Saturday, November 21, 2015

An Angler Who Is No Stranger to Winners' Circles

I'm talking about "Red" Bruun, who just wrapped up another dominating season with the Confederate Bassmasters, a Virginia Bass Federation, Region 7, club that has been in existence since Jan. 1, 1974.

A lanky fella, "Red" finished the club's 2015 tournament season by not only winning last Sunday's event held at West Neck Marina but also capturing honors as Angler of the Year (AOY). Another noteworthy achievement this year was his making the Mr. Bass team-tournament competition held March 14-15 on Lake Gaston.

Red's AOY club title this year marks the third time in the last four years that he has claimed this honor. He missed it in 2014, when he finished third in the club rankings. In both 2010 and 2011, he finished second--not bad at all, when you consider the Confederate club maintains a roster of about 20 anglers (give or take a couple), several of which I personally know to also be proven tournament winners.

Sharing the club spotlight with "Red" this year is Chad Johnson, who had the 2015 lunker--a 9.3-lb. beauty that he caught during the July 11th tourney on the Chickahominy River. Chad (pictured here with his 9.3 and one other bass) won that event with a four-fish bag that tipped the scales at 16.8 lbs.

As further testament to his prowess with a "stick" in his hands, "Red" finished in the money at three each of the 2013 and 2014 Dewey Mullins Memorial Bass Tournaments. And this 2015 season, he twice walked away from events in this series with a payday.

To "Red," Chad and the whole gang at Confederate, please let me take this opportunity to congratulate all of you on another successful tourney season. May 2016 prove to be an even more remarkable year for everyone.

Tight Lines!

Chalk Up the Choctaw to Being Genetically Unique

"So, what's the Choctaw?" you may be asking. It's a species of bass, long mistaken for spotted bass, found in coastal rivers along the western Florida panhandle and southern Alabama, among other possible locations.

It was during a 2007 genetic study of other basses in Florida's Chipola River that scientists from the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute first found a DNA profile that didn't belong to any known species. By early 2009, scientists had discovered the same genetic profile in bass populations inhabiting the Choctawhatchee, Yellow, Blackwater, Escambia, Conecuh, and Perdido Rivers. After looking at some earlier scientific work others had done, the scientists came to believe that Choctaw bass likely also could be found in extreme southwest Alabama and southeast Mississippi, just west of the Mobile River Basin, as well as the Pearl River in Mississippi and Louisiana.

Work subsequently got underway to confirm this belief, but it wasn't until 2013, that Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission experts officially could confirm the newest member of Ameica's top freshwater fighting family as being Micropterus haiaka, or Choctaw bass. This name reflects its geographic connection to the indigenous range of the Native American Choctaw tribe. The provisional scientific designation "haiaka" comes from the Choctaw language and means "revealed," or "manifest." Researchers feel that's a fitting label, since they did not set out to discover a new bass species.

Because it's so similar to the spotted bass, the Choctaw is difficult to distinguish with the naked eye. The distinction usually can be made by counting scales, fin rays, and gill rakers, which are comb-like projections inside the gills to prevent particles from collecting on the gill filaments. Foolproof identification, however, requires genetic testing.

The 10th named species of bass and the first one since 2009, the Choctaw bass at full maturity weighs only a few pounds and measures about 14 inches in length. It's typically found in the upper reaches of rivers and streams, where sediment accumulates, avoiding stream headwaters and tidal zones closer to the coast. The Choctaw bass seemingly have staked out their own environments, as researchers have not found any spotted or Alabama bass in the same location.

Since finding this new species, scientists have been working to ensure the population remains healthy by implementing the best possible conservation management practices. Both Florida and Alabama have regulations preventing fish introductions and relocations, which could jeopardize the number of purebred Choctaw bass through interbreeding.

Whether the Choctaw bass has created (or for that matter, ever will create) the stir among anglers predicted in some reports I read about its discovery remains a mystery. As one avid fisherman predicted, "They'll want to catch and release one just to say they've done it." To date, though, my research hasn't revealed a single fisherman bragging about catching a Choctaw bass. Perhaps our angling compadres down south simply see the situation this way: "With all those bigger bass running around our waters, why bother?"

I promise you this: If I ever get lucky enough to take a fishin' trip to Florida, I'm gonna have my sights set on nothing less than one of those unforgettable hawgs--forget the Choctaws.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Getting Back on the Boat After Falling Overboard

Let's face it. That's not such a scary-sounding proposition if it's warm weather, and/or someone else is in the boat with you. But what if it's cold weather, and you're in the boat alone?

Given the fact that many lack the upper-body strength to pull themselves back into the boat, especially with the added weight of all their cold-weather gear, coupled with how rapidly hypothermia sets in (see accompanying chart above), drowning becomes a very real concern. In this situation, a lifejacket becomes critical. A snug-fitting jacket is better than a loose-fitting one in that it insulates your body from the cold water. A flotation coat or coverall is even better because they cover more of your body and help maintain your core body temperature.

Thankfully, though, there are some precautions people who fish solo can take to prepare themselves for such a situation. One suggestion touted by many is to make your way to the boat's stern and stand on the cavitation plate of the outboard while raising it with the trim/tilt button on the motor. Once the motor is raised to its maximum height, it's hoped you'll be able to help yourself onto the rear deck. According to some who have used this method, however, you may end up having to do a belly-flop to complete the operation.

I've also read about an angler who attached a tether cord to his belt and Sospenders--one long enough to allow him to move freely around the boat. He tied off the other end to the boat's boarding ladder.

In a similar vein, Skip shared an idea with me that a fella posted on his Nitro page. This guy trails a 10-inch piece of pool noodle at the end of a 20-foot length of one-quarter-inch nylon rope behind his boat as it drifts.

According to that post, "If you should fall in, you will have that extra length to swim for and can pull yourself back to the boat. Once there, either use your boarding ladder..." or follow the earlier suggestion of standing on the lower unit's cavitation plate and using the trim/tilt switch on the outboard to lift yourself aboard.

The Skeeter SX-190 that I bought last December has an emergency exit boarding ladder, or E-Ladder, (similar to the one pictured at left) as it's more commonly known. This ladder mounts directly to a jack plate or engine bracket.

A spring-loaded pin easily releases the ladder to climbing level. An automatic locking pin allows you to securely raise the ladder back to its stowed position for travel. The only obstacle I know of with installing this ladder is if your boat has dual anchoring poles.

Whether you use one of these methods, or something of your own choosing, the important thing is to have your plan in place each and every time you hit the water in cold weather.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Early Bird Doesn't Get the Worm This Time of Year

Unlike those hazy, lazy, crazy days of summer, when the earlier you could get on the water, the better, this time of year is a whole different ballgame. I was on the water at 9 o'clock this morning, but if I hadn't gotten there until 1 p.m., and had been able to fish until about 4 p.m., it would have been hunky-dory.

As it was, though, I needed to get off the water at 2:30, or face the reality that I would have to put my boat away after dark, and that idea just didn't strike my fancy.

My lone fish for the day was this 1-3 that I caught about 2 o'clock on a chatterbait. However, I had missed two other strikes between 1 and 2 o'clock on the same bait. I had been fishing the chatterbait as a jig, and in both cases of those missed strikes, the fish picked up the bait and started swimming off with it. My problem the first time was that I simply thought I was moving the bait along a submerged log. It wasn't until I finally saw a telltale swirl in the water that I realized what really had been happening. In the second case, I just waited a tad too long to set the hook.

As I came alongside the catwalk this afternoon, I got into a conversation with a young kayaker who told me he has been fishing several mid- to late-afternoons in recent days and doing well on bass. He said you even can see the fish breaking on top. All you have to do is cast to the spot and be patient.

Now if you're looking for white perch, the rules are altogether different. I talked to a fella first thing this morning whom I had watched just making a wide circle in the vicinity of the point leading into the first major cove on the right, above the bridge. We swapped pleasantries as I moved past him to fish a ways inside the cove, and he told me he already had filled a cooler with some nice sized white perch, and I saw him catch several more as I passed him. I couldn't see what bait he was throwing, but it appeared to be some kind of silver colored artificial.

I later came across another fella fishing live bait under a bobber for white perch, and he told me he only had picked up about a half dozen or so.

The water color both above and below the West Neck Bridge today was pretty. I fished a variety of crankbaits, a wakebait, and the chatterbait, but only saw action on the latter. Reckon all I have to do now is to try and convince myself to fish a little later if I want to catch a few more fish. Maybe that'll happen; maybe it won't. Probably won't have to make that decision until maybe sometime next week, because the rest of this one--weather-wise--isn't looking too good to me.

Monday, November 16, 2015

A Disaster Waiting to Happen Because of Overpowered Bass Boats

That's how a Hampton Roads sports writer characterized the Chickahominy River back in a 1993 article.

He based that opinion, in part, on all the twists and turns the river takes through the lowlands of Charles City and James City Counties to a point west of Williamsburg, where it empties into the James River. He also cited the myriad twisting and turning creeks that feed into the Chickahominy (see aerial photo above), along with their countless blind turns.

"Every weekend...until cold weather (arrives) brings a bass-fishing tournament to the Chickahominy," said the sports writer. "Competitors roar down the narrow, twisting creeks and channels, their bass boats skimming and skittering over the surface. They roar through the blind turns, even though they have no idea what lies ahead. They are bass fishing--like it's done on TV. Get out of the way."

The writer went on to describe an incident he and a friend had experienced on the Chick the previous summer. That particular day, the water traffic included small john boats, family runabouts, boats pulling water skiers, canoes, and conventional deep-hull boats.

"Every now and then, we would hear the whine of a bass boat running at full throttle," he explained. "When entering the main river from one of the feeder streams, we learned to wait and listen. If we didn't hear that telltale whine, we would proceed. We learned to do that because one bass boat zipped by very close to us--too close.

"People who live along the Chickahominy have complained for years," the writer continued. "These residents don't want the people to stop fishing; they just want them to slow down. When you're running a boat at a high rate of speed, you have no reaction time. If there's something in the water, you're going to hit it about the same time you see it. Nor do boats have brakes; they cannot be stopped, or even slowed, quickly. People who live along the Chickahominy have seen the near-misses."

There's no denying this part of the writer's claim. For example, a boat traveling 60 mph covers 88 feet in a second--over a hundred yards in four seconds. So anytime you can't see several hundred yards ahead of the boat, particularly on a busy body of water, you're at serious risk of a collision, or possibly an "allision." That latter term is used by the Coast Guard to describe accidents in which a moving boat strikes a stationary boat or object.

The sports writer concluded his piece by advocating that tournament organizers consider a lottery format. In this format, competitors would draw for fishing sites before the tournament started, thus eliminating the race that occurs most of the time. He also suggested a penalty system to ensure safe boating, which would erase the mad dash to weigh-ins.

Running high-powered bass boats indeed is not a matter to be taken lightly. However, I think most would take exception to the idea that these boats "are not safe at any speed," as the sports writer expressed.

As some tournament pros see it, the problem isn't with the high-powered platforms that quickly take them from Point A to Point B during their 8-hour events. It's the experience level of the young people they find operating many of the same kind of high-powered boats today.

"It's funny that you have to take a driver's test to get behind the wheel of a car, but you can get into Dad's boat and run it 70-plus mph with absolutely no training at all," they say. "These boats have no mercy, and even the most seasoned operator can get in trouble if we let our guard down." (NOTE: In 2007, the Virginia General Assembly enacted a law to establish a boating-safety-education-compliance requirement to be phased in over future years. By 2016, all operators of personal watercraft and motorboats with a 10-hp or greater motor will be required to have completed this course.)

There may be no better feeling than skating across a lake at 75 or 80 mph, but safety must be the first consideration. Take it slow and build up your confidence level. Don't make your first trip your last. Here are some rules designed to help you achieve that goal:

     * Never leave the ramp without visibility of at least 200 yards.

     * Remember: GPS is not radar; it shows shoreline and navigation marks but not other boats.

     * Don't be distracted by your electronics while you're running; tweaking the sonar or GPS or taking a cellphone call while on plane is very risky.

     * Never start the engine without your PFD on and your safety lanyard attached.

     * If your bow seat obstructs your vision, take it down every time you go on plane.

     * If you can't be sure of the intentions of an approaching boat, slow down and give way.

     * Anytime visibility is minimal as a result of fog or rain, turn on your running lights--even during the day. This goes for even when you're stopped and fishing.

     * Never make a turn without looking behind you for overtaking boats.

     * Never approach another boat at high speed from behind or head-to-head at close quarters where you can't evade him if he makes a sudden turn.

     * Remember that you lose forward vision in most bass rigs until the boat comes out of the hole; be especially vigilant on take-off.

     * It's both illegal and stupid to operate a high-speed boat under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

     * Make sure everybody stays seated anytime the boat is on plane.

     * Keep a sharp eye out for tug, barge and yacht wakes; they can put a 60-mph boat airborne.

     * Slow down around bridges and restricted channels where boat traffic is heavy.

     * Encourage your boat partners to help keep watch for approaching traffic.

     * Though your boat has no brakes, you can use the trim control to quickly slow it down. Lower the lower unit all the way as you cut power, and the boat will quickly come to a stop.

In short, caution and persistent vigilance are as much a part of modern bass fishing as low-profile baitcasting reels and fluorocarbon line. Keep a sharp eye every time you leave the ramp, and avoid becoming one of those sad statistics.

I feel certain some of my readers--I personally know of two--have had their own encounters with the Chick. If any of you would like to step forward and share your accounts for a follow-up to this story, I'd welcome them. You would have the option to remain anonymous if you so desired. The facts about what happened are what's important--victims' names, not so much, unless you want readers to know. If you're interested, just email the facts to me, and I'll take it from there. You'll get to review and accept/reject anything BEFORE it is published. That's my promise.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

There's Only One Way to Go From Here

That was my thought when this wee bass became the first fish I put in the boat today. It's truly not a figment of your imagination if you're saying, "The lure is bigger than the fish."

I was in a state of disbelief to see this tiny bass dangling from the hooks of a 9/16-oz. wakebait. When he hit, it felt like the bait's hooks had fouled the line. As a result, I kept popping the line all the way to the boat, trying to get the lure to run true. It wasn't until I lifted the lure out of the water that I realized what really had happened.

At this point, I didn't have any warm and fuzzies about how the rest of my day likely would go. That feeling didn't get much better when, an hour or so later, I boated another bass weighing only 12 ozs., again on the same wakebait. Nevertheless, I looked at it as an improvement and kept pounding the shoreline.

A good while passed until I finally caught this respectable bass, which weighed in at 1-8. By this time, I had shifted to a white chatterbait, and, after wearing out all four sides of a big stump with it, I was almost ready to move on when I decided to make a cast about 15 feet to the right of the stump. This fish smacked the chatterbait as soon as it hit the water.

I had no more action until about 1:45, when I managed to boat one last bass that would have measured about 8 or 9 inches. In another 15 minutes, I had decided to call it a day and was heading to the ramp.

On a day when the action appeared to be slow for everyone, I couldn't really complain, especially when I learned that my friend, Charlie, had only put 3 in the boat. He also told me that three or four more anglers had shared the fact they, too, had caught the same number.

The water temp when I started this morning was a tad less than 58. It had warmed to about 65 by the time I quit. As for water quality, it ranged from downright muddy in places to excellent in others--mostly in the coves.

There were several folks who had come out to play by the time I finished today. When I launched this morning, though, there were only three other trailers in the parking lot. Guess some had waited for the sun to warm things up a bit.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

"He Always Outfishes Me"

That was the bottom line in Ron's latest email I received. He was describing the fact his son, Alex, invariably leaves him playing "second fiddle" during their fishing trips.

In this instance, Ron described events during a two-week trip home in October 2013, from his year-and-a-half contractor job in Afghanistan, where he was training Afghans in IED defeat. "I had to look the part," he said, in explaining his heavy beard in the accompanying photo, which depicts him holding a 46-inch red drum he caught during the trip home.

The father and son team were fishing from Sandbridge Pier. According to Ron, "All the regulars had left"--no surprise, since there was no bite and the conditions were poor. "With my time home running out, though," he continued, "we stayed put."

Suddenly, there was a telltale drag scream coming from the rod belonging to Alex. He grabbed it and set the hook. Meanwhile, a lady with what appeared to be a high-end camera started clicking away and didn't stop until Ron and Alex had netted, measured and released the fish some 10 or 15 minutes later.

Ron later was talking to the woman and learned that she and her husband were visiting the area from Richmond. He gave her his email address so she could send them the pictures.

Ultimately, however, this couple shared their story with Tee Clarkson, a friend of theirs who writes for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Clarkson followed up by contacting Ron, saying he wanted to do a write-up for the newspaper. Here's the link to that story:

It was the last day of Ron's time at home when Alex once again showed his dad how to catch the big one (see photo above). Said Ron, "His fish (also a red drum) was at least 10 lbs. heavier."