Saturday, March 28, 2015

Falling Water Prompts Tourney Director's Call for Early Weigh-In

That's the way today's second event of the 2015 season ended for the eight boats and 13 anglers who had entered the competition. Fishing started at the scheduled 7 a.m. but was terminated three hours early by yours truly at 12 noon, after watching the water fall throughout the morning, capped by a 4-inch fall in a 40-minute period.

First-place finishers in the shortened day were these anglers (from left), Allen and Al Napier. They had a five-fish total weight of 7.97 lbs. and a big fish weighing 2.32 lbs.

In second place after weigh-in was this duo of (from left) Paul Celentano and Sid Ryan, who had a bag of five fish weighing 7.43 lbs., with a big fish tipping the scales at 2.50 lbs.

Big-fish honors today went to this man, Ronnie McLaughlin, who weighed one that went 2.63 lbs. His total weight for three fish was 5.80 lbs.

Walking away as winners of the mystery-weight drawing was this team of (from left) Jeremy Gatewood and Mark London. Their total weight for two fish was 4.14 lbs., which was closest to the 2.65-lb. tab that was drawn.

That brings me to a final matter I must address in this forum. I need to recognize a team who, through no fault of their own, never received my call for an early weigh-in. The problem was that their cellphone somehow had gotten shifted to silent mode, which, of course, rendered my repeated dialings and voicemails null and void until it was too late.

I'm talking about this team of  (from left) Mike Miller and Chris Fretard, who finished the day with what would have been a hands-down first-place award for a five-fish limit weighing 13.80 lbs., with a kicker fish that went 6.50 lbs.

My sincere apologies go to these two proven anglers for the unfortunate circumstances that kept them out of the winner's circle today.

As it ultimately worked out, there was enough of a wind shift that occurred shortly after weigh-in to cause the water to start coming back in. As is usually the case, however, that fact only proves, once again, that hindsight is 20-20.

Before closing this entry, let me also recognize the remaining anglers who showed up for this morning's cold start in blustery conditions. Here is how they finished:

     * The team of Bob Glass and Randy Conkle, two fish, big fish 2.60 lbs., total weight 4.82 lbs.
     * Steve Bailey, one fish, but chose not to weigh.
     * Chris Carmell, chose not to weigh.

Overall, a total of 17 bass were weighed today, for a grand total weight of 30.16 lbs., or an average weight of 1.77 lbs.

For planning purposes, our next event is scheduled for next Saturday, April 4, from safe light (about 0630) to 1430. Registration will close at 0600.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Devil's Horse: It Began as a Broom Handle

That's right--Jack S. Smithwick's first Devel's Horses, later renamed Devil's Horses, were carved out of old broom handles his wife had around the house. The year was 1947, which makes this lure a mere youngster by antique lure-collecting standards.

A salesman with a Shreveport, LA, business-machine company at the time, Smithwick started carving these handcrafted lures as a hobby. He would pass them out to customers to set himself apart from other salesmen.

Mrs. Smithwick eventually grew tired of Jack taking her brooms and banned him from the kitchen. He subsequently started buying wood from a nearby lumberyard and went to work carving his lure designs in the garage. By 1949, word-of-mouth advertising was bringing anglers to his door with requests to purchase his lures.

Recognizing the potential business opportunity that existed if he could produce greater numbers of his lures, Jack purchased a wood lathe from Sears and Roebuck Company and moved his new business into a shop garage. The Devil's Horse was the first mass-produced lure made with this equipment.

Because most anglers were using level-wind reels, Smithwick first designed the Devil's Horse as a heavier, slow-sinking lure, to make it easy to cast with these reels. When spinning and spincast reels came along, he started turning out a lighter, floating model of his now locally popular and productive lure.

The growth of the Smithwick Lure Company is legendary. From its humble beginnings in the family kitchen in 1947, to its sprawling facilities today, the lures have become favorites of generations of anglers nationwide.

They're the go-to choice during largemouth prespawn in the southern states. Bass fishermen in Florida ALWAYS have a Devil's Horse tied on during the prespawn. Likewise, it's popular in the northern states for its legendary ability to attract prize smallmouths throughout the summer and fall.

The key to the Devil's Horse is the slender minnow profile and an action that lets you create maximum surface disturbance without moving the lure out of the strike zone. Fore and aft props create resistance with every twitch, so anglers can work the bait longer at the edges of shoreline weeds, near wood cover, along the edges of docks--in short, anywhere fish are holding.

Few topwater propbaits are as legendary as the Smithwick Devil's Horse. The unique buoyancy of handcrafted wood, combined with the props fore and aft, mimics the commotion of a fleeing shad and makes it one of the most effective bass topwaters in history. The lure creates tremendous topwater commotion with each twitch of the rod, but the props keep it from moving away from the strike zone.

The continued development of new Smithwick lures, new colors, and the latest in lure-finish technology is a tribute to the foresight of Jack K. Smithwick. The standards he established for quality, value and performance are attributes anglers have come to know and expect from Smithwick lures for more than six decades.

Smithwick Lure Company was sold to PRADCO in 1991.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Warmer Weather Making for Some Bang-Up Action

It's not the same everywhere, and it may not last, but in at least a few spots, some anglers are starting to lay claim to braggin'-size catches. I talked to a couple of anglers in a johnboat at West Neck yesterday who only had one bass to show for their efforts. And Taylor, who is Steve's new weekday attendant at the store, said she hadn't talked to anyone yesterday with a good report.

However, my ol' reliable kayaker buddy, Charlie, had one heckuva report from his day yesterday on Back Bay. He launched out of Nawney's Creek and posted a total of 35 bass and 7 pickerel. His best five bass included one that weighed 2-7, two that weighed 2-3, and two that weighed 2-2. His best pickerel tipped the scales at 2-12.

Said Charlie, "I caught a lot of fish on back-to-back casts, and there were even a few instances when I caught 'em on three and four consecutive casts." What was his best lure? That's hard to say, 'cause, according to Charlie, "They were hitting anything I threw in the water."

By the way, I checked a little earlier this afternoon and found that Charlie still hadn't posted a blog entry on his day yesterday. Ya' gotta consider all the editing that's involved from a trip like that, though. I would urge you to be patient, 'cause he'll get it posted eventually. In case you don't already have it, here's the link:

Charlie also told me about an email he had received from a couple of his fellow-kayaker buddies of their day on the water yesterday, as well. One caught four bass, weighing 6-3, 4-5, 3-2, and 1-4. The other had three bass, weighing 4-6, 3-5, and 2-2.

The one friend said he also had had hold of a big fish that smashed his lure and then ran under his kayak. "My rod was actually bent underneath the yak, and I only had about a foot of rod and reel above the water," he said. "At that point, he threw the lure, or the hook came dislodged. Gave me shivers thinking about how much that fish might have weighed."

Charlie's friend went on to say they caught their fish on wacky worms, shallow-diving minnow lures, and chigger craws on jig-type lures. He concluded by saying, "We hit them all within a short period of time, in an area covering about 400 yards. When the wind hit, everything stopped. Water was clear, with visibility about 3 feet. Water temp on my buddy's fish finder said 55 degrees, but it's an in-hull transducer, so not sure."

He Invented a Wiggle the Fish Couldn't Resist

I'm talking, of course, about Lauri Rapala, who, in 1936, in Finland, carved a lure out of cork, wrapped it in tinfoil from cheese and chocolate, and covered it in melted film negatives as a cheap alternative to lacquer. That lure is what we know as the original floater.

Available today in at least seven different sizes and 20 or more different colors, the original floater can be found in many anglers' tackleboxes. It's reported to be the best-selling lure that Rapala makes and, possibly, the best-selling in the world. Further, it holds more world records than any other lure.

When retrieved, the original floater swims with a tantalizing action that mimics a wounded baitfish. Lauri designed it this way after watching the behavior of minnows and fish in lakes near his home as a youth in Finland. His observations revealed that an injured minnow, when swimming with an odd wobble in a school of minnows, becomes the target of larger fish looking for an easy meal.

Legend has it that Lauri sometimes caught 600 pounds of fish a day with his new lure. As news of these abundant catches spread, so did the lure's reputation. And as they say, the rest is history.

Fishermen around the globe began catching more and bigger fish with the original floater, and it soon became clear the reason was the lure's unique wiggle and wobble. Accordingly, Lauri tested each lure to make sure it lived up to its billing. Even today, Rapala baits are hand-tuned and tank-tested to ensure they swim perfectly straight out of the box.

With the growing popularity of the original floater, it became abundantly clear that the whole Rapala family would have to pitch in to keep up with the increased demand. Lauri's sons learned to make the lures and soon became so skilled that his son, Ensio, won a national craftsmanship award. The same son also invented a machine to help mass produce the lure.

Even with mass production, though, there have been times when it was difficult for Rapala to keep up with the demand for their products. Take, for instance, when their shad rap made its debut on the fishing scene in 1982.

Word of its amazing fish-catching ability spread so fast that tackle shops all across the country sold out overnight. Resort owners and mom-and-pop operations started renting shad raps by the day--even some by the hour. And more than 30 years later, it's still one of fishing's most successful lures.

Rapala takes great pride in the fact that so many fishermen put faith in their lures. It's a confidence that encompasses 140 countries and is validated each year by the 20 million Rapala lures that are sold.

As Rapala officials noted, "Our products make better fishermen. Nothing rushed to market but carefully crafted from years of experience. No shortcuts. No gimmicks. No flash in the pan, next greatest things. It's a legacy of unwavering quality...a legacy that continues with new offerings of more lures, new actions, new sizes, new colors, new finishes, new tools, new accessories, and new ways of catching more fish.

"The sweet smell of success lingers long after the scent of fish slime fades. Tens of millions of walleye, trout, bass, wahoo, snook, and tarpon later, Rapala continues to stand the test of time. Through the industry's ups and downs, through the coldest cold fronts, through it all, one simple truth has endured: That which is irresistible to fish will always be irresistible to the fisherman," the officials concluded.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Still Catching Fish of All Species After More Than a Century

The lure holding this yellow perch appears to be
a Daredevle. The angler, Jack, is a Navy retiree
and former fellow magazine editor from the
Naval Safety Center. I gotta believe he's
enjoying his new place on Kerr Reservoir.
That's the story of the Daredevle spoon, which is billed as a lure that has caught more trophy game fish than any other in history. It's design was the handiwork of its creator, Lou Eppinger, who spent a month in the Canadian wilderness in 1906, hammering out a 2-ounce spoon with a thin body and thicker edges.

His unique design enabled the spoon to wobble from side to side without twisting the line. When he was satisfied with his creation, Eppinger returned home to Detroit, MI, and quickly introduced local anglers to his black-and-white Osprey. And thanks to ads he placed in Outdoor Life and Field & Stream magazines in 1918, production soon soared from 1,000 units a month to 50,000.

That same year, the Osprey was renamed Dare Devil, which was inspired by allied pilots and their dipsy-doodling dogfight techniques of World War I. To avoid conflicts with religious folks, however, the spelling was changed in 1920 to what we know today--Daredevle. Simultaneously, the devil-head logo was added.

"Often imitated but never duplicated" certainly applies to this bait. Said Karen Eppinger, current owner and grand-niece of the original owner, "What keeps us on the map is the action. Our lure has more action than the imitations. The metals we use are far superior."

The quality of the paint used on Daredevles also is unequaled. Each one receives between five and seven coats, some of which are applied by hand. Paint quality and the process by which it's baked into the metal explains why the paint job on each Daredevle is guaranteed for as long as the lure is fished.

With 17,000 different lure-and-color variations involved, you might expect the Eppinger Lure Company to be a big operation, but it really isn't. The factory consists of only 15 employees, each with more than 20 years on-the-job experience, and all supervised by Karen, who, incidentally, ties squirrel hair and feathers by hand to more than 100,000 lures a year. In the winter, she packs nearly every shipment. When Karen's daughter, Jennifer, isn't doing the books, she's putting split rings on spoons. And John Cleveland, the director of marketing--he also spends time in the paint booth. The employees of Eppinger Lure Company give new meaning to the term "cross-training," because, you see, each one can do any job in the factory.

Everything at Eppinger is still done the "classic way"--by hand, by people who have worked a long time at their jobs. About the only thing that has changed is the company's markets; they've gone global. Their biggest increase in recent years was in Russia, where the Moscow-based distributor started "ordering tons" for Russia's pike, salmon and big-fish waterways. Internet access also has accounted for some of the boom, with Germany, Denmark and South America joining Italy and Japan as big customers.

Oh, and if you consider one physical move in the last 100+ years as a sign of instability, I guess that might be a lone detractor. That move occurred in the late 1950s, when Lou Eppinger's nephew, Ed, relocated the plant to Dearborn, MI, from Detroit. Karen, however, has no plans for any future moves. "We'll never leave Michigan as long as any member of my family is alive," she said. "Lou and my dad would haunt me."

Monday, March 23, 2015

Technology Addiction: Are You a Victim?

Seems like everywhere you go nowadays, people are busy with their high-tech gadgets. It doesn't matter if they're driving, walking, shopping, out with friends, having a meal in a restaurant, waiting in a doctor's office, or even going to the toilet. Whatever the activity, they're connected electronically but disconnected from physical reality.

One fella asked this owner if he could see what was ahead of
his boat with this setup.
And, as I learned from research over the weekend, the same is true of the bass-fishing industry. Some pros and weekenders alike have been so bitten by the "electronic bug" that they can't resist adding more technology to their fishing arsenal. They are running around, in some cases, with as many as four or five big-screen fish finders onboard their boats, with all of them energized at the same time.

One bass fisherman passing another on the water said he glanced over at the other guy's rig and saw four units lit up. Know what the other guy was doing, though? Simply running a stretch of shoreline with a spinnerbait.

In another case of a pro with four units on his rig, he admitted that he routinely gets beaten in tournaments by fellas fishing with only two units on their rigs. And to top it off, this same guy was taking issue with the fact his son had convinced his grandparents to buy him an expensive set of LEGO blocks, then had the nerve to ask if they would buy the companion set as well.

The icing on this cake came when I found a couple of online discussions about the fact that officials now are starting to consider limiting the amount of electronics allowed for use in bass tournaments--just to "even" the playing field.

"Technology addiction," as some are calling it, is becoming so widespread among both adults and children that some insurance companies are beginning to cover treatment for it. I have to wonder if those "brains" who "thunk up" all this modern techno-mumbo-jumbo ever considered the possibility that it might one day, for lack of a better phrase, all come back to bite 'em squarely in the butt. Wouldn't be the first time that a blessing, for lack of safeguards, became a burden, or worse, a curse--now would it?

Another term being bantered about by some for this growing problem is "technology servitude," or the loss of personal freedom and independence because of uncontrolled consumption of many kinds of devices that eat up time and money. Victims never stop to question whether their quality of life is actually improved by the incessant use of technology products that are marketed more aggressively than just about everything else.

According to one researcher, "Those who think interactions with people through technology devices are the real thing have lost their sanity. Technology limits and distorts human, social interactions. Worse yet, people have lost their ability and talent for actually conversing with people face-to-face... ."

Consider these findings: A group of university researchers found that half of a study's participants reported checking their email once an hour, with some individuals checking it up to 30 or 40 times an hour. Another study revealed that 59 percent of PDA users check every single time an email arrives, and 83 percent check email every day while on vacation.

A 2010 survey found that 61 percent of Americans (even higher among young people) say they are addicted to the Internet. And yet another survey reported that "addicted" was the term most people use to describe their relationship to technology. Further, people had a harder time resisting the allure of social media than they did sex, sleep, cigarettes, and alcohol.

A final study found that 44 percent of cellphone owners sleep with their phone next to their bed. Worse, 67 percent had experienced "phantom rings," checking their phone even when it wasn't ringing or vibrating. The only piece of good news was revealed in the fact that 37 percent, up from an earlier reported 29 percent, of cellphone owners felt they could live without the device.

So what are people doing to break out of this trap? One family I read about said that, for the past five years, they have gone on vacation in a small Nebraska town of only 200 people. "While the phone barely has a scant signal, we don't have cable, Internet, Netflix, or any other tech stuff that can possibly get in the way of our quality time together," said the father.

Their adopted vacation activities include drives in the countryside, games, food, and fishing--but not from a boat with four or five big-screen fish finders. They simply fish from the bank with little baits like beetlespins, releasing most of their catch but occasionally keeping enough for a family fish fry.

The crucial questions here are twofold: What is a healthy use of technology devices? and Who is really in charge of my life? That's what people need to ask themselves if they want to have a chance to break the stronghold of technology on their lives. When you're able to live happily for a day, a week or longer without all those electronic devices, you once again will become the master, instead of the servant, of technology.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

I Can See Clearly Now

Yes, I know that's the name of a tune. However, it also describes the way I felt after researching and writing the blog article I just finished on George Perry and his world-record bass. Suffice it to say this experience has been a "dose of medicine" I really needed.

Here was a guy who shared not only an old homemade boat with his friend, but also his only rod and reel--even taking turns using it with his friend. And when he caught that fish of a lifetime, all he got for it, if I can believe what I read, was $75 from a big-fish contest he entered and a handful of freebie lures from the Creek Chub Bait Company.

There was no glitz or glitter, no fanfare, nothing but continuing the life as a farmer he had known up to that time. Hardly seems fair--you know what I mean?--even considering the fact it was during the Great Depression.

Then, I happened across an article written by bass pro Charlie Hartley, and some things he said got me to doing more thinking. He was talking about one of Dewey's best buds, ol' Woo Daves, the 2000 Bassmaster Classic champion. Charlie noted that Woo always pointed out in seminars that the surest way to catch a bass is with a simple Texas-rigged, straight-tail plastic worm. I can attest to that fact because I personally have sat through some of Woo's seminars.

Charlie then went on to say, "Too often, we (professionals) convey the idea that you have to have a lot of fancy--and expensive--tackle to catch bass. Even worse, we sometimes leave the impression that, without all the latest professional techniques and tricks, a trip is doomed. Why bother to go at all?"

Charlie was "spot on" in that statement, too. In one seminar I sat through several years ago, Woo Daves and Guido Hibdon both happened to be speaking, and I'll never forget one thing I listened to Guido specifically tell everyone in the audience. He said, "If you can't afford the best fishing equipment on the market, you might as well find something else to do, because you'll never be any good at it." At that moment, I lost any respect I might otherwise have had for that dude, got up (along with a lot of others), and walked away.

As Charlie acknowledged in the first of his two articles I read, "Sure, it's great to be a pro and treat this as a business. No one can deny the thrill of fishing for big bass on big water while chasing a check. Neither can anyone deny that high-end tackle and equipment are nice things to have, indispensable at my level, but that's not the case for most anglers. It's possible to have a good time and still catch bass, without busting the family budget at the local tackle store or knowing every trick in the book. We need to keep that in mind."

"Good on ya! Charlie," I was saying after reading that first article. "You, like Woo, at least have your head where the sun DOES shine."

Did I suffer a letdown when I read Charlie's second article? In a word, NO! Actually, anything but. You see, a friend had invited Charlie to join him for a Friday trip to a local bass lake that had a 10-hp limitation on the outboards. Charlie agreed, not knowing (neither did the host) that it was a local free-fishing weekend. The lake that Friday was covered with boats of all descriptions.

Was Charlie or his friend disappointed? Again, NO! Said Charlie, "Watching them fish was a real experience. They were having fun. It wasn't about competition, or money, or much of anything else. It was about laughing, giggling and feeling the pull of a big 'un on their line."

Charlie and his friend enjoyed themselves so much that, when the friend asked if Charlie would fish an open tournament on the lake with him the next day, he agreed without so much as blinking an eye.

"It was refreshing to see people fishing a tournament for the sole purpose of having fun," Charlie noted afterward. "They were trying to get away from their jobs, not working at them. That attitude carried through to the weigh-in. Sure, there was disappointment, but it wasn't the same. The stakes were nowhere near as high."

As it turned out, members of Charlie's old fishing club were on hand that day, helping carry fish from the scales for release back into the lake. Naturally, they all had a million questions for Charlie, and he answered every one of them.

"I told them what I could," he remarked. "What I didn't tell them, though, was how much I envied them."

In my opinion, there's a lot of good to be said for people like Charlie Hartley, Woo Daves, and George Perry. They have added meaning to the sport, as well as to the lyrics of that tune I used as the title to this piece. In case you're not familiar with the tune, here are the lyrics, as composed by Johnny Nash:

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone,
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It's gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright)
Sun-Shiny day.

I think I can make it now, the pain is gone
All of the bad feelings have disappeared
Here is the rainbow I've been prayin' for
It's gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright)
Sun-Shiny day.

Look all around, there's nothin' but blue skies
Look straight ahead, nothin' but blue skies.

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone,
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It's gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright)
Sun-Shiny day.