Keep up with all things, outdoors, with Big Billy Kinder...
The weatherman lied…again! The wind, they said, would be gentle-northerly at about 5 mph. After I made the 90 mile drive and launched the boat in the dark, the breeze picked up a bit, more like 15 to 20. It was one of those days where the waves would lift the front end of the boat so high that the trolling motor would spin in the air before plunging deeper than I wanted in the water. The north wind carried cold temps too. I woke up to calm and 62, and by 8am it was knee-knocking shivers with a wind chill in the 20’s. I did throw in the insulated rain jacket and that helped out a bit. The shorts that I wore did not. It was April and the crappie spawn should have been in full swing. Under typical conditions, I would have eased the boat around in 4 to 6 foot water, vertically jigging standing timber and caught my limit of 25 crappie within a couple of hours. These cold blasts just kept coming in the spring of 2021-one per week. Perfect spawning water and conditions for 3 days, north wind and cold moisture for the next 3. The fish never really “patterned”. They just kinda went with the flow of things. I’m sure that some spawned out in 10-14 foot water and others in less than a foot.
On this particular day, the north wind didn’t kill the bite, but I certainly had to work for my fish. The bois’ d’arc tree jungle gave up one fish in 6 foot water. A trusted brush pile in 12 feet of water yielded a few more. The bridge was holding some fish in 12 to 14 foot depths. Moving the boat was cold, wet and time consuming. I caught my 25 keepers but not in a couple of hours. This took all of the morning and half of the afternoon. Patience was the key.
I love the part of fishing that requires some thinking...trying to figure out where they are and how to get them to bite. Now I’d rather not do it with numb hands and cold tears running from my eyes, but it worked out. It would have been a lot more comfortable to load the boat at 7:30am and head out for a hot breakfast and home, but the fish fry wouldn’t have been nearly as good. I’m not patting myself on the back or saying ”look at me”. I’m simply pointing out the fact that many times, the guy in deer camp that comes back with the venison is not necessarily the best hunter in camp, but the one that will be patient and wait it out longer.
My wife, Robin, and I were fly fishing a beautiful stream some years back. This place was loaded with rainbows. She studied a short, shaded stretch of the little creek and spotted 6 trout. She patiently worked the less than eager fish for what seems now like half a day. Robin never spooked them and patiently delivered her fly to each individual fish again and again until she had held each one in her gentle hand. I don’t remember what her fly was that day, but the magic ingredient was patience.
They say that patience is a virtue. Ol' Daniel Webster says that a virtue is “a beneficial quality”. Yep. If our kids learn to possess the power of patience, not only will they experience better hunting and fishing successs but better relationships, careers and lives too. Ecclesiastes Chp 7 Verse 8 says, “The end of a matter is better than its beginning, likewise, patience is better than pride.” God, in His grace, is the definition of patience. As He watches (and He is) this sinful world circle round and round, He patiently waits to hold us, one by one, in His gentle hand.
May 26, 2021
With the virus popping up on every checkout counter, workplace and TV channel that you associate with, most folks have been looking for a way to space themselves from fellow humans. Depending upon who you listen to, there is either not as much to the COVID as first thought, or it’ll drop you in your tracks before the day is over. Heck, the Governor of California seems to think that you catch the COVID by attending church. From the sound of things “out there” your best bet for a healthy tomorrow is to get in line with a mass of protesters and then tear down a John Wayne statue out at the airport. I personally like John Wayne. In fact I’m a big fan. Sometimes when I’ve had enough of the panty-waist politicians and street-gang thugs on TV, I flip it over to the Duke. It’s refreshing to watch him smash a bad guy’s face into a tree. Of course, that was back when folks knew the difference between right and wrong, good and bad. Hit a cop on the head with a stick...bad. Run an outlaw's face into an old oak...good.
If you’re not into protesting, looting or burning cars, you might try fishing. A lot of people have so far in 2020. One of my friends in the fishing industry recently told me that in the spring, the fishing business was up 200 percent! Wow! What church burning and window busting are for gun sales, the virus is for fishing poles! People put their masks on and went to Wal Mart. They bought a rod n reel and a few bass lures or maybe some stink bait for catfish. Some put the stink bait on the new bass lures. Some bought those disgusting looking dead minnows in the shrink wrap. Some dipped the stiff dead minnows in the catfish bait before hooking them on the bass lures. All of the above is okay!! In fact, its better than okay, its wonderful!!! When folks made the gear purchases, probably without even knowing it, they made a contribution to conservation. With that fishing purchase, they actually made America better and they didn’t even have to turn a police car upside down on the sidewalk. They proudly held that new fishing rod upside down, they reeled it backwards, they threw those brand new lures high into trees or over high line wires, never to be thrown again.
So…put the mask back on and now that you’re an experienced angler, go to Bass Pro Shop. You might pass out when you round the corner and see all of those glorious lures. You can buy stink bait by the bucket at BPS! You can even buy a shirt that makes you look legit, until you throw that new $18.00 Whopper Plopper up there next to the Wal Mart lures. At some point through dogged determination and countless casts, it will happen. Your bass lure will be firmly affixed to the mouth of a game fish, but like my late and wise friend Ray Sasser once said “it’s you that will be hooked” and you couldn’t be “hooked” on anything better than God’s great outdoors. It’s a wonderful side to a terrible virus, people are getting outside. Getting away from the news channels, honey-do’s, computer screens and frozen pizzas. In Minnesota there is an explosion in teens buying fishing licenses-TEENS! In fact, state after state are reporting big license sales. Do you have yours?
Let’s get started…
A 5 to 6 foot, lightweight spinning rod and reel combination or spin cast rod and reel combination. Less than $30 at Wally World. Small pan-fish hooks, bobbers and weights or sinkers. About 5 more bucks.
A box of worms. Couple of bucks unless you run into some COVID worm price gouging. From the bank of any creek, pond or lake, pinch off a small portion of worm, just about half an inch. Thread it onto the hook that is 4-6 inches below the weight, which is about 8 to 12 inches below the bobber. Cast to within a few feet of rocks, logs, boat docks or any kind of shade or structure in the water. When the bobber swims off or goes under, lift the rod tip and turn the reel handle at the same time to set the hook and reel 'em on in. There ya go! Your hooked!
Clean your fish. Yes, you can. Watch YouTube videos on how to fillet (boneless) or traditionally clean (bone in) your fish. Very simple. Wash the meat thoroughly. Bread your wet fish with cornmeal, salt and pepper mixture and place the fish in a deep fryer or hot skillet. (I fry my fish in a deep fryer at 355-360 degrees) It doesn’t take long. TIP: In a deep fryer, when the fillets float I give em another minute or so then pull them out.
Smile big at the dinner table, tell BIG stories to the family! YOU…are a fisherman. YOU have disappeared into the wilderness with rod in hand and reappeared at the dinner table with delicious fish. YOU…are something else!
C’mon, it’s the latest hot trend that doesn’t require you to sleep on a city street in Seattle or try to bust the CNN plate glass with your skateboard. (bettin that dude regrets that move) Really live it up on your radical journey to the neighborhood pond and tell someone Merry Christmas, Back the Blue or God bless John Wayne!
July 17, 2020
Before we get started, this is not a one size fits all crappie fishing guide. Your water in Florida may only be five feet deep. Your crappie in Minnesota may not know what standing timber looks like. We all live in our own little world, welcome to mine.
The calendar is slipping into middle May now and in Texas, that typically means the crappie spawn is nearly or completely over. If you will pay attention to the annual patterns that fish and wildlife follow, you can get closer to them and on occasion enjoy them on the table. This is true for all of God’s critters, but I’m zoned in on the crappie right now-zoned in for several reasons, not the least of which is dinner.
In the annual crappie chasing cycle, there are blocks of time. Predictable blocks when you know pretty much where the majority of the fish are located, and they are in that area in big numbers. There are also unpredictable blocks of time when the fish are scattered and can be tougher to find and capture. Predictable blocks of time are spring and summer. In springtime when the water temp hits 62 degrees or so, here the crappie come! They are headed for the shallows to make an investment in your grandchildren’s fishing future. The waves of crappie coming in and hanging out in shallow (10 feet or less) water can last for a month to six weeks or so. (notice all of the “or so’s…all of this can shift some from year to year) Typically, the very shallow water will hold male fish tail-fanning nests or protecting fry. Yes, the big females can be found there as well, but they move in to spawn then back out to slightly deeper cover, back in to spawn more eggs, out again deeper, five to ten foot water.
The spring spawn is a great time to impress the family with a big string of crappie and maybe even make the cover of “Wow! What a Fisherman” magazine. I fish a particular cove that features great shallow shoreline spawning cover.-reeds, brush etc. Within thirty yards of that shoreline is standing timber-two or three acres of timber. Drifting a jig or minnow just a few inches deep under a bobber in the shallows can catch a lot of fish! It’s the perfect time of year for the shore angler. Bigger fish are out there a little further, though, in those trees. Ease through the trees with a nine foot or longer pole to keep your distance and work a small jig from top to bottom and all around each tree stump. Recently, I caught all of my fish nine feet deep in ten foot water. The very next morning they were two to three feet deep in the same water. Typically, you will find a single fish on a tree, sometimes more and rarely a bunch…but it does happen.
Another predictable time is hot, hot, hot summer. A good fish finder on your boat and the knowledge to read and use it come in real handy! Side note…I know a fella that has spent many thousands of dollars on fish finders, always coveting the latest and greatest, but has never taken the time to learn how to properly use any of them. If you look at the simplest sonar units and don’t know what you’re looking at, throwing money at it will not increase your knowledge. It doesn’t take two or three thousand dollars to see fish on structure. There are great units for just a few hundred bucks out there these day: side and down imaging, sonar and gps technology for small money (small money for fish finder world anyway).
Okay, back to the fish. If you will spend your time doing homework with your fish finder, it will pay dividends in fillets! When the sun is high in the summertime, we like shade and air conditioning. Fish do too-boat docks, deep brush, timber, channel drops etc. The docks are obvious, the fish finder points out the other spots. In the midst of a Texas summer, I will usually find my crappie in eighteen to twenty five feet of water holding tightly to a brush pile or on standing timber. This time of year if you catch one crappie, drop your jig right back in the same exact spot and at the same exact depth and you're likely to catch another one, and another one and another one. When the bite slows on your jig, try a color change…sometimes that will fire em up again, or at least trick a few more. If you are concentrating on submerged brush, fish it completely. Even though the brush pile may be ten yards long, the crappie will hold in one or two small areas of the pile. If you are fishing standing timber, the shady side is key, so are limbs that produce shade. A big ol' narly limb or even better, a collection of limbs 20 feet deep in hot summer is a great find. It will also steal a lot of your jig heads. Take plenty of tackle.
In the fall, as the water temps cool and change, so does crappie activity...find and follow the baitfish because the crappie are. This is the time of year that I pull out the trolling rigs. I switch from jigs to live minnows and rig them on a weighted double minnow rig. Get up in the creeks and look for the baitfish. Set your rigs to troll at a depth towards the bottom third of where you are seeing bait. In other words, if the bait balls are averaging 5 to 8 feet deep in 12 feet of water, I will troll my minnows at 7 to 8 feet deep. Crappie feed upwards and will feed from under the ball of bait. I will either drift or use the trolling motor to slow troll my rigs. This is my least favorite way to crappie fish. My rods are in holders mounted to the boat, so I miss feeling the “thump”. You can still find large concentrations of fish but they are mobile, not “set up” on timber or brush like they were in spring and summer. You can be catching them pretty good one minute, and have absolutely no idea where they’ve gone the next. Like I said, fall is not my favorite time of year to crappie fish, but here is the good news. They taste the same!
There is a transition from spring to summer and summer to fall. These are the more unpredictable times to find and catch crappie. Big concentrations break up and individuals start making their way along the crappie trail. They are tougher to locate or catch great numbers at this time. Think about this. If you have a 20 mile commute to work, I have a good idea where you are between 8am and 5pm. I also have a pretty safe bet about your location between 6pm and 7am. However, it would be really tough to pinpoint your location from 7-8am and 5-6pm. But wait a minute…if I can do my research and find out where you like to stop for coffee, I can set up on a spot like that and intercept you during travel time. Same with crappie. They don’t leave point A with point B in mind and swim non-stop. They have waypoints along the trail that are good for resting, feeding, hanging out with other crappie and sharing the latest crappie news. These routes and stopping points remain the same year after year and generation after generation. That is unless flooding, drought or other related occurrences change that habitat. A mess of crappie may take a little longer and a little more “work” in these unpredictable windows, but it’s doable.
Winter-go deer hunting. It’s probably killed many a strong angler...trying to find crappie in the wintertime. It’s a little known fact that crappie dissolve in cold water. Crappie dust settles to the bottom of the lake and lies dormant until the first buds on the dogwoods bloom. Magically, God then calls the crappie dust to take shape and swim again. You ice fishermen are great people, but similar to duck hunters...a bit off-kilter. I’ve spent time with you. I’ve seen how you go about your crappie obsession. Dragging an auger where only weeks ago a very fast motor zipped you around in the comfort of your boat, beverage in hand. Now, you are drilling and drilling and drilling and moving and drilling and hoping and moving and drilling and hoping some more that there is a crappie under the next hole in the ice. Here’s a tip. Freeze a few in the summer and eat them in the winter. My version of ice fishing involves reaching into the garage freezer.
I hope this little outline helps you out season to season and that you become proficient at posing up for the magazine covers, websites and tv shows.
May 14, 2020
We've been locked up in our homes while making only the most necessary trips. We've Lysoled everything, a dozen times. We've watched the coronavirus news nonstop. Looks like we will be living this way for a while. A trip to the lake is wonderful therapy. An emotional band-aid. Even so, we can’t afford to let our guard down there either.
The Game and Fish folks in North Carolina have come up with a short list of recommendations for boaters. They are...
...maintain your distance at boat ramps and fuel docks
...avoid using boat ramp docks while other people are on them
...no beaching your boat right next to someone else
...no rafting up-keep your distance on the water
All good recommendations and I will add a couple of my own...
...if you are a shoreline fisherman, please don’t fish from the boat ramp docks-They are essential for boat passenger loading and unloading
...keep the hand sanitizer, bleach wipes and plastic gloves on the boat
...only boat with members of your household
...avoid all unnecessary contact with others
Spring turkey hunting carries new concerns this year as well. No long trips in the enclosed cab of a vehicle with members of a separate home but only with members of your home is not only a great idea, but possibly lifesaving.
Hunt solo, do your own calling. Don’t share calls, camo (especially face masks) or equipment. Common sense. (if solo hunting or boating be sure to leave an emergency plan with loved ones…where you are…time you should be back etc.) It’s a good year to skip the mouth calls and stick to your slates, boxes etc. Your hands back and forth to your mouth right now is not a good thing.
Once we have settled into that quiet cove or leaned up next to that tree in the turkey woods we can finally relax a little. Just be diligent.
April 16, 2020
I hear that song about My Favorite Things around Christmas time each year. Some ol’ boy named Richard Rodgers wrote it back in the 50’s, then Julie Andrews made it famous in “The Sound of Music”, which I am proud to say I’ve never seen. I have, though, turned the volume up on the radio and listened to the lyrics of the song. That part about crisp apple strudel always conjures up a picture for me. I’m not a Broadway guy. Not much of a movie guy. I probably can’t name 5 show tunes with any confidence and that they actually came out of a show. In fact, I’m having trouble getting to two right now. But, ”My Favorite Things” kinda got me to thinking. We all have favorite things or situations that we cling to a little too much or dwell on while we should be thinking of more productive efforts. But what the heck, it’s okay to idle away a few minutes here and there I guess. You’re doing it right now, so, in no particular order...
The thump that you feel in the cork handle of a good crappie rod. The force with which a crappie sucks in a small jig is actually strong enough from 18-20 feet deep to send a vibration up the line to the rod tip and then to your hand that triggers a reaction in the brain, to send the thump back down the line and set the hook in ol spec’s mouth. All of this takes place in about 1 second. The thump is absolutely one of my favorite things.
Good dogs on point and birds that hold tight. It is amazing to watch what God put into a bird dog. The indwelling drive to hunt game birds. I’ve watched ‘em for years running at ¾ speed through dusty, windy, dry, rainy, thick cover. Meadowlarks, sparrows and chee-chee birds of all sorts popping up and flitting away as the dog runs, but he gives them none of his attention...none! Not even a glance, but 1 single molecule of scent from a quail, pheasant or grouse makes the dog flip back-end over front and land with a hard stop! Head and tail high, smoking the pipe. The dog breaths scent in with his nose, exhaling with his mouth which in turn makes his cheeks puff out and back in...giving the impression of a pipe smoker. Many times, a covey of bobwhite quail will hold tight on a snowy morning, so will early season young birds that have never met a birddog before. Walking up to that view will always be a favorite.
A big bass jig swimming from that shallow little pocket that you threw it in to. You know it didn’t come to life and start swimming on its own. No, a bass has that jig in her mouth and she’s headed for deeper water with her prey much like a dog will seek out a private spot to enjoy a treat. You “catch up” to her with your reel, then set the hook like your name is Klein, Brauer or Evers! Oh, what a feeling and favorite.
Any fish on a topwater bait. Matters not if its sunfish on a little popper delivered by your fly rod or a big 6 inch walking-bait targeting bass. When the lightning fast explosion occurs, that very second is on my favorites list. You want to see it again and again, the feeling never grows old! You could do this all day, but the sun climbs higher and the topwater bite dies off. Special moments reserved mostly for short periods of time and then left to bounce around in your mind while you should be listening to the preacher.
Pre sunrise in the pasture or on the lake. The temperature drops another degree or two as if the night is tightening its grip on your world not wanting to let go. The first birds of the morning, outside of chuck willows will or an old owl, start to make their presence known. Faint light begins to creep into your surroundings like water seeping into a marsh. The sun’s not officially up yet but is steadily working on it and is precisely on time, the same today as it was on that first morning when God put it in motion. The world is waking up around you. Barely visible are a couple of deer. How did they get there! I’ve been watching so closely, every second! It’s like they grew straight up out of the ground. Unseen turkeys lightly yelp from the roost and get more vocal as they fly down. In the stillness of pre-dawn you clearly hear the flapping of their wings and they depart the tree limb for breakfast. The slow gentle ride across quiet water to a favorite fishing hole with red and green lights leading the way. Trying not to spill your coffee as you go, you have just enough light to see “feeding rings” on top of the water, raising your expectations and thinking about that trusty old “Pop R” that you tied on last night.
Two-lane blacktops and worn dirt roads, especially those that you’ve never travelled before. Wonder and excitement, looking at new country and looking deeply for the flash of a white tail or a summer herd of elk. Snow topped high places in June. Ripe Montana choke cherries growing wild along a public right of way or wild West Texas sand plums in a pasture, ready for picking and making jelly. An old dry goods/grocery store from a bygone era that somehow manages enough business from area farm families and wide-eyed adventurers to keep the lights on. A winding Ozark farm to market road that leads toward the farm, not the market. As it leads you across the creek for the 3rd time, you catch a glimpse of a flock of eastern turkeys running up into the thick southern woods.
A crackling fire. The fireplace on a chilly winter’s evening, reading old Gene Hill stories for the 15th time. Maybe it’s a hot bed of coals with fresh logs popping on top, circled by satisfied hunters after a day in the field. Some facing the fire with glowing faces and cold hands extended, palms out, others warming their backsides with hands stretched backwards. Someone’s telling a story. You’ve heard it before and know the ending well, but the moment is so agreeable that you in quiet eagerness give it your full attention. The story is good, but so is the thick blanket of quiet that follows that laughter.
Smells...fresh gunpowder in the air on a clear blue morning, fish on your hands, spring flowers in the turkey haunts, smoke from the last pipe that exists in deer camp.
Time, places, experiences, tools of the trade, some people, well-mannered dogs. What was that?? Sounds. Peach pie in summer and my old Ruger Red Label 20 gauge. Just a few of my favorite things.
February 6, 2020
As I sit here at my computer deep into January, my thoughts more and more every day are filled with budding trees, gobbling turkeys, flowery banks along the lake, 60 degree water and jigs! I guess it’s my favorite way to bass fish. Flipping a big ol’ football jig with a proven trailer into a likely spot that just might hold a photo op! My only double digit bass came on a big jig. The video loop in my mind is still vivid. Murky muddy April water less than a foot deep. I know of a place where the creek channel runs 6 to 8 feet deep with a brushy flat that runs about 15 or 20 feet wide from the edge of the creek to the shoreline. That flat is 2 feet deep or less. It was that flat that I was targeting with a ¾ ounce football jig, dark skirt and watermelon/red rage craw. The water was too stained to sight fish, or visibly locate bass on spawning beds, so I was flipping the big jig close to the bank and slowly hopping it, inches at a time toward the creek channel where I would let it tumble down.
Big females will visit the shallow spawning bed to lay eggs, then move out to the deeper channel nearby, and revisit the bed, or even another nearby bed to lay again. On one particular pitch I landed the jig within a couple of feet of the bank. Hopped it back slightly 2-3 times, and then it happened. The visual that all jig fishermen are familiar with. My line started swimming out towards me. A large percentage of the time the fish will swim with your jig towards deeper water. Along the way she is trying to crush the meal in her mouth while she goes. In other words, she’s likely gonna hold on to it for a bit. A fast reel is necessary. Many times you’ll need to “catch up” with her or reel up your slack line before setting the hook. When I did set the hook that day and the fight began, I quickly realized that this was a new experience for me. I had never felt that “setting the hook in a stump” feeling that I’d heard about with giant bass before, but this was it.
When I set the hook, she didn’t turn, but she did shift gears and pulled the nose of my boat lake-ward. I always use 55 lb braid so breaking off wasn’t likely. When she surfaced I looked into a mouth that was similar to the top of an oversized coffee can. The big 3 pound can. I was alone, so I did the netting myself, and the weighing (10.3), and the photography then released her to finish her springtime chore. Away swam the only 10 pounder that I’ve ever seen on the end of my line.
Since that day there has been one other that might have broken the magical mark, but I never got my hands on her. After a short fight, she came up, shook next to the boat and threw my jig. But I had seen a mouth like that before. She was quality. Sometimes, its swimming line, sometimes you can visibly watch the spring spawner pick up your bait, sometimes you flip that jig into a bush and the whole thing shakes or the grass in the lake moves, the water swirls from a mighty tail doing a 180 to pick up your jig! It’s an exciting way to bass fish. Jigs are certainly not a spring only option, they work well all year, but for me in the springtime the flipping stick is in my hands more than any other weapon. I can safely say that the biggest majority of my 5 to 8 pound largemouth have come on a jig.
Set up your plan now, in January and February. Look at lake maps for ideal spawning areas to target. Go get a heavy backbone 7 ½ foot flipping/pitching rod and a quality reel that a giant fish won’t strip the gears in. It is truly a shock when you feel the strength of a BIG bass. A fast reel is crucial, 7:3 minimum. Practice in the back yard and get good at hitting small targets 20-30 feet from you. The before mentioned coffee can is a perfect pitching target.
*Keep an eye on the water temp. 60 degree water is the number that I watch for. Bass will start thinking about moving shallow at 55 degrees, 65 degree water is game on!
*The bigger females will spawn first. I don’t know if it’s a pecking order or a metabolism thing or what…but they do.
*As mentioned before, the females won’t spend all of their time on the nest or bed. Try running a chatterbait in nearby deeper water as well. I like a chatterbait that mimics a sunfish. Sunfish are bass egg eaters, and bass will attack them in defense of the nesting area.
*Send me a picture! www.bbkoradio.com
January 22, 2020
Often, I fish with a buddy as a co-angler. Trips in my boat are much easier, because loading my gear over to another guy’s vessel is much akin to inventory week at Bass Pro Shops. You at this very moment might just have a “yep, I know” look on your face. Sometimes we are fishing a tournament, and I want all of my “tools” at my disposal. Spinning gear, rods with various backbone and tip. Heavy flippin' stick, medium weight for throwing lighter weight baits and a truckload of medium heavy rods rigged with various ready to go baits; we are just getting started. My tackle bag weighs somewhere in the neighborhood of fifty pounds. It’s like carrying a bale of alfalfa hay with you all day when your in another guys boat. He, rightfully so, is using all of the storage space because he never misses a sale at the local bait n tackle store either. So…there’s Bertha the bag. Smack in the middle of everything and surrounded by eight rigged rods ready to go.
Sometimes it’s a fun trip. Just fishin'! You meet your buddy on the dock as he motors in toward you, all the while explaining "how the large-mouth had been schooling for forty five straight minutes and would eat a lug nut if you threw it in their direction. Never seen anything like it…had to leave em to come get you.” Fun trips are easier. More like moving from a small apartment rather than a six bedroom three story. Here are a few common sense ideas for fishing from the back of the boat for fun and tournament fishing.
On a fun trip, think convenience-Convenience for yourself and your buddy. If everything you bring has three sets of treble hooks, the boat captain is gonna get sick of taking you to your hang-ups. Unless there has been an incredible crank bait bite or jerk baits are the only way to catch em right now, I lean towards single hook setups from the back of the boat. Your gonna hang up, it’s just a part of fishing. If you’re not fishing where the junk is, you’re more than likely not going to catch them. But, single hook setups cut the numbers waaaaay down. I think top, middle, bottom (water column) and bring one rod and reel for each depth. I take along a spinning rod with 10 or 12 pound fluorocarbon for drop shots and finesse stuff in case of a tough bite. I include a bait cast setup with 12-14 lb mono for search baits. Typically a spinner-bait or swim-bait. A second bait cast setup has heavier fluorocarbon, 14 lb for flipping creature baits into flooded timber, shoreline habitat boat docks/houses etc. With this mentality, I’ve now dropped from 6 or 8 rods to three. I’ve also left Bertha at home and now carry three bait boxes. A spinner-bait/chatterbait/swim-bait box, a finesse box with small terminal tackle and a worm box with bigger soft plastics, hooks, weights etc. Nothing you borrow will fit you better that your life vest. It’s the one you have confidence in and it’s important to bring it. Snacks, a couple of bottles of water…good to go.
Things change when you are fishing the back of the boat in a tournament situation. The thing that you need the most is the easiest and lightest thing to pack...knowledge. Homework is key. Previous tournament results, successful seasonal patterns, your boater's preferred techniques, the weather forecast and lake knowledge-all important pieces of a winning strategy. With that said, a lot of gear goes along with it. Baits that have had success on this body of water, the rigs that will fish them properly, rain gear, top middle bottom baits to match your boater's preferred areas (where the trolling motor goes, you go). Time and the thrifty management of it may be the difference in cashing a check and posing for pictures. Rods rigged and ready are big time savers. A half dozen on the deck. A pattern emerges during the day on a bait that you’d never have suspected…good thing you brought Bertha along…”cause I know I have a couple of those in here somewhere”. You’re gonna need your stuff. New backpack and specific to co-angler bags are on the market now that allow you to carry a ton of stuff (if not all of it), lunch and a few drinks in them. I use one of the new backpacks that allow me to stow my big bait boxes vertically rather than Bertha’s horizontal option, cutting storage space down to the floor between my seat and the front deck...perfect co-angler option. I can also lift and carry this backpack with one hand instead of needing both, meaning one trip from the parking area to the boat. One of the greatest discoveries that I’ve made is a lunch idea. Uncrustables! PB and J sammiches!!! Pre-made, individually wrapped, compact, crust trimmed away just like mama used to do it, time savers, sealed edges to prevent grape jelly on the carpet, delicious and perfect for boat or blind! And….they taste great.
Manners are another item that takes up no space but gets you invited back. Less is more, pack light. Pay for the gas, it's expensive to run all day or two. Bring the ice. Be handy with the net for your boater, back the trailer at launch and load. Offer up the Uncrustables...You're both gonna want several throughout the day. Share info without being a know it all. Pay attention to your boater. If he/she likes to talk…talk. If they don’t...shut the pie hole and fish. Cast to your water, it’s in the back like you, unless the boater invites you to forward cast. Don’t depend on the boater to supply your gear. Baits, culling clips, pliers, baits, rain gear, line, hooks, weights, towel, stuff...buy the big backpack!
June 28, 2019
Outdoorsmen and women are in a holding pattern right now. It’s mid-February and one of those "tweener" periods for much of the country. The cold fronts that rotate with the South winds make the fishing very unpredictable. The weather is still harsh in a lot of areas; in others, it’s just not comfortable enough to sit in the boat fighting the wind and catching little. It’s a great time of year to check your gear and set-ups for the approaching Spring. When the calendar starts to round the curve from winter to spring, it’ll all ramp back up...and quickly. When it does, I like to BE ready, not GET ready.
I spend a lot of garage time on the chilly windy days re-spooling reels for various applications: fluorocarbon for drop-shotting, clear water, deep cranking and other low line visibility needs, braid for the flippin and pitchin gear, and mono for most murky southern waters that I spend a great deal of time on. It's also time to check the tackle bags and reload terminal tackle needs: various hooks, sinkers, beads, rattles, bobber or weight stops, swivels and snaps, split rings, weights etc.
Finally, it’s time to reload on the baits that worked so well last year in those spots that you’ll visit again this year. I always make sure that I have a variety of soft plastics in watermelon with red flake for the closest (making it the most fished) bass lake to my home, June bug soft plastics for Florida waters, and small bait fish themed swim baits for my smallmouth trips up north, hard baits that were lost to deep water structure, overhead obstructions and shallow areas that I couldn’t reach with the boat. Hard baits with multiple treble hooks are predestined for loss. Snagged and stuck in an area that leads to broken line and with today's prices, broken hearts and wallets. What extremes would you go to to retrieve that $20 Whopper Plopper? For me, crank baits and golf balls are the same...I’ve never retired one from old age.
Top-water baits, hard swim baits, spinning and chatter baits...the list of off-season chores is truly endless but all part of the excitement. The first steps to landing that giant starts in the "tweener" time out in the garage. So, pour another hot cup of coffee, start undoing that big pile of treble hooked baits that have worked themselves into one big deadly ball and practice your pitching technique in tight quarters 'til it’s finally time to hook up to the boat. The Lord tells us to “Be anxious for nothing…” but it sure is tough just weeks before the shallow water spawn and gobbling long-beards!
February 17, 2018
There’s something peaceful about a cold day at the lake. Alone on the boat with God. The quiet still of winter on a calm cloudy day. This is the same spot that frustrated me so much last summer with ski boats and jet skis buzzing within casting distance of me. I fought constantly to keep my boat from wake washing right on top of my hole. A good drop off that moves abruptly from 14 foot water to 21. This ridge holds bass and crappie year round, but in the hot summer time it’s a slam dunk! Position the boat back a bit from the drop. Throw a six inch watermelon and chartreuse Zoom worm or a Strike King Rage Craw in the same colors up in the fourteen foot water. Slowly work it to the edge, and pay attention while it drops. It might be a light tap or maybe your line just starts swimming off to the side. It might even just stop dropping before it should. This is where the old adage “setting the hook is free” comes in handy. When in doubt, set the hook! This is a proven hang out and travel area for bass positioning themselves to ambush shad. The massive balls of shad seem to be here year round as well. Colder weather usually means working the baits slower or even dead sticking, meaning no movement at all. Cast, sink sit. Colder water means slower moving fish. Give them time and be patient. Its easier to be patient now, all of the lake rocking summer activity has stopped for a few months, heck, most of the fishermen stop coming after the temps drop below 60 or so. There might be a sail boat or two slipping along and kayakers taking advantage of calmer water, but for the most part it’s just you and God’s watchful eye.
There goes my worm! The line is swimming sideways! After a hook set that Jimmy Houston would be proud of, I bring in a nice sized crappie. Crappie are insecure little buggers. They can’t stand alone time. Even when tending a spring time nest of eggs, there will more than likely be another nest close by. They enjoy each other’s company and are most times in large groups. Time to slip the bass rod back into the box and pull out the crappie pole! Easing up on the drop off I keep a close eye on my graph. I’m looking for the change in depth, and a stack of fish. Crappie will look like a Christmas tree on your graph, or maybe a tall stack, like a tree stump. Bass will be singular many times. Once I locate the school, I’ll toss a buoy out about 10 or 15 feet on the downwind side. I’ve marked my spot, noted the depth of the fish, and now I’ll just feed 'em crappie jigs until I can’t take it anymore.
If your water doesn’t freeze up in winter, it’s still a great time to get out on the lake. Take plenty of hot coffee or cocoa, dress right and by all means stay out of the water this time of year. Your catch survives better in the live well. The traffic is gone and there’s no one sitting on the special spot that multiple boats race to in the summer.
December 7, 2017
The fourth Saturday in September each year is, as proclaimed by our esteemed leadership in Washington, D.C. back in 1972, National Hunting and Fishing Day. A day that celebrates several things. Not the least of which is...
NHF Day also celebrates...
We can blame a lot of things, not the least of which is technology advancement in the past 20 years...Instant entertainment right at our fingertips that has stolen a whole generation’s attention. Virtual whatever, replacing actual hands on skills from field to table. We can blame the usual suspects like lack of public hunting property, high cost of carrying out our hunting traditions (hunting trip related expenses rose 15% 2011-2016) and a shamefully high divorce rate. Yes all of these factors contribute to the decline and decay of wonderful heritage and tradition, but ultimately, we must horseshoe the pointing finger back around to ourselves. No matter how many dollars we spent at the DU banquet, or how many bass baits we bought last year, or contributions to great conservation efforts, if we didn’t spend at least one day taking and teaching someone new, we failed ourselves and drove a nail in the American hunters coffin.
I like the leadership that we now see from U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke. He is part of our heritage; he gets it and he’s working to make things easier for the next bunch coming along. He's attacking the Obama administration’s senseless, science-less attack on lead ammunition by punching holes thru the regulations that prevent us all from accessing many of OUR public lands. OURS! We can sit comfortably in our warm deer camps, enjoying God's blessings, creation and protein (keeping it to ourselves and grinning in our self satisfying little bubble), or we can actually do something to impact our grandkid's hunting and fishing opportunities.
Spend the money! Guided trips, product, essentials to hunting and fishing. It keeps the wild places wild when you do. Teach someone! It won’t take long. They will love it. You will too, and hopefully you will instill in them the desire to teach others as they move down life’s road. Vote! Educate yourself responsibly, and let's “drain the swamp”, as a famous billionaire has said, of those that hate the fact that you and I follow God's plan to be the head of the animal kingdom.
Enjoy YOUR National Hunting and Fishing Day! We are still the strongest voice and best friend that the wild things and places in America will ever know.
*U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Survey Preliminary Findings
September 21, 2017