Monday, October 16, 2017

For Most, It Was the "Best of the Best" Competition...

For others, though, it was a moment marked by an Epiphany of sorts--realizing we were playing "out of our league." That's the way I see our 2017 Classic, which concluded yesterday with a traditional cookout at West Neck Marina, paid for by our anonymous benefactor and served courtesy of Steve Winfree and staff.

For the benefit of all those who can't read my mind (which I hope includes everyone), when I refer to the "best of the best," I include anglers who either single-handedly, or as a member of a team, demonstrated their prowess with a stick in their hand by finishing in place money at least once during the course of the regular season. For the record, the only Classic angler who didn't achieve that mark was yours truly, and if I don't turn things around next year, I very well may be watching our Classic from the sidelines. That's because I'm considering a change to our rules for 2018 that would require anyone fishing the Classic to have had at least one place finish, in addition to fishing a minimum of seven qualifying tournaments. Won't make my final decision on that matter, though, for a few months.

That being said, this year's season-ending event was a bit different from most, in that we were forced, because of low-water conditions on Saturday, Oct. 14, to move our Day 1 launch and weigh-in to Pungo Ferry. Thanks to a shift in wind directions overnight Saturday, however, we were able to start and finish Day 2 at West Neck.

Those laying claim to Classic payouts yesterday afternoon included the following:

(From left) Wayne Hayes and Al Napier, 1st place, with a five-fish limit both days, resulting in a record-setting two-day total of 32.69 lbs. Their big fish, a 5.19-pounder, which came on Day 1, earned them the tournament's lunker award. They also walked away with the seasonal lunker award for a 6.82-pounder they caught back on July 22.

(From left) Rob Peppers and Don Carter, 2nd place, with a five-fish limit both days, resulting in a two-day total of 25.25 lbs. Their big fish, a 4.63-pounder, which also came on Day 1, proved to be a tie-breaker.

(From left) Gary Coderre and Andy Morath, 3rd place, with a five-fish limit both days, resulting in another two-day total of 25.25 lbs. Their tournament big fish, a 4.07-pounder, came on Day 2.

Skip Schaible unfortunately was saddled with yours truly as his team partner and ended up with the mystery-weight award. Our two-day total for only four keeper fish was 4.70 lbs., which was closest to the drawn weight of 3.25 lbs. To his credit, Skip opened our 2017 season on March 18, with a 1st-place win. Hmmm...guess that means he only fell from "place," not "grace," by having me as his partner. Only jokin', my friend. I truly look forward to all your friendly "digs."

Here is how everyone else lined up at the conclusion of two very misty days on the water:

     * The team of Bob Glass and Randy Conkle, with a five-fish limit both days, resulting in a two-day total of 22.80 lbs.
     * The team of Duane Kessel and Bobby Moore, with a five-fish limit both days, resulting in a two-day total of 22.15 lbs.
     * The team of Steve Bailey and Mitch Portervint, with a five-fish limit both days, resulting in a two-day total of 18.27 lbs.
     * The team of Chris Fretard and Mike Miller, with a five-fish limit on Day 1 but nothing to weigh on Day 2, resulting in a two-day total of 11.46 lbs. It should be noted that something came up Saturday night, which prevented Mike from joining his partner for Day 2.

Overall, Classic anglers posted a grand total of 69 keeper fish, with a combined weight of 162.57 lbs. The average weight was 2.35 lbs. per fish.

My heartiest congratulations to all the winners, and sincere thanks to everyone who participated throughout the tournament year. And while I'm passing out thanks, let me also express my sincere appreciation to those fellow anglers who contributed to the gift I was presented at yesterday's festivities. You're all the best. Here's hoping everyone comes back next year.

As Skip and I were talking yesterday evening, while I removed my gear from his boat, we came to the realization that we feel pretty much the same way at the end of this tournament year. That realization is, as I've already stated, that we're fishing "out of our league." We both still enjoy bass fishing, in general, and we enjoy the camaraderie with fellow anglers, but just to continue mindlessly contributing to tournament payouts isn't very smart.

Accordingly, both of us are of the mindset that we're probably going to fish at least seven events in 2018, maybe more, depending on how things go. And we may participate in the Classic, provided we feel we actually can "compete."

Whether I fish or not, there will be no change in my involvement with tournament-director duties. I still will organize and launch all the events, and I'll take care of the weigh-ins. At the same time, I'm guessing that Skip likely will continue being seen around all the events but, in some cases, only as a spectator.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

2017 Qualifying-Tournament Season Comes to an End

No matter how many tournaments bass fishermen engage in, they never seem to tire of the drill. Even though today marked the end of our regular tournaments this year, I certainly didn't detect any dissatisfaction on the faces or in the demeanor of today's 17 anglers in 11 boats. They brought a combined total of 40 bass to the scales, weighing 69.72 lbs, for an average weight of 1.74 lbs. per fish.

Standing tall at day's end as our 2017 Angler of the Year was Bobby Moore, with a season total weight of 149.82 lbs. In succession close behind him were Duane Kessel, with 147.45 lbs.; Rob Peppers with 147.12 lbs.; Bob Glass and Randy Conkle, with 141.96 lbs., and Al Napier, with 137.22 lbs. Bobby's name and AOY stats will be added to the plaque that hangs in the West Neck Marina Store.

Earning money envelopes today were the following anglers:

(From left) Andy Morath and his cousin, Zech Morath, 1st place, with five bass weighing 10.12 lbs. and a big fish weighing 2.61 lbs.

(From left) Bob Glass and Randy Conkle, 2nd place, with five bass weighing 9.35 lbs. and a big fish weighing 2.77 lbs.

(From left) Rob Peppers and Don Carter, 3rd place, with five bass weighing 8.84 lbs. and a big fish weighing 2.75 lbs.

Winner of the big-bass pot today was Mike Miller, with a fish weighing 5.36 lbs. His bass was the only fish he and his partner, Chris Fretard, brought to the scales.

And last, yours truly managed to bring two keepers to the weigh-in, for a total weight of 2.40 lbs., which was closest to the drawn weight of 3.30. My big fish weighed 1.55 lbs.

Here is how everyone else finished the day's competition:

     * Wayne Hayes, four bass, with a total weight of 8.04 lbs. His big fish weighed 3.41 lbs.
     * Jim Wilder, five bass, with an adjusted total weight of 7.53 lbs. after a 0.25 deduction for one dead fish. His big fish weighed 2.15 lbs.
     * Rusty Girard, five bass, with a total weight of 7.50 lbs. His big fish weighed 3.09 lbs.
     * Steve Bailey, five bass, with a total weight of 6.32 lbs. His big fish weighed 1.69 lbs.
     * Bobby Moore and Duane Kessel, three bass, with a total weight of 4.26 lbs. Their big fish weighed 1.63 lbs.
     * Skip Schaible and Gary Coderre didn't weigh any fish.

With no new names added to the Classic list today, it looks like we will have 17 qualified anglers fishing our two-day season-ender next weekend, Oct. 14 and 15. One other angler who qualified has indicated he has other obligations and won't be joining us.

Congratulations to our newly crowned 2017 AOY and to all of today's winners. Thanks to everyone who showed up to fish with us--not just today, but throughout the entire season. Hope you'll be back again in 2018.

In discussions I had with some of the fellas who weighed a limit today, they indicated that five bites were all they had for their eight hours on the water. I, too, had only five bites, but three of the fish didn't cross the 12-inch stripe on my ruler, so I had to release them.

Can't speak for anyone else, but I spent a fair amount of time fishing a wacky-rigged finesse worm (first time ever that I can remember) today but all to no avail. I never had a single strike with the rig. Four of my fish came on a Bomber Square A crankbait, and one smacked a Whopper Plopper.

One thing that I found a little disappointing was the fact that while I was fishing a cove above the bridge this morning, a couple of kayakers saw fit to follow me in and started shadowing me like I had invaded their personal honey hole. I bit my tongue and didn't say anything to them, but, needless to say, that experience left a sour taste in my mouth. I solved the problem by firing up the gas motor and running to the back of Albright's, which is where I caught all of my fish. Not quite sure why these guys were so rude, but I've lately been hearing similar remarks from others in our tournament crowd.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

To Each His/Her Own

"Getting older and less agile every year, I'm reluctant to have several thousand dollars' worth of rods laying where I might inadvertently step on one. To me, the few extra minutes it might take to retie or dig another rig out of the rod locker is worth not having to worry about stepping on a rod or reel handle."

Those are the feelings of one senior angler I read about recently. I also found another older angler who blamed having too many rods on the front deck for his falling overboard. Of course, this fella also admitted he had bad knees and back, which didn't help the situation any.

I, for one, can relate to the way both those anglers feel. I, too, like a clean front deck. That's why I had a bow-mounted fishfinder removed from my current boat soon after I bought it. I kept tripping over the unit anytime I stood up for a break and got tired of having to grab for the front-pedestal seat to steady myself. And continuing my drive for keeping things simple, my front deck seldom has more than four rods on it at any one given time.

That's not to say, however, that everyone should limit the number of rods they keep at arm's length to just four. I understand why other fishermen, especially the pros, prefer a whole deck full of sticks. They like the option of having quick access to different length rods, with different actions, kinds of line, line strengths, etc.--all the variables that allow for the various styles of presentation.

In some cases, though, the "wannabes" do it simply because they see the pros doing it.

As one guy remarked, "When you see most pros, who fish for a living, have 10 to 20 rods on deck, it means they have found utility for that (setup), and it's not just for looks or sales. When the best fishermen in the world show me that it's no longer needed to get dialed in, then I will rethink my position."

The power of advertisement and the need/want to be a copycat is truly a fascinating study.

Said one angler I came across during my research, "There was a time when I, too, had setups with whatever baits I had been told would guarantee a boatload of bass within easy reach. I not only had the baits but the 'look' that screamed, 'Look at me. I not only know, but I look the part.' I stayed this way during my mid-20s through my mid-30s, 'thinking' I was just a few more baits/fancy gadgets away from figuring it all out...and hitting the big time.

"A solitary trip with my son, however, changed my fishing for life," the insightful angler continued. I always will believe when you have little folks and/or beginners on board, you should keep it simple and make absolutely sure they catch fish. My son didn't care about the latest and greatest, and comfort was far more important than style. The simplicity of a cricket and bobber and the smile/exuberance of my son that particular day brought back memories of a time when fishing was simple, fun, and what drew me to the water in the first place: to chase those majestic green fish."

That same angler went on to admit that "through many more years of transformation and experimentation, I found what works for me." And while there are days now when he has six setups at his feet, there are more times he doesn't even think about what he might need to catch fish. He just goes through a progression of baits he knows works for him and lets the rest sort itself out.

"On average, I have four setups at the ready, and as the day goes on, I usually put one away... . I make do with one simple tenant: I want to catch fish and have fun. If you fish long enough, you tend to realize that most every decision you make comes from a lifetime of experience," he concluded.

Regardless of how many rods it takes to satisfy your personal desires and/or to make you look and feel like one of those guys you see on TV, there's always someone who can and often will "rub your face in it." Consider the following example I found during my research.

An angler was taking an old friend fishing--one who couldn't get up early because of some health issues he had. They arrived at the lake around 9 a.m. on a bright, sunny day, and each then proceeded to take two rods out of the box and lay them on deck--one for worms, and one for jigs. Said the younger gent, "The spawn is on, so you don't need a lot of different rods and reels."

After launching their boat, the younger gent was parking his vehicle when a couple other fellas with a shiny 21-foot bass boat launched. More than 20 rods lined the deck, which prompted the younger gent to ask, "Doing some major-league fishing today, huh?"

"Can't catch 'em if you don't have the right stuff!" shot back the owner of the 21-footer.

The younger gent and his older friend then idled out to a rock pile about 20 yards away, put down the trolling motor, and started fishing, while the other duo was trying to figure out what to start with. "Your secret spot?" they asked from the distance, laughing.

In short order, the young gent and his friend both had boated bass, with the other fellas watching. And before the latter duo had gotten their rods sorted out, the younger gent and his friend has boated a total of seven bass, all weighing between 3 and 4 lbs., and all from that rock pile.

By this time, the only thing coming from the fellas in the 21-footer was silence, proving only that "actions speak louder than words." Whether "more is better," however, remains a matter of conjecture.

Don't think for one minute that bass boaters are the only ones with a knack for keeping multiple rods "at the ready." Check out the way this canoe owner rigged his pride and joy. He readily admits that he'd rather put down one rod and pick up another than have to retie to change baits.

"In my paddlin' canoe," he boasts, "I can carry 10 rods--the one in my hands and nine in the rack, all ready to go."

Note in the far left frame above that all the rod tips are below the small foredeck and rails, where they cannot be snagged by brush or weeds. As for that cart you see in the middle and far right frames, the owner uses it when he can't get his truck close enough. The cart folds flat, and according to the owner, "rolls easily over most terrain."

'Twould seem there are no bounds to Yankee ingenuity.

Monday, October 2, 2017

For the Week Ending Sunday, Oct. 8, 2017

Monday, Oct. 2 (from Charlie)...It was a good day, even with the muddy water. I decided to make it a major fly-rod day and had a blast with some quality fish on my 6 WT. Started with a black Bee Pop and got five bass, the best a 1-12, which proved to be a real drag-puller. After things slowed down on topwater, I switched to a Clouser minnow and was surprised to land a 6-2 channel cat. He almost had me to the backing before I turned him. That battle really made my day. I also tried a SwimSenko and a white Yo-Zuri 2" 3DS Crank SSR F (ghost shad). Both got bass, another 2-1 channel cat, a crappie, and a striper. The trip ended at 1 o'clock, with 10 bass boated. The top five weighed 1-12, 2-0, 2-1, 2-7, and 2-8, for a total of 10 pounds 12 ounces. As I told Charlie in an email, "I'm gonna have to start calling you 'Mr. Perfection,'" since he nearly always has a perfect 10-something total weight after a day on the water. Incidentally, I found out that my friend has been sharing his water the last three times with a total of nine cottonmouths. As he explained, "You need to keep your head on a swivel." Sounds like good advice to me, especially when you're lookin' at all of 'em from kayak level.

Monday, Oct. 2 (from Ron)...Was having a very disappointing evening. I fished Milldam from 4 to 6 p.m., with only a wee small crappie not big enough to keep to show for it. Then I found a bowfin at 18 inches and was pretty happy. A bit later, caught a dink bass and decided to head home. Water was murky and they just were not biting. En route to heading back, I had my trusty beetlespin on a bobber, trolling it along in hopes of panfish, when suddenly, my rod bent over, BIG TIME. Grabbed hold and, for the next 200 yards and 10 minutes, had the fight of a lifetime. Thought I had a record bowfin because he wasn't jumping. Struggled to get him close to the yak, but he kept screaming drag. When he finally tired out a bit, I was able to get him close and realized I had a big catfish--a really big one. Somehow pulled him aboard and got a weight at 24.1 lbs. The tape on my paddle is faded, and the beast wouldn't lay flat, but am pretty sure he was right about 36 inches long. Covered in catfish slime, I headed back to the launch. On a whim, threw a Whopper Plopper at that mid-channel falldown, and a 2-14 bass slammed it. 'Twas much easier to land!

Wednesday, Oct. 4 (from Ken)...Decided I wasn't going to waste this whole stretch of nice weather and spent seven hours on the water today. Once I got there and saw the color of the water in West Neck and Albright's, I wasn't too hopeful I would catch anything at all. As it turned out, though, I managed to catch four dink bass (everyone of them weighing 11 ozs.), as well as a 1-6. Caught two of the fish on a Buzzjet Jr., two on a Bomber Square A, and one on a Whopper Plopper. Can't remember the last time I saw Albright's muddy, but that's the way it was today. You could find a few cleaner spots, but none of them were very big. Can only hope things clear up before the tournament on Saturday. Ran across Rob P. and Dave on the water this afternoon and learned they, too, had had a very slow day. Put a nice finishing touch on my day by finding a crankbait like the one I was using today. Was evident it hadn't been in the water very long, because the hooks weren't rusty yet. Only had a couple of light scratches, too.

Wednesday, Oct. 4 (from Ron)...Launched upper North Landing in hopes of finding something to peel the drag. Found three dink bass and then the bowfin. Was throwing small spinnerbait and, between all the snags, managed three bowfin at 5-8, 3-11 and an 18-incher that I didn't weigh. So, yeah, had some drag scream and made up for yesterday's skunk. Lost one good size bass (2.5 ish).  All the snags were frustrating, so I tried SwimSenkos and flukes, but they were not interested. The water was very clear and flowing inward (north). I guess as long as it is moving, the bite is OK.

Friday, Oct. 6 (from Ron)...Did a long trip to No Name Creek Thursday evening, but should have stayed in upper North Landing. Murky high water was the death of me. Only caught one dink bass and lost a chain pickerel. Hit the salt this morning and found a nice speckled trout.

Sunday, Oct. 8 (from Ron)...Received an email this afternoon, letting me know he has decided to pursue saltwater species for a while. What does that mean? "More bass for everyone else," as Ron explained it.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

It Won't Happen to Me

More than one angler has had that thought before they suddenly find themselves taking an unceremonious plunge over the side of a boat. The truth of the matter is that man overboards occur a lot more often than you might think.

Here are links to some such events that I found documented on the Internet during a recent Google videos search:

There are many reasons for falling out of a fishing boat, including but not limited to colliding with objects, losing balance, slipping, or lunging for something that gets knocked overboard. Here are some things to consider in case you take an unplanned trip over the side of a fishing boat:

Learn to swim. If you're comfortable being in the water, you're less likely to panic if you unexpectedly go overboard.

Get wet fully clothed. It's one thing to be in the water when you're wearing a bathing suit. However, chances are that, if you fall in while fishing, you'll be wearing clothes and shoes or boots. It's hard to swim in gear like that, as well as heavy wet clothing, which weighs you down. If you jump into a pool sometime with your fishing clothes on, you'll have a better idea of what it feels like. Better yet, practice getting back into your boat with fully wet clothes.

Get wet wearing a PFD. Few people ever have practiced swimming with a PFD, with or without being fully clothed, to make sure that it fits right and that they can move in it. Of course, you have to be wearing it when you go into the water to do any good. Reentering a boat while wearing a PFD is much different than doing it without.

Stow a change of clothes in your boat. It comes in handy if you or someone else goes over when the air or water is cold. This can help prevent hypothermia.

Consider wearing a survival suit if you regularly fish in cold water. Survival suits provide warmth and flotation and are used by all rescue and Coast Guard personnel.

Always use the ignition safety-cutoff switch (aka "kill switch") anytime the outboard motor is running. This shuts off the motor, preventing the boat from circling back and running over you. Attach the lanyard from the switch securely to your PFD.

Be especially careful after dark. It's easy to get disoriented under these conditions.

Don't lean over the gunwale to take care of normal body functions if you can't swim, the water is rough or cold, or you're near objects in the water. Use a bucket instead, then dump the contents overboard.

Get hold of the boat immediately and stay with it. If you go in, and you're alone, and the boat drifts away, you may not be able to get back to it.

Kick off your boots if you have to swim, especially if they're waders. They are hard to swim in and will drag you down.

Adjust your PFD if you're wearing it. A proper fit means that the PFD is snug on your body and does not rise up around your neck and face.

Stop a moving boat immediately. If the person in the water can't get to the boat, maneuver it to him, approaching from an upwind position and keeping the person in the water away from any motor.

Toss out a rescue buoy if the situation is dire. Boats over 16 feet are required to have a Type IV throwable lifesaving ring or buoy. Toss this to the person in the water if the circumstances warrant (e.g., the person overboard is hurt, weak or unconscious).

Hold onto the boat while a companion maneuvers it to shallow water or shore. The easiest reentry is from a stable location like a dock, shore or shallow water.

In deep water, have a companion assist you with reentry. A person getting into a boat can be helped a great deal if one or two companions grab their belt buckle and pull them up, being careful not to tip the boat and cause themselves to go overboard or the boat to capsize.

In deep water by yourself, if the boat does not have a ladder, use the outboard motor for reentry. The transom sits lowest in the water, and the way to get in from the transom by yourself when the motor is off is to step on the anti-ventilation plate (just above the propeller), pull yourself upright, and step on or flop over the transom.

Use the Man Overboard function on your GPS if necessary. Many anglers have a GPS unit with a Man Overboard (MOB) key that can be used to pinpoint a specific location, which is especially useful at night, in rough water and in bad weather.