Saturday, January 24, 2015

Skunks Stink--Period!

That's true, whether you're talking about those four-legged critters, or what they call it when fishermen come up empty-handed after a whole day on the water.

Mother Nature made those cat-sized members of the American weasel family the way they are, so they, therefore, need no excuses for being themselves. Fishermen, on the other hand, though, often have a wealth of excuses for why they had a "bad day" on the water.

For example, you're likely to hear some say, "They weren't biting today," while others may try to blame a cold front for their woes. And, you even may hear this from a few: "It was just too nice of a day." Yes, fishermen indeed can be "full of excuses"--along with some other things I'm deliberately choosing not to talk about in this forum.

If the truth be told, however, fishermen likely would dodge more skunks if they just changed their pattern and/or used their brain to adapt to changing weather conditions. When fish are biting, there's usually a reason for it--like an incoming storm or front, which turns on the fish. When they aren't biting, it many times is because you're simply on the wrong side of a weather pattern.

A cold front or other weather pattern, however, doesn't mean you should call it quits and go home. All it means is that you should adjust your fishing presentation and/or move to a new location.

Here are some tough fishing conditions I found discussed online, along with suggestions to decrease your chances of ending up skunked because of them.

Cold Fronts

These quickly can turn what you figured would be a great day into a bad one. What you need to remember, though, is that cold fronts don't completely shut off the bite. The fish simply move to a new location and likely become a bit more picky about what they will and won't hit. Look for them on structure and go over the areas thoroughly with smaller baits. Texas-rigged tubes or slow-rolled spinnerbaits often will pick up bass during cold fronts.

Blue-Bird Skies

It's beautiful out--not a cloud in the sky, and there's no wind to be found anywhere. A fisherman's dream--right? Wrong! Blue-bird skies are a bad thing when it comes to fishing, and it can make for a tough day, but the good news is that you still can be successful.

The trend during such conditions is for fish to move out to deeper structure. Focus your efforts on deep-water humps and structure, such as brush piles or submerged trees. Fish move to these areas to escape the bright sunlight and/or to follow baitfish that move deeper during bright days.

Some good bait choices with blue-bird skies are Carolina rigs, deep-diving crankbaits, plastic worms, and tubes.

It's Too Windy!

While that's the way some fishermen feel at times, others see windy days as their favorites.

"It breaks up the top of the water and pushes baitfish to the bank where predator fish lie waiting for an easy meal," says the core of  advocates.

Granted, it's difficult holding the boat in position, and casting can be a bear, but the potential reward makes it all worthwhile.

Some of the best lures to use are crankbaits, spinnerbaits, lipless crankbaits, and jerkbaits. Concentrate on areas where the wind is blowing directly onto the bank--the harder, the better. These strong winds usually occur on the front end of a front, such as a storm or cold front, and generally signal aggressive feeding activity.

Based on some recent personal experiences, I have to take exception to this idea of fishing only those banks where the wind is blowing directly on them. I fished such a bank this past Wednesday for two hours without drawing a single strike. On two earlier occasions in the not-too-distant past, however, when the wind was blowing off the same bank, I went there and caught multiple fish each time. Admittedly, the water was muddy this latest trip, whereas it was clear the two earlier times, so that factor could have spelled the difference. I simply can't say for certain.

While I still was formulating my ideas for this article, I did some online research and also asked some friends for their input about what they considered their best go-to lures for avoiding skunks. The following are three results from my online research.

One fella said he used a purple, curly-tail powerbait worm, with a 1/16-oz. screw-in bullet weight to "kill them all day during the summer and winter, alike. I get some good, big fish, mixed in with some smaller ones, so it's always my go-to lure for avoiding a skunk," he said.

Another fella said his go-to lure to avoid skunks is a bubble-gum super fluke.

"The Strike King tour-grade football jig is great for working both rocks and pulling it through submerged weeds," said yet another angler. "It comes in great color combinations and easily pairs up with a huge variety of trailers--the XCite Raptor chunks or Rage baby craws are perfect. This jig will keep your next fishing trip skunk-free, guaranteed."

Here is what I got from friends:

Charlie said: "My year-round go-to is the Yo-Zuri SS Minnow--a shallow-water wonder. Spring through fall, when the water is above 60 degrees, my go-to is a Berkley Chigger Craw in green pumpkin, with a 1/8-oz. pegged bullet weight, one for 2 to 3 feet deep, and one for bottom structure. When I find the depth that works, I pretty much stick with that scenario for the rest of the day."

Skip said: "My go-to lure is a Strike King 3X Zulu. It's like a fluke but has a little more action. It can work like a popper, swim like a fluke, or you can work it like a jerkbait. I also have crimped a split shot and fished the bait Carolina style."

Jim said: "When the chips are down, you'll usually find me with a worm rod and a Charlie Brewer slider worm. No matter what else I toss, I always seem to come back to that. Of course, I've been known to grab a Pop-R if the weather is ripe for topwater. Those two baits seem to work around here. If I'm down on Gaston, my go-to is a Zoom centipede (French fry)--that bait always gets it done."

Rob said: "A small finesse worm is my normal go-to bait."

And last, we come to yours truly, who, as anyone who knows me readily will attest, is a crankbait kind of guy. I love 'em year-round and have two tackleboxes crammed full to prove it. I have many favorites among the collection, but when push comes to shove, there's only one with which I'm willing to go down in a ball of fire at day's end. And that bait, my friends, is a Bomber Square A in firetiger or lemon/lime. I had another occasion just this past Wednesday when the lemon/lime saved my day.

I used to consider flat-sided crankbaits, especially the Bill Norman Thin N, as my go-to winter choice, but experience the past couple of years has shown me that the Bomber Square A is a better performer, regardless of the time of year. I have enough confidence in it that I wouldn't hesitate to choose it if I were limited to only one bait. I would want a selection of both 1/4- and 3/8-oz. sizes, because there are occasions when one size seems to work better than the other, most notably in early spring, when the 1/4-oz. models frequently outshine the bigger ones.

The intended take-away from this discussion isn't as I saw one fella suggest online, and that is just to "stop fishing" in order to avoid skunks. Rather, what you need to do is adjust your presentation and/or move to a different location. Tight Lines!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Be "Odd" to Catch More Bass

By Marc Marcantonio

(Reprinted from http://www.westernbass.com with permission of the author.)

I'll bet you have a favorite fishing spot, or maybe a favorite lure. You know, like that old rickety dock on your "secret" lake that always kicks out a bass or two, or that just-released special finish Lucky Craft Pointer Minnow that has been on fire every time you throw it.

Well, I have a favorite, too, and I bet it will help you catch more bass than your favorite lure. The catch is that my "favorite" isn't a fishing spot or a lure; it's a theory.

The theory that I am about to describe is called the "Odd Man Theory," and I first learned of it in my biological studies in college (which means I have had many years to test this theory). The odd-man theory describes predator and prey relationships, and if you apply it, you will surely net more and bigger bass. Best of all, you can apply this theory by changing how you fish ANY lure. But first, let me describe the theory.

Nature isn't perfect, and every species in nature has its sick, lame and lazy individuals. If these imperfect specimens were to reproduce, their substandard genes could be proliferated and eventually cause the extinction of the species. Predators play a very important role in nature by consuming the less fit specimens. Take the wolf, for instance. Working in an organized pack, wolves will run a group of deer back and forth until one of the deer lags behind the others because it is sick, injured, or just generally weaker. This deer becomes the "odd man" of the herd. The end result is that the weakest become food, and the strong survive.

Bass are predators, and they make their living by eating prey. To survive and gain weight, a bass must consume more calories than it expends when trying to catch its meal. If a largemouth bass tried to chase down healthy shad all day long, it would waste away and ultimately die. Consequently, bass have evolved into ambush-style predators. Their body shape and temperament is better suited to hanging out next to a stump or rock and patiently wait for dinner to come to them.

So Mama Pesce claims the best ambush spot in the lake, and when a school of baitfish comes swimming too close, she eyes the school and quickly looks for the "odd man," which is the sick, lame or lazy of the school. Her trained eye and sensitive lateral line quickly focuses on the baitfish that is struggling to swim, which is evident by its erratic movement and unusual frequency. The big girl locks onto this odd man like a heat-seeking missile, and dinner is served.

Now that you understand the theory, think of the ways in which you can increase the attractiveness of your artificial lures. When I retrieve a crankbait, I greatly increase its attractiveness by making the fake prey look like the "odd man." This is easily achieved by using an erratic retrieve, with quick starts and sudden stops. Everyone has heard top bass pros suggest that it is important to bounce your crankbait off objects during the retrieve, such as the bottom, stumps or rocks. This tactic works because you are causing your lure to look like the odd man, which is nature's way of ringing the dinner bell to bass. What many don't realize is that you can create similar success, even when there are no objects to bounce off, just by using an erratic retrieve.

Visualize how your lure is swimming and make it look sick or injured. When I'm fishing a Sammy with the typical walk-the-dog action, I always use a stop-and-go retrieve, which produces bone-jarring strikes. I will make a long cast and wait a minute before starting to retrieve. Once the water has calmed down, I mentally visualize a large bass or two below my lure, eyeing it to see if it is going to try and escape. Then I start twitching the Sammy back and forth for about 3 feet and then pause my retrieve, as if the lure is testing whether the bass have spotted it. Then I start to retrieve once again, and this time, I may move the lure a daring 4 or 5 feet before once again pausing. Usually by now, the bass have seen all they need to realize that the Sammy is trying to escape but is injured and consequently is an easy meal. At this point, you see the surface flush in a whirlpool, and your Sammy is heading underwater in the maw of Mama Pesce.

How about that favorite spinnerbait of yours, like that _-ounce white and chartreuse number with gold willow-leaf blades? The smallmouth bass will be tearing your lure up all summer when you make it look like the "odd man" by repeatedly causing the skirt to flare in and out with twitches of your rod tip, or momentary stops of the crank during the retrieve.

As the big smallies and spotted bass move into the rocky depths during the summer, the dropshot rig comes into its own. Ever wonder why this rig is so popular with tournament pros? A dropshot rig perfectly imitates injured prey. This rig allows you to make a worm dance in one place until a bass can no longer refuse the easy meal. Jerkbaits, like the popular Pointer Minnow, were created specifically to take advantage of the odd-man theory. They are fished by ripping them through the water with short bursts of speed, followed by pauses and subsequent rips. Alternatively, they are fished by walking the dog under the water's surface. Either way, they excel by imitating injured prey.

Even a Gamakatsu football-head jig with a Yamamoto grub can be improved by applying the odd-man theory. As you drag this tempting morsel along the bottom and feel it come to a rock pile, stop the grub for a few moments. Again, I visualize that a couple of big smallies are eyeing my grub, and then I rip it off the bottom, as if it is making a last-ditch effort to escape but quickly let it fall back to the bottom like it ran out of energy. If a bass is within a Skeeter boat length, it will suck up that Yammie grub before it ever hits the bottom.

For many years, we have fished lures that didn't resemble actual prey in appearance, such as chartreuse crankbaits in clear water. They have probably worked in part due to the odd-man theory, but the latest trend is to make artificial lures as realistic in appearance and action as possible. Crankbaits today typically sport three-dimensional eyes, profiles that are shaped like actual baitfish, and even raised scales that reflect light like the real thing. This attention to detail includes showing red gills beneath flared gill plates and metallic paint schemes that rival nature in realism. Their diving lips are carefully placed in the perfect aspect to create a realistic swimming action.

The idea that lure manufacturers are selling is that your lure will look and act like a real baitfish with minimum skill on the angler's part. Sure, you can take many of these top-quality lures and simply cast them out and reel them back, and you will catch some fish. They are a top-quality product worth the money, but to get the real value of these fake minnows, you have to be sure to apply the odd-man theory. Ciao! (You can reach me at LimitBy9@aol.com.)

The 1's Had It Today


1 bite, 1 bass, at 1 o'clock, weight 1-11--that was my tally for today. As you might imagine, it didn't take much effort to remember those numbers without even the hint of a note to myself.

With the water temp at a tick under 46 degrees when I launched at 9:45 this morning, coupled with muddy water everywhere I looked, I honestly had a fair amount of doubt I would dodge a skunk today. Those conditions, along with a fairly stiff and cold wind, left me second-guessing why I hadn't just rolled over, shut off the alarm, and grabbed a few more z-z-z-z this morning.

My first stop was the point where I've been collecting some fish for a spell now. If any members of the gang were there, they were thumbing their nose at me. The wind was blowing straight on the point, instead of away as it had been the previous two times when I boated fish there, so I can't say I was surprised at the results. After working the area for two hours with a series of different crankbaits without even a smell, I fired up the outboard and came back down the creek to another point my friend, Charlie, often finds fish on. That proved to be a bust, too.

By this time, the clouds were thickening and getting darker, which made me start thinking about throwing in the towel. In another 15 or so minutes, however, the clouds didn't look so bad, and I even was seeing a few blue patches, so I decided to grab another cup of coffee and keep on chunking.

I was moving along a stretch of shoreline close to the channel that leads to the ramp when I suddenly felt a strike and set the hook but then felt nothing, so just kept on winding until I saw the line moving sideways. It was only then I realized I actually had hooked the fish in the first place. By this time, he had sucked my crankbait halfway to his belly button, which left me the unpleasant task of doing some crude surgery. He swam off when I released him over the side, even though it took all of 10 minutes to get him unhooked.

I fished another hour and 45 minutes without feeling another fish, so battened down and headed for the ramp. As I turned into the channel, I saw four fellas in a small craft thrashing the water with everything they had in the boat, also trying to reach the ramp, but all to no avail. I stopped and asked if I could help 'em, and they quickly obliged by passing me a rope. After guiding the four to the ramp, I waited for them to recover their boat, then drove mine on the trailer, and called it a day.

The water at day's end was the same 46 degrees that had greeted me this morning, and the wind still was blowing, too. I wasted no time getting everything cleaned up and put away, so I could head home and get warmed up.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Another Mistaken Assumption on My Part

I've had boat insurance ever since I first owned a rig--always figured that was the law. Guess what, though. Turns out I've been wrong all these many years, dating clear back to the '60s.

As it stands, "The vehicle towing a trailer has to be insured"--that's the official word according to www.dmv.virginia.gov. And if you finance a boat or use it as collateral for a loan, the lending institution likely will require you to have insurance. Also, you may be required to have boat insurance in order to dock your boat in certain marinas or harbors. But that's the extent of it.

According to http://www.dmv.org, a privately owned website that is not owned or operated by any state-government agency, there are only two states (Arkansas and Utah) that have clear boat-insurance requirements.

However, not being required to have boat insurance doesn't necessarily mean you should be without it. One reason some people forego boat insurance is their thinking that boats are covered under their home-insurance policy. A home-insurance policy may provide very limited coverage for a smaller boat parked on your property. But the general rule of thumb is most large items that have their own specific type of insurance available only can be covered by that specific insurance. So, if you have a boat, your best bet is to have boat insurance.

Because boat insurance typically is optional, your policy can be highly customizable. Generally speaking, boat-insurance coverage includes the following categories:

     * Liability. As careful as you may be while operating your boat, the fact remains that accidents happen. If you are found to be at fault for an accident, you can be held responsible for certain costs associated with that accident. Boat-liability insurance can cover costs related to bodily injury and property damage suffered by others in a boating accident you cause.

     * Boat Coverage. There is no denying that your boat faces a lot of risks, and repairs can be costly. Fortunately, there are boat-insurance coverages that can help you get your boat fixed after it has been damaged. Common types of coverages include:
          Collision - This will help with repairs to your boat after it is damaged in a collision.
          Comprehensive - This can help get your boat repaired if it is damaged in several types of non-collision-related incidents. For example, if your boat is damaged in a fire, this coverage can help cover the repairs.
          On-Water Towing - If your boat breaks down on the water, this coverage can help get you back to the dock.

     * Medical Coverages. Along with the risks your boat faces, your body also faces some risks when operating a boat. Boat-insurance medical coverages can help with costs related to injuries you may suffer in a boat crash. (Note: Consider your health insurance before purchasing medical coverages. You may find that your health insurance provides more than adequate coverage for boat-related injuries.)

Several boat-insurance companies offer even more types of coverages, so before you purchase a policy, consider what exactly you need. Keep in mind that not all companies offer the same types of coverages. You also may find some companies with limitations as to what boat they will cover. These limitations can involve the size of your boat, its age, and the type you have.

Here's something else to keep in mind, too, if/when you go looking for boat insurance. If you've already completed an approved boater-education course and have the card to prove it, the insurance company likely will give you a discount. My company (Allstate) cut me some slack.

Incidentally, if you're not familiar with the requirements for having one of these cards, I highly recommend you get familiar by checking out the information found on this link: https://www.boat-ed.com/virginia/boating_law.html.

Do I need boat insurance? Technically, the answer to that question is no. But you may wish you had some if you're ever involved in a mishap on the water or become the victim of a fire or natural disaster. Boats and boat repairs aren't cheap. Consider, too, that if you're ever in a boat collision, your assets can be put at risk in a potential lawsuit. Liability boat insurance can help ease those risks.

Like a lot of other things in life, it all comes down to a matter of choices and personal priorities. Choose wisely.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Cold, Muddy Water Makes It Tough But Not Impossible

When I stopped by West Neck Marina for a few minutes yesterday and saw the muddy, low-water conditions at the ramp, I had a sneaking suspicion the fishing report I would get later from my buddy, Charlie, wouldn't be very good. I knew he was out, because his vehicle was parked in its usual spot beside the one catwalk.

As it turns out, I was right--and please don't mistake me for being smug here, because that's simply not the case. I have nothing but the utmost respect for my kayaker friend and "coffee mate," and, therefore, never would wish him anything but the best of luck.

I merely know from my own experiences, combined with what I've heard or read from many of the pros, that cold water or muddy fishing conditions (angler in upper right photo is on cold, muddy Lake Pickwick) by themselves usually are tough. And together, they nearly always spell bad news. In Charlie's case yesterday, it amounted to one pickerel that spit the hook right at the boat and a lone bass that tipped the scales at 1-8. The latter fell for a crystal minnow.

Charlie's report included the fact he had been throwing a variety of crankbaits and jigs yesterday, which most will readily agree are good choices for the conditions he faced.

One person who would do things a bit differently, though, is Greg Hackney, the 2014 Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year. He advocates using something that will aggravate the cold, muddy-water fish into biting.

His choice is a safety-pin-style spinnerbait made by Strike King, called the redfish magic (pictured left), which, according to him, "has twice as much vibration as any single-spin Colorado blade out there today. You can reel it at a really slow speed... it's made for cold, muddy water," he says.

Hackney's preferred color pattern is a black-and-chartreuse skirt, and he usually reels the bait steadily, making repeated casts to the same isolated pieces of cover. The objective, of course, is to aggravate the fish into biting. In using this tactic, he urges you to remember that "you're often fishing for just three to five bites a day."

North Carolina pro Dustin Wilks agrees that the first step anglers should take in cold, muddy-water conditions is to adjust their expectations. "If you hit the water expecting bass to slam your baits like they did last summer, you're setting yourself up for disappointment," he says. "Mentally prepare yourself by accepting the fact the bite is going to be much slower than normal." Instead of setting a goal of limiting out quickly, like you might under better conditions, he suggests that you "tell yourself you're going to try coaxing one or two big fish into hitting."

Wilks' approach to cold, muddy-water fishing is to flip or pitch compact, weedless jigs and Texas-rigged creature baits. As he explains, "Muddy conditions allow you to move close to stumps, logs and other targets without spooking bass. I try to drop my lure into the thickest part of a brush pile or log jam and work it very slowly. Often a strike is so light, it feels like you've hooked a leaf."

One other lure Wilks uses is the squarebill crankbait. He urges anglers to "try banging shallow stumps and rocks with a crawfish-colored squarebill (like the one pictured at right) beginning about noon, after the sun has warmed up the muddy water a few degrees."

Some anglers also use a black crankbait, which offers a sharp contrast in muddy water. Regardless of color, a slow retrieve is the order of the day.

It's likely doubtful that cold, muddy water is anyone's preference. But then, what we prefer and what we're often forced to fish aren't always the same, especially for anglers who have to work for a living. Saturday frequently is your only available day to fish, and if that happens to be a tournament day, you can be fairly certain the tournament director isn't going to reschedule the event just because there's a cold front and muddy water on hand.

As Greg Hackney describes it, "This is one situation where it's possible to take lemons and make lemonade. Fishing cold, muddy water is not a desirable situation to find yourself in, but it's no reason to throw in the towel, either," he says. "Pick up the big stick, head shallow, and thump some bass."

Charlie may have thumped only one bass yesterday, but that's one more than I, or anyone else who stayed home, can claim. As he related in his blog post, "I really needed to get out. I've been sitting in the garage staring at my gear and TV-13 weather for far too long, hoping for a break. Today, it was a go." ...and he went.

Can't blame a man for wanting to do something to break that cabin fever.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Now's a Good Time to Get Ready for the New Season

I know some fellas hunt this time of year. I also know others continue fishing, and some do both those things, as well as a host of others. My curiosity yesterday, though, when I went rooting around the Internet, was to find out how many spend this time of year cleaning up their fishing gear from last season and getting ready for the one that lies ahead.

Not surprisingly, I learned there are a fair number who do just that.

I discovered one fella who starts his annual cleaning regimen with his boat. "I try to keep it clean during the season," he said, "but that doesn't always happen. I go through all the storage lockers and take everything out, then clean the compartments so they basically look brand new. I wipe out all the little nooks and crannies. They can get gunked up pretty bad after a season of fishing," he explained.

"A clean boat not only makes fishing easier," he continued, "it (the boat) will sell for more money when the time comes for a trade-in." This angler estimated he fishes about 75 days a year--in tournaments and fun outings with friends--and trades in his old boat for a newer model about every three years.

While I didn't find many who appeared to start the yearly cleanup with their boats, I did find several who are into inventorying, cleaning, organizing, and replacing (as necessary) such things as rods, reels, lures, soft plastics, and all manner of other objects you find in the average angler's tackle bags.

According to one angler, "It's a good idea to clean rods with a damp rag and inspect the wrappings on guides. Also run a piece of yarn (some guys prefer using cotton balls or swabs) through the guides to check for rough places and cracks, especially on ceramic guides. Those kinds of places can cut your line, and it seems to always happen when you're fighting a big fish. The wrappings can fail at the worst possible moment, too, so replace all bad guides."

This same angler went on to urge checking the reel seats and making sure they are holding the reels tight. "Oil any threads and bolts that tighten to clamp the reel," he said. "And make sure handles still are tight on the rod and that they don't have any bad places that need work."

Reels, meanwhile, need to be washed on the outside and taken apart to clean and lightly oil the parts inside. "During this process, look for worn or broken parts that need replacing," he continued.

"At the same time, it's a good idea to remove all the old fishing line. Don't respool, though, unless you plan to go fishing soon, because cold weather makes a lot of line stiff, and it goes bad quickly. If you use backing, it's OK to leave it on the reel but make sure it's tight."

When it comes to cleaning out your tackle bags, the first order of business is to find some place with enough room to spread out all the stuff. A home's living room--or for that matter, any room in the home--likely isn't a good choice unless you live alone. Once you find an acceptable area, start sorting the tackle into piles of hard baits and soft baits, then break down everything according to categories: jigs, spinnerbaits, soft plastics, crankbaits, jerkbaits, etc. This is also a good time to replace rusty hooks.

The logical next step is to inventory what you have, making a list as you go along of things you need to replenish and/or replace. Be specific about such things on your list as soft plastics, e.g., indicate styles, as well as colors. Be equally specific about hooks and weights--if you need any. And when you're ready to go out and buy everything on your list, don't forget to take along any gift cards you may have received for Christmas.

Finally, organize all the stuff. Put soft baits in plastic bags according to similar types and colors. Use utility boxes for hard baits, separating them by type, body profile, running depth, etc. Store spinnerbaits in tackle folders with ring binders and removable plastic sleeves.

As one angler remarked, "I like having everything organized so I don't have to go digging for it come tournament day. The less time I spend looking for something, the more time I have to fish."

Keep a trash can handy while you're doing all this cleaning, and ask yourself these questions: Did I use this last year? Did it help me catch any fish? If the answer is "no," get rid of it.

Fishing season may be a ways off yet, but now's a good time to start thinking about that first trip of the year. Winter may seem to be creeping along, but before you know it, the numbing cold will be but a distant memory, and the fish will be biting. If you don't take care of your equipment now, you might end up spending most of that first trip fixing things that break, searching for missing lures and tools, and doing everything but catching any fish.