Saturday, April 30, 2016

Big Turnout; Lots of Fish Caught, Too

Despite a lower-than-normal water level and a biting northeast wind, anglers turned out in force to compete against one another today. A total of 23 anglers in 14 boats motored out of the basin this morning when I gave the "go" signal.

Those contestants who walked away with a money envelope today included the following:

1st Place, (from left) John Goodman and Mark London, five bass, 19.50 lbs. total weight, 5.59-lb. big fish.

2nd Place, (from left) Rob Peppers and Dave Anderson, five bass, 13.70 lbs. total weight, no big fish.

3rd Place, Paul Celentano, five bass, 13.03 lbs. total weight, 3.69-lb. big fish.

4th Place, Ronnie McLaughlin, five bass, 12.11 lbs. total weight, 4.94-lb. big fish.

Lunker Award, Mike Evans, three bass, 9.91 lbs. total weight, with his 5.84-lb. winning fish.

Mystery Weight, Ken Testorff, two bass, 3.33 lbs. total weight, no big fish. The weight drawn was 4.45 lbs.

Here is how all the other contestants finished the day:

     * The team of Zack Rhodes and Alec Wommack, five bass, 11.45 lbs. total weight, no big fish.
     * Steve Bailey, five bass, 11.44 lbs. total weight, 3.23-lb. big fish.
     * The team of Nathan and Marjorie Gottsch, five bass, 10.56 lbs. total weight, 3.13-lb. big fish.
     * The team of Gary Coderre and Lenny Hall, five bass, 9.97 lbs. total weight, no big fish.
     * The team of Mitch Portervint and Skip Schaible, five bass, 8.65 lbs. total weight, no big fish.
     * The team of Mike Speedy and Docota Fox, five bass, 8.55 lbs. total weight, no big fish.
     * The team of Jake Milligan and Jack Rhodes, five bass, 6.83 lbs. total weight, no big fish.
     * The team of Randy Conkle and Bob Glass didn't weigh any fish.

Overall, today's anglers weighed a total of 60 bass for a combined total weight of 139.03 lbs. The average weight was 2.31 lbs.

To date, 14 anglers already have qualified to fish our season-ending two-day Classic.

Congratulations to all the winners and thanks to everyone who came out to participate. For planning purposes, our next scheduled tournament is Saturday, May 14, from safe light (probably about 5:45) to 2 p.m. I hope you can join us.

We've had anything but what I would consider good weather so far this 2016 season, but that fact, in no way, diminishes the reality that we're off to one of the best starts ever as far as numbers of fish caught, as well as total weight and average weight.

I only wish ol' Dewey was here to celebrate with us. He always got excited with the kind of numbers we've been putting up to this point in the current tourney season.

Only time will tell if our current success will continue for the long haul. I, for one, hope that it does. The way I see it, Dewey made this gig of ours possible in the first place, and any degree of success we achieve is a fitting tribute to this man who so loved the sport of bass fishing. I still can visualize that mile-wide grin that used to spread across his bewhiskered face anytime someone brought a big fish or a big sack of fish to the scales for weigh-in.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

If Only the Walls of My Garage Could Talk...

Maybe then I'd have better luck remembering all the many different long-buried fishing treasures I have stored out there. As it is, however, it usually takes someone or something to jog my memory.

Case in point: Last Saturday, I was talking to an old friend who suggested I should be throwing a lizard at this point in the season. At that moment, I remembered I have a fair-sized stash of lizards in the garage that I haven't used in probably 10 or 15 years, or maybe longer.

I originally got hooked on fishing lizards for springtime bass, thanks to a couple of young military fellas with whom I became friends at West Neck Marina. They made a believer of me when they started showing me photos of some bass they were catching on those soft plastics. It wasn't long before I began finding some success of my own with the same baits.

Lizards or salamanders are natural predators of bass. They will ransack a nest, eating both eggs and fry before the guardian has a chance to react. As a result, bass won't think twice about attacking a plastic lizard dragged into their nest. For best results, the experts suggest that you slowly shake your rod tip once the bait is in the nest, which will get the attention of the adult fish guarding the nest.

The most common techniques for fishing plastic lizards are flipping, pitching and Carolina-rigging. Targeting various wood and rock cover are favorites of anglers. Slowly dragging lizards along humps, ledges and points also can be productive. The ideal retrieves are nearly identical to what you use when fishing plastic worms, e.g., dragging, hopping, crawling, shaking, or swimming the baits. Experiment with different speeds and retrieves until you find what the fish want for that particular day or time-frame.

Swimming lizards is a simple but often overlooked tactic. With this method, simply make your cast and allow the bait to sink to the bottom before starting a slow retrieve. To add a little motion, move your rod tip up and down ever so slightly. Anglers generally agree that bass will take a lizard just as quickly as they will a crankbait.

According to experts, the drop-shot rig is another good presentation for lizards. After you have set up the rig, nose-hook the bait. Now you can cast the lure, put it in the strike zone, and leave it there for as long as you want--all of this while adding considerable movement. Quickly shaking the rod tip and slowly raising the lizard will cause it to dance so tantalizingly that bass can't resist it. The experts contend this setup can and will dominate during the spawn, as well as produce nice limits throughout the fishing season.

Lizards long have been a staple of bass diets and angler tackleboxes everywhere. Why? Because the key to catching bass is to appeal to their biological instincts, and nothing says "attack me" more than a lure designed to imitate a natural predator of fish eggs and fry. If you've never tried one, now might be a good time to do so. The first time you toss one out there, drag it across a bed, and feel that often vicious strike, both you and the fish will be hooked.

Other soft plastics touted as good picks for spawning bass include worms, grubs, crayfish, frogs, and insects. Spinnerbaits, jigs and crankbaits, especially those crankin' models with rattles, also are recommended. Whatever lure you decide on, make sure the hooks are sharp because a bedding bass likely will try to spit the bait out almost immediately.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Raindrops Were Falling When We Launched This Morning

Fortunately, however, they pretty much had ended by the time those 18 of us in 12 boats blasted off from West Neck Marina about 6:15 a.m.

I figured the fishing today would produce some big bags, and I was correct. The top three winning teams and individuals were in a league of their own, so to speak, as evidenced in the following statistics:

Finishing in 1st place was the team of (from left) Don Carter and Rob Peppers, who weighed five bass with a total weight of 17.69 lbs. Their big fish was a 5.23-pounder.

Capturing 2nd place was Al Napier, who weighed five bass with a total weight of 17.47 lbs. His big fish, a 5.43-pounder, secured the day's lunker prize.

In 3rd place at the end of the day was the team of John Goodman and Mark London, whose 14.95-pound bag was more than 5 lbs. ahead of the next nearest competitor. Their big bass weighed 3.29 lbs.

The mystery-weight award went to Mike Evans, who weighed three bass with a total weight of 7.38 lbs. That weight was closest to the 7.25 tab that was drawn.

Here is how all the other competitors ended up at the 2:30 weigh-in:

     * Ronnie McLaughlin, five bass, 9.37 lbs. total weight, no big fish.
     * The team of Gary Coderre and Lenny Hall, five bass, 8.38 lbs. total weight, no big fish.
     * Steve Bailey, five bass, 5.66 lbs. total weight, no big fish.
     * Ken Testorff, three bass, 4.78 lbs. total weight, no big fisih.
     * Jim Wilder, two bass, 3.70 lbs. total weight, no big fish.
     * The team of Mitch Portervint and Skip Schaible, two bass, 3.10 lbs. total weight, no big fish.
     * Neither the team of Nathan and Marjorie Gottsch nor the team of Nelson Anderson and David Dozier weighed any fish.

Overall, today's anglers weighed a total of 40 bass for a total weight of 92.48 lbs, The average weight was 2.31 lbs.

As part of today's presentation of money envelopes, anglers (from left) Skip Schaible and Rob Chatham received small plaques from the tournament director for their recent man overboards--the real deal, not drills. Fortunately, there were no injuries to either angler.

Congrats to all the winners and thanks to everyone who came out to participate. For planning purposes, our next event is scheduled for next Saturday, April 30, from safe light (about 6:15) to 2:30 p.m. I hope you can join us.

It's that time of year when you often will get a bunch of strikes, but more times than not, the fish will come unbuttoned before you get a chance to touch them. Such was my lot today. I think I probably had a total of about 20 strikes on my topwater, with about 15 of them being hooked so poorly they got off long before I could bring them to the boat. With one leap, they would be gone.

I'm fairly certain I buried the hooks of my topwater in the jaws of a big ol' gar this afternoon, and he made very quick work of my 30-pound braid. In the next couple of minutes, he splashed the water silly, evidently trying to dislodge those hooks. I never went back and checked, though, so I don't know if he was successful or not.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Kept Pepe at Bay Today

Had put two fish in the boat by 10:30 this morning and missed one strike--all on topwater plugs. In order, they weighed 1-2 and 2-2 (pictured below), and the last proved to be the most fun of all.

I tossed my Pop R just past a wind-blown point, popped it once, and had a fish snatch it, but he came unbuttoned almost immediately. I went back a second, third and fourth consecutive time, all with the same results. Finally, though, on the fifth consecutive cast, he got enough of the hooks to stay buttoned. Can't remember the last time I've had that much fun with one fish.

Unfortunately, on one of the hooksets, I had nicked a gill plate, and the fish was bleeding like a stuck pig when I brought him aboard. I immediately put him in a livewell, though, and 30 minutes later, he was as full of himself as ever, so I released him, and he took off for parts unknown.

I spent my day in Albright's. When I came out of the cut-through, I turned left, cut the gas motor, and started fishing my way to the mouth. Once I got there, I fished the entire outside perimeter of the oxbow. I had decided I had enough of West Neck on Tuesday, and figured, too, that the water in Albright's would be cleaner. In areas, it was, but there were stretches of not-so-good-looking water there, too. I just stayed on the trolling motor all day.

Once I got home this evening, I had received another note from Ron Ameika, telling me that he had launched at Old Pungo Ferry Road earlier this evening and went to Spitzle Creek. He tried a variety of lures but only had action with a couple of them.

According to Ron's report, he had a few bumps on a Zoom fluke and lost something rather large that he suspects was a gar. He also landed a few surprise catches, including a channel catfish and this small striper, but no largemouth. The catfish took a fluke; the striper nailed the XTS.

Said Ron, "At least, I didn't get skunked."

Last but not least, I found a note in my inbox from my tourney partner, Rob Chatham, letting me know he had made a trip north today and picked up his new Phoenix bass boat. He included the accompanying photo.

I understand the plan is to start break-in of the outboard this Sunday. He tells me the old 50-hour break-in is a thing of the past--lucky him. I didn't think I'd ever complete those 50 hours I had to log with my SX-170. 'Tis a nice looking rig, my good man.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

I'd Be Lyin' If I Said It Was a Surprise

Having read Charlie's fishing report last evening, I knew there was a better than average chance ol' Pepe would show his face today, and my instincts were right. Charlie said West Neck was muddy and filled with all kinds of floating debris yesterday, and those same conditions still were prevalent today--both above and below the bridge. Without sounding too gross, you might say the creek was "butt ugly."

Even so, Charlie managed to catch a few bass yesterday, and while I came up empty-handed today, some fared better. I twice talked to a couple guys fishing together, and during the second conversation this afternoon, I learned they had boated a couple of nice bass earlier on topwater baits. The man on the front seat told me they had caught a 5-14 and one over 3. He and his buddy both were throwing buzzbaits as they relayed this information to me.

I also ran across Steve Bailey and Rob Peppers in the creek today, but I didn't get a report from either one--just exchanged greetings, instead.

I can't tell you how many times over the years I've seen West Neck and other creeks along the North Landing during low water, but I still am amazed at some of the stuff you see that's usually completely underwater. It's an education I would urge all to get but only when the conditions are safe.

I bring up the matter of safety because of something Charlie shared with me in his email last evening. He told me there were a couple of guys launching boats at the ramp when he came in yesterday, even though their trailers were at the end of the ramp, with no water touching any part of the boat. Both parties somehow managed to get their boats in the water, but I don't need to have been there to tell you that whatever they did was, in no way, safe.

We all were given a brain--the problem is that it's up to us as to when, or if, we use it. I love to fish as much as the next man or woman, but I can assure you I will not, under any circumstances, ever try to launch my boat when it won't float off my trailer. That's just asking for trouble, and even though those gents yesterday dodged a bullet, there's no guarantee they'll be successful the next time.

My email inbox this morning (Wednesday, April 20th) had a note from Ron Ameika, giving me details of the Tuesday evening trip he and his son, Alex, had taken to Tecumseh.

Ron scored this 1-12 bass on a Pop R, as well as his first gar of the season on an XTS Minnow.

Meanwhile, Alex used a jig with craw trailer to boat the 1-15 bass at right.

Said Ron, "It was nice to be out in the warm and windless weather. He also noted they had spotted a few snakes and many birds of prey that "were catching many more than us."

I didn't mention it in my post above, but I watched the birds in West Neck yesterday also put on a clinic in how to catch fish. And, near the end of my day, I saw a moccasin all curled up in the hollow of an old cypress. Don't reckon I need to tell you that I just kept on keeping on in the direction I was headed.