Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Springing Back to Life!

Let me first admit that I have been in a downright funk the past couple weeks. Thank God for my recent fishing trip out to California or I'd be in a straight jacket right about now. The utter lack of fishing is very disturbing for an individual wired like myself and the fact that we're so close, yet still so far away is haunting. For my readers that live south of the Minnesota border, you'll never be able to understand the pure torture us ten thousand lakers have to endure year after year. See our lakes have been ice covered since roughly December and this winter has dealt us a few substantial blows in that we've had very cold sub zero weather, record breaking snow falls which also lead to the inevitable, river flooding. The cold doesn't help in that it continues to make layers of ice on the lakes that adds days to the thaw meter. Yet just when we had some serious warmer weather and all the snow was close to thawed, we get blasted with yet another Canadian clipper that brings in another half foot of snow in the metro, over a foot up north and more temps in the teens. The result, an even longer winter and even worse river flooding which clearly means no fishing anytime in the very near future. Anyone that questions my soon to be move to Tennessee just purely is not wired like a true bass fisherman, or at least not an obsessed bass fisherman that probably has clinical mental concerns when it comes to the sport.

In hindsight, this period has been considerably worse on me than years past and anyone who's read my posts over the last few years knows that it's bad every year. I got a lot on my plate in the future and I don't plan on leaving a single crumb to waste. If things continue to go right, next winter should be my last here in Minnesota and even then I'll be spending a lot of time down South. Bri and I's move should have us down in Tennessee a lot next winter planning our living arrangements and my plan to make a run at the sport's highest levels should have me fishing year round, as I plan to fish events in the PAA Tour, Bassmaster Opens and/or the FLW Everstart Series. My anxiety level is literally off the charts and the one thing in the world that balances me out is simply not an option, but we're getting close, very close. I'll have a rod and reel in my hand in no time, right?

Being a junkie fisherman, I probably watch weather just as much as I do tournament broadcasts and now I can officially say we are on the mend. Looking at the 10 day forecast here in the Twin Cities we got highs in the 40's and 50's and rain, that's right I said rain, not snow. Nothing wreaks havoc on ice more than 50's and rain, except of course 60's, yes that would be even better but for now I'm focusing all my energy on positives so hip hip hooray for 40's and 50's!! Spring is here!

The next few days shouldn't be to bad for me either as I'll be working the Navionics booth at the annual Northwest Sport Show held at the Minneapolis Convention Center. A long weekend of talking shop is probably no cure for what I got but at least it'll burn up a couple more thawing days and at very least take my mind off the fact that I'm not fishing, which talking fishing isn't exactly the same but it's kinda close.

What's more exciting this time of year than watching the ice melt on all the major Minnesota lakes? Since it's impossible to actually watch the ice melt on all the lakes, the second best thing is the annual website telling us the progress. Follow link here.

I started and am getting closing to finishing a chore that will be rewarding in the end but is also a giant mess and that's going through all my tackle and cutting off old line, replacing terminal parts and reorganizing everything. This also allows me to figure out what needs restocking and it's a lot easier getting products now than in the middle of the summer when my favorite color plastics are all sold out.

Some other things that I have on the agenda or have already conquered are cleaning all the corks of my rods and checking guides for any nicks that would need replacing, as well as cleaning all reels that need a bit of love. Making some necessary boat repairs as well as servicing my trailer are also on the check list.

Lately I've been getting a influx of guide inquiries and dates are starting to book so if you have any desire to book a guided bass trip this year please feel free to contact me with any questions and to check availability.

Well I'll end my post and/or bitch session here so that I don't continue to ramble on and actually put myself back into my funk. Please, if you find yourself at the Sport Show this weekend stop by the Navionics booth and take a look at some of the new things they got in the works or just stop by to talk fishing, trust me I'm all ears!!

Bye bye Winter! Hello Spring!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Tricks of the Trade - Bed Fishing 101

Before I even get started, if you're reading this and find bed fishing for bass to be negative in any way possible by all means stop reading. My personal take on this format of fishing is actually better compared to that of hunting but with an even better take as I practice catch and release 100% of the time. With that said, I find bed fishing extremely intense, nerve racking and just a plain old good time. If you question my sportsman ethics than you clearly have no idea who and what I'm all about. I respect everyone's views, you don't need to respect mine.

On to the basics.

First and foremost, there is one common thing that a sight fisherman needs, a quality pair of polarized sunglasses. This should be common sense but when your trying to see the bass that you intend to catch, being able to see into the water without glare is highly beneficial. If you haven't been to the eye doctor in a while be sure you do, prescription sunglasses or contacts will obviously aid your sight. Also a large brimmed hat as well as a hood can also assist in blocking out additional light.

When sight fishing, it's equally important that you can see the fish and at the same time you don't want the fish to see you. Keep in mind what your wearing, a red shirt isn't the best idea. I like to wear colors that match the sky such as certain shades of blue or white and if there is a lot of cover around you than you may want to consider camouflage. I meant it when I said it, it's more like hunting than fishing.

When it comes to equipment you want to factor which species of bass your going after, whether it be largemouth or smallmouth. In my experience I consider smallmouth bass much easier to catch off a bed and therefor I don't change up my presentation all that much. I usually just use a spinning rod with 8 lb. fluorocarbon and whatever plastic bait seem to be best. When it comes to smallies you can simply chalk it up to their overall attitude, they don't care if your right there, they'll bite it damn it, it's just that simple. I've caught them before and placed them back on the bed just to make another cast with the same lure and catch them again. They got a bad attitude and frankly belong in a loony bin, that's why I love 'em so much.

Mainly I want to focus on tips to catching largemouth as I consider them much harder to catch while spawning. As a general rule, big mouths are much more finicky and more aware of their surroundings.

Equipment is a very big key in bed fishing. I've found a three step process of baits key to triggering a bite. It's a process, sometimes the first bait will do the trick and other times the third and final bait will do the trick.

My first bait choice is a white 1/2 oz. jig. I like the 1/2 oz. jig because it's heavier, gets on the bed quick and is easier to bring to life without pulling it off the bed. Really any jig will do but there is a couple modifications that I feel makes the jig more efficient. First I cut the skirt way down, above the bend of the hook. Largemouth aren't hungry this time of year but they are very territorial. Most of the time they'll nip at the bait and spit it off the bed, so I try not to leave them nothing to nip at without getting hook. The other thing I do is cut off the weedguard completely, again I don't want anything to come between me and the fish. I use white so I can see it, not for the fish. Again they're very territorial, more often than not they don't care what the bait looks like, they want it gone and there's only one way to get rid of something, their mouth, if bass had hands we'd never catch them off beds, pure and simple. I also don't use a trailer, again it's not necessary, always try to avoid the short strike.

If the area you are fishing is real snag filled than instead of the jig I'd go with a texas rigged plastic such as a weightless senko or a weighted tube or Beaver.

Lastly, I always have a dropshot close by with light line and a very dear to my heart certain plastic. If I wasn't sponsored by this company I'd honestly never open my mouth about these plastics, they are simply the best. I've used them before when they were prototypes on smallmouth and ran out within in hour. At Diamond Valley Lake in California earlier in the month, they outproduced every other plastic I had including California's precious Roboworm (Mourning Dawn). The bait I reluctantly speak of is the Biovex Kolt Fish Tail, a bait that comes to life in the water and quivers like no other bait I've ever seen. Also it floats, this is very key when bed fishing with a dropshot rig because I want that bait to sit right in front of the bass's face. Additionally the bait has numerous tiny holes going through it that aids in its buoyancy, I find a better trait in that these tiny holes produce small bubbles exactly like a live baitfish would.

On the terminal side of things I go with a heavier weight similar to the same reasons of the jig. I want the bait to get down as quick as possible and when I impart action I want the weight to be an anchor and keep the rig on the bed. The hook is very important and I go with the best out there, a Trokar Dropshot Hook. There isn't a sharper hook on the market and when I finally get that bass to bite, I want a hook that will bite back. Lastly I use fluorocarbon line mainly 8 lb. test.

One note on line selection that I feel is very important. Usually I try to use the heaviest line I can get away with almost all my regular fishing, the exception being when sight fishing. I know a lot of anglers would argue this point but while sight fishing I want to use the lightest line I can get away with, key words being "that I can get away with". The reason for this is lighter line will let your bait be more realistic and give it more of a natural action. When the key is soliciting a bite by annoying the bass I find this tip to be very crucial. Fluorocarbon always gets the nod here as well, when sight fishing you need to be always thinking stealth. Invisible is as stealthy as it gets so I'm always going to make sure the bass can't see my line.

Now that we're rigged for battle, it's time to catch some fish. This is by far the most addicting way to catch them for several reasons. This is the best time of year to catch a true trophy, the females are the largest and they're extra plump now. You can see the fish and have to initiate a strike without spooking her, way easier said than done. When I come across a fish on the bed the first thing I do is move on and make a mental note of where the bass is. Some people will mark the bed with a long stick or a weight/fishing line/bobber combo. This simply aids them in making accurate casts. I haven't used this but I can see how it could be beneficial. Basically once I spot a bass on her bed I'll simply trolling motor away and develop a game plan. Remember if you come across one on a bed there's a good chance the bass already saw you too. So calming the situation is key plus it gives you time as well. I'll position my boat so that my shadow doesn't cast over the bed, that would not be a good idea so sun in the face or better yet from the side would be best. I get myself to where I can barely see the bed and use the the fishes lateral line as a visual aid. It's like one of those 3D pictures, you stare long enough and you'll see nothing but the hidden image.

Once I feel like I'm in perfect position, I'd ideally drop my Power Poles. Unfortunately, at this time I don't have this anchor system on my boat but it is a must come this Fall when I'm rigging up my new boat. There are so many advantages to having Power Poles and this is surely one of them.

I'll start with the jig and make a long pitch past the bed. It's important to not cast it directly onto the bed as you'll almost always spook the fish, so instead cast beyond and swim it onto the bed. Now is a crucial time as you can see the mood of the bass. If the bass swims quickly off the bed and doesn't come back relatively quickly, you may be screwed and need to come back. If the bass spooks off the bed it's very important that you leave the jig on the bed until she comes back. You may not see the bass anymore but I guarantee she is watching the bed and the fact that there is something foreign in her space will most likely draw her back.

Now that you have a bass on the bed and your jig is also on the bed it's up to you to use your annoying traits and produce a bite. I start by lightly quivering the jig ever so seductively, meanwhile constantly watching the bass and paying close attention to how it reacts. With some luck on your side the bass will start showing signs of being highly annoyed of your jigs presence. An annoyed bass will nose down on your bait, start fanning it's fins trying desperately to intimidate your bait into leaving. Remember they're not hungry therefor they're not going to eat it, to get your bait in their mouth you need to make the bass feel like the only way this thing gets out of their area is by moving it and lucky for us they need to use their mouths to do just that.

If I haven't been bit yet, I'll start getting real erratic with the jig by making quick violent hops with the bait. If the bass turns broadside, I'll whack her on the belly with the bait, trust me it works, you'll get a similar reaction as you would if you hit on some UFC fighters girlfriend and then put your finger in his face after he confronts you. Through all this remember, if the white disappears, SET THE HOOK! The bass will simply crush the bait and spit it off the bed, so cat like reflexes are a must!

If all this isn't initiating a bite or you keep missing on the hook set go to your dropshot and nine out of ten times they grab it instantly. By doing this your creating a reaction bite, the bass was getting conditioned to your jig and all of a sudden another fish jumped on it's bed, game over.

I hope this gives a few readers a better understanding of bed fishing, it wasn't that long ago that I thought this style of fishing was by far my worst, but little did I know I'm pretty darn good at it, it just takes patience and practice. Please remember to be responsible during this time of year, the bass are reproducing and it's important to practice catch and release. There's no denying that bed fishing has a few negatives that come along with it but honestly I'd much rather catch a fish from it's bed before it's even laid eggs than to catch a male while he's protecting his fry and people do that all the time and not even realize they're doing it.

No matter what, please practice catch and release, it's for the livelihood of our sport and if everyone keeps the fishes well being in mind than there's no reason we can't all enjoy hunting our favorite quarry.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Studying the Art of the Spawn

I sit here dwelling on the fact that technically it's Spring, yet just when all the snow was melting and the lakes ice showing it's vulnerability, we get blasted by a bunch more snow and a weeks worth of cold weather. To stay sane, I try to look forward to what's right around the corner and that is bass in the shallows preparing for the spawn. Naturally, I never considered the spawn one of my strong suites, I had tried a few times with less than perfect results but living in Minnesota it's hard to sharpen your skills. Minnesota has a closed bass season from the end of February through the end of May and usually the largemouth bass have mostly wrapped up the spawn and are already blowing up my frog in the shallow vegetation.

It wasn't until last April when I traveled down to Oklahoma to take part in a tournament on one of my favorite bodies of water in Grand Lake, just outside Tulsa. Three consecutive years I had made the trip to Grand with my buddies as a way to kick off the season and enjoy some fun fishing. Fun we had and I managed to get on a bite that pumped out giant staging females that were setting up for the spawn. When I found that there was a Bassmaster Weekend Series event going on I was all in.

I made the trip by myself and took part in a tournament that I really thought I had a better than not chance of winning. It didn't take long at all to realize that the pattern I had come to master the previous few years was a day late and a dollar short. Instead I was finding fish up on the bank spawning. Trust me, had I known this beforehand I would never had the balls to venture all this way and take part in a tournament that would require me to sight fish against a field that employs this technique annually.

To make a long story short, at first I relied on a shakey head to catch these fish by positioning my boat far enough away that I couldn't even see my quarry. I managed to use this technique to boat four descent bass and it wasn't until the last hour that I came across a nice one on a bed. I instantly spooked her and without any hesitation she fled for deep water. Knowing I needed this bass to show face at the scales, I made the commitment to stick out the last hour and throw it all in the wind for a chance at catching this fish using a technique that I've never found successful in the past.

I pulled my boat back and waited and after about 20 minutes she showed up back on the bed. Staying far enough back so that I could just barely see the bass I started pitching a texas rigged Reaction Innovations Sweet Beaver (Xmas Pumpkin) to the bed. To not startle the bass, I would pitch the bait onto the bank and gently pull it into the water and onto the bed. Instantly the bass turned and stared at my bait. I wiggled the bait a bit and the bass moved in for a closer look. After about twenty pitches to the bed the bass was really getting annoyed, fanning her fins hard and trying to kick at the bait with her tail. With time running out I quickly ripped off the Sweet Beaver and rigged on a white tube. As soon as the bait hit the bed I could tell I was going to get my chance, just then the tube disappeared and I set the hook to see a big ole' mouth come to the surface and just like that I had a 3.6 pound largemouth in the box rounding out a pretty solid limit. I can't even begin to count how many 3 pound bass I've caught in my life but that particular one sits in my top 3 catches of all time.

On my recent trip to Southern California I expected that a bed bite may be the ticket. It didn't take to long to realize that my assumption was dead on. For three straight days I honed my sight fishing skills and on the last day was even able to guide two friends from Biovex Baits to bed fishing success.

I had never considered myself good at sight fishing but now have all the confidence in the world and actually am looking forward to the next opportunity. Looking at my upcoming tournament schedule I see potential on two of my first events. One will be on Iowa's Lake Okoboji, which takes place early May. My educated guess tells me that it will be to early in the year but at the same time I'm a firm believer that the bigger fish spawn first and if not the case, having a understanding of where bass spawn will aid me in finding the prespawn females.

Another event will be the TBF Open on Lake Pokegama in early June. This event should definitely offer up some sight fishing opportunities as this lake is located in the far Northern end of Minnesota and the timing should be setting up perfectly.

Check back soon for a "Tricks of the Trade" segment where I plan on laying out some of the tactics that have proven for me. I'll go through bait, line, rod and reel selection, insight into spawning location, technique and differences between sight fishing smallmouth and largemouth bass.

Check back soon!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Diamond Valley Lake, Hemet, CA

Diamond Valley Lake, the "Jewel" of Southern California. I've fished all over the country but never had the opportunity to head out west and get down on some of the world record breaking reservoirs that litter the golden state. Lucky for me, I had the opportunity thanks to Biovex Lures who was holding a meeting in Long Beach and invited me to come out and spend some time in the beautiful state. As far as the meeting went I do have some very exciting news but lets start with the fishing.

I have to admit I was a bit anxious the weeks leading up to the trip, for many reasons really but two main reasons were the long drive and before I could even fish Cali waters I had to get my boat passed through inspections and from everything I had been hearing, this was no walk in the park. You can imagine my anxiety level accepting the fact that I may be driving all across the country, over 2,000 miles one way and be told I wasn't fishing. Luckily, this trip was a blast from the very beginning and everything just went right. I passed inspections with flying colors. Basically, the state of California is trying to keep the infestation of the Quagga Mussel out of their precious waters and zero tolerance is zero tolerance. To be honest, they need to be strict with infested waterways such as Lake Havasu and the rest of the Colorado River so near by.

The drive was truly grueling, really much harder and much longer than I ever expected. The trip was so long that I had the new Dr. Dre and Eminem song, "I Need a Doctor" memorized within the first three states of the thirteen total that we traveled through. Try pulling a heavy Ranger Bass Boat through the Vail/Frisco Pass in Colorado's Rocky Mountains and you'll have a new appreciation for trailer brakes! Though with all that said, I do it again tomorrow! I got problems, I know.

Helping assist me in passing inspections as well as getting on fish was the local tackle shop Last Chance Bait & Tackle. Don't be fooled, this is your traditional Mom and Pop type shop but on steroids. I've visited tackle shops all over the country and this is easily in my top three, with a fighting chance at being my personal favorite. The husband and wife duo that own and operate the shop, Dan and Megan Merchant, stop at nothing to be sure they are carrying the very best products that the industry has to offer. A guy like me can get lost for hours in the isles looking at all the high end baits but also the very hard to get baits as well, including JDM products. Besides tackle, their staff is also full of local knowledge. This is something that shouldn't be taken for granted either. Again, I fished everywhere but there isn't anywhere that fishes like Southern California. Matt Magnone, one of their very experienced employees and a local DVL stick, offered up tremendous knowledge and better yet, I left there a far more experienced angler and know for fact that I'll take some of those techniques he taught me and cash paychecks all over the Eastern United States. Thanks Matt, your the man!

The fishing started out slow for me to be honest. I had done lots of research on the lake the months leading up to this trip and felt pretty confident in my plan of attack. I felt that the spawn would be just around the corner and that I just needed to probe some near by deep structure and I'd find loads of giant females staging to move up. I studied maps and previous reports and felt I had identified some key pieces of structure that would hold up, though inexperience on these Cali waters proved to much as I'm used to fluctuating water levels but not like this. The trees that I had seen on Google Earth were literally under water. The water that I was hoping to probe in 40ish feet was now in 70?? I still gave it my best and after burning up my entire first day I finally caught what I thought to be a giant ledge donkey and instead ended up being a nice striper. Let me tell you about a rush! You throw a football jig on 50 foot structure, feel that "tap" in your line and hook into what feels like a moving tractor, then tell me the thoughts that run through your head while fishing lakes that pump out potential world records like their hot cakes at a Sunday morning breakfast hot spot. To finally win the battle and see it's a striper on a football jig?? Cool, but not really..

Finally later in the day, I ventured shallow and started seeing some nice largemouth up on the bank. I worked one and caught my first largemouth of the trip that went roughly 3 1/2 pounds. I never thought of myself as a good bed fisherman but after this trip I'm pretty damn good. Maybe it's because I can be pretty annoying when I want to be so why wouldn't that work with my fishing? Let me assure you it did!

The next day I started my morning by heading back out to some deeper stuff and trying that again, a bit stubborn but in my defense I never did see any big females up shallow and was convinced that they were holding up somewhere. After again burning up several hours in the morning I started working shallow and right away was awarded with a quality smallmouth on a wacky rigged senko. I catch four pound smallmouth all the time back in Minnesota, but catching them here with a mountain filled back drop is a bit more rewarding.

After now catching two quality bass off the bank I started working my way around the banks and it didn't take long to start seeing the bucks up preparing the nests. The rest of the day I spent sharpening my sight fishing skills with success! I basically went between three different lures to do the job. First I would try the new Matt Lures U2 Flat Tail Ultimate Gill (White), this is a bad ass bait and worked real well. I didn't catch too many on it but it was very effective at annoying the fish so that I could easily catch them on one of my other two baits being a all white 1/2 oz. jig modified to be more effective on bed fish and a drop shot with a Roboworm (Morning Dawn) with a Trokar dropshot hook. There's really no better hook than these Trokar hooks, they're simply the best.

Throughout the days the fishing just got better and better. I was mostly catching males though and from time to time I would see giant females sitting in the flooded trees but after hours upon hours of trying to figure a way to yank on one of these toads, I ended up with a attitude of that's just plain a tough fish to catch. See this lake is known as a light line lake, seriously light line. I never got bit on anything more than ten pound fluorocarbon and that's even considered heavy line to the locals. The lake is gin clear and these fish aren't like any I've ever fished for, they really make you be on your game. I can foresee this year being very challenging on the fisherman because with the water up so high there is so much cover for these fish to hide in. Even worse, there's so much cover for these fish to break you off in. There's a common phrase I hear amongst the locals. Ask them what their big bass is and they'll spit out a ridiculous number like 11.6 pounds but they'll all follow it with "I've broke off a dozen or so better". That's just the beauty of the beast. The Jewel gives it and the Jewel will take it away.

The last day on the water I had the privilege of being joined by Katsushi, the owner of Biovex and Hiro, the owner of Zusho Venture Partners. The reason for my trip to California was to join in on meetings as Biovex who makes awesome Japanese bass baits, will be soon distributing to the United States. This is extremely good news, I've been fortunate to be using these high end baits for a few years now and have been very heavily involved in this new expansion. A lot goes into this kind of move and I've been assisting in developing a line of baits that will cash many paychecks for tournament anglers all across the US. I'm very lucky to be sporting the Biovex logo in 2012 when fishing the Bassmaster Opens and FLW Everstart Series in my push to qualify for the tour level.

Katsushi brought out some new baits that have been developed and we got to put them to good use. It's really a good feeling when the company that I represent makes a bait that out performs other baits that I had been using all week!! One such bait was the Biovex Kolt Fish Tail, a four inch morsel of love with a awesome hyper tail. Tip this bait on a drop shot and it comes to life. Another winning bait was the Biovex Kolt Stick and Kolt Shad Tail, these simply catch fish and there's really no other soft plastic on the market that resembles the detail and action that these particular baits provide.

Katsushi and Hiro went on to catch numerous largemouth their first time bed fishing and we all had a blast doing it. Unfortunately for me I broke off on two giants that day, just as I was explaining before, light line, nasty trees and giant bass don't mix. I easily broke off the two biggest fish that bit all week. Both were females that finally moved up and both found a way to break me off. Still cool though, in the clear water I got to see everything and so did the camera that was running. Stay tuned for the video of numerous bed fish and the tactics used to catch them! It was truly exciting!

In the end, I was slightly ticked that I was never able to crack that deep bite but with only a few days on the lake I didn't really have the time I wanted to be able to break it all down and sometimes the most obvious pattern is the one that will produce in a crunch. I still had a boat load of success and am pretty confident if a bed fishing tourney broke off there that I'd be right up in the mix. There wasn't too many that I couldn't get to bite after a little bit of work.

I also had a chance to hit the annual Fred Hall Fishing and Outdoor Show. I had a good time and got the opportunity to see some pretty sweet baits as well as rub shoulders with some of California's best fisherman. One such was Troy Lindner, son of famed Minnesota fisherman Al Lindner. Troy has clearly stepped out from his fathers shadows by making a name for himself on the west coast. Look at tournament results in Southern California and if his name isn't on the very top, it's surely a spot or two after. I especially like his Fit 4 Fishing, I take pride in staying in shape and truly believe it'll give me an advantage over my competition and Troy's expertise in this field is second to none. Check out his website at www.fit4fishing.com for more information.

Now back in Minnesota, Bri and I can say we had one of the best trips of our lives. Besides fishing and the business end of fishing we also had the chance to visit some nice restaurants as well as some sweet vineyards, you know, things to make my beautiful bride happy of course! To be honest, everything went perfect and I'm very excited to know that I get to go back yearly!

On another far more important note, I want to send my condolences to the people of Japan for the catastrophic series of natural events that occurred there. It hit close to home for me when my friends from Japan had to sit and watch the devastation thousands of miles from home. We need to do something to help the country of Japan and it's people. Here is a link to a donation site if anyone can and wants to help out. Follow Link Here.

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