Thursday, January 19, 2017

Back on the Bass Track

After a couple days of pretty much no action other than from chain pickerel, Ron got back on the bass track yesterday with his afternoon trip to West Neck Creek.

He launched about 3:30 and, as he was heading out, noticed some birds diving north of the bridge, so he decided to check it out. Unfortunately, things had quieted down by the time he arrived on the location. "Not sure what they were after," said Ron.

Since he already was headed in that direction, Ron continued north, fishing the mouths of feeder creeks and structure on the west side. The fruits of his efforts included two 12-inch bass and a nice 1-8 (above right) on the XTS Minnow. He also tried a jig, as well as a Cotton Cordell bait, to no avail.

As the sun was setting then, Ron noticed some surface action in the mid-channel and decided to troll a beetlespin and Road Runner in hopes of perhaps catching some crappie. About a half-mile north of the bridge, he ran into a pole-bender on his ultralight rig, which had the Road Runner tied on. He thought it might be a record crappie, but instead, it was a 15-inch striper (above), which, in his own words, "made my day!"

Looking back on his trip, Ron summed it up as "not bad." He also took time to thank Charlie for sharing some of his seasoned advice with him prior to launching yesterday. If one thing is certain, it's that Charlie knows where the fish hang out in West Neck Creek this time of year.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

To Help Or Not To Help--That's the Question

Running wakes like this, as a minimum, can be tricky, and at the worst, fatal.
I've seen some folks registering their concerns about all the other college-tournament boats that simply ran on past those two University of Florida teammates who got tossed out of their boat last weekend. I counted at least four boats in that parade of passers-by caught on video, and there may have been more. I decided to do a little online investigating and see if I could find out whether those concerns were warranted from a moral and/or legal standpoint.

Unfortunately, this same scene or a similar version may happen more times than one might think. For example, I found a case from this past summer where a fella was running to a boat dock he wanted to fish when he decided to stop and work his way to the dock. "As I worked toward the key spot," he said, "I noticed a pontoon boat a bit ahead on the other side of the channel."

The family/friends group on board appeared to be having engine trouble. "One of the older gentlemen was sitting on the front with a paddle, trying to move the boat to the other side," he explained. "It took me about three minutes to figure out I should stop fishing and see if they needed help. In the meantime, three or four boats went past on pad without a second look. I couldn't help wondering how many other boats had gone by before I got there."

When the fisherman motored over and asked if he could help, they responded, "Yes, thank you." A towing rig quickly was put together, and they started toward the dock a few miles away. During the tow, the pontoon boat's passengers kept working on the outboard and eventually got it to start.

Said the fisherman, "I was struck by how many folks went by, never bothering to slow down and see if they could help. Guess I shouldn't be surprised; yet, I'm constantly reminded how considerate and polite folks are down here in the South.

"Glad I helped and gave up some of my fishing time. Would hope someone would do the same for me in the event I needed it."

These are the two college anglers who took a quick "exit left" last weekend.
Part of the problem, as I understand it, is the existence of what's called "The Common Law." While most of us would agree that you have a moral duty to help a person in need if possible, as a general rule, a bystander is under no obligation to come to the aid of another person in distress. Accordingly, a bystander who did not create the dangerous situation is not generally required to prevent injury to other people who happen to find themselves in the middle of it all.

Like most areas of the law, though, there are exceptions to this general rule. One of the important exceptions is when the bystander negligently created the dangerous situation. Then he/she has a legal duty to do something to prevent injury to others. If they fail to render assistance, they can be held legally responsible.

As a Coast Guard public affairs officer explained, "The main thing we emphasize to boaters on the water is 'prudent seamanship.' That means knowing what the limits are of your capabilities, your training, and your vessel. A boater who is capable of safely towing a busted watercraft should do so. If you have any doubts about your ability to render aid, don't. Towing a vessel, just like towing a car, can be a hazardous thing--more hazardous, even, because a boat doesn't have any brakes.

"As with any emergency, a boater's first instinct should be to call for help. If you see a boater get into trouble, summon authorities immediately, before trying to assist them."

Perhaps the most appropriate bottom line here is a remark I ran across during my research. This one guy said, "I let the Golden Rule be my rule in all matters--Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

A Good Reason for Life Jackets and Kill Switches

"Anglers, departing." That Navy terminology could well be used to describe what you're looking at in the accompanying photo. It happened during the FLW College Fishing Tournament on Lake Seminole this past weekend. The two University of Florida teammates were ejected from their boat while running to their first spot after blast off.

The whole scary scene was captured on their GoPro camera. Check out the video at this link:

According to sources at the event, a locknut came loose on their hydraulic steering, which rendered the operator's control null and void. They were running about 60 mph when steering capability went away, and the boat appeared to hook approximately 90 degrees after planing over another boat's wake, tossing both passenger and driver into the water.

Both young men are alive today because their life jackets were on, and the kill switch was engaged while they were running.

As a couple of local fellas related to me a few months back following a similar incident they had, "It's crazy how fast things can go from perfect to terrifying in a bass boat running on step." Danger lurks anytime your boat chine walks over another boat's wake.

Besides being a reminder for wearing life jackets and always running with your kill switch engaged, let this incident also make you diligent about doing regular safety checks of your boat's steering, motor mounts, and trailers.

Proof Positive (Beyond Any Doubt)

...of a good bass fishing day

...of a banner bass fishing day.

In case there are a few who don't recognize what we're looking at here, it's called "bass thumb." You get it after catching, landing and gripping numerous largemouth bass. When bass are "lipped," their raspy "teeth" dig into the flesh of the inner thumb, as they squirm and shake, trying to gain their freedom.

The angler sporting his "badge of honor" in the top right photo had lipped 50+ bass. It's anyone's guess, though, how many fish the angler in the above left photo had lipped.

A lady bass angler I read about while researching this topic took note of the fact she had suffered for years with what she described as "the dreaded 'bass thumb.' Sometimes I even would quit fishing for the day, with plenty of light left because my thumb was so sore and bleeding,..," she said. "I fretted about what to do to solve the problem."

This lady angler went on to explain that gloves were too restrictive for the delicate finesse fishing she does with ultralight tackle. As a result, she turned to the Internet, where she eventually found a forum in which someone recommended Finger Gloves (see "I read all the excellent reviews," she said, "and ordered a set. Now I come home with thumbs as soft as they were when I was a baby."

Another solution to the "bass thumb" problem is Pro Flex 5, which world-class fisherman Randy Howell uses. Pro Flex 5 sharkskin neoprene covers slip over your finger and thumb, protecting against line cuts, lipping cuts, and rub abrasions (see photo directly above). Meanwhile, your fingertips stay exposed, so you don't lose any feel. Check out the online shop at for the different colors of Pro Flex 5 that are available.

Before I wrap this up, let me share a portion of a story I happened across during my research for this piece. It first appeared as part of the 2007 Angler's Guide, which was published in the March/April 2007 issue of Outdoor Oklahoma. The author, Andy Whitcomb, makes mention of the fact that his philosophy while growing up fishing Oklahoma farm ponds was to "lip everything." That mostly included only bass and bluegill, though. Then he started traveling and experiencing new, toothy species--like pike, walleye and bowfin, to name only a few--and learned the hard way that "lipping" these fish was not without its hazards.

"It was like extreme, full-contact fishing," he said. "I used to believe that a successful fishing trip meant that I returned bleeding. I'd grin and bare it, then bandage it.

"Now many years later, I have reached a point where I do not have to have an open wound after a fishing trip for it to be successful. However, a slight disfigurement not requiring surgery isn't all bad. I have come to appreciate some of the finer things, like those tiny, pointy teeth on a bass's lower lip.

"I know some say to leave the bass in the water while removing the hook. However, it is vastly more satisfying when, just for a minute, you reach down and pick that big ol' bass out of the water. Immediately, there is a slight pain in the thumb that lets you know, if you did not already, that you pulled it off.

"Then you feel its heft and see it's dripping wet, glorious green and black. Nothing else is lifted for the sheer pleasure of feeling heavy. While momentarily distracted by girth calculations, your thumb is a palette being sculpted, chiseled in a few uneasy seconds by many perforating little teeth.

"The result is not unlike your thumb having a close encounter with an extremely fine cheese grater. You are left with a bristle of hundreds of partially detached skin pieces. For the next few days, each time you use that opposable appendage, each tiny flap of skin creates a tingly reminder of time much better spent. Simple, routine activities, such as brushing teeth, lifting a cup of coffee, or signing your name may trigger the sweet pang of bass thumb.

"For the most part, this transitory scar usually goes unnoticed. Most people just don't go around examining other people's thumbs. However, if, during the course of a successful fishing trip, my thumb becomes a shredded mess, for the next couple of days I become like the 'Fonz.'

"'Ayyy,' I say with the classic 'thumbs up' gesture to no one in particular.

"My souvenir keeps me grinning while I am back in the office. Suddenly an abrasive character, I put my thumb out there for the world to see. This is when I want to be fingerprinted. This is the thumb I want to be remembered by.

"I get no greater satisfaction from an injury from any other outdoor activity. There is nothing pleasant about ringing ears from skeet shooting, blisters from hiking, sunburn from swimming, scraped elbows from biking, or rolled ankles from basketball. But bass thumb is different. It allows a type of 'closure' in a brief, turbulent relationship.

"A day of fishing will be over all too quickly. If I catch a bass, that 'Man vs. Nature' battle may only last a couple of minutes. When it is over, I will slip the bass back in the water and watch the ripples subside, leaving me, hopefully, with one lasting impression."

"People should shake your hand and know that you're a bass fisherman, not a wisherman," as one angler put it.

The piece of art above is a reprint of what appeared with the original article.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Relax and Take It Easy

That's the title of a 1951 country music tune recorded by Tommy Duncan. It's also what Ron decided he wanted to do today, and he did it. How? By taking a 6-mile, 4.5-hour fishing trip in his kayak.

He launched in Hell's Point Creek at Sandbridge Road, where the water was very low and murky. From there, he headed north.

Ron tried a variety of lures, throwing to structure. At trip's end, though, he only had managed two dink bass (see above right) and a very small crappie (left). All three fish came near the end of the trip, when the sun poked out for a spell. The only lure they would hit was a beetlespin.

"Tomorrow should be similar weather," said Ron, "so I will head out somewhere."

Never Give Up!

That includes even when you're down to the last 5 minutes of tournament fishing time. No bassin' pro alive today is a more vocal advocate of that philosophy than--you guessed it--bass fishing's original "bad boy," Mike Iaconelli.

For a good spell now, the fishing world has known Iaconelli as the man who nearly always screams "Never give up!" right after he has caught a last-minute bass in a tournament. However, I'll bet there are a lot of anglers out there who have pumped a fist or two high into the air, and/or maybe have done their best imitation of Ike after catching a tournament-winning fish within the last 5 minutes of competition.

This much I do know: I've certainly heard my fair share of "winning fish caught in last 5 minutes" stories during my time as tournament director for the Dewey Mullins Memorial Bass Tourney Series. On many occasions, a 3-, 4- or 5-pounder caught just a few minutes before weigh-in has spelled the difference between walking away as winners or losers.

I found several other examples online, too. For instance, there was a young co-angler who shared that his FLW Tour pro had pulled up on a "last chance" spot that was close to the tournament check-in point. With that one final cast, the young co-angler hooked and landed a fish that helped him win the co-angler title by less than a half-pound. "Stay focused," was the young angler's advice to others. "I can't tell you how many times a fish has made a big difference for me in the final 5 minutes. If you're not focused, you can miss that chance."

In another case, a tournament duo had caught four fish early in the day, "thinking it was going to be a typically good day." To their chagrin, however, several hours then passed without a single fish. It wasn't until about 5 minutes before day's end that one of them finally boated a 2.83-pounder to win both the tournament and the big-fish pot.

I also read an account where, in the last 5 minutes of a tournament, Elite Series pro angler Dean Rojas pulled out a victory with a 3-3 and a 2-13. That success came after enduring a spell in which he had lost a fish and caught three more that didn't meet the 12-inch length requirement.

Yet another example was Winchester, VA, weekend angler Mike Callahan, who won an American Fishing Tour bass tournament on the Potomac River in the last few minutes. He already had caught 10 good keepers but culled a 2-pounder with a 3.5-pound bass in the final 5 minutes to give him the victory with a sack weighing 17.25 pounds.

And finally, we come to Boyd Duckett (left), who, at the end of each season, always tries to sum it up in one statement. For 2016, he said there's only one sentence, even though it's admittedly not original, that works, and that is: "Never give up."

As he pointed out, "Every angler has been through times when he wanted to give up, times when he felt so lost and defeated that he was ready to pack his tackle and head to the house. Whether he (or she)  was tempted to quit the sport entirely, quit on a season, or maybe just quit on a tournament or two, EVERY angler has been there."

This past year, like most others, found Duckett coming down to the final Elite Series event in LaCrosse, WI, needing a clutch performance to make it into the Bassmaster Classic. He remembers sitting under a bridge with Mark Davis and Kelly Jordan during a driving rain and thunderstorm, thinking he probably was in something like 80th place. To make matters worse, he didn't have a single fish in the livewell at that moment.

"We were hoping the weather would eventually clear enough to see 10 or 15 feet in front of our boats," he said. "But I didn't panic. I'd been there before. I just chose to focus on the hope that I would be able to establish a pattern before the day was done. I truly thought I had a chance to catch some fish, so I kept telling myself, 'Don't give up.'"

At the same time, however, neither Duckett, nor those other two anglers, were giving any thought to heading back out and fishing through the storm. As Boyd explained, "Four times in my life, I have been on a body of water where guys were struck by lightning and died. So I wasn't going anywhere, and neither were Mark or Kelly."

All three guys ended up having to get out of the storm's way twice that day, totaling about two and a half hours of lost fishing time. Between those retreats to safety, Duckett ran to a jetty break and caught a 3.5-pounder in swift water, so when the weather had cleared the second time, he ran back to the same spot, but nothing was happening. Convinced the same pattern would work, though, he kept moving and was able to catch enough big ones to stay in the game.

Duckett finished 15th at LaCrosse and 12th in the AOY event on Mille Lacs Lake in Minnesota and still barely made the Classic field (he finished 37th out of 39 Elite Series anglers). "It was close," said Duckett, "but the obvious lesson is: Never, ever, ever give up."

I would add one more thing here: I think you have to believe in yourself and your abilities, especially when it comes to making big things happen in that last 5 minutes of any given tournament day. It's too easy to say, "OK, I give up. Maybe next time." I've often said that, and I've also heard a lot of other guys make the same comment.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Time for a Fish Fry

That's what Ron chose as the subject line for his latest email.

It seems he and his son, Alex, headed to Lake Tecumseh Friday, hoping to catch enough crappie for a good fish fry this weekend. Turns out both of them had some luck.

Ron's tally included a 1-6 bass (see below left), four chain pickerel to 20 inches, and a bunch of crappie. Meanwhile, Alex claimed crappie bragging rights for the trip with one measuring 14.75 inches and weighing 1-8 (see above right). They collectively took home 10 nice ones for the frying pan.

Ron explained that the bass and chain pickerel were slamming the XTS Minnow, while the crappie were interested only in the beetlespin. He was using an ultralight rig for the crappie, which he described as "a blast."

"The weekend looks fair to middlin'," noted Ron, "so we shall see."

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

A Little More Twitchin', A Little Less Jerkin'

Pick up any dozen articles about jerkbait fishing, and before you've read past the first or second paragraph in about 10 of them, you've undoubtedly heard the standard advice about using a jerk-jerk-pause cadence. That's why I read a little farther here recently when I saw a jerkbait story in which Elite Series pro Fred Roumbanis (right) proposed a different cadence.

Instead of simply taking a few quick winds to get your jerkbait down to its optimum operating depth, Roumbanis suggests taking a few "winding jerks" after the bait hits the water. In his words, "This allows the jerkbait to reach its horizontal plane quickly, thus spending more time in the most productive strike zone."

When using braided line with jerkbaits, as Roumbanis does, a "twitch, twitch, pause" cadence, in which you only move the rod tip 8 to 10 inches, is preferred, compared to the traditional method. His contention is that these smaller rod movements will help you avoid ripping the hooks away from fish. Instead, you'll feel pressure and know it's time to set the hook.

It's also important to use a rod with a very soft tip, according to Roumbanis. The soft tip ensures your twitches have a less drastic effect on your jerkbait. "The idea, after all," he said, "is to keep your bait in the same area as long as possible." His personal preference is the 3-power, 6-foot 9-inch medium-action iROD Genesis II Series.

"Jerkbaits and cold water are a phenomenal combination that can load your boat in a hurry," noted Roumbanis. "If you're having trouble getting bites with more commonplace tactics, however, don't be afraid to go against the grain. Sometimes, all it takes is some simple experimentation to turn a tough day into an unforgettable one."