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Blog Entries: Dec. 30 | Dec. 22 | Dec. 17 | Dec. 9 | Dec. 1 | Nov. 24 | Nov. 18 | Nov. 11 | Nov. 4 | Oct. 28 | Oct. 21 | Oct. 14 | Oct. 7 | Sept. 29 | Sept. 16 | Sept. 9 | Sept. 2 | Aug. 26 | Aug. 19 | Aug. 12 | Aug. 5 | July 29 | July 22 | July 15 | July 8 | July 1 | June 24 | June 17
Last week, Dennis Casavant, a friend of mine and a hard-core basser, asked me to go fishing. Yes, it was cold, but I'd already opened up my big mouth about looking forward to winter fishing.
We agreed to wait 'til late morning before launching. This decision allowed the sun to blaze away and bring the temperature up to a stifling 35 degrees.
Before heading out, I asked Dennis where he intended to stop first. He said he had heard the bass were hitting off main lake points. These points were several miles down lake from our ramp.
As we idled out toward the main channel, I pulled the two hoods I was wearing over my head and secured them with a paintball mask.
I was putting gloves on when Dennis asked if I was ready. I nodded "yes," and the boat shot forward on plane.
One would think that a long sleeve t-shirt, red thermals like Jed Clampett wears, another thermal top, sweatshirt and hoodie under a hooded winter coat would be able to keep someone warm.
They don't. At least, not when a boat is on plane.
I was contemplating crawling into a rod locker when Dennis punched me on the shoulder and pointed to a steep rock wall. My ears were frozen but I think he was asking me my opinion about stopping there.
I nodded yes and sent up a prayer of thanks.
We stopped, trolled to the wall and forgot about the cold as we started casting for bass.
A strong gust of wind came up just as Dennis was casting a crankbait and his reel backlashed badly. He finally undid the bird's nest but the boat had drifted quite a bit, so he burned the crank back for another try.
He had the lure about halfway to the boat when his rod almost got pulled out of his hands. Something really big loaded up on that thing!
"Got one!" he shouted and struggled to turn the beast.
Dennis fought that fish forever as it stayed down and pulled drag the whole time. I was pretty impressed that he never panicked or got impatient. He did a great job considering he was using 8-pound line.
Finally, he turned the unseen foe and it swam toward the surface. It was a musky and a nice one, too.
After a few more bursts of energy, it settled down enough to net. In the boat we noticed the fish was caught with one treble on the outside of its mouth.
Here's the thing: I'm not a musky fisherman. It was cool to see one, but I'm not going after them on purpose. But, until the day I die, I don't think I'll ever see a happier fisherman than Dennis was after landing that fish.
Part of the mysterious joy of fishing is watching our friends and family have the time of their lives pulling a simple fish out of the water. Next time, though, I hope it's a 10-pound bass.
Please feel free to e-mail me with comments or ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading, be safe and good luck!
The results are in regarding the breeding striped bass phenomenon in the "Sherlock Holmes, I Ain't" column. By way of review, we were discussing the ability of striped bass to breed in a highland reservoir with limited access to flowing water.
Many thanks to the brave souls who ventured a guess!
Surprisingly, every reader except one offered a similar answer. By similar, I mean the same. By the same, I mean eerily identical.
Almost every opinion offered quoted Jeff Goldblum in The Lost World: Jurassic Park. In an obviously memorable scene, Goldblum and company are trying to come to grips with supposedly sterile dinosaurs successfully breeding. Goldblum's response is "Trust in nature and life will find a way."
I can't argue with that concept. Nature's pretty much adopted the Marine Corps ideal of Adapt and Overcome.
The problem is that most of us scientifically-minded bass angling geeks couldn't accept that as an answer. I sort of envy all the wonderful readers who can look at something, consider the available information and think, "There it is, and it is what it is. I accept it."
Being able to do that convincingly would sure make things a little easier, but the Vulcan part of my brain would never allow it. The mystery of "how" still begs an answer!
One reader must have dug down deep for inspiration or had an epiphany. Wesley Parker offered the possibility that underwater springs may be the solution.
I found this to be an interesting idea and, in my limited abilities as a biologist, just as plausible as the stripers swimming up a flooded stream that coincidentally occurs just as they are spawning.
Consider this: Perhaps there are deep-water springs located in rocky areas with a steady flow at a constant temperature. That might allow the stripers to spawn near them and their eggs, or at least enough of them, to sink down and get caught up amongst the rocks. The flow of water would keep the eggs free of sediment and thus be able to absorb oxygen.
Far fetched? Yeah, pretty much. Impossible? I don't know.
In the end, I'm positive we'll find the answer. If it's happening in one place, it's happening in others.
On a side note, I owe everyone an apology. The address I posted in my Nov. 24th column is unusable. Evidently, Walter-Reed Army Medical Center has no choice but to dispose of all the letters they receive without named recipients. They want to eliminate the chance of scams and harmful substances reaching our soldiers. I hope anyone who wishes to send something to a service member will find a way to do so. If you are successful, please feel free to e-mail me the address.
Again, sincere thanks to all the folks who sent in opinions on the striper thing. It was fun!
I hope these Holy Days are memorable for the warmth, comfort and joy they bring to you and yours.
Please feel free to e-mail me with comments or ideas at email@example.com. Thanks for reading, be safe and good luck!
December 17, 2008
Like many people, I've been trying to shake a cold that's been dogging me for a week. It won't let up. It just moves from head to chest at will. The pharmacist said this particular bug has been rough on "seasoned citizens" because of its duration and severity, and I believe him. It's been a hoot for a relatively young guy.
One positive aspect of being under the weather is that folks will generally leave me alone. I like to call that the Lone Wolf philosophy. My friends and family, however, say it's actually "borderline hermit." Either way works for me.
Satan's Cold abated a little this weekend, and, hermit or not, after a day off work and being quarantined in my office the rest of the week, I felt ready to try some fishing. I called a buddy of mine and we arranged to walk the bank out at Happy Valley Reservoir.
It was 25 degrees that morning, and a rational person would have known better. But, as other bass fisherman can attest, the fishing bug makes us do inexplicable, irrational things.
In the back of my mind I knew I should have waited a few more days before any kind of physical activity, especially committing to a mile-long hike up and down steep banks. Truthfully, about twenty steps into the walk, I almost turned back ... almost.
The love of fishing gave me enough energy and determination to overcome reason and logic. Somehow I kept up with my friend's pace, and we made it to our destination for a few hours of cold-water fishing.
It wasn't long after our arrival that I noticed a lack of fish. For some reason, the dude I was fishing with was catching bass and I wasn't. I chalked it up to being restricted by the coat and being over-medicated on Tylenol Cold. I couldn't wait to take my coat off, but there was still ice along the bank and a slight but constant wind that provided a great chilling effect.
By early afternoon, I had still caught no bass, and the situation was desperate. The sun had come out, however, and it had warmed up considerably. I finally decided to shed the coat, and that made it much easier to fish the Thunderstruck football jig I was using.
On the second coat-less cast, pow! Unlike the Chickahominy crab incident, this was a real strike from a real bass! She came off a stump in about 12 feet of water and was using all of her skills to wrap the line around some kind of cover. Like many cold-water battles, it didn't last long. I soon had a dead weight on the line and she easily came to shore.
She wasn't a hawg by most folks' standards, but she was beautiful to me. At three pounds even, this wonderful piggy made the illness-induced delirium of the hike well worth the effort.
And some folks wonder what the big deal is about bass fishing?
Please feel free to e-mail me with comments or ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading, be safe and good luck!
Sherlock Holmes, I Ain't
December 9, 2008
I have a mystery that I believe someone, somewhere can solve. It doesn't involve largemouth, spots or smallies, but it does involve "real" bass and it's pretty interesting to me.
Here's the background: An 800-acre local reservoir was built to supply drinking water in the 1920s. The feeder creek is a small, shallow stream whose mouth, at this date, is fairly silted up. Unless the area receives a deluge of rain, the current from this stream is very weak.
The reservoir reached full pond in the '40s. Soon after, the Fish and Game guys started stocking it with fingerling trout, largemouth, walleye, pike, several species of catfish, crappie, yellow perch, shad, striped bass, etc. In the '70s, they introduced smallmouth.
For various reasons, the state stopped all stocking in 1991.
At present, the fishery is doing well on its own. Black bass populations are thriving, as are the pike, bream, perch, shad and cats.
The walleye population is way down, and the trout have disappeared entirely due to overharvesting and limited proper spawning habitat.
OK, for all the biologists and fisheries sleuths out there, here's the mystery: The striped bass are doing well and appear to breeding. There are several 25- to 40-pound stripers caught every year. Those fish are understandable since stripers can live up to 30 years.
But how are fishermen also catching everything from 6-inch stripers on up? The last stocking, at best, was 17 years ago.
I'm not a biologist, but I do like to research things. After a few friends started to tell me about how odd it is for these stripers to breed, I did a little research.
From what I've read, it seems that stripers need a good volume of steadily flowing water for their eggs to stay alive and hatch properly after spawning. Since striped bass don't protect nests like Black Bass do, their eggs must drift or they will die from lack of oxygen.
As I wrote before, there are no fast moving, deep-water streams supplying this reservoir. Where are they spawning?
The best that can be offered the stripers is the very rare flood during their spawning period. Also, if the flood is bad enough, the water authority opens up a concrete tunnel from another creek to help alleviate downstream damage. Is this tunnel the answer? The problem is that the entire watershed is mountainous and any flooding into the reservoir is over relatively quickly.
In short, the striped bass population is breeding and even the local F&G guys are mystified. In order for them to breed as nature intended, the bass must have a perfectly timed flood, with the correct flow and temperature of water that lasts a sufficient time during their spawning cycle.
Or do they? Nature, of course, does some amazing things.
Perhaps the real mystery is why I just can't accept it as it is. I'd sure appreciate any thoughts anyone may have.
A Timely Deception
December 1, 2008
Yard sales don't normally interest me. I don't have anything against them. It's just a matter of interest vs. no interest. This weekend, however, I drove past a yard sale and saw a few rods lying against a table. Like any addicted fisherman, I had to check them out.
The lady holding the sale said the rods and fishing stuff belonged to her husband who had passed away recently. She said she didn't fish and, since no one else in her family did either, she thought she'd sell it to someone who would appreciate it.
Having a soft spot in my heart for widows, I asked her where her husband used to fish maybe I knew him. She said he mainly fished at the beach.
"Really?" I said. "Is this the stuff he used at the beach?"
"It sure is," she offered. She even claimed that she saw him use it there.
Right then, in my head, I called b.s.
"That's nice," I said. "Well, good luck," and walked back to the car.
See, the rods this lady had out were all ultra-light or medium. The reels were either Zebco 202s or small spinning reels. The baits were new in-line spinners and a few jars of trout glop not exactly beach-appropriate stuff.
Either way, on the way back to the car I took a closer look at the other things this poor, ol' widow was selling and noticed that most of it was awfully new and shiny.
Maybe it was the way I was raised, but I despise fraud under any circumstances and this lady was laying it on thick.
Now, I realize in the grand scheme of things that this little ol' lady's deception doesn't rate very high on the super-villain scale. She's definitely no Joker or Darth Mal. It just seemed a little weird that she thought she had to make up some story.
Nevertheless, on my way to the store I was heading to before the yard sale, the Samaritan in me came out again. I realized that some kids could use that equipment and decided to stop back by after the store. I know a woman who's a true leader when it comes to getting kids involved in fishing, and she can certainly put that stuff to good use, especially for Christmas presents.
I drove back and noticed that the rods and most of the other stuff were gone. It was time to head out to the tackle store.
"Funny thing," I thought, driving to the store. "If I hadn't stopped at that yard sale and hadn't had that lady's trickery on my mind, I might not be driving now to pick up fishing stuff for the kids."
I know this isn't a riveting story, but it demonstrates (at least for me) that the good in our sport will always manage to trump the bad.
I hope whoever bought that stuff from the widow will appreciate it.
Never Mind the Turkey, Thank a Soldier
November 24, 2008
When I was a little boy maybe 5 years old my mom took me to a parade. When the military honor guard passed by I asked her who those men were.
"Those are Army men," she said. "They protect you."
"What about the policemen?" I asked
"They protect them, too," my wise mom answered.
To this day I hold in my heart a deep-seated appreciation for our military, for what they did and continue to do for us. I'm also honored that several of the guys I regularly fish with are either active duty or veterans.
But as honored and appreciative as I may be, all that pales in comparison as to how thankful I am for the men and women of our military.
It doesn't take much effort to recognize that every liberty and freedom we enjoy has come at the expense of and is protected by the lives of our troops, even the seemingly simple liberty of dropping a line in water to catch bass.
The military fights for our right to private property and free speech so that we may fish in our own ponds and watch all kinds of fishing shows on television.
They fight to protect the free market so that we can buy all that wonderful bass fishing equipment and accessories.
They protect our nation so that we may fish for recreation rather than necessity.
Certainly, the civilian population enacts laws and promotes justice, but we do so in the protective bubble provided by the military.
The other day someone I had considered a friend and I were discussing the war on terror. Surprisingly, he said he was tired of the war and tired of all the hero worship of the military. It was his opinion that the soldiers volunteered so they don't have anybody but themselves to blame for their situations.
How horrible it must be, I thought, to live in a nation where folks are putting their lives on the line just so you have the right to a flippant opinion like that. I told him I don't think any rational person wants war, but I will never abandon our troops in thought or in deed. Every one of them should come back safely and victorious, but not forgotten and never, ever unappreciated.
It is my hope that we, as a nation, give special and sincere prayers of thankfulness for our troops as we sit around the Thanksgiving table and every time thereafter. And possibly, the next time we're out on the water, we can send a simple, silent prayer for all the troops who would love to be fishing beside us.
Also, here is a very important address sent to me by Jake Chambers in Texas. Let's show the protectors of this nation how thankful we are and that they are truly not forgotten:
A Recovering American Soldier
c/o Walter Reed Army Medical Center
6900 Georgia Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20307-5001
November 18, 2008
I've seen that fellow before, sitting in a lawn chair a few feet from the water. Just like the previous occasions, he was calmly smoking a cigarette while watching the lines of two rods he had in the water.
His cell phone rang and, as he stood up to get better reception, one of the rods bent toward the water. Juggling the cell phone in one hand and setting the hook with the other, I watched as he danced around trying to keep the fish on while holding a phone conversation at the same time must have been someone important on the line.
As I walked closer, he folded up the cell phone and proceeded to land a big, fat carp.
Meet Aleksandr Biela, native of Poland, transplanted New Yorker and all-around nice guy.
The first time I met Aleks, he was sitting in the famed lawn chair at a spot several feet up the bank. Since then, the water has receded and he now has a few more level spots to set the chair.
I asked him then what he was fishing for and he replied, "Carps." He stood up, walked to the water and pulled out a stringer with three large carp.
"Uh ... nice fish," I said, "You eat those things?"
"Thank you," he replied with pride and a smile, "Water is very clean here. Fish are good to eat."
I knew right then that this was a good guy, and we sat down and talked for a few minutes about carp fishing. I soon needed to head out toward more bassy waters, so I shook his hand and moseyed on.
Over the next several months, I've had the pleasure of meeting Aleksandr's wife and learning about the secrets for catching large carp. One secret is to use potatoes as bait. Another is to use as little weight as you can get away with. A third is to use a slip float.
Now the only time I fish for carp is when my father and I wet a line, which was once this year. I grew up in an area where folks generally don't eat them, either.
I don't mind fishing with Aleks and his carp because I get to talk with a guy who generally loves fishing and serenity and who has lived through some amazing things in Poland.
He is of the generation that helped Lech Walesa and Solidarity stare down the cold eyes of Soviet-style communism in the 1980s. It was Polish people who bravely shook their fists at tyranny and shouted, "No more!" Through the struggle of Aleksandr's generation came freedom for the other Eastern European nations and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
And now, some twenty-odd years later, on the shores of a lake in the mountains of Virginia, I get to talk with my friend Aleksandr Biela a man happy to be at peace and to fish for his carp.
After all, the water here is clean and the fish are good to eat.
He looked a little startled and asked me, "Why won't you fish in cold weather?"
"Because," I said, "it's cold, man ... come on!"
Luckily, he didn't put up with that boo-hoo nonsense and shamed me into fishing with him in 40-degree weather.
I fell in love with cold water bass fishing as quickly as I fell for Stevie Nicks back in the '80s. By the time winter was over, 40 degrees seemed almost balmy and I had a new outlook on bass fishing year round.
Truth is, last winter spoiled me, and I've been secretly pining for winter all summer. Don't read that wrong. I love fishing in any weather, hot or cold. Angling in cold water, however, started a whole new chapter in this basser's bassing life.
Admittedly, I'm not a huge fan of "crazy cold" and there were days last winter when I probably should have stayed home rather than risk hypothermia. But, in my opinion, the rewards of fishing in cold water far out weigh cautious risk.
The reason why winter fishing holds such a grip is simple: It is a situation where different thought processes and skill sets are required. Successfully fishing cold water forced me to think more like a bass, to slow down and to maximize every opportunity. Strangely enough, that thought process even carried over into the spring and summer.
I learned that bass don't always stay deep in winter, that a buzzbait sometimes works in cold water, that a smoke-colored lizard can be deadly in December, that a 3-pound largemouth will most assuredly bite a float-and-fly and that a 20-second pause while retrieving a suspending jerkbait might be rushing it.
There's no arguing that the winters in the Mid-South are quite a bit milder than, say, Wisconsin, Wyoming or Massachusetts. We don't really have much ice-over. Most of our water is open even during the depths of winter. It does get cold, though, just not minus-30-degrees-for-three-weeks-straight kind of cold.
That probably makes a difference, huh?
This year I've prepared for Old Man Winter by acquiring some quality thermals, gloves and a good jacket. I even bought a thermos to carry around some hot chocolate.
If you get a chance this winter, snatch that rod from its holder, grab your tacklebag and a scarf and just try fishing the cold, gray water. You may not end up with quantity, but you'll love the quality.
Unfortunately I have some bad news about The Minnow Pond. As many of you know, Melvin and Christine Crewson operate the last Mom and Pop tackle store near my home in Virginia. They suffered a devastating fire last week, and the whole store must be gutted. Thankfully, the building's salvageable and Melvin's going to try to stay afloat with a fire sale and to rebuild his stock as he can.
"Don't do it."
"You really shouldn't!"
Well, one of them won. I think it was the right one.
Friends, I'm not interested in offering my political views. I have no wish whatsoever to influence someone's vote with this column. I am simply a bass fishing enthusiast and a columnist with one vote, just like you all.
I made a solemn promise, however, in the very first column that I would call 'em like I see 'em, or words to that effect. The title of this column is, after all, The Reel World.
Seems like every election cycle the electorate (all of us out in fly over country) are told how important that particular election is. It appears that every liberty we possess is in eminent peril every four years. Somehow, amazingly, our nation has survived the doomsayers and Chicken Littles of the various political machines for decades.
In my opinion, our nation survives these dire predictions only because enough of us, like adults, are emotionally developed enough to realize that some desk jockey in Washington does not dictate the course of our lives. Enough of us actually practice personal accountability and take ownership of our own actions to ensure that this nation doesn't dissolve into chaos.
Unfortunately, that means we sometimes have to clean up the messes of our less developed fellow citizens.
It's an American thing.
We survive because enough of us understand, quite literally, that a nation of the people, by the people and for the people means just that. We are the government. As long as the voting electorate understands just how powerful a responsibility that is, we shall never perish. If, however, the day ever comes that our national elections are decided with the flippancy and shallowness of a tabloid news show ... well, who knows?
We survive because at the end of the day, enough of us realize, in our heart of hearts, that we only live in the Land of the Free because of the sacrifice of the brave.
The right to vote was bought and paid for by every rifle and 90-pound pack that was humped across the deserts, beaches, forests, fields and cities of this earth and, ultimately, by every soldier, sailor, airman or marine that never made it back home. I cannot help but believe and I mean strongly believe that the vast majority of bass anglers feel the same way and they would never disgrace that sacrifice by dismissing the importance of the right to vote.
You know, come Wednesday morning, almost half of this nation will be disappointed whomever wins. But if we voted with our hearts and minds, with logic and reason and with a firm grasp of our vote's singular importance, we can at least go to bed Wednesday night, disappointed or not, with a clear conscience.
Which shoulder won?
October 28, 2008
As the drought in Virginia enters its second year, I've had opportunities to wander the increasingly accessible banks of a local reservoir. The receding waters are slowly exposing the history of the area to the elements and the footfalls of a traveler.
The land under this lake was once known as Happy Valley. At one time it had an active community with roads, farms, a cannery and even a Ferris wheel. Before that, the valley was home to some of the earliest settlers in this area in the 1700s. Before that even, Native Americans lived beside the creeks and springs for millennia.
Every foot the water level drops reveals more of these former lives. The soil that once hid a layered story of the valley's history has been washed away by wave action and erosion. The inevitable result is that the artifacts of thousands of years of human occupation lay jumbled together and exposed to the prying eyes and grasping hands of a curious fisherman.
At the end of one particular point is an area local fishermen call, "The Silo." It's known as a good spot for bass because the point and adjacent flat are covered in stumps and rockpiles. It's where I learned to fish a jig and pig and to read a graph with mediocre skill.
When the lake is at full pond, the water is clear and the wind is calm. A fisherman can peer over the side of the boat and possibly make out a circular outline at the end of the point. Beside the circle is a rectangular outline. Within feet of the rectangle, the water darkens and the bottom is lost to sight.
The lake, however, is not at full pond. In fact, the water level's dropping, and as it does, The Silo's true nature is exposed.
The circle really is the base of a silo. Its walls stand perhaps 2 feet above the ground. Beside the silo is the rectangular foundation and floor of an old barn. The point then drops off onto ledges of sharp boulders until it flattens out for the width of an old road. Beside the road and still entangled in the ledges, are stumps of trees that were ancient when the farmer who owned this land closed the door of his barn for the last time.
On the same point, maybe 20 yards toward shore, is a pile of rocks that was once the foundation to a home, possibly the farmer's. Beside this pile of rocks, laying on the surface and washed clean by waves, I found a quartzite knife blade, a hand-wrought leather tack buckle, a mule shoe and a Shad Rap.
It's amazing to think, whether it's been a thousand years or two, that I'm the first person to pick these things up since their owners lost them. I'm grateful this drought has given me an opportunity to appreciate the history that lies below the dark green water of my favorite fishery.
Putting aside the evil ways of the main characters, the way these guys speak reminds me of some of my northern relatives. Especially memorable is the phrase, "Whadda ya gonna do?" It's a required response to any offered condolences or unfortunate turn of events.
The phrase must always be accompanied by up-turned hands, a shoulder shrug, lop-sided frown, slight nodding and tilting of the head and a brief raising of at least one eyebrow.
Many sincere thanks to the wonderful folks who e-mailed me regarding the upcoming benefit tournament, especially Les, Liam, Greg, Paul, Chrystal and David. Although I'm not one of the organizers, I'll be sure to let them know the kind thoughts that come their way.
Also, many thanks to Jason, Jake, Les and Liam for their interest in the Six Man tournament last weekend.
Historically, the Six Man has proved to be an "interesting" tournament. This year kept that tradition alive.
About 4:30 a.m. Saturday morning, one of the guys who was supposed to compete called me and said he couldn't make it. Dental surgery the day before had really laid a wallop on him overnight. That was a shame because this fellow, Gerald, the practical joker, had worked very hard this year as our tournament director as well as a competitor.
A very cool thing that happened, however, was that one of our members, Glenn Martin, got to bring his grandson, Easton Riggs, along with him to fish the tournament.
Easton just turned 15, and this was his first tournament. Grandpa said he did a fine job of riding shotgun and keeping him awake. In fact, he did such a good job that Glenn ended up winning the event with a little over seven pounds of fish.
It's always a good thing when our youth take such an interest in the sport and even better when they have a fine role model like Glenn as both a great mentor and a proud grandfather.
Glenn said poor ol' Easton surely didn't know what he was in for when the wind kicked up and the fish got lockjaw. Reliable reports say Easton lay down on the couch when he got home and didn't move for three hours.
And some folks say bass fishing's not a physical sport.
For what it's worth, I only had one fish big enough to weigh a 3-pound smallie. He bit down on a Carolina rigged Centipede off a shoal in about 10 feet of water. The wind was so bad all day that we decided to stop fighting it and simply drift across this shoal for the last hour of the tournament.
Unfortunately, I never got to weigh that bronzeback, at least not officially. When we started to head back to the launch ramp, the oil pump gave up the ghost. It's my experience that inanimate objects don't usually respond to prayer or threats, and this pump was no exception. We ended up idling back to the ramp and missed the weigh-in by 20 minutes.
The crazy thing is that I was riding in Garry Volk's boat, the same rascal from a few columns back. We'd been out on the water several times since the article without a lick of trouble. I really felt bad for Garry because he had a 21-inch largemouth in the livewell, and he was itching to get her weighed ... oh, plus the expense of fixing his boat, of course.
I promised the guys that I'd mention their names for this last event. And, if you're a member of a club with guys like we have, you'll understand why I must absolutely keep that promise. I'd hate to bear the brunt of their mischievous ways next season.
So, in keeping with my promise ...
First Place: Glenn "Lucky Gramps" Martin
Second: Kelly "He Ate My Fish" Cantrell (from my July 1 column)
Third: Dennis "Gat One!" Casavant (see my Oct. 14 column)
Fourth: Randy "KVD" Matney (check out my July 15 column)
Sixth: Gerald "The Joker" Blankenship (you can read about him in my Sept. 29 column)
All in all, though, this has been a greatly successful tournament season for the club. I believe we're a pretty close group as far as bass clubs go. Most of us got to fish the full schedule. We had some scary moments, but no one got injured and everyone caught fish.
It was just some sort of weird cosmic fate that the wind was so bad for the last tournament, that the fish clammed up so quickly and that the oil pump went out at a very inopportune time.
But, hey whadda ya gonna do?
If I'm fishing with friends or family, I'll slap a worm or some chicken liver on a hook and fish for whatever will bite in a heartbeat. I'll even walk the bank just to be able to wet a line and not worry about a boat.
But, as I wrote in a previous column, I enjoy bass tournaments as well as fishing just for fun.
I'm possibly a little competitive, so during this time of year the tournament side takes precedence. The following might help explain why.
My club has a final tournament for the top six anglers at the end of every season. This year, I've been floundering between seventh and eighth place for a few months. In fact, I stood in eighth place before our last regular tournament last weekend.
Mathematically, the only way to make the Six Man tournament was to finish first or second and for one of the usual winners to have a third-place or lower weigh-in.
I don't wish bad luck on anybody, but if a few of the better club members lost a fish or 12 to bad knots, brush or muskies, who am I to question that?
The first day of the tournament I weighed in one 11-inch fish 13-ounces of pathetic. I caught several bass, but only one large enough to bag. Except for one guy who weighed in over eight-pounds of bass, everyone else in the club was struggling, too. The second nearest weight was 2 pounds, and that was from one fish.
It was difficult to sleep that night because I kept going over possible baits and patterns for the next day's four-hour finale. I still had a chance to finish high, but I couldn't choke. I had to find fish and find them fast.
The next day, the boater I was with started us off on a rocky point. You'd think that would be a good spot, but there was very little baitfish activity. Nothing we threw stoked much interest from the bass. A Texas-rigged finesse worm brought a dink to the boat, but that was it.
As we slowly trolled parallel to the bank, I noticed some fish suspending off a rock pile in about 17-feet of water. I dragged a Carolina-rig over that pile and bagged a keeper! Was a pattern developing?
Three hours to go.
We hit several rocky points, bridges and riprap banks searching for more bass. Unfortunately, the ones we caught were too small. Finally, along one riprap bank I snagged a 16-incher on a wacky worm. Yes! A couple more like that and I may have a chance.
Less than one hour to go.
Tired from fighting the wind and beaten by the waves, we settled on a rock-strewn clay bank as the final battlefield for '08. This was it! I had maybe 15 minutes of casting left as we simply drifted with the wind along the bank.
Honestly, what chance did I really have of making the cut? I was plumb wore out, as we say in Virginia. For a half-second I entertained the idea of tying on a small bait hook and playing with the bluegills until the end.
But that's not what stubborn Italian guys do as I recalled a loud New Jersey voice bellowing, "Never give up! Never give up!"
Mike Iaconelli? Now where'd that come from?
Disturbing as that particular muse was, it strengthened my resolve. I picked up the Carolina rig and cast for glory or defeat!
First cast nothing.
Second cast nothing.
Time was running out fast.
Never give up!
Third cast Pow! From 20-feet down came the strike of Zeus and a silent voice shouting, "Never give up! Never give up!" My hands were shaking a little as I brought the 14-inch Wonderbass to the boat.
That was the last fish I caught that day, and I was sure that at least a few of the other guys had full livewells.
I didn't give up, but that didn't change the fact that it was time to go.
After the boats were parked, I took my three bass to weigh-in, released them and went back to wipe the boat down. By the time that chore was completed, everyone had weighed in and the final results for the tournament and year had been tallied.
First place for the tournament was Dennis Casavant, who crushed us all with almost nine pounds of fish. Second place was me? Seriously? By one pound?
But that meant yes, it did! I had made the Six Man for the first time ever!
Never give up, my friends. Never, ever, give up.
And thank you, Mike Iaconelli.
Last Wednesday poor little Jaison had a bad day at work. It started with too many traffic lights on the way to the office, continued with breaking my favorite coffee mug and ended with a computer issue and not enough time left in the day to get done what needed to be done.
What a rotten day. What did I do to deserve that?
Thankfully, though, our bass club had a meeting that night, so I expected things to start looking up.
Going to the meeting I hit traffic from a fender bender and had some teenage tailgater crawling all over my bumper.
What a rotten day.
Nonetheless, I soldiered on and made it to the meeting just in time to hear that a long-time, well-known and well-respected member of our bass fishing community has been stricken with cancer.
And I had a bad day, huh? Yeah, there's nothing like instantly running full sprint into a wall of perspective.
This fellow is a proud and private man. Although his name is important to his many friends, I will not betray that trust.
On the heels of this news came an announcement that three local anglers, Ruben Flores, Jesse Lucas and Richard Agnor are organizing a raffle and benefit tournament later this month on Smith Mountain Lake for our bassing friend. They're doing an incredible job and hopefully will be able to raise a few thousand dollars to help out with the expenses of a serious illness.
In a few short days, these fellows have contacted numerous restaurants and tackle stores who have generously agreed to help. They've been able to secure over 30 gift certificates for the raffle. I'm proud to say that BASS, Jackall Lures and PowerPro are on board, too no questions asked. Thank you!
These guys have also taken time from their families to distribute flyers, meet with other clubs and make untold phone calls. Ruben said he's expecting well over 50 two-man boats to compete. I believe he may find many more folks willing to help.
A lot of the anglers who have agreed to participate in the tournament have known our fishing brother for years. They've battled each other every season and have jealously guarded their secrets against the prying eyes of their angling foes. But when it comes time to lay aside the swords and braggadocio, they'll do it willingly not happily, because of the reason, but very willingly.
I chose to write about this because it illustrates what we sometimes fail to learn permanently. Namely, that a bad day for us might just be someone else's Heaven and that we are all vital parts of a wonderful sport that recognizes and comforts its own.
Ruben and his friends are organizing this event out of love for a fellow angler. They fully understand and have accepted the monetary and time investment of the task, but they do it anyway.
There's more to it than that, though. The folks who show up will understand that, because of the number of boats involved, parking, sign-in and launch might be a hassle. They'll also be willing to pay for the entry fee, gas and raffle items and to take a Sunday away from their families.
For me, taking into account the sobering news about our fishing buddy and Ruben, Jesse and Richard's response, that truly puts a bad day at work into perspective, doesn't it? I'm very proud of my local bass fishing community, but I wish there was no reason to hold this tournament in the first place.
Thoughts and prayers to anyone and everyone who may need them this week.
Funny, Gerald, Real Funny
September 29, 2008
I don't know what this says about my emotional development as an adult, but I love a good practical joke. As long as it's done without someone or someone's feelings receiving substantial damage, a quality practical joke is the gift that keeps on giving.
The problem with a lot of jokes, though, is that they just aren't ... well ... funny. Too often they're composed of stale bits like rubber snakes in a drawer. Even worse is something like a tack in a chair. One's been done to death and the other causes real pain. Both are unacceptable in the hierarchy of good practical jokes.
My buddy Gerald Blankenship, however, is a master practical joker. The end result of his craft is that both the joker and recipient get a good laugh, no one gets hurt and no one fills his diaper from shock or embarrassment.
Two weeks ago, Gerald and I were fishing a tidal river bass tournament near the Chesapeake Bay. I'd never fished such an animal before, and I was pretty happy to be paired up with an angler who had.
We took that Friday off work to practice and to get an idea of what to expect for Saturday and Sunday. Not long into the day, Gerald guided us near a low water dam and started to explain the whereabouts of certain structure and deep-water weedbeds.
"Close to the dam," he pointed, "you'll find some chunk rock and boulders. That's always a good place for me. Throw up in there and you might snag a bass looking for an easy meal coming over the dam."
Gerald knows that rock is probably my all time favorite structure.
He turned to flip some lily pads as I started throwing a jig to the dam.
Within seconds there was a substantial tap ... tap-tap!
I set the hook with gusto knowing there was a Chickahominy hawg on the end of the line.
Nothing but water.
I settled down a little and started to hop that jig again, deeply concentrating on being quick and sure on the next strike.
Another tap-tap and a definite tug appeared, so I set the hook again. I even fell back a couple of steps with that one.
"You alright?" Gerald asked, sort of half turning in his seat.
"Ya," I said, "Must be perch nipping at it."
"Not in this current," he said, "You'll get him. Have you tried a worm?" Then he half turned back to the pads.
Somehow that made sense at the time. I decided to change tactics and tied on a 7-inch worm with a 3/8-ounce weight thinking that I'd entice those pigs to commit with a different bait.
Cast ... tap-tug. Uunnngghhh!!
More water and another stumble backwards.
I have to admit that I was starting to get a little peeved at myself. These weren't little bluegill bites I was feeling. These were nice, distinctive tugs and I was just too slow on the hook set.
Thinking that maybe the bait was too big, I decided to downsize.
I changed colors.
Even Gerald's encouragement and suggestions didn't seem to help.
I must have thrown six different baits for easily 10 minutes and each one produced the same result nothing but water. I'd even reached the point that I didn't care if it was bass nipping at the bait or some kind of brackish water, mutant monkey-fish. I just wanted to bring one to the boat!
By this time, Gerald had pretty much gotten his fill of the lily pads he was flipping and suggested we mosey on. All I could do was shake my head and sigh at the curiousness of the whole thing. I even had a horrible, fleeting idea that the whole episode might be an omen for how the tournament would go. Thankfully, though, at the next bend in the river we hooked up with some real fish, and I soon forgot about the multiple missed strikes.
The next morning Gerald and I were sitting in his boat waiting for our turn to blast off when he suddenly started snickering, almost giggling, really. He was even getting a little teary-eyed.
When Gerald laughs it makes everyone else laugh, too, so I smiled and looked around to see what could cause him so much amusement. Not seeing anything, I turned and asked him what he was snickering at.
"Well," he said, shaking his head and wiping his eyes, "I was just remembering how funny it was watching you play with those crabs below the dam yesterday."
Game, set and match to Gerald Blankenship, Practical Joke Champion of the Smith Mountain Bassmasters.
I will say, however, that I got a great deal of satisfaction out of the crab cakes I had for supper that night, I guarantee!
Getting Jiggy with a Tootsie Pop
September 23, 2008
Summer is rapidly drawing to a close here in the Mid-Atlantic. The waters seem to be giving up their heat to the cooler, clear nights quicker than I remember from last year. Pretty soon, the shad will be crowding the backs of coves, and the fall bite will be on.
I noticed the quick drop in surface temperature while reviewing my fishing journal tonight. Just a couple of weeks ago the water temperature was in the mid-90s at the same lake I was at this weekend. On Saturday, the temperature was 72 and we haven't had any rain in the meantime.
That's probably normal, but I haven't been very religious about keeping a journal in the past.
Another thing I noticed was that a new technique I picked up this year has really been productive much more than I realized during the year and that I'd learned a lot about bass behavior by learning to fish it.
For years, the go-to techniques for this dude have been the Carolina rig, Texas rig and spinnerbaits. Early last spring, however, I decided to try the Wacky Jig approach after two bass club members finished first and second at a tournament by using it.
The wacky jig is pretty simple on the surface. It's merely a wacky worm technique where you substitute a special lightweight jig for the bare hook. It seems awfully straightforward, but there are enough differences from the standard wacky rig to make it stand alone as a technique.
Quite honestly, there was a brief learning curve where I caught nothing on the wacky jig. I thought I was doing something wrong. I stuck it out, though, and talked with folks who were familiar with it and shortly thereafter caught my first bass on it! The strike was exactly as the literature and my friends described ... subtle. But the light line and small hook that's required for the technique made for a great fight! I started using the jig more and more even sometimes in conditions where it wasn't recommended just for fun and just to learn.
So, after looking at that journal, I saw that the ol' Carolina and Texas rig were used less and less as the year wore on. I still caught fish on them, but the wacky jig just held a special place that new techniques can hold in our hearts.
Plus, there's an old adage that holds true in many situations, "Familiarity breeds contempt." I'll still use the C-rig, T-rig and spinnerbaits, of course. Each one has its place and purpose. But I'm not sure I'll so easily dismiss new ideas and techniques in the
This thing we do, this bass fishing obsession, is truly like a giant Tootsie Pop with many, many layers, and at its center is the proverbial Tootsie Roll of Bass Catchin' Perfection. Each new technique we master, each new lure we risk throwing gets us closer to the goal.
How many licks does it take to get to the center? Well ... how many knots must we tie? How many books must we read? How many graphs must we study? How many casts must we make?
I don't know if anyone else will have the fun and "success" I've had with the wacky jig, but I'd wager that it's probable. I do believe, however, that I was fortunate not to have immediately dismissed the technique as just another gimmick. The experience of learning how to use it effectively has allowed me to get another layer closer to the center.
And fortunately, according to the owl, there are only two licks left!
Today at work I found myself looking at a paper clip and wondering just how rich the dude was who invented it; same with the Post-it Notes and dry erase board.
Some of those simple, elementary ideas can have a pretty positive impact on our daily lives.
Pretty soon I was caught up in a slack-jawed, drooling daydream inventorying all the simple inventions in the world and the massive amounts of money their inventors may have received.
How many of us have thought of an invention like a keeper for a worm hook or even the Chatterbait only to find out later that some other person has profited from it?
What if we had put forth the effort and motivation to develop those little inventions ourselves? After all, we had the same experiences and factors that led us to the idea as the inventor, right?
Anyway, the cell phone soon rang and pulled me out of that droopy-eyed stupor and back to a semblance of reality
After work my Dad and I had planned to meet up at a local big box tackle store to hear Jimmy Houston talk and maybe get an autograph. (Sorry Melvin, I guess I'm cheating a little.)
Shortly into his program, Houston began to talk about simple things and how most anglers, no matter their good intentions, make bad decisions at some point especially regarding lure selection because they don't consider the simple things.
He said his experience has taught him that although fishermen make thousands of decisions each trip, the key to successful decision making is based on four simple criteria:
time of year
type of fishery
"You think about those criteria," he explained, "and you'll make better decisions and catch more bass. You'll eliminate 90 percent of the mystery of lure choice"
Now, the similarity between the previously mentioned daydreaming and Houston's sage advice may appear thin, but it's not.
In fact, the connection is right on the money because all those simple inventions were the result of someone looking at a situation, evaluating the major factors involved and coming up with a solution just like bait selection for bass anglers.
Jimmy went on to say that even with those four simple criteria many anglers will backslide and chose a bait for other reasons like "It worked last year" or "I just spent $20 dollars on this thing, and it's gonna get wet!"
He's right and that is the other similarity even though we may evaluate a situation and come up with a solution, we fail to follow through.
At least this bass angler does. Not always, but unfortunately with too much regularity. I'm guilty of using the same baits in different situations simply because I may have confidence in them or because I just bought them. In reality, the criteria may suggest a different bait or color that I'm not that familiar with and, like the keeper on the hook idea, I'll forgo the better choice in preference of the comfortable.
I'm looking forward to the next fishing trip so I can use Mr. Houston's very elementary direction. Maybe I won't become a wealthy inventor, but I may bring a true hawg to the boat simply by considering Jimmy's criteria and wisely choosing a black and blue jig over my favorite green pumpkin one.
Then again, I've always had luck with the green pumpkin on the weekends.
Why Not Share?
September 9, 2008
My bass club has a tournament this weekend on the Chickahominy River. The Chick is a tidal river and, I am told, is full of lily pads, grass fields and cypress knees none of which I have a great deal of experience fishing because they're not very common in southwest Virginia.
So, these last few months I've been bending the ear of anyone with such experience, reading anything I can on productive techniques and baits and reviewing as many fishing reports on the web as I can find.
The results of this manic research seem to indicate that flipping and pitching the aforementioned vegetation may be the most productive techniques. Unfortunately, my knowledge of tidal rivers, lily pads and cypress knees is only slightly less than my skill at flipping and pitching. Therefore, I've spent quite a few hours practicing on the water and off. Hopefully the time and effort will pay off this weekend.
This whole "learn a new technique" thing is a good experience. It certainly keeps me out of trouble after work and, hopefully, is making me a more complete angler.
It also reminds me of a time years ago when I was just learning to use a baitcasting reel. I had reached an absurd level of frustration until I broke down and asked a friend, Dave "The Fishing Guru" Shackleford, for help.
It's a testament to Dave's teaching skill that it only took him a few brief lessons to tie all the loose information I had gathered into a nice, neat package and to present it in a way that made sense.
It's also a testament to his belief that being willing to teach benefits the whole sport.
Dave never forces his views on bass fishing on anyone. Instead, he waits until someone sincerely asks him for help. Then, in a patient and open manner, he helps that person.
In my opinion, that Shackleford guy is a great example of how our sport should work.
Each one of us, whether we know it or not, has something to offer another angler. Everyone has a particular bait or technique or insight that someone else needs help with, and everyone has probably benefited at some time from another fisherman's help.
Why not share?
I'm not advocating sharing honey holes or specific knowledge during tournaments. That kind of information often stays secret even on the deathbed! And, in those instances, I say let folks figure it out for themselves.
I am, however, a big advocate of helping someone who asks about the basic skills necessary to be a better bass angler. In reality, what better testament is there to how we are really regarded than to be asked to teach?
Maybe the next time a new angler, or even a seasoned fellow club member, comes to us for honest assistance, we can take the request for what it is a compliment and an honor and help.
Honey holes and tournament baits excepted, of course!
The Best Laid Plans
September 2, 2008
A buddy of mine, Garry Volk, called me last week and asked if I'd like to drown some lures over the weekend at Smith Mountain Lake. Not being one who readily passes up time on the water, I quickly accepted the invitation.
It's important to note that Garry's been pretty busy these last couple of years and hasn't had a chance to run his boat. I don't know how he could live with himself...
Even though we have received a few inches of rain recently, this area of the southeastern U.S. is still experiencing a drought. We needed to put in at a ramp that's usually open even during low water periods.
"What about so-n-so's? You think it's open," Garry asked.
"Probably so," I said. "Good choice. I've never seen it closed yet."
We also made some other decisions and pretty much believed we had a foolproof plan set up to slay some hawgs that weekend.
So, at 6 a.m. Saturday morning, two bleary-eyed anglers drove toward this particular ramp dodging wild-eyed deer, suicidal whistle pigs and folks with their high-beams on the whole way.
When we arrived at the turn off to the ramp, we both looked for some kind of notice indicating whether or not it was closed. Seeing no such animal, we crept onto that narrow, gravel road in high anticipation of launching at our mutually favorite spot.
It was blocked off at the ramp. No sign, just blocked off.
Since Garry doesn't have a frustration gene, he turned to me as we poured back into the truck, smiled and said, "Let's just go to that other one up the lake."
The next ramp was open and, as you can guess, already full, but we patiently waited our turn and finally got the boat in the water.
In chronological order, here's what happened next:
1. The starting battery was out on the boat. For some miraculous reason, I had a deep cell battery in my car, and we had decided to take it in case the trolling motor batteries ran out. We got the motor started with that one.
2. The steering tension adjustment was really tight and the support rods were dry. Even though we were only idling through a narrow channel due to the drought, we almost ran the boat aground because it suddenly turned left. Line conditioner cleaned off the supports and a little pork fat from some plastics took care of the greasing.
3. One of the trolling motor batteries did manage to go out, and we trolled around on 12 volts the whole day.
4. The wave runners, water-skiers and cabin cruisers came out in wave after wave. Garry and I are convinced that the military should look into painting their equipment the color of his boat since it must have been camouflaged so well the other "recreational watercraft users" just couldn't see it.
5. We ended up bagging seven bass the entire day, including just one keeper about 14 inches long.
Garry caught the keeper.
6. When we called it a day and reached the ramp, the water was actually several inches lower than that morning. I was holding the boat too close to the ramp as Garry was backing the trailer down and a wave knocked the boat sideways onto the concrete. I scrambled up to the front of the boat and waited for the next wave. As it came in, I manually pulled the boat along the dock into a little deeper water except now it was backwards and Garry was looking at me with a weird expression. Thankfully, the motor was already trimmed up.
In all, ol' Garry and I had the time of our lives, and I wouldn't have passed up that day for anything. After all, I hold to the belief that any day we're out on the water and not six feet underground is a good day.
The best part, though, came when Garry dropped me off back at my car and said, "You know, Jaison, I was thinking about selling this boat. But if we're going to keep fishing together, I just might keep it."
After a day like we had, only a real friend would say that.
I stopped by the Minnow Pond II the other day to pick up some hooks and say hello to Melvin and his bride.
I entered the store and breathed in the familiar mixture of crawfish spray, plastic worms and live shiner tanks. If Melvin could bottle that smell he'd be a millionaire twice over. Even new cars ain't got nothin' on the beautiful bouquet of a long established tackle shop.
I picked up the hooks (with about another $50 worth of stuff I didn't know I needed until I saw it) and wandered over to the cash register. At the Minnow Pond, it's pretty much a given that the best conversation of the day takes place at the cash register.
Soon enough, Melvin and I got to talking about the economy and the long term prospects for small Mom and Pop retail stores especially fishing tackle shops. As you can imagine, it's tough on the little guys these days and that's a shame.
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm all for getting the most bang for the buck when it comes to bait and equipment. The good stuff's certainly not getting less expensive. The mega-retail stores and online shopping have made all kinds of wonderful flavors of bass fishing necessities available to all of us. Being able to shop around for the lowest price really can be a great blessing, too.
But the big guys and online warehouses aren't a Minnow Pond or whatever the local Mom and Pop store is called in your town ... if it's still open.
I sometimes wonder what we'll be missing if the day ever comes when the little guy has taken down his shingle when another bit of our forefathers' America is no more.
I wonder if we'll regret not having a hundred years of bass fishing experience at our disposal from the guys playing cards behind the counter. Will we miss the bulletin boards with all the local tournaments, boats for sale and slightly out-of-focus big fish photographs? Will the big boys ever ask, "How's your dad … brother ... wife ... work going?" What will happen to all the dusty mounted bass plaques engraved with the names of long-forgotten local legends?
How will we fill the hole that may be left if the genuine smile we see when we enter the store is gone?
Honestly, I don't know the answers. I just know that free market capitalism has worked in this nation for a long time, and I'm all for it. The natural response of a free economy to change is to adapt, improvise and overcome. Who can doubt we're going through some historic changes right now?
Again, don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting anyone forgo the big store tackle experience. It's none of my business where folks buy their fishing supplies, and I firmly intend to keep it that way. I'm simply throwing out the idea that we may be living in the twilight of the Mom and Pop tackle shop days.
That, for me, is a shame because everybody deserves a Melvin of their own.
The Enemy Within
August 19, 2008
Like a real friend, a fellow named Jake advised me not to write about this subject. He may prove to be correct, but so help me, after seeing what I saw tonight, I have to get it out of my system.
By now, most folks have seen that I've tried to be positive with this column. Maybe even throw something out there occasionally for the "gentle readers" to ponder around the water cooler. But I'm fixing to lay a slap down and open up a can or two on a certain section of our sport a lot of the bank fishermen will know exactly what I'm talking about the enemy within.
Listen up all you fishermen who leave your nightcrawler boxes and chicken liver tubs on the ground. Knock it off! Pick up your trash when you're done! And, while you're at it, reach your lazy, selfish arms down and pick up your beer cans, soda bottles, plastic bags and cigarette butts, too!
Every time one of you wannabees leaves your trash on the bank, you make all of us legitimate bank fishermen pay for it. Most of us shore huggers take only pictures and leave only footprints. We carry out more than we bring in whether it's worm boxes, soda bottles or moon pie wrappers. But, ultimately, all of us anglers are judged by your actions.
I know a lot of fishermen who throw live shad, crawlers and chicken guts. I also know that they pick up after themselves. They have what litterers don't have respect for the environment, respect for themselves and respect for others. In my opinion, it's not a live bait thing, it's a respect thing.
Just think about it a second. Our sport is being assaulted by animal rights groups, landowners, environmentalists and the economy every day. But in reality, who's our worst enemy? We are or, at least, those folks who believe that littering laws and plain old common courtesy don't apply to them are.
OK ... rant's over, my friends.
Sadly, though, I have a feeling that I'm preaching to the choir. From the e-mails and comments you all have generously provided, I firmly believe the readers of this column are upstanding anglers with the kind of character that prevents them from trashing the shores of our fisheries. Whether we prefer live bait or artificial, walk a bank or own a boat, we're all part of the same wonderful sport, and we all share the same limited resources.
I also bet I'm not the only guy that hates littering and can't really understand the lazy, selfishness of the act.
So, in the end, what can we do about littering? In the short term, we can continue to teach our children to pick up after themselves, and we can bring an extra trash bag with us to carry out someone else's refuse. Perhaps we can even join or organize a clean up brigade for a weekend the Federation Nation does a great job of that already.
In the long run, however, littering is a cultural issue that can only be confronted by proactive education. Again, our kids play a big part. If we teach them to respect our natural world and to understand the negative impact littering has, they may carry that message through to the next generations. We must, in a sense, police ourselves to save our sport.
Thanks for reading, my friends. There's a lot of love in the room! Tight lines, all!
I've got egg on my face because I let something important slide. Elite Series pro Kotaro Kiriyama's win at Lake Eire is too important to put aside.
On August 3, BASS held the final weigh-in for the Empire Chase Elite Series tournament out of Buffalo, N.Y. This was the next to last tournament of 2008 and, since the AOY points race was tighter than the loops on a palomar knot, it promised to be a good one.
And, as my Mom's best friend, Pat Hearin, says, "Boy-howdy, was it!" Pat's always had a talent for expressions that just make sense and put a smile on your face at the same time.
One of the great "perks" of writing for Bassmaster.com is the unbelievably cool opportunity to talk with some of the Elite Series guys. Kota Kiriyama was one of the first pros I ever interviewed for an article as a nervous freshman in the outdoor writing field.
The first thing that struck me about Kota was that he answered his cell phone ... while he was on the water fishing! I quickly apologized, of course, but he would have nothing of it. Kota said he would be happy to talk once he was back on land. He insisted on calling me back later and he actually did.
We talked about one of his favorite techniques, the wacky jig, and he went into some detail about his approach. Kota shared his preference for rods, line, presentation, bait color, etc. all the things that took him years to figure out. Sure, he talked about his sponsor, but he didn't beat that horse. I was very impressed with him and with the time he spent with an obvious "newbie" writer for the benefit of Bassmaster.com readers.
As a result of that one conversation, I've taken particular interest in Mr. Kiriyama's efforts this year. Where I'm from, if somebody does right by you, then you should do right by them.
At the Erie weigh-in, my eyes and ears were glued to the computer screen. Kiriyama was the last angler to weigh in. As Kota came from behind the curtain at the introduction of the Invisible Ninja, he waved to the cheering crowd and handed his bag over for weighing. He looked a little anxious standing there waiting. But, he "only" needed 17 some pounds. Could he do it?
Yes! Kota weighed in over twenty-five pounds of bronzeback dragons and beat the incredibly talented Aaron Martens by more than eight pounds to win his first Elite Series tournament! What a finish! Martens really made him sweat there at the end.
The importance of that win was even more apparent for Kota when he spoke about his ailing father watching the weigh-in on a computer screen in Japan. His father had encouraged Kota to come to the United States eighteen years ago to pursue a dream of professional tournament bass fishing and keep himself out of trouble in Japan.
The road to that win hasn't been easy, but Kota stuck it out and did right by all the folks who placed their faith in him. I'd like to thank Mr. Kiriyama for being a great example of persistence, patience and honor.
Well done, sir, well done.
Everyone probably has his or her own definition of "knowledgeable," and that's a good thing. For me, it means learning more about the biology of bass, the equipment, baits and techniques we use to catch them and the various waters we find them in.
My problem is filtering out the fluff from the important stuff.
Honestly, the opportunities to learn are all around us if we open our eyes and accept them. We have books, videos/DVDs, the Internet, salesmen, television, magazines, product brochures, personal time investment, etc. We really have a staggering number of resources to learn with today.
My favorite resources, though, are other fisher folk, especially when they demonstrate creativity and think outside the box.
Case in point: I rolled up to this farm pond recently that I've fished many times before. It's one of those 2-3 acre holes in a hayfield with a few shrubby trees on the bank and half-covered in slimy, green algae.
The pond's loaded with small sunnies, frogs and a good number of stunted, skinny largemouth just a great place to get a bass fix for an hour or two.
As I was pulling the rod and tackle bag out of my car, the wind started to pick up quite a bit. Since that usually means a brief summer storm, I sat back in the car for a few minutes to wait it out.
As I sat there listening to the Pogues on a cassette tape (yes, I still have a tape player) and watching the wind scoot the slime frosting to one side of the pond, I saw this kid, maybe 14-15 years old, come walking up to the water. He waved and I waved back, wondering all the while if he was the farmer's son whom I hadn't seen in years.
The storm soon looked like it would skirt that little valley, so I climbed out and gathered up the rod and bag again. By this time, the young fellow had meandered over to the clear side of the pond exactly where I was going.
I was following his path through the tall grass when I saw him circling around as if he were looking for something. He stopped, reached down and picked up a branch.
He then proceeded to walk along the bank a few yards beating the grass toward the pond.
By this time I had gotten close enough to ask him if he was scaring off snakes. "Nope," he said, "the wind blows the grasshoppers into the water and the perch go crazy."
"Ah," I said, "you're going after perch?"
He shook his head and said, "Naw, bass. The perch bring the bass in," and with that he started throwing a shallow-diving crankbait with a low-end spincast combo.
"Well, good luck," I offered, marveling at how creative the kid was, and moved down the bank several yards to start throwing the always productive wacky-rigged stickworm.
The kid caught the first bass, and it was considerably bigger than anything I'd ever caught there before. I believe I caught the next one, but it was a standard dink. The next few the kid caught were all bigger than my fish, and he hollered with excitement at every hit.
I tried a couple other baits spinners, cranks and such but all the larger bass seemed to be gathering around the kid's side of the pond.
For the next couple hours, whenever the bite would let up, the kid would walk up and down the bank flushing out grasshoppers and other morsels for the sunnies and start another feeding frenzy. As far as I know, he never switched baits.
None of the fish the kid caught were huge, but they were bigger than what I'd been catching. Before that afternoon, I hadn't thought there was any size to the bass in that pond at all.
Ultimately, I did find out that the kid was the farmer's son and that his family was doing well. As I prepared to leave, I told him, for what it's worth, that I was impressed with his creativity.
There was nothing very special about that fishing trip, really. We all know about the food chain. It was just interesting to see a young fellow who hasn't yet been influenced by all the "gotta have" lures and expensive "must have" equipment think outside the box and do so well.
Maybe, sometimes, all this "knowledge" we gather isn't as useful as a branch and a bank full of grasshoppers.
July 29, 2008
I was pawing through some old boxes last night and sure enough broke the eleventh commandment. It's the one that says, "Thou shalt not look through thyne old high school year books."
Looking at photos from 1984 makes me appreciate the wise old adage that youth is wasted on the young.
Who was this wrinkle-free kid with hair and track-meet stamina? How can someone go to sleep at 18 and wake up at 42? What happened? Where's the connection?
But, things looked up very quickly.
Inside the box that had the long-haired, 150-pound, up-turned collar photos was another bedraggled box I hadn't opened in decades, and what I found inside was better than any fountain of youth.
Back in the days of Viet Nam, Doris Day and the moon landings, my family lived in a little town called Enon, Ohio. Next door to us lived Kermit and Fran Collinsworth and their daughter Angie. Kermit, Fran and my parents were, and remain, very close friends. I had a big crush on Angie.
From my perspective, however, as a first-grader and future astronaut, Kermit and I were the best of friends. Actually, we were more than that. He was the best fisherman in the world, and I was his fishing buddy.
I think Dad would agree with that.
My Dad still has a picture of Kermit and him at a carp tournament at Rainbow Lakes outside Cedarville, Ohio. I'm in it, too, tied to a tree by the waist so a carp didn't drag me away. (It was a different world back then, and I'm sure the rope wasn't very tight.) As I understand it, those two rascals thought it was clever until my mom and Fran showed up.
My parents still talk about that photo and the story behind it although they never say what happened to Dad and Kermit later.
I also knew that Kermit and I were the best of friends because he put up with my constant questions about his rods and reels and worms and spoons and bobbers and hooks.
He must have had the patience of Job.
Kermit cemented his title of Best Fisherman in the World when, on one really hot summer day, as I was "helping" him wash his car, Kermit looked at me and said, "Hey, c'mon, man, I got something for you!" We went to the front of his garage and he pulled out a dirty, old dog-eared cardboard box and handed it to me.
Inside that box were a few of the lures from his metal tacklebox that I begged him to look at weekly. They were incredible! I thanked him and ran back to show my parents what Kermit had given me. (How clever was that?) They wisely suggested that I take the hooks off "for now" and always keep them safe.
That box has stayed with me for 36 years from Ohio to Kentucky to Virginia to college to North Carolina and back to Virginia.
Last night, I held that box in my hands for the first time since packing to move away from home after college.
I couldn't remember the last time I had opened it up, though. After all, why bother? I knew what was in it, right?
Well, the question of lost youth that plagued me after foolishly looking at the yearbook photos was soon forgotten because, for some reason, I did open the box and the only things in it were the lures and everything you read above.
And, I found that unbroken connection between that hyperactive walking hormone of yesteryear and today's pudgy, tired at 5 o'clock adult the unabated love of fishing.
Guess who's calling Kermit to thank him for the lures again and for helping to instill a lifelong passion for fishing?
And, tomorrow, I'm taking a few baits over to my neighbor's kid.
Looking for a Few Good Anglers
July 22, 2008
Some of the guys in my bass club are mad at me. Well, maybe not "mad," just seriously concerned about my judgment. There have even been rumors of a super-secret meeting to discuss the possibility of re-instating my probationary status ... from three years ago.
It all started like this:
About 10 months ago, I met this dude, Larry Sharp, and his little boy fishing at a local lake. The water was really low because of the drought, and all three of us were bank fishing. He seemed like a nice guy who wanted to learn more about fishing in general and bass fishing in particular. Plus, you have to admire a father who takes his little boy fishing.
As the months passed, we'd see each other on the bank, talk a little bit and go on our merry ways. It wasn't long, however, before I noticed that he was getting better and better at catching the wily local bass. I even mentioned the bass club to him, in case he was ever interested.
One day, maybe three months ago, I was fishing from the shore of this same lake when this guy comes motoring across in a flat-bottom boat. It was my ol' bank fishing buddy, Larry! He'd gone and got himself a johnboat. He invited me onboard and we spent the next several hours checking out points, ledges and creek beds you can't reach from the bank.
Larry managed to catch two very nice largemouth off of one point. I caught nothing. I should have known right then!
As we were hauling the boat onto his truck I mentioned the bass club to him again, and he seemed genuinely interested.
Long story short, Larry got inducted into the Smith Mountain Bassmasters a few weeks ago. It's his first tournament club. He had never fished a tournament before, and he joined as a non-boater.
That's important to remember.
Shortly after that meeting, the club had a night tournament on Smith Mountain Lake. Larry got paired up with Gary Swain, who's a charter member and a die-hard, talented angler. His nickname is "Gary Swain, The Fishing Machine," and if you live in southwest Virginia that actually rhymes.
I drove to the ramp with Larry, and I remember telling him not to worry about how many fish he catches, it's his first tournament, make sure to help Gary with the net, yadda-yadda-yadda. I just didn't want him to get disappointed. Right.
Here's why the club's got an issue with me. My bank fishing buddy had the chutzpah, the audacity to actually win that tournament! And quite handily, too! And, get this ... he also decided to bring a little shock and awe to the occasion by winning big fish! He cleaned our clocks, my friends! Then he has the gall to smile about it and shake everybody's hand.
The club has decided that I can no longer recruit or even speak to other guys about joining ... ever.
I'm sure everyone knows that some of that stuff is just-tongue-in cheek, at least I hope so. We're actually pretty proud of Larry winning his first tournament off the back of a boat especially Gary Swain, The Fishing Machine. However, in all fairness and all things being equal, etc., it was Gary's skill at finding the fish to start with, right?
Congratulations, Larry! And congratulations to everybody who may have won a tournament, caught their personal best or simply got a chance to fish with their child this summer!
Man, Am I Hooked!
July 15, 2008
Allow me to take another opportunity to thank everyone for the comments and e-mail. I've really been humbled by the honesty and sharing that's come my way. I'll be sure to dedicate a column to the incredible feedback received. Thanks again!
Several ... OK, many years ago I worked in the maintenance department for an apartment community. There was an older fellow and his wife who lived there and they were wonderful, salt of the earth kind of folks.
One day, as I was fixing the garbage disposal in their apartment, this fellow asked me if I liked to fish. I said yes, and he immediately invited me to tag along with him that weekend to fish for smallmouth on the James River.
Back then, I had a small plastic tacklebox full of rusty hooks, bobbers, swivels and a few beetle spins, etc., and two rods one spinning and one spincast.
When that Saturday arrived, I was running around like a gerbil on NoDoz from excitement and lack of sleep. The night before was almost as bad as Christmas Eve.
When we arrived at the river we took a short walk down a wet weather creek bed and ended up where the James and another smaller river meet. The fellow gave me some kind of minnow-looking bait (possibly a Zoom Fluke, I can't remember) and said to cast it near the rapids.
I took my spincast rod and heaved that bait exactly where he said. In about 5 seconds, I told him I was hung up. He said, "Set the hook!"
That day, at that particular time, I caught my first and only 22-inch smallmouth. I don't remember the name of the bait or the strength of the line.
What I do remember is that nameless feeling that only fishermen can get the moment they're hooked on the sport. I also remember my face was hurting the next day because I couldn't stop smiling that entire fishing trip.
Man, was I hooked!
Well, a few days ago I got to night fish with a friend, Randy Matney. In the early morning hours, the thought occurred to me that what we were doing was madness. Out on a huge body of water in pitch darkness, hungry, tired and trying to entice some water dwelling finned thing to bite a black spinnerbait. At the time, I couldn't wait to get back home.
Then, like a mythical lightning bolt, I suddenly remembered my friend from the apartments, and that nameless feeling returned as strong as ever.
Maybe it was low blood sugar or something. I don't know and don't care. All of a sudden I remembered that day at the James and all the trips to the farm pond as a kid pulling in bluegill and mud cats. And, so help me, I wished we could fish forever.
I'm hooked all over again!
To paraphrase a popular comedian, I don't care who you are. That there is a gift!
My dad and I went fishing together for the first time this year on Father's Day.
He wore that same gaudy shirt with the pictures of weird fish printed all over it that he always wears when we fish. He wore the same oversized shorts that make his legs look like two worms hanging out of a bag. And he sported that same Gilligan-style cap originally dark blue with a crisp bill, now faded and somewhat droopy.
At the dock, it seemed like eternity as I helped my dad step into the boat. He grimaced from the pain in his knee that was hyper-extended over 40 years ago by a fullback.
"Got enough stuff?" I asked him, commenting on the cooler, water, nightcrawlers, rods, tacklebox and life vest strewn across the deck.
"I want to show you something when we get started," was his reply.
As we eased out to the main lake, Dad turned to me, grinning, and said, "I got my rods ready last night, just like you asked."
He showed me how he had rigged two of his three rods with at least two ounces of split shot, enormous swivels and brand new 4/0 bait hooks tied with a series of overhand knots possibly a quarter inch in length. His third rod had a catalpa-colored stickworm threaded on the hook like it was a nightcrawler.
Feeling oddly proud, I managed to smile and wish him good luck.
My dad had never shown me how he'd rigged his rods before.
We motored out to a point, and I gave him the front of the boat. I watched as his hands arranged his sunglasses just right. They somehow overcame years of football, hard work and the crushing impact of a metal press as he bested the struggles of the nightcrawlers folding one, inch by inch, onto each bare hook.
And, when he was finished, I watched as shoulders that once threw a baseball hard enough to sting cast no more than ten yards into the water.
His lines now out and fortune in control, I moved with the rocking of the boat as Dad settled onto his seat.
"There," he said, patiently sipping from a bottle of water.
Then, as I started to turn to cast a jig across the point, I truly noticed my dad sitting there.
I saw him slowly rising from his seat and reach down, silently holding his breath, ready to set the hook as his lines responded to the boat's slow drift.
I saw a balding, gray head covered by that faded, blue cap move forward in anticipation of a giant catfish.
I saw the hopes of a lifetime in the slope of my dad's shoulders and then the subtle shaking of those same shoulders when, realizing the truth of the situation, he quietly laughed at himself and sat back onto his seat.
And, I saw a man who chose to spend that day with me.
I don't know how long I waited to cast that jig. I guess I simply sat down and watched my dad and listened to him talk about catfish and carp and all things political.
In earlier years, his ridiculous clothes, awkward tackle and simple misunderstanding of boat movement would have annoyed me, but not that day and probably not ever again.
I know that I will one day miss those things.
I will miss the man who wanted to show me how he had rigged his rods the night before.
What a lucky son I am.
My bass club had a tournament last Saturday, and I wish everyone could have seen what I saw.
Everyone came in safe and caught fish. The bags at weigh-in were kind of small, though ... except for one, and it was exceptional in many ways.
After I'd weighed my fish, one of the club members, Gerald, pulled me aside and said under his breath, "Jaison, you see Kelly over there on my boat?"
"Yah," I said, turning toward Kelly who was shoulder deep in the livewell.
"Does he need some help?" I asked. For some reason, I was whispering, too.
"Nah," Gerald smiled, "We fished together today. Go over there and look in the weigh-in bag he's got hanging off the side of the boat."
I started to mosey toward Kelly, who was still struggling with something in the livewell.
Now, Kelly's one of those "good men" that women are always wondering about meeting and men just feel comfortable around because of his character. He asks how you're doing as soon as he sees you, wears a cowboy hat and often has a cigarette dancing around under his mustache while he's talking to you. He's fished for years and has always always been happy to share his experience. And, by the way, Kelly's nearly 80 years old, a non-boater and still works every day as an electrician.
I reached Gerald's boat and said, "Hey, Kelly! How'd you do today?"
"Hello, young man," he replied, cigarette dancing, his arm still struggling in the livewell.
"Open that bag up, would you?" he asked ... and proceeded to pull out a monster largemouth that barely fit in the livewell.
"Let me be the first to congratulate you on your win," I said to the big grin wearing a cowboy hat. "Well done, sir!"
As Kelly crawled down off the boat, I pulled the bag off the cleat and handed it to him. He had a pretty proud swagger walking toward the scales.
When he reached the weigh-in line, he stood around talking with the other guys for a few minutes waiting his turn.
Suddenly, we all heard Kelly shout, "Oh, no!"
Everyone turned toward him and asked what's wrong.
"Oh, no!" he shouted again holding his bag wide open with both hands.
It looked like Kelly's bag had two cats fighting in it as water splashed and sprayed over the top from the turmoil within.
"He's eatin' him!" Kelly shouted.
"What?" about 10 of us asked in unison.
"He's eatin' him! He's eatin him! ... He's ate him!" Kelly said in disbelief as the bag suddenly became calm again.
He reached down in the bag and pulled out that huge bass ... with a two-pound bass' tail sticking out of its mouth.
"He ate my other bass," Kelly said. "Dang!"
Most of us just stood there looking dumbfounded, but one fellow quickly grabbed Kelly's bass and put it on the weigh-in table. A few extra hands helped to pull the smaller bass out of the other's giant maw, scared but breathing, and return them both to Kelly's bag.
When it was over, Kelly fixed his hat on his head and said he felt sorry for "any critter that was that hungry."
All of this took probably took less than 30 seconds but it seemed like several minutes. No one had ever seen that happen before in a weigh-in bag and, unfortunately, except for one fellow with a cell phone, no one had a camera to record the sight.
My friend Kelly ended up winning that tournament with three fish one almost 6 pounds and the other two just glad to be out of that bag!
A Lesson on Color
June 24, 2008
First of all, I'd like to sincerely thank everyone for the incredible response regarding the first "Reel World" column. The comments and feedback are very much appreciated. If you would like to contact me directly by e-mail, please note the e-mail address that will be at the end of every column in the future. Again, thank you for the great reception and tight lines to all!
My best fishing lessons come directly from the fish. A few weeks ago a school of bass took me to school. It was a humbling experience.
I had found a stump field in about five feet of slightly stained water under a partly cloudy sky and a slight breeze. I threw a 4-inch Carolina rigged green pumpkin, Zoom mini lizard among the stumps and bagged a dink. I threw again and hooked up with another skinny piglet.
I had a feeling that the stump field was full of little ones and almost left. Then, I decided to take this perfect opportunity try something I'd always wanted to do experiment with colors.
In a fit of enthusiasm for my timely brilliance, I came up with a game plan. Bait boxes were ravaged as I laid out every bag of lizards available.
"Every cast and retrieve must be similar or the experiment won't work," I explained to a curious crow eyeing me from a boulder. Crows like experiments, too, I gathered.
I removed the green pumpkin lizard and slipped on a junebug model. Cast, retrieve, nothing. Ten casts to the stump field later, there was still nothing.
The next color was pumpkin chartreuse. Same result.
Various sizes and manufacturers of black, chartreuse shad, white, Carolina pumpkin, bullfrog, bluegill, cherry seed, smoke, salt and pepper and even a blue/black bruiser followed the pumpkin chartreuse.
Nothing. Even the crow lost interest.
The green pumpkin lizard lay there grinning at me from under a small pile of damp, skewered, lifeless amphibians, so I threaded him back on the hook and gave him a bath.
Bam! Another 9-inch bass hit the rig! A couple of casts and another munchkin later, I sat back in great appreciation for the lesson something inconceivable a mere thirty minutes before the bass in the stump field were only hitting green pumpkin.
Now, in retrospect, I may have been altering the previous casts and retrieves in some way different from those of the mighty green pumpkin. Maybe the bass had coincidentally left that field as I was rummaging around for the other baits, only to return as I threw green pumpkin again.
After much deliberation, I came to the conclusion that the fish were keying in on fathead minnows in the stump field (although, wiser anglers may have differing opinions). Green pumpkin came closest to that forage, and nothing was going to distract them from their feast at least nothing of a different color.
But, c'mon, not even a reaction strike?
That experience caused me to completely re-vamp my thoughts on color selection and learn something new the right way this time.
Sometimes it's a wonderful thing to be humbled by a bass to know that there will always be more to learn about them, that we will never really be masters of their world.
I don't own $80,000 worth of boat and tow vehicle.
I don't have any sponsors ... except for Melvin, a buddy of mine who owns a local tackle shop. He gives me a discount if I mention his store at weigh-ins. The shop, by the way, is called "The Minnow Pond Two," and it's in Roanoke, Va.
There, Melvin. Now, how 'bout that discount?
Although I'm a member of a bass club, I enjoy bank fishing at farm ponds as much as competing on big water. But, when the competition's on, it's on.
My rods, baits and tackle are off the retail shelf store bought. And, other than a G.Loomis hat I bought five years ago on a whim, I don't wear any clothes festooned with free advertising for manufacturers.
I fish when I can, work when I must and fill the remaining time with dreams of bass.
All in all, I consider myself just an average angler. I'm passionate about the sport and interested in the pros, but I don't have the time, money nor desire to enter the world of big-time tournament fishing.
That probably sounds pretty familiar to you.
I've been given an opportunity here that carries a pretty heavy responsibility with it. With this blog, I have the chance to represent the interests of the average angler, and I want to do that well. You have my word that I'll try.
In fact, here's my promise to you:
I will always remember that this blog isn't really mine. It belongs to all the average Joes and Janes the weekend warrior in all of us. Your input will always be greatly valued and appreciated. I'll take my shots at those who deserve them and offer praise where it's warranted. Hopefully, my thoughts and experiences will even remind you of what makes our sport so great and why our passion for it brings us together.
After all, it's the bass that keeps us coming back, not all the stuff that surrounds it.