Friday, July 22, 2016

Took My Topwater Tactics to Blackwater Today...

And logged a total of eight bass before heading back north. I decided to stop in Albright's for a while and picked up three more while I was there. My best four on the day weighed 1-1, 1-5 (pictured here), 1-7, and 1-10.

I used three different topwater baits to catch all 11 bass. They were slammin' the baits as readily between 1:30 and 2:30 this afternoon, as they were between 6:30 and 8 o'clock this morning. It was one of those days when you really needed to have a firm grip on your rod.

I'll be taking this weekend to decide what area along the North Landing will be my next test bed for these topwater tactics. I may only get in one pre-tourney day on the water this next week, depending on the weather predictions.

Rob Chatham and Craig Jones launched right behind me this morning and, as I later learned, spent a couple hours fishing West Neck Creek. Rob was hanging around the marina when I came in this afternoon and told me they boated a total of three bass this morning, including one that went a little better than 2 lbs.

And in my email this evening when I had a chance to check it was a note from Ron Ameika, giving me a digest of his fishing trip yesterday evening. Following a wee nap when he arrived home from work yesterday, he loaded up his kayak and headed to what he calls "No Name Creek." His tally on the evening was a 13-inch striper, four dinks on an XTS and a Whopper Plopper, which also yielded a 1-lb 4-oz bass.

Ron went on to say there was a chance he would get out this evening, too, but I haven't heard from him as of the moment. Maybe later.

As I thought, Ron did get in some fishing time today. He went to Milldam and Snake Creeks from 5:30 to 8:40 p.m. and found a few, including a nice 2-9 bass on a white Zoom fluke, as well as a 1-4 just before he quit at dark. While throwing a Whopper Plopper, he also picked up a couple of nice white perch. One measured 11 inches, and the other measured 12+ inches (see photo at right) and weighed 13 ounces.

Said Ron, "The heat wasn't too bad after 6:30 p.m., especially coupled with the slight breeze that was blowing." He also said he's going back at 5:30 in the morning to see if he can find a few more white-perch fillets.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Skinny Fish, Big Reason

By Bob Lusk

Sometimes, things are not always as they seem. As biologists, we sometimes get locked into a comfortable little box and miss something when we hear the same questions over and over.

A fishing pond manager from Odessa, Texas, Larry Hensley has been a pond owner for years. His family ranch, outside Brownwood, Texas, has several ponds and a five-year-old 35-acre lake--not just any lake, mind you, but one that was well-thought-out and designed. Because he's a stickler for details, Hensley worked with a nearby fish expert to design, oversee construction, and then to stock the lake. He did it "right."

Biologist Bob Lusk and Bass Pro
Shops' Dan Hoy dissect the 21-inch
bass, looking for clues into its poor
body condition.
Hensley called world headquarters late one September with a problem. It seems some of his bass were "skinny." For the most part, he said, "The fish are healthy, but occasionally we catch a long fish that's exceptionally thin."

Normally, when clients say they are catching a few long, thin bass, it means they are catching bass on their last leg of life, old-timers in decline, but not in a five-year-old lake.

That Saturday in September when Hensley called, I asked him to put the fish on ice and send it to me overnight. He headed to the store in Brownwood the next day to buy some blue ice and a Styrofoam chest to ship the fish. While there, he happened to bump into the fish guy who had stocked the lake. He got a 30-minute dissertation on why his fish were skinny. Ordinarily, the information would have been right on... if you prefer "box" thinking.

"Not enough food, too much vegetation, need to harvest 'slot' fish" was the thoughtful fish guy's advice. However, he missed this one. Why? Because he stayed inside his comfortable box.

Photos force all of us out of our boxes. When questioning Hensley, I knew the majority of his fish were healthy. From his field notes, relative weights of his bass were decent. It was just an occasional fish that was abnormal. Keep in mind that a 21-inch bass should weigh more than five pounds in order to have reached 21 inches. When Hensley told me he had a 21-inch bass that weighed less than three pounds, I knew there must be an issue. However, I thought the issue was limited to several individual fish, rather than the entire population, since relative weights of other fish were normal. That's why I asked him to ship the fish.

My mission was to autopsy this fish and see if there was something obvious. If not, then I would have him ship the next fish straight to a fisheries pathologist to check for diseases.

I started by using a sharp fillet knife to open the gut cavity of the fish and cut it back to see what was going on inside the fish. As I made the first cut, the fish's stomach rolled out. It was packed tight. I cut the stomach and pulled out four soft-plastic baits, all in varying degrees of digestion.

This fish had had a fetish for soft-plastic baits and ate them. The baits effectively had blocked the fish's digestive system. It wasn't that this bass couldn't eat, because its stomach could certainly handle more volume. But, with its digestive system blocked, it couldn't digest and pass any of its natural food. Consequently, the fish was starving to death.

All its organs looked pretty good. Its liver was normal color, with a moderately low number of grubs. Its heart was fine. Kidneys were a little distended-looking. Its swim bladder was much larger than normal, taking up considerable room in the gut cavity, but that probably was because the fish was in survival mode and struggling to maintain its equilibrium, plus it had been in an ice chest for 24 hours.

Here is the fish and the soft-plastic baits that were found in
its stomach.
Bottom line: There was only one reason this particular fish was so thin. It had lost almost 50 percent of its body weight because it couldn't digest food.

Oh... there was one other pertinent fact. There wasn't a hook anywhere inside this fish--just four plastic baits.

When I called Larry and emailed the photos, he was amazed. He also said all those baits had started off as watermelon color. They turned that funky green inside the fish. He also told me he never throws used baits overboard. He did say it wasn't unusual to lose a bait when fishing--a fish often pulls the soft plastic off the hook.

While I am certainly not ready to call this a "problem" because of one or two cases, I do think it's wise to pay attention. For now, don't throw any soft plastics overboard. Toss them elsewhere for proper disposal.

Reprinted with permission from Pond Boss Magazine (

About the author. Editor Bob Lusk has 30+ years of practical field experience in the art of lake and pond management. He is a fisheries biologist with a bachelor's degree from Texas A & M University in wildlife and fisheries sciences, fisheries management.

My thanks to Charlie Bruggemann for bringing this story to my attention in the first place.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The All-Topwater Days Continue With Another Limit

There was only one keeper in the bunch, though, and it hit at 12:03. According to my scales, the bass weighed 1-15 (see photo right).

The INT bait was among the productive lures today (caught the fish in this picture on it, too). I'm still scratching my head, however, about how I came to lose one of my topwater baits (and no, it wasn't my INT).

I had hung the bait on a small limb of a laydown when the snap gave out. I mistakenly thought it would be a simple matter to ease over to the spot with my trolling motor and just pick up the floater. No such luck, though. The bait was nowhere to be found. I had two good looks but never did find the lure. I subsequently stopped on the way home and picked up two more of the bait I lost, 'cause the fish really were taking some healthy swats at it.

Besides the five bass I boated, a small striper started my topwater day.

All my fish came from West Neck Creek today. I figured I had proven I could regularly have successful all-topwater days in Albright's. Now I'm going to see if I can repeat that success in other areas along the North Landing.

Saw Rob Peppers and a partner I couldn't make out in the distance on the water. They were fishing from the boat my tourney partner, Rob Chatham, once owned. They were already gone when I came in, so don't have a clue what kind of day they had.

Despite being another scorcher of a day, I had a good time and didn't regret my decision to go for even a minute. I'm not real sure at the moment when I'll be taking my next trip. It will depend on the weather and how many things I have to get done this week. I definitely won't be going again either of the next two days because I have appointments both days. I might take a look at Friday, though.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Nobody Does It Better in Total Darkness Than Bass Fishermen

That's right--the 11 anglers in 7 boats on hand at 0-dark-30 for today's tourney all launched without any help whatsoever from Dominion Virginia Power. Seems last night's storms knocked out electricity to an area in Pungo, which included West Neck Marina, about 8:30 p.m., and it was 10:15 this morning before power was restored.

All hands pitched in and helped one another launch their boats, and we all went fishing on schedule about 5:30 a.m., with absolutely no hitches.

Winners of today's contest included the following:

In 1st Place, the team of (from left) Mike Miller and Chris Fretard, five bass, 9.87 lbs. total weight, 2.22-lb. big fish.

In 2nd Place, the team of (from left) Darryl Dunn and Jim Wilder, five bass, 9.75 lbs. total weight, 2.69-lb. big fish, which earned Jim the day's lunker pot.

Yours truly claimed the Mystery Weight award with a five-fish limit that weighed 6.12 lbs. after a 0.25 deduction for one dead fish. The weight drawn today was 5.20 lbs. I had no big fish.

Here is how the other contestants finished the competition:

     * The team of Bob Glass and Randy Conkle, five bass, 8.98 lbs. total weight, 2.22-lb. big fish.
     * The team of Skip Schaible and Mitch Portervint, five bass, 8.07 lbs. total weight, 2.54-lb. big fish.
     * Gary Coderre, five bass, 7.01 lbs. total weight, 1.98-lb. big fish.
     * Ronnie McLaughlin, five bass, 6.33 lbs. total weight, no big fish.

Overall, today's anglers weighed a total of 35 bass for a total weight of 56.13 lbs. The average weight was 1.60 lbs.

One more contestant became eligible to participate in our season-ending two-day tournament. At the moment, we have 21 anglers qualified.

Congrats to all the winners and thanks to everyone who came out to participate. For planning purposes, our next event is scheduled for Saturday, July 30, from safe light (about 5:30 or 5:45) to a 2 p.m. weigh-in. I hope you can join us.

While I heard some of the guys talking about catching their fish today on soft plastics, I continued using nothing but my topwater baits to generate a limit. My tally on the day was a total of eight bass, with only five keepers. I also lost a couple of decent fish while bringing them to the boat.

With the exception of one fish, I caught everything on my INT bait.

On the whole, I didn't consider the weather today overly oppressive. We had a few light, short-lived showers throughout the day, which certainly helped, and of course, for a large chunk of the morning, we were blessed with mostly overcast skies. Some of my recent fun-fishing days certainly have been far more taxing than I considered the elements today.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Have You Found Your Fishing Style Yet?

According to a piece I read online today from a fellow fisherman and blogger, that's an important question we all need to answer. Here is how he addressed the topic:

"What this sport really comes down to is figuring out your own personal style and running with it. There really are no right or wrong ways when it comes to fishing approaches. Some days, the flippers do well; other days, it's the ledge crankers. Likewise, power rules under certain conditions, and finesse holds its own on other days. Chances are, if I were to name a style or type of fishing, you could give me the name of at least a couple pros who have made a great living on just that technique or approach.

"Where guys get into trouble is when they start fishing for information. It's a very bad habit that, once started, is hard to break yourself of. If you're a bent-pole pattern guy, you'll never learn to find fish on your own. If you rely on the GPS coordinates of others, you'll suffer the same fate. Sure, you'll have your day or two in the sun, but you'll fail miserably when you can't get the goods. If you always ask others what the bite was, then go out and fish that pattern the next day, more than likely you'll always be a day late. Yesterday is over, and tomorrow might bring a completely different bite.

"It's fine to study others and ask questions along the way, but at some point, you need to get comfortable with your fishing. You can be a power fisherman, a worm fisherman, or a topwater fisherman and do just fine most of the time. Be a specialist or a generalist--it doesn't matter which. Just pick something and become good at it. Don't worry about what others think of your style, or get swayed by talk of guys whacking them on something completely opposite of what you like to do. There are lots of fish in the water and lots of ways to catch them. Pick something you enjoy doing, or a style that suits your personality, and then spend time asking questions that revolve around that particular aspect of fishing. At that point, you're learning as much as you can from others who might have more experience, but it is focused learning, with a purpose in mind, not haphazard-information overload or fishing for a shortcut.

"No matter how big your boat or garage, or how fat your wallet, you simply can't fish everything you might like to in a given trip. You only can effectively fish one rod and reel and, subsequently, one bait at a time. The more options you have at your disposal, the more likely you are to quickly abandon something, thinking you're missing out on a different bite. When I was tourney fishing, the best partners I ever could draw were guys who constantly changed baits and retied. You should be able to finish this sentence quickly and precisely when it's posed to you: 'I'm a ---- angler.' If you can't, you haven't found your style yet, so keep searching."

One angler who evidently has found his style is Tommy (see photo above, right), a 75-year-old Senko fisherman (and custom home builder by trade) I also read about today. About 90 percent of the time, he fishes a chartreuse Senko and reportedly manages to catch as many or more fish than the majority of his fishing partners.

Something about this worm caught Tommy's attention about seven years ago, and he has been fishing it Texas-style, without a sinker, ever since. As for other lures, he has a wide assortment but doesn't choose to carry many of them with him. "This lean-tackle strategy saves him time on lure selection," noted outdoor writer Ray Sasser in an article about the veteran angler.

Tommy likes the Senko because "it sinks horizontally, with a subtle side-to-side action that the bass really like. The worm is soft enough that it's easy to set the hook," he said, but there's also a downside to that softness factor. "The plastic is so soft the fish tear them up," he added. "You usually only catch one fish per Senko." He figures that he goes through at least 500 Senkos a year.

Going hand-in-hand with finding your style is the matter of believing in yourself, especially when bad things start happening. According to seasoned pro angler Mark Davis, confidence is, by far, the most important thing in all of bass fishing, or for that matter, any kind of fishing. Find out what else he has to say on this subject in the following sidebar.

Do You Have Fishing Confidence?

"Losing a fish, or any similar problem, shouldn't affect your confidence," says Davis (see photo at left). "Most of the time, that has nothing to do with anything you did wrong, certainly not if you're an experienced angler. It just happens. It's a bad break that means nothing. The real problem comes when you think you have things figured out in practice, and then, when the tournament starts, you can't buy a bite. You need confidence to turn that day into a productive one.

"That kind of confidence comes from inside you. It's based on experience and is a part of being competitive. You have to 'know' that you can catch them. You have to believe you can figure things out. You make it happen. That might come from using a particular lure in a particular color, or it might come from knowing you can fish deep, or shallow, or wood, or grass, or riprap, or anything else and catch them--anywhere, anytime, under any circumstances.

"One thing is for sure: You'll never see a confident angler running all over the lake fishing deep and shallow with every lure in his or her boat. Rather, they have the confidence in their strategy to keep working at it until the strategy works. It's a matter of bearing down, gritting your teeth, and having the confidence to follow your plan through to the end.

"Now I know that sometimes nothing we do as anglers puts fish in the boat. There are too many factors affecting our sport for that to happen. We do know, however, that if we have confidence in what we're doing, it'll work more times than not. That's the real key to having confidence.

"You'll know you have the confidence thing right when you adopt a strategy that puts five bass in the boat after conditions have changed unexpectedly. And you'll know you also have it right when you don't put five keepers in the boat but honestly can say you'd still make the same decisions if you could do the day over."

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Following Baitfish All Day Again Pays Dividends

And once more, I boated everything on topwater lures. All but one of the 14 fish were the victim of my INT bait. That total included 10 bass, 2 white perch, 1 bluegill, and 1 crappie.

I only weighed 3 of the bass. Their weights were 1-3, 1-5 and 1-7 (pictured right). I'm not sure how many of the other 7 would have made the 12-inch minimum. Suffice it to say I plan to hit a different spot for the tourney this coming Saturday--one that usually produces bigger fish.

In most cases today, where I found one fish, I found at least two, and sometimes three. That's a change from the usual patterns I find. Another departure from the norm was two and occasionally three strikes from what appeared to be the same fish. Most times, one chance is all I get.

Met up with my friend Ray Scott this morning for the third time in about my last four outings. Since he retired from flying, Ray has been spending considerably more time on the water. A nicer guy you'll never find--I believe. Ray is one of the easiest going individuals I've ever known. And I'm certain Charlie Bruggemann will second that opinion.

Like me, Ray was finding it slow going to start with this morning. I didn't run across him again once I headed to the back of Albright's, though, so I don't have a clue how he ultimately made out today.

Received an email from another friend, Skip Schaible, this evening, with a report of some fishing he has been doing outside of bass fishing. The accompanying photo shows a nice 17-inch flounder he caught at Rudee.

Skip told me he also has been catching some croaker, small spot, and other species in recent days.

One thing is for sure: Skip doesn't sit around being bored. It's nothing unusual for him to grab his metal detector and head out to see what he can find. He also maintains membership in a hunt club and spends the winters chasing deer.

A man on the move--that's Skip.