Friday, December 2, 2016

A Hard-to-Beat Bait If You're Looking for Something to Mimic the Real Deal

"I don't know how I figured it out, but you can catch the mess out of fry guarders while burning it like a crankbait around nests. I guess you could catch them with a bare hook this time of year, but it still works.

"I think I was using elite blue at the time, and they were crushing it. The first one was a 3-plus male guarding a double-digit-plus female still on the nest. He hit so hard I though it was her for a second.

"Either way, if you're looking for some confidence and a quick limit, this is definitely a tool to use at the right time, and I'm sure it catches 'em with a traditional cadence, as well, especially in the winter."

The "it" the author of this testimonial was talking about is the slow-rising Shadow Rap Shad jerkbait, which became available at sporting goods retailers nationwide in February 2016. The "gone" color of this lure (pictured here) is what I've used my last couple of trips to catch a few fish.

The water temp hasn't yet dipped low enough to require fishing this bait in the traditional jerk-jerk-pause cadence. It was running about 54 degrees the first time I used it a couple weeks ago, compared to 61 degrees yesterday. As a result, I've been experimenting with several different kinds of retrieves, some of which have worked, while others didn't.

And while I certainly haven't been setting the world on fire with this bait, I've truly enjoyed the reactions I've gotten from the fish so far. Some have nailed it as soon as it splashed down. Others have hit the bait while pausing and letting it rise from just a few inches under the surface. And still others have taken the bait while working it with a steady twitching motion.

Given these results, my next move will be to test some of the bait's other colors that I have. A total of 24 are available on store shelves, including the 14 original Shadow Rap patterns, as well as these 10 new ones: crush, elite blue, haymaker, olive drab, purple haze, gone, halloween, imposter, molten copper, and tropic ice.

Fishing legend Al Linder described this bait's unique action (a horizontal struggle with a slow vertical rise) as perfectly mimicking an injured shad. "Fish haven't seen this before," he said. "That's why it's so deadly."

Bass pros Mike Iaconelli, Brandon Palaniuk, and Davey Hite, to name only a few, all agree with that analogy.

Featuring a shad-shaped body with textured scales, the Shadow Rap Shad comes in models that target two different depth ranges: 3-to-4 feet and 5-to-6 feet. The latter is called the Shadow Rap Shad Deep. Both measure 3 1/2 inches, weigh 3/8 of an ounce, and come armed with two sticky-sharp No. 6 VMC black nickel, thin-wire, round-bend hooks.

"It's a little bit wider than the original Shadow Rap, a little bit shorter, a little bit fatter, and has a two-hook design, rather than a three-hook design," Palaniuk explained.

"I love the wider, flat sides," Hite added. "Seems like everywhere there are threadfin and gizzard shad, and they're all this wider profile. And that's what we're mimicking."

In a school of look-alikes, the bait that swims distinctively stands out, triggering strikes. That's what the Shadow Rap Shad does.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Lots of Wind and a Few Fish

When I left the house this morning, I knew the wind probably was going to keep me "tied up" all day long, and I couldn't have been more right. I seldom have a fishing trip which doesn't include at least one event when I have to look around and find out if anyone was watching what just happened to me, and today certainly was no exception.

I had hung a lure in some reeds along the shore, and when the lure turned loose, it went airborne. And don't you know, a gust of wind caught it in mid-air, causing it to start a circling motion around me. My subsequent effort to make the lure splash down on the water's surface only further exacerbated the problem. The result: The line ended up taking three complete turns around me, starting at my head and working its way down. I don't ever remember another time when I was so "wrapped up." For the better part of about 10 minutes, all I could do was try to maneuver my way into a clearing with the trolling motor, so I could get all the line unwound.

At long last, I finally secured my freedom and, after sitting and calming myself down for a couple of minutes, went back to fishing. If I hadn't managed to catch a few fish today, I probably would have been a total basket case by the time I got home.

The fish in this photo hit at 9:40 this morning and weighed 1-2. I picked up a couple more dinks in the ensuing hours before calling it quits at 2 o'clock. I also missed getting a hookset on one fish. All the action came on a jerkbait. I tried my luck with a chatterbait and a couple of crankbaits, to no avail.

Talked to my friend Ray Scott when I came in this afternoon and learned that he had caught a 1-7 bass in West Neck today. All my fish came out of Albright's. My decision to go there was based on the high water at the ramp this morning.

My only surprise of the day was seeing a snake first thing this morning--one of those with his whole body riding on top. He wasn't very big, but I still gave him a wide berth, as I do all snakes.

Incidentally, the only traffic I met on the North Landing today was a couple of sailboats during my ride back to the dock this afternoon. Didn't see any "big boys" running at all.

Said my pal Ron in an email this noon hour (Friday, Dec. 2), "Saw your post about being wrapped up--been there, done that. Amazes me how I can get a 'tip wrap' that looks like it was tied by a seasoned boatswain's mate! (oh yeah!). Have had to cut some body wraps that I just couldn't untangle (I came real close to doing that yesterday)."

Ron continued his note by saying he went to the upper North Landing Monday for almost an hour but didn't find a single fish.

This morning at 0245, he launched at the HRBT. "Caught 12 stripers," he said, "but couldn't find a keeper. Several were 19 and a half--close, but no cigar. As long as there was current and bird activity," he explained, "the bite stayed steady. Soon as the current stopped, so did the birds and the bite, That was about 0500."

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

They Took Water Over the Bow, the Sides...Just About Everywhere

Last time I checked, those 21-foot Triton bass boats like you see here don't exactly come cheap, and they've already destroyed one. So, yeah, I'm bettin' the ranch (if I owned one, that is) that a certain trio of Okie anglers will dig a little deeper in researching their next fishing trip to unfamiliar waters.

It seems they learned the hard way that, while the mouth of the Mississipi River is the most productive fishery in North America, it's also arguably the most dangerous. Enter Captain Rob Buck, owner of Sea Tow Westbank, the gent who got a late-night call for H-E-L-L-L-P!!! Actually, his Nov. 16 call didn't come from the stranded fishermen--it came from the U.S. Coast Guard, who asked him to salvage a boat that had taken on water nine miles out of Southwest Pass at a platform in West Delta block 86.

"They feared the vessel would bang up against the rig, and we'd have another issue with leaking oil," said Capt. Buck.

This veteran skipper met the anglers at Venice, Louisiana's Cypress Cove Marina the next morning at 6 a.m., whereupon he learned they had come down to fish Venice and decided to tiptoe offshore.

"Subsequently, the seas built up, and the motor shut down," Buck recounted. "They took on water and ended up in the Gulf. They were able to loop a ski rope over a piece of the platform to hold the boat, and they then somehow were able to crawl onto the platform. A helicopter saw them and directed the Coast Guard to their location."

Incidentally, the platform, described by Buck as "WD86B," sits in 190 feet of water.

After rescuing the men, the Coast Guard flew them to Belle Chasse, and they finally made their way back to Cypress Cove at 3 a.m. Nov. 17, just three hours before Buck arrived to salvage their boat. He described them as "shaken, cold and tired but grateful to be alive." They wanted to tag along with Buck to retrieve the boat, but he wouldn't let them for insurance reasons.

An hour later, Buck and Capt. Evan Davis arrived at the platform in Buck's 29-foot catamaran with dual Tohatsu 250-hp outboards. They found the nearly submerged Triton still tethered to the platform and began the arduous process of dewatering the boat.

The complicated two-person technique involves towing the bow of the submerged vessel into an oncoming sea to kick it up and force water to the back of the boat. While one captain steers the tow vessel, the other jumps into the sunken craft with batteries and pumps to slowly rid it of water. Sea Tow captains practice this technique during training sessions in Montauk, NY, where seas often run 7 to 8 feet.

Still, that day in the Gulf, seas were too rough for Buck to feel confident spending any more time than necessary in the Triton. He and Davis waited until they were in Southwest Pass to complete the dewatering process. Then then returned the boat to Cypress Cove Marina, where the Okie anglers loaded it onto a trailer and headed home.

Buck said the boat certainly would have to be totaled, because it was fully submerged in salty Gulf water. As for the anglers, "They learned an important but expensive lesson, which could have been a lot worse. When you're in a single-engine boat, it's not a good idea to be offshore," he explained. "They're fortunate to be alive."

I saw this story in Jay Kumar's 11/29/2016 issue of BassBlaster. He picked it up from the original author, Todd Masson, who writes for | The Times-Picayune.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Tournament Advice From an Elite Pro

I think everyone probably knows that if something looks strange or weird, you call the ghostbusters. But whom do you call when you want some advice about catching big tournament bass?

The answer to that question--for some, at least--is Bassmaster Elite Series angler Todd Faircloth (pictured at right).

While digging around the Internet recently, I stumbled across some tips Todd had shared during a 2012 interview. As one who readily admits he has benefitted from things other anglers have shared with him over the years, he likes to give back when an opportunity presents itself.

"Sometimes, you'll hear a tournament fisherman say something like, 'I just go out there and fish hard all day and bring my best five to the scales.' Well, that's fine," said the Elite pro, "but without any way to measure performance throughout the day, you're fishing blind and can't make the kind of adjustments necessary to be successful. You can't afford to wait until you get to the scales to find out if you had a good day or not."

Faircloth went on to explain that he does a lot of research for every tournament he fishes. Besides figuring out the best locations, baits and patterns, he develops an idea of what it's going to take to do well and earn a check.

"I always have a weight in mind before I launch my boat each day," he noted. "Once I reach that target weight, my comfort level goes up, and I'm ready to explore and try something different. Until then, I'm doing all I can just to catch the quality fish I need to get there. I want lots of bites from respectable bass until I reach that target."

Todd's tournament mindset always is to go for a respectable limit first and to upgrade later. He'd rather start with a spot where he knows he can catch a lot of 2-and-a-half pounders quickly than another spot where the bass are bigger but the bites are fewer and farther between. That plan, however, is flexible.

"There are times when I'll go after big fish first," he said, "and then work on a limit. An obvious time to do this is in the spring, when you've found a giant female or two on beds that you need to go get before someone else does. Ordinarily, though, I'm focused on a limit first."

Once Faircloth has his limit, he starts looking for a couple of bites that will really help his bottom several pounds, not just an ounce or two. His focus now is isolated cover.

"It doesn't have to be big, but it does need to be away from other similar cover," he explained. "I like to target isolated logs, boat docks, brush piles, mats of vegetation, or anything else that might hold a big fish. The isolated cover is a big-fish magnet because it's the only holding area around, and other anglers often will overlook it, preferring instead to fish bigger spots that might hold more bass but which take a lot longer to fish and generally doesn't hold the biggest bass in the area."

Todd sometimes makes a long run to get to an out-of-the-way spot or makes another change that's otherwise time-consuming or risky. Having a solid limit, as he sees it, frees him up to do other things that have the potential for a big payoff. He cautions, however, "You need to make such moves when you're in a position of strength and have the right mindset, not when you're in a position of weakness and pressing too hard."

For Faircloth, the idea of sitting on a spot and milking it hard for a bunch of fish that only add ounces to your bottom line is a mistake. He would rather gamble a little and try targeting better fish so he maybe can win a tournament, rather than just cash a check.

"I admit that my method of upgrading a tournament catch doesn't always work," he said, "but neither does anything else. What I can tell you is that it has worked more times than not, and I'll keep using it until I find something better."

Todd admits "hero or zero" is a popular phrase for guys who gamble with their tournament strategy, but he also offers, "it doesn't have to be that way. I much prefer 'hero or still-in-the-money.'"

A lot of anglers agree with Faircloth's strategic plan to focus on isolated pieces of cover for kicker fish. There appears to be two completely opposite trains of thought, however, when it comes to choosing the right baits. One group of anglers recommends using larger baits with bulky profiles. Another group suggests downsizing--perhaps going to finesse baits.

One point that all anglers probably can agree on is that scattered big fish can be heart-breakers. Catching one or two fluke kickers in practice can lead to the use of a losing pattern come tournament day. There are no guarantees about how long a pattern will hold. You have to be smart enough to know when it's time to cut your losses.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Another HRBT Trip This Morning

Received an email from Ron, telling me that he and a buddy went striper fishing from 3 to 6 a.m. Meanwhile, his son, Alex, stayed home in bed.

With 12-knot winds, 2-foot seas, and temps in the mid-30s, conditions were less than ideal, but that didn't stop the duo from getting what they went after. Said Ron, "I managed six stripers, including five short ones and (as pictured at left) a 27.5-inch, 8-lb. 4-oz. personal best. Meanwhile, my buddy also caught five short ones, as well as his own personal best: a 29-incher that weighed 10 lbs. 2 ozs."

Their productive bait was a 3-inch Z-Man paddle-tail soft plastic trolled on a 3/8-oz. jig head. "I hear a bucktail that runs deeper will get more big ones, but we troll a water depth of 6 to 9 feet," noted Ron. They were working the area along the light lines (streetlights).

The two anglers had to battle a constant chop. As Ron allowed, "The bite wasn't as good as the last trip, but the keepers were bigger."

Saturday, November 26, 2016

I See It As Just an Inherent Part of Fishing

Let's face it, if you spend much time on the water, you quickly learn one seemingly unavoidable truth: Stuff happens. I don't care how careful you are, the odds are you'll eventually find yourself in a predicament--and perhaps a lot of 'em--that was anything but funny when they occurred and which you never may be able to laugh about.

Here is a sampling of some accounts I found on the Internet:

While dock fishing on the Potomac, an angler slipped off the dock into shallow water. His shin landed on an underwater cement slab that had pencil-thick rebar protruding from it. One of the bars impaled his shin about an inch and a half deep. Once he was able to free himself and slow the bleeding, he bandaged it up as best he could and kept fishing. The wound was healing fine a week later, but he went to a nurse just to be on the safe side. She gave him a thumbs up. However, three weeks later, his injured leg had swollen to three times the size of the other one. Wanting to find out what was wrong, he went to the ER and learned that he had gotten MRSA. They managed to save his leg, but as the victim commented, "Man, was that scary!"

A couple of guys had gone fishing together when one of them made a bad cast and imbedded the hooks of a Pop-R in the side of his buddy's neck. While the buddy stood there thinking he might die from a Pop-R stuck in his jugular, the other fella just laughed. Luckily, the hooks only hit muscle, and the fella who made the errant cast paid the ER bill.

Back in the early years of bass boats, an angler was riding with a buddy in the latter's 16-foot Ouachita, with stick steering and a 60-hp Johnson. These boats had two pedestal seats that were screwed to the floor. While running wide open down the lake, the angler in the rear seat noticed his buddy's front seat starting to tilt backward from the screws coming loose. Realizing what likely was about to happen, the backseater grabbed the sides of the boat. About the same time, the buddy at the helm fell backward, jerking the stick steering down and sending the boat into a 360. "I vaguely remember being upside down and going out the back of the boat, with my shoulder and head hitting the transom running light," the backseater said. "When I came to, I was several feet underwater, not knowing where I was but did have presence of mind to look downward and see it was black and upward, where there was light." The backseater subsequently swam to the surface, where he heard a boat idling. It turned out to be his buddy who had been slung all the way to the transom but had managed to scramble back to the controls up front and idle around looking for him. Other than some severe bruising to the back of his neck and one shoulder, the backseater was OK. And soon after this incident, he went out and bought a life jacket, which he didn't have at the time this event occurred.

One spring, a fella fell out of his boat into 45-or-so-degree water after a gust of wind blew his boat sideways. "The trolling motor caught a large stump, and over I went," he said. Fortunately, he was wearing Frogg Toggs, instead of his heavier Guide Wear rainsuit. With a looser fit, the Toggs caught a lot of air inside them, and he popped right back to the surface. Then adrenaline kicked in, and three kicks later, he was hanging on the side of his boat. Said the victim, "Call me anal, but the first year I got my boat, I practiced falling overboard (in the summer in 85-degree water) and then getting back onboard. I feel like that practice a few years earlier saved me that day. When I got home from that experience, I pulled out the Bass Pro Shops catalog and ordered an inflatable life jacket, and I'm pretty religious about wearing it now."

Then there's this story about a couple of guys who were fishing for bream from a 14-foot johnboat. The bream were hanging right in front of a spillway, with a lot of current being pulled through the gate. Each time they made a pass, the bream busters would load up, "and we were catching nice ones," said the one angler. The spillway had four gates, with only one pulling water, and there was a little bridge on top for access to the power house. The two fellas just had made a pass and caught a fish when a gust of wind slung the back end of the boat into the current moving through the gate. "Next thing you know," said the one angler, "we were standing up in the boat, hanging onto the bridge. A 20-foot drop onto a cement slab is behind us, and I am wondering how to get out of this one. I flip the Motorguide on high--but no help." Luckily, there was a cement wall on the side of the gate that the two anglers could pull on while running their trolling motor on high, and they eventually were able to work their way out of the current. Lesson learned the hard way: Always be careful while fishing spillways.

For that matter, always be careful no matter where you're fishing. Things can and often do happen in the blink of an eye.

All photos used here are only representative. They in no way portray the actual events.

Friday, November 25, 2016

The Early Bird Gets the...

In this case, the answer is stripers.

Most anglers have pulled their share of early-morning starts to a fishing day, but Ron (below) and his son, Alex (right), launched out of the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel this morning at 0245. That's a lot earlier than I consider getting started this time of year.

Only a little more than three hours later, Ron had landed 15 stripers, and Alex had caught about 7. Unfortunately, a lot of the fish were a little short--Ron had five that missed the mark by just a quarter-inch. However, they ended up with three keepers between them.

"It was a blast catching them," said Ron, "and they will be tasty!"