will lay behind a spawning bed to voraciously consume eggs as they float by. With hundreds of salmon often representing four different species in a river at the same time, it can be tough to identify exactly what kind of eggs the trout are keying in on. Usually the trout will choose the largest egg. So find the largest species of salmon and target a female. When the fish is brought to the bank gently run your hand down her belly and check the color and size of the eggs.  Match your fly or bait, and you’ll be in rainbow land in just a couple of casts.

 

Change Your Line

April 17, 2013 in Tips

Peter B. Mathiesen

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The next time you pick up a reel, ask yourself; How long has that line been there? Line that has been used regularly should be changed every 60 days. If your reel has been sitting in the corner all season, you need to change it at least once a year.  Fluorescent lights, temperature changes, and dirt and humidity will all shorten the life of your line.

Turning Green

April 17, 2013 in Tips

Peter B. Mathiesen

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Seasickness will turn a fun day on a boat into a miserable day of chumming your lunch into the water. Here are a few tricks to help keep the dreaded green monster at bay. Stay in the fresh air while the boat is underway. Stay out of the cabin, and don’t stare at the floor. Skip lunch. Drink more fluids (water, not beer). Use the horizon as your visual reference and avoid the boat’s exhaust fumes. You can also try a “Sea Band” www.landfallnavigation.com/-sms01.html or call your doctor for a prescription before heading on a salmon trip in the Gulf of Alaska.

Match the Crawfish Hatch

April 17, 2013 in Tips

Peter B. Mathiesen

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Take the guesswork out of which color and size crawfish to use with this inventive trick the bass pros won’t share by using a simple South Bend Crawfish trap. Stop at the local 7-11 on the way to the lake, and buy the cheapest, fishiest cat food you can find.   Walk several yards down the bank from the boat ramp, because it‘s almost always a rocky shore, set the trap and leave it over night. In the morning, pull the trap and see the color to size of the local crawfish population, then match the baits and get to work.

 

Rejuvenate a Gore-Tex Rain Jacket

April 17, 2013 in Tips

Peter B. Mathiesen

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Over time, your jacket absorbs dirt and pollutants reducing its ability to shed water. The jacket then starts absorbing moisture, preventing it from breathing.  Although it may not leak, you’re left feeling clammy and armed with the knowledge that you spent $250 or more on a premium raincoat that now functions like a rubber slicker.

To restore the garment, wash your jacket thoroughly with Sport-Wash from Atsko (the Snow-Seal guys). Don’t wash it in Tide, Cheer or detergents for delicate fabrics.Other detergents leave significant amounts of residue that impede the performance of the jacket. Once it’s clean, (wash it twice, if necessary) throw it into the dryer as hot as the manufacturer’s care label recommends. When it emerges from the dryer your jacket should perform like new. www.atsko.com; 800-845-2728

 

Spool Organizer

April 17, 2013 in Tips

Peter B. Mathiesen

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I used to let the extra spools that came with my new reels sit in the box unused. Now I take all the spare spools I can get my hands on and load them up with my favorite line and line sizes. Then I mark each spool with a Sharpie and store it in a plastic lure tray with dividers. This way fresh line of any size can slip on a reel in just seconds.

 

Stealth Fishing

April 17, 2013 in Tips

Peter B. Mathiesen

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If you spend much time stream fishing, learn to move slow, stay in the shadows and wear drab colors. Staying out of the sun will keep smallmouth and trout at the end of your line.

 

Save Money by Making Your Own Chum

April 17, 2013 in Tips

Capt. Gary Morin, IAFF 146

ring_island_175x175Chum is an effective and proven method of bringing in game or bait fish, but anyone who has paid for chum knows how expensive it can get.  So don’t pay for it.  After each trip, most saltwater anglers have leftover bait like partially frozen mackerel, herring, dead sea worms, defrosted sea clams and shrimp. Instead of discarding it or giving it away, grind it up as chum, freeze it in a Ziploc bag or sealed container and use it for a future fishing trip.  Hand grinders can be purchased at most hardware stores, bait suppliers and online.  You can get a grinder designed for bait or a relatively inexpensive grinder for making sausage.  I have a bait freezer and save all my discarded bait during the season and grind it down at the end of the season. When the mackerel run starts in the spring, I am ready to go.

Captain Gary Morin is the owner of Rings Island Charters in Massachusetts and is proud to offer USA members $25 off any charter service.  Click HERE to learn more. 

Successful February Bass Fishing in the Southeast

April 17, 2013 in Tips

Jamie Olive, IAFF 4103

haulin_bassFebruary is generally still cold but the fishing starts to heat up as the water begins to warm. When water temperatures crawl into the high 40s and low 50s, look for Largemouth (the big females that are full of eggs) to be on rocky points and rip-rap walls where the sun baked rocks make the water even a little warmer. These bass can be tempted into biting a variety of lures.

Spinnerbaits work well, especially in stained to muddy water. One of my favorite lures this time of year is a red/orange 1/2 oz lipless crankbait such as Strike King red eye shad. Retrieve the lure very quickly parallel to the rocky structure. This allows the bait to remain in the strike zone for the entire retrieve and entice a reaction strike. Jigs, shaky heads, senkos and Shad Raps are good choices as well.

Keep in mind that different parts of the country are very different; Largemouth are spawning in Florida and iced out in Minnesota in February. These tips are typical for my area of the southeast from Virginia to Georgia.

Jamie Olive is the owner of Haulin’ Bass in central North Carolina and is proud to offer USA members a 10% discount on all fishing packages.  Click HERE to learn more.

 

Swim Baits For Giant Fall Muskies

April 17, 2013 in Tips

Bob McNally

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Catching oversize muskies isn’t easy anywhere, by anyone. But if you’re going to do it, autumn is the time, as the big toothy predators are on the prowl chowing down for the coming winter.

Huge muskies are caught with many different style and action lures. But in recent years hand-made, meticulously hand-painted “swim baits” have scored high. Such baits perfectly imitate choice  muskie forage such as walleyes, perch, suckers and ciscos. Here are three hot ways to fish these remarkable lures for giant muskies.

1) Rock Reef Casting With Swim Baits - Noted Minnesota angler Ted Takasaki’s favorite late fall muskie tactic is casting “swim baits” over chunk-rock reefs as aquatic weeds die out. This is a weather-water transition period, and feeding muskies are looking for prey that has vacated weeds and headed to rocks for cover.

Ted prefers fishing rock reefs topping out 3 to 4 feet below the surface. He drifts with the wind, making long casts with the breeze. At times in blustery weather he uses a boat wind sock to slow his drift. Often a slow, tantalizing “swimming” bait retrieve triggers big fish best in unstable fall weather. But alternate swim bait retrieve tempos and speeds until fish strike.

A muskie crashing a big, fast-moving swim bait is a collision powerful enough to split the toe nails of some fishermen. And while big fish can hook themselves at the strike, it’s wise to make a hard solid hook set or two to drive big treble hooks home. Additionally, a powerful rod is needed to drive steel into a muskie maw. Most anglers use two-handed plug rods, most 6 to 7 feet line, with heavy braided line and top-quality steel leaders, snaps and swivels.

2) Inside Weed Edge Casting With Swim Baits - At times in muskieland, warm golden days of Indian summer occur, and that can be an outstanding opportunity to bust a big muskie, according to Chicago muskie ace Spence Petros. When air temperature rises well above water temperatures at such times, and while lake or river weed beds are still bright green in color, muskies commonly move to the “inside” edge of vegetation to chase forage fish. It’s a deadly set-up for casting lifelike swim baits that closely resemble perch, walleyes, suckers and other species.

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Long casts that keep a lure right on a weed inside edge are good, with snappy, erratic retrieves often deadly.

As fall progresses, weed beds begin to die and turn brown. Some muskie men mistakenly give up fishing weed beds, and move toward other structures. This can be a huge mistake, says Spence, as muskies and their prey species seek the few remaining still-green weeds, where they can be concentrated and are comparatively easy to locate and catch.

3) “Snake” Trolling Two Swim Baits At Different Depths - No tactic works better at finding muskies and making them strike than trolling. And few lures are better for it than modern “swim baits.” But thoughtful trolling is required for best results.

Choice locations for trolling are food shelf areas where a drop-off edge is located – deep water on one side, shallower water on the other.

To troll drop-offs most effectively for muskies, use two lures: a shallow-running “swim bait” on the less deep side of a trolling boat, deeper-running lure on the opposite side. A swim bait with a diving lip can be used for depth work, or rigging a bullet-weight or dog-ear sinker ahead of the lure will take it down.

During trolling, maneuver a boat back-and-forth across the drop-off edge in a “snake” type boat system. This pulls lures through all areas of a structure where muskies may lurk looking for prey.

 

The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance website is designed to provide valuable articles about hunting, fishing and conservation for members of AFL-CIO affiliated labor unions and all sportsmen and sportswomen who appreciate hunting and fishing and want to preserve our outdoor heritage for future generations. If you would like your own story and experience from the outdoors to be considered for our website, please email us atUSAmembers@unionsportsmen.org.

Bluegills Are Great!

March 7, 2013 in Fishing

M. D. Johnson

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I don’t care how old you are, or how long you’ve been fishing. There’s just something about watching that little bobber disappear under the surface – pencil bobber, red/white round bobber, high-tech quill bobber, Snoopy bobber…doesn’t matter – that just does something to a body. One minute she’s there; next, she’s gone. Or she’s skimming across the top headed, it seems, for the other side of the pond. It gets your heart racing, it does – or at least it should.

And there are few species as adept at tugging a bobber away from the surface as is the bluegill. Found coast to coast across the United States, bluegills are – and I think I’m safe in saying this – responsible for the start of more lifelong fishing careers than are Misters Zebco, Mitchell, and Pflueger combined. And, I should add, with good reason. Along with their ubiquitous distribution, ‘gills are willing biters throughout the whole of the year, eagerly devouring any number of live and artificial selections thrown their way. Once hooked, they give a dandy tussle, especially on light, or better yet, ultralight tackle. And speaking of tackle, ‘gill gear can be as simple or as complex as an angler wishes. Cane poles strung with eight feet of Old School braided nylon line and finished with a Aberdeen style No. 6 snelled hook – And let’s not forget that bobber! -  tipped with a hand-dug garden worm work incredibly well. So, too, can high-dollar graphite rods outfitted with the latest in reel technology, and rigged with 1/64-ounce jig so realistic, you’d think it was – well – real. And tablefare? To me, only cool water crappies can compare to a paper plate heaped with lightly breaded fresh-from-the-fryer bluegill fillets. Yeah, they’re that good.

Across much of the northern United States, March is a fickle time of year for fishermen. The safe ice of the past three months is, in many cases, no longer trustworthy, and the open water, what there is of it, is often so cold that it might as well be ice-choked. That’s not to say fish can’t be caught – they can – but rather that angling in, say, northern Iowa during mid-March can be a frustrating proposition. That said, and if it’s early Spring ‘gills I seek, I’ll head south of the Mason-Dixon Line to waters in Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia and the like. Here, year-round warm water allows bluegills to grow big. And grow they do, with one-pound bulls not being uncommon. Personally, though, and if cornered to make the dreaded one place ‘n one place only type of decision, mine – fortunately – would be relatively easy – Reelfoot Lake.

Located in the northwest corner of Tennessee, this shallow – 5-1/2 foot average depth; 18-foot maximum – 18,000-acre natural lake was formed by a series of violent earthquakes during the early part of the 1800s; quakes so strong that the Mississippi River literally ran backwards, and in doing so, filled an immense sinkhole with river water, thus creating Reelfoot Lake. Known perhaps moreso for her premier crappie fishery, Reelfoot supports an incredible population of big-as-your-hand bluegills and, unbeknownst to many, one of the country’s finish still-water channel catfisheries. March typically heralds the kick-off of the bluegill season, so to speak, on Reelfoot; however, the fishery gets nothing but better as Spring gives way to Summer.

Bait ‘n Tackle

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Baits and tackle employed on Reelfoot can, and quite successfully, be used elsewhere across the country, and, as mentioned earlier, can be either as simple or as complex as one wishes. Live bait enthusiasts will, I believe, agree few offerings can match the effectiveness of crickets when it comes to targeting big ‘gills. Lightly hooked underneath the collar – a ring of tough exoskeletal material located just behind the insect’s head – on a #6 long shank bait-specific hook, crickets are traditionally fished below a small bobber around cover, e.g. stumps, standing dead timber, or emergent vegetation. Small (2- to 3-inch) redworms or garden worms can also work well, nationwide; so, too, can larval baits such as waxworms or mealworms.

Artificial presentations can be extremely effective for ‘gills, particularly on larger fish. The key to using artificial baits for bluegills is to remember one simple word – small. And slow, where slow refers in most cases to the speed at which one works the lure, be it jig, fly, spinner, or down-sized crankbait. Among the artificials, tiny jigs – 1/32- or 1/64-ounce – are perhaps the most popular, with one of my favorites being an elemental leadhead festooned with silver mylar (tinsel), and wrapped lightly with red thread. Called the Mighty Mite, this minnow imitation works well not only on ‘gills, but for crappies, yellow perch, trout, white bass, and the occasional channel ‘cat. Good choices in artificials for ‘gills also include tube and/or marabou jigs, inline spinners, e.g. Mepps or Panther Martins, and diminutive crankbaits like the Rat-L-Trap Tiny Trap, or the Mini Fat Rap by Rapala.

And let’s not forget the fly-fishermen, who can, when armed with a good 4- or 5-weight fly rod, a selection of No. 2 tippets, and a flip-top box filled with poppers, hopper imitations, two-inch streamers, ants, spiders and bees.

Overshadowed, perhaps, by freshwater superstars like walleyes and largemouth, bluegills are more than capable of holding their own, both at the end of the line as well as on the table. And let’s be honest here, eh? There’s still that excited feeling that comes over us when we watch bobber disappear, now isn’t there?

The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance website is designed to provide valuable articles about hunting, fishing and conservation for members of AFL-CIO affiliated labor unions and all sportsmen and sportswomen who appreciate hunting and fishing and want to preserve our outdoor heritage for future generations. If you would like your own story and experience from the outdoors to be considered for our website, please email us atUSAmembers@unionsportsmen.org.

Gear Up For Fishing Season

February 25, 2013 in Fishing

By David Hart

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Fishing season may be a few months away, but it’s time to start thinking about your first day on the water. Why not? Winter may seem to creep along now, but before you know it, the numbing cold will be a distant memory, and the fish will be biting. If you aren’t ready, you just might spend that first day on the water fixing broken equipment, searching for missing lures and tools, and doing everything but catching fish. There’s no better time to get your fishing gear in order.

Get Clean

Centerville, Virginia resident Greg Matson spends a weekend in January or February working on his boat and tackle in anticipation of the upcoming season. He starts by cleaning his boat.

“I try to keep it clean during the season, but that doesn’t always happen. I go through all the storage lockers and take everything out and clean out the compartments so they basically look brand new. I wipe out all the little nooks and crannies. They can get gunked up pretty bad after a season of fishing,” he says.

A clean boat not only makes fishing easier, it will sell for more money when the time comes for a trade-in. Matson, who fishes an estimated 75 days a year in tournaments and with friends, trades in his old boat for a newer model about every three years.

Get Organized

After he cleans his boat, Matson then goes through all his tackle boxes and puts lures in their rightful place. He keeps dozens of containers, each with a specific type of lure, but sometimes lures don’t always get put back in their rightful place during the season.

“I do that before the season starts, too. I want to be able to open a box marked ‘lipless crankbaits’ and find the right color and right size without having to go digging for it,” he says. “I like having everything organized, right down to hooks and weights, pliers, measuring boards, everything I need to catch a bass or fish in a tournament. The less time I spend looking for something, the more time I can spend actually fishing.”

Straightening up your tackle collection and your boat also means keeping a trash can handy. Evaluate everything you touch, including your rods, reels, lures and various gadgets you collected the previous fishing season and ask yourself a few simple questions: Did you use it? Did it help you catch more fish?

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Matson will donate lures and even older rods and reels he doesn’t use anymore to a local youth fishing club. The rest goes into a trash can. Old lures and other tackle that were either broken, damaged beyond useful repair or just never used anymore get pitched.

Once Matson organizes his boat and tackle, he strips the old line off his reels and replaces it with fresh line. Prolonged exposure to sun can weaken monofilament and fluorocarbon line can weaken over time, as well. Line that stays on a spool for too long also develops a memory, retaining the tight curl during a cast. That reduces casting distance and accuracy.

“I wipe down my rods, oil my reels and if any of them are broken in any way, I’ll take them to a local rod a reel repair shop. You definitely want to get that done before fishing season starts,” said Matson. “If you wait, the repair shop will be backed up with hundreds of other broken rods and reels.”

Upgrade

Matson’s annual routine doesn’t just include cleaning, organizing and pitching obsolete, worn-out and broken gear. It also includes adding new stuff to his assortment of lures and gear. He keeps a running list of new things he wants to try. Then he makes a trip to a local tackle shop to stock up on those new items and an assortment of other gear he needs to get started.

“That way, I don’t have to make a run to the store half way through the summer because I ran out of a bait I use a lot,” says Matson

In other words, the start of a new fishing season is a great excuse to go shopping. First, get your gear in order and clean it up. Then reward yourself with a shopping spree at your favorite tackle shop.
The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance website is designed to provide valuable articles about hunting, fishing and conservation for members of AFL-CIO affiliated labor unions and all sportsmen and sportswomen who appreciate hunting and fishing and want to preserve our outdoor heritage for future generations. If you would like your own story and experience from the outdoors to be considered for our website, please email us at USAmembers@unionsportsmen.org.

 

Cold-Weather Striper Tactics

February 2, 2013 in Fishing

By Bob McNally
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The 40 mile per hour boat run across Arkansas’ Lake Ouachita to the striper school was frantic and wild. The air temperature hovered at 20 degrees. All anglers aboard were bundled in thick down parkas, ski gloves, stocking caps, and insulated hunting boots. The wind during the boat run drove through our crew like an invisible icy spike.

But soon we were at the place where birds squawked and dove at baitfish that flitted about on the surface. Our group of four anglers each fired lures toward the bird-and-bait melee, and quickly everyone’s rod bowed tightly as heavyweight striped bass struck and ran deep.

For 10 minutes there was total pandemonium. More boats of anglers roared up to join the action. Birds screamed overhead. Fishermen laughed and shouted instructions to each other. Reel drags howled. Outboard motors coughed. And several dozen striped bass were hauled aboard the boats.

Then the action stopped as abruptly as it began. Birds disappeared, anglers dispersed, and the cold tranquility of the lake resumed.

This kind of striped bass angling is called “fishing the jumps.” It’s well-publicized action as exciting as fishing gets. The targets are big, bruising striped bass that slam lures like freight trains, and fight like pit bull terriers shaking rag dolls. They’re also pretty darn good on a dinner plate.

“Fishin’ the jumps” is common on many freshwater impoundments throughout America where striped bass are found. But such fishing is not available year-round. It’s best during the coldest, most chilling months of winter, and it’s best appreciated by hard-core anglers who can handle biting wind and icy weather. Frequently, ice forms on rod guides, and reel spools freeze. Cold, wet ears, noses, toes and hands are common.

“Jump fishing” is regularly practiced from December through March or April on many of America’s better striper fisheries. The most consistently good “jump fishing” usually is found at daybreak, dusk and during overcast weather. Standard technique is to run to the upper reaches of a lake, and drift near river channel edges while watching surrounding areas through binoculars. Anglers look for diving gulls, which signal when stripers drive baitfish topside. Then fishermen run wide open in boats to birds and cast lures before bait and stripers sound and disappear.

Just because “jump stripers” are in schools doesn’t mean they’re not big. Many winter “jump” stripers average 5 to 12 pounds, but 20- to 30-pound fish are not uncommon on many waters.

Many winter “jump fisherman” use jigs almost exclusively.

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Experts commonly favor plastic-tail white or silver grubs or white bucktails in 3/8-ounce to 5/8-ounce models. At times birds reveal where stripers are holding, but the fish and bait do not come topside. This is when slow, deep jigging is mandated. For this kind of “striper prospecting” it’s often a good idea to tip jigs with live shiners, herring, shad or similar baitfish native to the water, since it aids tempting deep stripers into striking.

If linsiders are particularly finicky, nothing takes more stripers or bigger ones in winter, than live baits soaked deep. Anglers watch for gulls and run boats to them the same way as when “fishin’ the jumps.” But instead of casting lures, they shut down motors upwind of birds and drift baits deep, or move in quietly with electric motors.

Deep trolling with downriggers and live baits, plugs and spoons also is deadly mid-winter striper medicine. But waters must have a “clean,” uncluttered bottom (no timber or stumps) for the most effective downrigger work.

Stripers are common on many reservoirs or man-made impoundments throughout much of America. In such waters, winter stripers usually hold just off the bottom or suspend over river bed channels, sunken island structures, or in flooded timber. Sensitive fathometers are indispensable aids in finding prime deep winter striper structures, and allow for “seeing” fish, too.

Many winter striper anglers employ downriggers even when “fishin’ the jumps.” Often the smallest stripers are the ones churning the surface gorging on top-side “jumping” shad. Often the biggest stripers are deep, under small fish. Getting a lure through small linesiders to big ones can be difficult. But trolling baits and lures deep and under the little stripers with downriggers is deadly effective for heavyweight fish.

Water temperature is a major influence on striped bass location. Stripers are most active in the 50 to 65 degree range, which is common on many open-water impoundments during winter.

During the coldest months of winter, forage-fish schools actively seek warmer water temperatures. For this reason, there generally is an “up-reservoir” movement of bait schools because headwaters of most lakes are the shallowest, and therefore warm quickest during favorable winter weather conditions. Too, headwaters of many reservoirs have a constant influx of comparatively warm river or spring water – which bait schools seek for survival.

Naturally, where bait goes, so follows stripers. So during winter, the mouths of major feeder creeks in the “upper,” more shallow regions of reservoirs are outstanding places to catch linesiders. Mid-winter stripers frequently are found lurking below massive bait schools that have migrated to headwater regions of reservoirs. In creek coves, slow trolling with downriggers, drifting with live baits, and vertical jigging are all productive. It’s important, however, to imitate the forage fish present as closely as possible – not only to color, but size as well. If baitfish are 3-inch long shad, for example, silver, deep-body lures of that length invariably produce not only more stripers, but bigger ones, too.

In the coldest months of winter, it’s common for baitfish schools to migrate into very shallow creek arms, often in water just a few feet deep. The bait moves into creeks seeking warm water, which is heated by sunny, mid-day temperatures. Early winter and late winter days that may reach into the 40s, 50s or warmer, are prime for stripers.

Stripers are reluctant to move into such shallows during bright, daylight hours, however, since they are among the most light-shy of all gamefish species. But during low-light conditions, stripers can be counted on to migrate into the shallows where they’ll gorge on hapless schools of warm-water seeking bait.

Keeping a sharp eye out for dead or dying baitfish is a key element in locating big winter stripers on many waters. Sometimes in winter threadfin shad in impoundments die by the thousands due to cold winter water temperatures. Anglers who fish areas of reservoirs where shad are dying en masse commonly enjoy some of the best action of the year for outsize linesides. Frequently, the shad and stripers are found in water less than 10 feet deep.

Naturally, the shallower the water the more likely it is that prime fishing will be had during low-light conditions. Live shad fished with a split-shot and cork float can be deadly for stripers in areas where shad are stressed and dying from cold water. At times, anglers can dip net dead baitfish and catch stripers with the dead baits. Usually the baits are best when drifted deep, off points and other structures near where the forage species are found dead. Slow-trolled, shad-imitating plugs (Shadling, Shad Rap, Cordell Spot, Rat-L-Trap) lightweight white marabou jigs (Lindy’s Fuzz-EE-Grub is a personal favorite) also are favored by many anglers when working areas where shad are dying.

 

Give The Gift Of Fish Attractors This Christmas Season

January 3, 2013 in Fishing

By Bob McNally

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Through the years my family has built our public waterway dock into an unparalleled fish haven by enhancing it with Christmas trees. Once each year we have a post-Christmas “dock day,” where we lug from 20 to 40 Christmas trees down and sink them using ropes and cinder blocks. We’ve been doing this annually for more than a decade, and it has turned my dock into one of the most sure-fire panfish magnets I ever flipped a jig under.

It’s important to check with local and state officials to learn the legality of sinking cover, especially in public, navigable water. In effect you’re creating freshwater reefs, but some laws are peculiar, and in some areas you may have to go to the trouble of requesting permits for sinking brush. It’s allowed on the reservoir where I live.

Christmas trees are ideal for building my sunken panfish castles because I can get a lot of them in a very short time. Fir, pine and spruce trees rot quickly once sunk, but I don’t care because there will be plenty more the following Christmas. Between Christmas and New Year’s Day, most people take down their trees and put them out front for garbage collection. Neighbors know I want trees and put them aside for me.

Be sure to wear gloves for this work, as Christmas trees are full of messy sap. I collect several dozen trees and deposit them near my dock for later sinking. I wait for a cool, clear, calm day, then get all the help I can from family and friends.

Sinking trees is quite simple, but there is some planning and time involved. You’ll need a sharp knife or two. Have plenty of sturdy, 1/4-inch diameter rope. I like real hemp, which eventually rots away, compared to nylon that will outlive me when discarded in water.

I’m fortunate to have neighbors who love giant Christmas trees, which is great, as one 14-footer is quicker and easier to sink than a pair of 6-footers. Sometimes, with giant trees, cutting them in half facilities the labor of handling, roping and sinking them.

While almost anything heavy can be used for tree and brush anchors, I prefer whole, large building cinder blocks. I’ve bought them from building supply stores, but I’ll use dozens during my annual Christmas tree sinking party. So I visit construction sites before the designated tree sinking day. Invariably there are damaged cinder blocks and usually a polite inquiry will lead you to all the broken, unusable blocks you’ll need.

While it’s proved conclusively that the higher profile a “reef” is made, the better it is for fish habitat, I sink Christmas trees so they are level on the bottom. I don’t want Christmas tree tops sticking above the surface, since it can be a boat hazard. More importantly, I don’t want to advertise I’ve sunk brush to every angler casting the waterway.

To sink trees horizontally, I securely rope a cinder block at each end of a tree, and two people slide it horizontally off the dock, where it settles quickly to the bottom. With huge trees, it often takes three whole cinder blocks to sink them fast, which is important because I don’t want trees drifting away from the dock. I want a tree in an exact spot so I can located it easily for fishing. Sometimes with a short tree, small brush clump, or tree top, I’ll use a single cinder block, tie it to the big base of the cover, then send it down. I work hard to sink trees tight to dock pilings, beside wooden cross supports and under pier planking. These are places sportfish ordinarily congregate.

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In the frozen north, sinking Christmas trees and can be done very easily by dragging them onto winter ice. Make a pile of brush/trees, with lines and concrete blocks attached, then wait for the spring thaw to sink the cover. Be sure the spot you position brush on ice is where you want to sink trees when it thaws.

Every Christmas I think about how easy it was making brush piles with trees on the frozen lakes of Wisconsin, where I lived as a young man. But the extra effort of sinking trees in open water near my home is worthwhile because I can fish my dock cover 12 months of the year-confident that every time I cast a lure or bait a 2-pound crappie may be waiting.

The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance website is designed to provide valuable articles about hunting, fishing and conservation for members of AFL-CIO affiliated labor unions and all sportsmen and sportswomen who appreciate hunting and fishing and want to preserve our outdoor heritage for future generations. If you would like your own story and experience from the outdoors to be considered for our website, please email us atUSAmembers@unionsportsmen.org.

 

Choose The Right Fly Rod

January 1, 2013 in Fishing

By David Hart

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Choosing a first fly rod can seem like an impossible task thanks to the endless combinations of brand, length and weight. However, settling on a rod that suits your needs is really no more difficult than choosing any other fishing rod, says Richmond, Virginia Orvis sales associate and former fishing guide Dale Huggins.

“I use the golf analogy. You can’t really play a round of golf with just one club, and you can’t expect to catch every type of fish on just a single rod,” explains Huggins.

You can, however, get by with a decent multi-purpose fly rod that will deliver a tiny fly to a trout or a bulky popper to a bass. But just as you wouldn’t use a 9-iron to send a golf ball down the fairway, you wouldn’t use a 7-foot, 4-weight rod to cast a giant streamer to a tarpon.

Before you start shopping, here’s an explanation of those numbers:

Weighty Matters

Rods with a higher weight rating will weigh more simply because they tend to be longer, thicker and stouter, but that number has nothing to do with the actual weight of the rod. Instead, the number equals the weight in grams of the first 30 feet of a specific fly line. The rod, in turn, is built to match the weight of that line. A 5-weight line, for example, should be used on a 5-weight rod. The rod’s weight rating is a good benchmark for the size of the fish you plan to target. The smaller the rod’s weight number, the smaller the fish. A 3, 4 or 5-weight is standard for trout and panfish while a 7 or 8-weight is best for bass and smaller saltwater fish. A 9 or 10-weight works well for larger saltwater fish and big, strong freshwater fish like salmon or muskies.

“A lighter-weight rod like a 4 or 5-weight will be less powerful than a 10-weight, and you will have a hard time casting a big, bulky fly on a light rod, and you’ll also have trouble fighting and landing a big fish on a light rod,” says Huggins.

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The Long and Short

The length of the rod is just as important as its weight rating. A long rod will deliver more line farther than a short one, but don’t assume you need the longest rod available. Fly fishing, trout fishing in particular, is often a matter of finesse. Dropping a fly in a pocket of water the size of a tea cup can mean the difference fish and no fish. In some situations, small mountain trout streams, for example, a typical cast might be 20 feet, even less. A long rod won’t provide any major benefit in that situation and it may end up preventing your from making accurate casts. Overhead limbs have a way of reaching down and smacking long rod tips. A shorter rod will prevent that. Fly rods designed for tight quarters come as short as six feet, but a 7-foot or even 7’ 6″ rod is a good all-purpose trout stick.

Big water like a western trout river, a bass lake or even the ocean demands a longer rod for the mere fact that it can cast a fly farther than a shorter rod. You’ll sacrifice a little accuracy with those longer casts, but distance often matters more than finesse on bigger water. A 9-foot rod is a good all-around length for big, open water, but some anglers favor a 10-footer.

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The longer the rod, the heavier it will be and the more energy it will take to cast it. Although a 5-ounce rod may feel like a feather in your hands, it might feel like a sledgehammer after a long day on the water. Of course, if you’ve chosen the right rod, you’ll be too busy catching fish to notice.

Free Advice

Still confused? That’s okay. Jumping into anything new can be a bit intimidating. That’s why a trip to a local fly shop can help cut through the confusion. Buying a rod through a shop that specializes in fly fishing may cost you a little more up front, but the expert advice you’ll get will be well worth it.

 

The Union Sportsmen’s Alliance website is designed to provide valuable articles about hunting, fishing and conservation for members of AFL-CIO affiliated labor unions and all sportsmen and sportswomen who appreciate hunting and fishing and want to preserve our outdoor heritage for future generations. If you would like your own story and experience from the outdoors to be considered for our website, please email us atUSAmembers@unionsportsmen.org.