Straight Outta Zell

For "Straight Outta Zell" blogs in 2009, click here.

Later, 2008!
December 29, 2008
Happy Holidays everybody. I hope you all had a good Christmas and that 2009 is a great year for everyone. It'll be good to let go of 2008, that's for sure.

Well, I'm doing my share to help out the auto industry. I just bought a new Chevy Suburban. I've had one for years, and I've found it to be a reliable vehicle for traveling. I mean, you can really put a lot of clothes in them.

My brother and I are working out the scheduling for this year's Elite season, too. I'll be driving the Big Bus when we'll be gone for three weeks or so. If it's just a week trip, then I'll just take the Suburban. No sense using that fuel and putting the wear and tear on the bus for a short trip.

Speaking of my brother, he's up in New England cleaning up after the ice storms. He asked me to come along with him, but I ain't about to freeze my rear end off for a football game. It doesn't matter anyway, because I'm still humping it at Lake Livingston cleaning up from Hurricane Ike. If I figure it right, we'll be working twenty-one more days and it'll be done ... our part of it, at least.

Honestly, doing this clean up pretty much shot the holidays this year. It's been hard to get the time to go home. When you're looking at hundreds of crews doing all manner of work, you just can't stop the progress and then get it started again.

It's been tough on those work crews, too. A lot of them have been away from home too long. We tried to let them know we appreciate their hard work with a big Thanksgiving meal and such, but nothing compares to being around family. But, this is the life we chose, right?

I did get some time with my family and brothers, though. We all got together at my brother's house outside Austin. That was good. Plus, my stepson came home from college. The other son is in Iraq, and we're praying for him every day.

It's been hard on their mom ever since the boys left. It's difficult for a woman to know her sons are grown and out of the house. Me, on the other hand, I'm jumping up and down! Not because I'm glad they're gone, but because now the boys get to live and experience their lives. I just hope we prepared them for that trial by fire.

This year's been a real experience, I can tell you that.

But, now I'm about to leave this clean-up business behind and start preparing full-time for the 2009 Elite schedule. I really have to just cut the apron strings because my time's getting awfully limited. Normally, the pros take the time between seasons to catch up with family, attend boat shows, put on seminars, practice, get boats wrapped, etc.

This year was a real challenge to find that time.

A Good Two Days
November 18, 2008
I just wrapped up two of the best days of fishing I've had in a long time, and it wasn't for a tournament or any such thing.

Brent Chapman, Ben Matsubu, Todd Faircloth and I spent the last two days fishing for Lifeline Youth and Family Services. Every year they have a great fundraiser where folks donate money for an opportunity to fish with the pros.

This year each of us pros spent a couple days fishing with two different guys each day on private lakes. These lakes are "well managed" and the smallest bass we caught was in the 3- to 4-pound range. You know you're dealing with quality fisheries when the dinks are borderline hawgs!

That's a little different than tournament fishing.

The fishing was good, but the best part was helping out a good organization like Lifeline. They provide some much needed support and direction to kids in bad situations. It's just a great organization that's built to help kids get a better grip on life.

Kids don't ask to be put in situations where violence, drugs or abuse is a daily thing. They start out completely innocent and we adults put them in those environments.

It's no mystery why some kids act out. They're only reflecting what they see, and they don't know how to change what they feel. Lifeline sets up the network and services these kids and their families need to become a positive part of their community our community, really.

I'm proud to have been a part of that fundraiser.

There's also a lot of fellowship and really good food at these events, so if you're ever looking for a good charity that you can have fun donating to, maybe you could consider Lifeline and their pro fishing weekend.

Shoot, maybe you'll end up on my boat! I'll be happy to help folks catch toads all day long for such a worthy cause.

But now I'm looking around and I see that everybody's leaving to go home except for me. Yep, I'm off to Livingston again to continue the cleanup after Ike. We're really banging it out down there and hope to have it wrapped up a week or so after Thanksgiving. That's really ahead of schedule, but it sure doesn't feel like it sometimes.

Suddenly this cold I've been nursing these last couple weeks just got a little worse.

Thankfully, I haven't had any major disasters lately ... at least not yet. So finishing up a little after Thanksgiving should give me plenty of time to start preparing for next year's Elite schedule.

There's a boat and vehicle to get wrapped, reservations to make, lures and tackle to sort through, lakes to check out and a wonderful wife to take care of until then. It's a job just getting ready to do the job!

Still, when you get paid to help out after a bad hurricane or get to fish with good guys for a great cause, life ain't too bad, is it?

Congratulations, Kim!
November 11, 2008
How about Kim Bain? She's got to be pretty excited about finishing so well in the WBT and making the Bassmaster Classic. I mean making the Classic is a big accomplishment. Just to fish that event is a feat within itself.

Over the years I've known lots of guys who fished as hard as they could and never made it to the Classic. I know she's got to be as proud as she can be right now.

Now for the stark reality of professional bass fishing, I don't expect Kim to be in contention to win.

What I mean is that Kim certainly faced competition in the WBT, but nothing like she's going to face in the Classic. Shoot, it's not because she's a woman at all. In fact, a lot of the guys won't be in contention to win either for the exact same reason.

The Classic is called the Classic because it represents the best anglers of the sport, and they're all competing for the golden ring. You've got the cream of the crop and every one of them is gunning full speed for victory.

Will Kim do well? Probably. I'm sure she'll beat some of the men who are fishing, there's no question about that.

Some folks have talked about Kim's victory in the WBT and participation in the Classic possibly bringing a stronger women's demographic to bass fishing. I don't know about that. I don't know if it will open up a bigger part for women any more than any other professional women's sport has. There's no doubt that female athletes can hold their own. The central issue is long-time monetary support for the work these ladies do.

The problem centers on financing. The money difference between women's professional sports and men's professional sports is phenomenal. Right or wrong, men's sports have the financial backing to attract the best and keep them. No matter how good an athlete a woman might be, if she can't support herself in that sport it's difficult to stay in it.

In short, it's not always the skill of a professional. It's the ability to get financing and make a living that dictates longevity and success. It's very hard to overcome the strain of professional bass fishing if you're not consistently finishing in the money.

Believe me, I know. Next year will be different, though.

We all congratulate Kim and certainly wish her well. She seems to have the right attitude and commitment already and that's to be in it to win it! The Classic is by far the hardest tournament there is and any other state of mind is a formula for failure.

Cat Wrestling
November 4, 2008
Sometimes the next laugh comes out of the strangest places.

A few days ago I was getting ready to call it quits for the day and button up the bus for a good night's sleep. I'm still working this hurricane clean up, and the days are long and tiring.

This particular day we'd parked the bus near a lake here along the Texas coast. As I was walking to the bus I noticed some of the clean up crew sitting on the bank fishing.

I went up to these guys and said, "You gotta be kidding me! You all work hard all day and you want to fish at night? Hey ... what are ya'll fishing for?"

This one fellow says, "Catfish."

The next evening I walk past these guys and they're back on the bank catfishing.

And, you know, every fish one of them catches, no matter what size it is, he's going to brag about it.

The next night I got back a little later and there was only one fellow on the bank.

"How's it going?" I asked.

"Nothing yet," he said, and about that time his rod bends and he pulls in a 10-pound catfish. It was a legitimately nice fish!

Well, the dude gets it on the bank and sort of falls on it like a dog going after a bone.

"What're you doing?" I asked.

"I want to show it to those other guys," he says, wrestling this slimy catfish like a greased pig.

"Well, go get a stringer and stake him out until the morning and show them then," I suggested.

"What's that?" the guy asks me.

I tell him to get a shoelace or something and explain what a stringer does. He gets kind of excited and decides to take the fish with him into the camper he and a few other guys are staying in to look for the shoelace.

Of course, all the noise just happens to wake up the two other guys just in time to see this dude's catfish.

He finally gets the shoestring and we tie the catfish to a stake in the bank until morning so he can show all the other guys what a huge fish he caught.

As you can imagine, I was standing there the next day when all the other guys were waiting to see this big, ol' catfish they'd heard about.

Dude comes out of the camper with his chest all puffed out and walks up to the stake. He gets the fish almost up the seawall when the shoestring breaks!

Man, that catfish was outta there, I tell you!

I felt pretty bad for the guy because all these other fellows were ribbing him about this "big cat." The only other folks who saw it were the two guys he woke up the night before and me.

Those two guys aren't saying a word as pay back for getting woken up. I'll just see how long the jokes last before I spill the beans.

I sure wish I had a photo of that fellow wrestling that catfish on the ground, though. That cat had some skills.

Pond Monsters
October 29, 2008
Folks, I'm sorry about not writing last week. It's this hurricane clean up thing that's really keeping me busy. What say I make more time for this in the future? I mean, this blog is important to me, and I appreciate everybody who reads it. Thanks.

Like most fisherman, I can't pass by a body of water without taking a look at what's in it. It doesn't have to be a huge lake. Shoot, a small pond or tank will get my undivided attention.

Water traps on golf courses are some of my particular favorites to check out. Anybody who's spent any time on a course can testify that ponds can harbor some monster bass. Usually those bass don't have much pressure, and they're often used to people. I've seen some real pigs in a little water hole while retrieving a ball or two.

I remember one time like it was yesterday. I'd launched this shot at an angle that pretty much defied physics and had to cozy up to the water hazard to play the ball. Well, as soon as I got near the water, I saw this big, fat carp lying next to the shore.

"Wait a minute, Zell," I said, "that ain't no carp that's a huge bass!" I looked at it and it looked at me and then it just sniffed a little and swam off. Man, I tell you I took the shot but I had that bass on my brain for the rest of the game.

At the last hole, one of the guys asked what I was doing for the rest of the day. I said I was going home and waiting for the club to close so I could sneak back in and catch that bass!

Sure enough, I did just that. I snuck back in and made my way to that hole absolutely convinced I was going to get a photo of a 10-pound hawg and me.

When I crested the rise above the pond I saw some people. The folks that own that land knew me, and I figured I was caught anyway, so I walked on down to the water.

There was this guy and a little kid standing there with two of the biggest grins you ever saw, and the kid was holding up my bass so his dad could take a picture. I know it was my bass because, after all, we'd made eye contact just a few hours before.

Anyway, there wasn't going to be any hawg for me that day. I congratulated the kid on catching that bass and made my way back to the truck empty-handed with just my rod for company. Of course, I had to wander by the other ponds just to see if I might have missed a 10-pounder in one of them.

I guess the moral of the story, if there is one, is that small water can hold some big fish. Take a peek in a local pond the next time you're by there. You never know what you'll find.

Back at a Real Grind
October 14, 2008
Well, folks, how many columns has it been where the pros talk about what we do besides bass fishing? It's a common question, I know, and it's been addressed a lot. Just in case anyone's interested, here's an update on what this pro does besides fish clean up after hurricanes!

Right now my brother and I are leading crews on the eastern side of Lake Livingston. We've got about 1,900 miles of roads to clean up. I'm kinda happy about that because now I'm only about and hour and a half from home.

Man, I hope they still recognize me when I finally get to really go back home.

Here's the latest on what hit the Galveston area. According to the folks who study these things, Hurricane Ike brought a 13-foot tidal surge onto the island and into the bay. That means that the tide right before the hurricane was 13-feet higher than normal. Then, when Ike did hit, it brought 100 mph winds and 20- to 30-foot waves.

There were boats on top of houses.

But, even with all that damage, we're starting to see the light and getting some good progress on the clean up.

Just to make things "real world" for everyone who still remembers the storm, they're predicting that the northern coast of Texas and inland communities might be "cleaned up" in five to six months. The southern coast will take about a year. Then, the major rebuilding can begin.

A fellow asked me recently what we do with all this stuff we pick up. Truthfully, I don't know where all of it goes, but the vast majority of it gets burned, chipped or sorted and scrapped.

There are big fires going just about all the time to get rid of the acres of tree limbs and other wood debris, and there's a lot, let me tell you. Yesterday I loaded a hundred yards of lumber, limbs and downed trees for the chipper. Now, that's one big pile of wood that would stretch from one end of a football field to the other. Makes a big fire, too, once it's been chipped.

One of the things that take us so long to get this stuff up is the government regulation about sorting wood items from other items. We can stick all the limbs and such in one truck but things like mattresses, stoves, water heaters, and refrigerators and such need to be sorted out. A few of the local governments have even hired guys to go through all that mess to separate the metal for recycling. I guess they're trying to recoup some of the cost of this clean up.

Now, as far as the impact Ike has had on the bass fishing, that's something we'll just have to wait and see about.

Hurricanes generally tear up a fishery pretty good. The winds whip the water up so bad it can destroy most grass beds. Any standing timber usually falls victim, too. The loss of weed beds can be bad, but the extra cover from fallen trees can be beneficial.

Hopefully, we'll find that Ike didn't do nearly the damage to our fisheries that we fear. The real issue is all the stuff that's still left in the water off Bolivar Peninsula. That's going to affect fishing for a while yet.

So, that's a quick run down on the situation as it stands today. I appreciate everyone checking up on me and checking in with the family, especially a fellow pro who offered his home to my family to stay in should we need it.

You just can't beat honest hospitality and folks caring about how you're doing.

Changes in Latitude Revisited
October 7, 2008
I gotta be honest here and explain something to all the great folks who bass fish for a hobby. I love bass fishing a great deal, but it sure ain't just a hobby for me.

Now, I can understand how getting a chance to fish is a wonderful thing for most folks. It is for me, too, but it's also my job. And let me tell you, anybody can get burned out at any job if they don't take a break once in a while.

There are other sports and hobbies that I follow and mess around in to take my mind off of fishing.

College basketball's one of them, especially when they get to the Final 4. College football's another. I played a little in high school and still get a kick out watching Texas whup up on some poor slobs on the gridiron.

Golf is one of my favorite hobbies, too. I don't get to play as much as I'd like, but when I've had some quality practice time I can usually shoot in the 79-84 range. I think golf is comparable to fishing in that a lot of it's a mental game. All the physical skill in the world won't beat smart play.

I also like to deer hunt and bird hunt, but those seasons are so short that I don't get a lot of chances to do either.

My all-around favorite hobby, though, is saltwater fishing.

But, Zell, you said fishing is your job!

No, I said bass fishing is my job (and everything that goes with professional bass fishing, too). Saltwater fishing is different. We use different baits, different rods, different boats and the fish are a lot stronger. Saltwater fish strike like sledgehammers and fight like pit bulls.

I believe it's because of the intense competition they have from so many other fish and having to escape getting eaten themselves that makes them so aggressive and strong.

Saltwater fishermen have a different attitude, too, I think.

For instance, how many bass fishermen will walk out on a sand bar 200 yards from shore to catch bass? There are a few hardy souls who would, sure.

What if there were alligators in the water? Not many, huh? I know I wouldn't, but you'll often see guys fishing for bonefish and redfish out there on the sandbars. Of course, if they're keeping the fish, they've got them strung on a 40-foot stringer because of sharks, but they're still in the water.

Point is, saltwater fishing is just different enough from bass fishing that it appeals to me, and just similar enough that I'm good enough not to get laughed at too often.

Of course, in the end, no matter how many sports I might enjoy, I'm like every other husband who bass fishes for a hobby I can pick either one or the other, but not all!

Now, that's not true at all. In fact, my better half encourages me to have some fun and relax a little. Truth is, being married to a professional bass fisherman isn't an easy thing, and our wives deserve to have hobbies of their own.

Wouldn't it be great if my bride liked saltwater fishing as much as I do?

Eat Your Heart Out, Ralph
Sept. 30, 2008
Life really takes some strange twists and turns, doesn't it? I mean, last week I was writing about the destruction Hurricane Ike brought to the Texas Coast and this week I get to seal my fate with the rest of the guys I fish with.

Well, I guess they're going to find out anyway, so I might as well spill the beans. If things work out right, Ol' Zell is going to be driving a Prevost bus to a lot of the Elite Series tournaments next year.

No, I didn't get a new job, and I ain't Ralph Kramden (ya'll didn't think I could spell that, did you?). My brother's going to lend me this puppy for some events, and I'm already wired about it. I'll be driving the Suburban when he needs the Prevost.

This bus is the kind of thing you see music stars drive around in. It's got features and amenities that would make Donald Trump sit up and pay attention. It's got crystal chandeliers, gold trim, crystal vanity lights, sculptured carpet, TVs, satellite dishes, refrigerators, separate bathrooms, separate bedrooms, zoned A/C and fiber optics that make the rooms change colors.

One of the refrigerators is so big they'll need to knock out the windshield to ever get it out. Is that too big?

I can honestly say that this bus isn't going to be a home away from home. It's going to be a home full of stuff I'm just not accustomed to! But, I think I'll manage all right.

The Prevost is longer and taller than most semi-trucks. For its size, though, it's pretty comfortable to drive after the first nerve-wracking hour. After the first day, I've identified three key things to always keep in mind while planning a trip:

1. Always know how high the overpass is in front of you. Don't guess.

2. Plan the trip to travel by roads that truckers use.

3. This is very important! Always remember that it takes a little longer to stop a 61,000-pound bus than it does a tow vehicle and maintain a safe distance. A mistake in that department will ultimately make the car in front look like a matchbook.

But, like all good things, even the mack-daddy of buses will get its blood from you when it can. For instance, it gets a massive 7 miles per gallon of diesel. It's not a "green" ride. The upkeep is a little pricey, too. In fact, while I was snooping around the different compartments the other day, I found an invoice from when my brother last had it washed and waxed $1,100 worth of wash and wax!

I might be in the wrong business for sure. I need to become a professional bus washer and waxer.

I'm really looking forward to traveling with this thing and being able to carry anybody with me who wants to come along. The only issue right now is having to get a trailer that will haul a Suburban and a boat in it. I'm not sure BASS would like me trying to back this thing down a ramp.

All kidding aside, the opportunity to travel like that will be amazing and certainly not something I'm accustomed to. I'll just enjoy it when it comes and while it lasts. And, if the other guys are real nice, I might let them take off their shoes and walk on the carpet.

I Don't Like Ike
Sept. 23, 2008
I'd like to thank everyone for their patience last week. I didn't post a blog entry and in a few short sentences you'll understand why.

As I write this, I haven't been home for any amount of time since a few days before Hurricane Ike sucker punched the Texas coast last week. My brother owns a disaster clean up firm and, as you can imagine, he and his men are pretty busy so I'm helping him out. Right now we're concentrating on the west side of Houston, Brownsville, South Padre Island and the Galveston area.

There's so much left to clean up and so much that needs to be rebuilt, it's just really an unbelievably massive job. We've got 80 to 90 trucks running full out from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. We'd run 24/7 if we could safely, but the government restricts clean up activities to those hours.

Folks, you all may have seen some footage of the damage Ike caused, but it doesn't compare to seeing it up close and personal. What happened to Galveston is as bad as what happened to New Orleans after Katrina or worse.

In fact, I'm not exaggerating when I tell you that Galveston Island literally looks like a nuclear bomb went off. Almost the entire island has been leveled homes, businesses, trees, power poles just about anything that was standing has been reduced to so much trash and kindling.

I think it's impossible to understand the power of a storm like Ike unless you've lived through it and seen the aftereffects. The deluge of rain is bad, but the wind is worse. Take a 100-mph wind up against a home for several hours and things start to come apart.
Anything that's not 100 percent secure turns into a missile. As the storm progresses, there's more and more stuff flying around causing more things to break and generally multiplying the damage every second.

It's really sad to see the peoples' homes and businesses destroyed. Some of these families have been here for generations and it's all gone every bit of it. What's also sad are the animals that were left behind and survived. We've got longhorn steers roaming the beaches starving, dogs and cats scrounging for food and water. There was even a lion some folks had that was found holed up in the remains of a church.

Believe me when I say that what's happened is very, very humbling.

Personally, my family fared pretty well. We got hit hard but not like the coast and barrier islands did. I live a little ways inland from Houston so we didn't get the full brunt of Ike. My neighbors, however, didn't all come out so well. Every family around me got a 100-foot pine tree or two laid across their house except for mine. I don't know why my family was spared, but it has allowed me take the time to help out my brother without worrying about my own home.

Just to put what I'm writing into perspective, let me tell you about this one neighborhood we're working in. Several years ago this lady built her home to withstand a category 5 hurricane. After Ike came through this area, every home every single home was completely leveled except for hers. This house now stands on a street covered with the remains of all the wood and furniture from her neighbors' houses. It stands on a street populated by concrete slabs where homes once stood.

Even though the storm isn't front-page news anymore, it's still a stark reality to us.
The bottom line is that the damage is incredible, and we've got a lot of work left to do.
I guess we've really only gotten started. Texans, though, are a hardy bunch and we'll survive.

Thanks again for all you all's patience. Next week I'm going to tell you about my new ride for next year and why all the guys I fish with are going to hate me.

Mean, Lean, Fishing Machine
Sept. 9, 2008
It might still be hot but in a month or so the temperatures will start dropping and the days will get a lot shorter the fall pattern will be on then, and I can't wait.

These waning days of summer are a good time to straighten up your tackle, inventory all the extra baits you bought this year and get ready for some of the best fishing of the year. I thought I might offer some tips on how to become a lean, mean, bass fishing machine for the upcoming fall bite.

The goal is to pare down that small tackle store we all carry with us and develop a bait storage system that's selective and relevant.

The first thing you need to do is dump everything on the floor and separate it into types, colors, sizes, etc. Now, in the very likely event that dumping it out would be an issue with the better half, just get some inexpensive tubs to put it all in.

If you have an extra wall and some discretionary cash, consider putting up some pegboard and hangers. That way all those bags of baits can be kept organized, and you'll always know when it's time to restock.

Once you have plastics with plastics, cranks with cranks and so forth, you'll be able to pick and choose which baits will be needed for which trip without pawing through every Plano box in your boat or garage.

The second thing is to develop an idea of which baits you'll need for different types of fishing situations. In other words, consider a list of baits you've found particularly successful for a particular fishery, season or water condition. Use that list to stock your arsenal for that fishing trip. Stay strong, don't second guess yourself, and stick to the list.

I don't carry 50 different lizards or 50 different craws. I can put together a bait toolbox specifically designed for a certain body of water, species of bass, season or water conditions.

For example, if I know I'm going to a lake where I'll be fishing a lot of plastics, like lizards, craws and worms, I might select my baits in this manner:

Craws: I'll take two kinds one for pitching and flipping grass and another for jig trailers or Texas rigs. Of those two kinds, I might carry two packs of each in a couple or three different colors.

Worms: Again, two kinds one for casting and the other for flipping heavy cover. Same number of colors.

Lizards: Same as above one with single tails and the other twin-tailed Zellamanders. I'll probably stay with the same color choices for both.

What I'd end up with is a selection of about 18 bags of plastics that pretty much cover most situations. When we consider that a lot of anglers have 100 pounds of plastics on their boats or in their homes, 18 bags is nothing. In fact, once you have the core baits selected, it wouldn't hurt to have a small emergency kit that has a few specialty plastics like big worms, small finesse craws or a couple of baits in untraditional colors.

This system really works for me, even considering the joking I did about too many baits in my boat in last week's column. I really believe if you give it a shot it'll work for you, too. Once you see how successful limiting your plastics choices to what is relevant to any given situation can be, it'll be a lot easier to do the same with all the other types of bait. You'll be leaner, meaner and spend more time fishing rather than choosing.

But, seriously, when you get started, don't dump all your stuff out on the floor and blame it on Zell, okay?

Enough Shad and Grass for Everybody
Sept. 2, 2008
Some folks learn from their mistakes. Texans learn from what they've done right.

It's no secret that we Texans are proud of our state just like other folks are proud of theirs. There's a lot to be said about how the state is run and that includes the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) because what they do well can benefit every fishery in the country.

One of the movers and shakers at the TPWD is a fellow I've known for several years Phil Durocher. He's the Director for Inland Fisheries. When I first met Phil, I asked him what his goals were for the fisheries. He simply said it was to let everyone have the enjoyment of catching a 4- to 5-pound bass.

Easier said than done, though, huh?

Well, the TPWD stood by their word and went about creating some of the best fisheries in the nation by two obvious methods: the right baitfish and the right vegetation. By following that example, every state can have successful bass waters.

The right baitfish means having a healthy population of forage for the bass to eat, especially if the bass are competing against stripers and such. For instance, shad and bluegill generally stay in the upper water columns good for bass. But blueback herring like to live deep good for stripers but not so good for bass, especially largemouth.

If a fisheries department dumps untold millions of herring in the water, that will certainly benefit the deeper living fish, but largemouth, for instance, will have a tough time competing and they'll end up getting left overs. Their populations will suffer and the deeper fish, again, like stripers, will ultimately become the dominant predator.

Now, the right vegetation is something I'm very committed to, and the answer is very simple don't kill the vegetation! Bass need vegetation in order to survive, and any body of water that has the vegetation killed off is asking for trouble. I know there are drinking water reservoirs that have to kill off grass and landowners that just want to kill grass. Either way, it's bad for the fish and the entire ecosystem

When bass spawn and those fry come out, they need someplace to hide, or the bluegill and even their own parents will eat them. The mortality rate goes way down if a lake has a lot of vegetation. Also, grass and other vegetation provide a lot of oxygen for what lives in the lake. If you take away the grass, you're taking away a good part of the dissolved oxygen.

When that big hurricane hit my home waters, Lake Conroe, several years ago, it pretty much wiped out the grass population. The waters rose so high for so long that the hydrilla didn't have a chance. When the grass died, the big fish went with it. But, the TP&W helped the grass get a foothold, and now we're seeing 13-pound bass going into the ShareLunker program again.

The same situation occurred at Lake Guntersville, except they were the ones who killed the grass. When the grass died, the fishing died. Now that the grass is back, the bass fishing there is fantastic again.

I just wanted to take this opportunity to recognize the guys in the Lone Star State for what they've accomplished. Everything Phil and his gang have done will ultimately benefit all of us, and that's the most important thing.

Observations '08
Aug. 16, 2008
I finally got around to cleaning and sorting out my boat the other day. Seven months of tournament fishing will wreak havoc on any organizing system. In the midst of re-stacking, refilling and cleaning, I came up with nine observations following the 2008 season.

In a nutshell:

1. The Elite Series has incredible fans. Thank you all for your support and confidence.

2. The amount of stuff in a boat at the end of a season is somehow double the amount you start with. It ain't right and there's no rational, scientific explanation for it either.

3. You can spend years trying to prepare your kids to leave the nest with the right attitudes and ethics. Then one day, they call your bluff and actually do it. I got one stepson who's joined the Army and another one who's gone off to college. I better stay strong for my better half now.

4. I'm a pretty good weather forecaster considering the 6-foot waves at Erie prediction from the July 2nd column! And, not to brag, but I called the 35-plus-pound bags needed to win at Falcon, too. Maybe I'll go into fortune telling after I retire.

5. The state fisheries guys in Texas are doing a great job! I mean a knock-out job! Look at what happened at Falcon Lake this year, and we didn't even hit it at its peak. I wouldn't be surprised if the new world record came from the great state of Texas, and I'm dead serious about that.

6. Everyone should find a way to spend time fishing with his brother on the ocean.

7. Technology has come a long way recently with the introduction of side-view graphs, GPS systems, better livewells, etc. I'm sold on the graphs and livewells, but I'll hold my opinion on the GPS stuff for now.

8. My buddy Kelly Jordon's got a lot of newfangled cell phone and music-type do-dads that pretty much do exactly what my old do-dads do.

9. I stand by my statement that we have a different kind of sport. Considering how Glenn DeLong got outfitted so quickly after those clowns stole his stuff at the Harris Chain event and how Mark Davis rescued those guys on Oneida, there should be no question bass anglers are the cream of the crop.

I've got a few other observations but they're not worth printing. Most of them have to do with not doing as well as I'd hoped and prepared to do this year. Hopefully, next year's another chance to find the fish I need to find.

Harvesting Ain't So Bad
Aug. 19, 2008
Man, how do I start this without getting run out of the country?

I guess it's better to go ahead and say it (like ripping off a band-aid): Keeping a bass or two for eating isn't always a bad thing. There, no harm done.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm a huge proponent of catch and release and proper fish care. In fact, I spend a lot of time with one of the major livewell manufacturers on just that subject. I care a great deal about our fisheries.

I also understand that C&R and slot limits have done wonders for keeping the populations of bass in our waters healthy and well managed.

But I also understand that catch and release isn't always the best thing in every situation.

For instance, on a smaller scale, how many folks know about a farm pond or drainage pond that's plum full of undernourished, pale, sickly bass? The problem there is two fold there are too many bass and not enough forage.

Now, one solution would be to add forage. Just drop a truck load of shad in there and let the bass have at it. The bass would be happy and full for a while, but then the shad would be gone, and you'd be right back where you started.

A better solution would be to harvest some of the bass. By doing that, you're decreasing the pressure on the native forage and increasing the remaining bass' chances of growing bigger and healthier.

On a larger scale, it becomes more complicated.

For a generation now, Ray Scott's directions for catch and release have been really successful. Most of our nation's fisheries hold bigger and better bass than ever. That's a huge testimonial to Ray Scott, us anglers and the individual state fisheries departments.

For all the good we anglers are trying to do with catch and release, we may be holding our lakes back a little. Here's why.

By the time mama hawg gets really huge, she's spawned successfully many times. Her genes are already in the pool, so to speak. A large bass has lived a long life and, like any animal, the older she is the poorer her ability to reproduce successfully becomes. The genetic code she passes on will be weaker, which raises the chance that her offspring will have abnormalities.

That's sort of simplistic, but it's true.

Another result of mandatory C&R is that the natural size distribution of a fishery will be changed. A body of water, left on its own, will develop a natural distribution of predator fish sizes. The more large fish there are, the fewer smaller fish there will be that are able to survive to grow large because of food competition and even cannibalism.

Take into account, too, that large bass have become wary of fishermen and are much harder to catch.

The bottom line is that the fisheries boys know what they're doing. They've got a good grip on slot limits and such to keep a body of water full of healthy bass. It's OK to harvest some bass for eating as long as they're of a legal size.

Catch and release is a great philosophy in the right places, but if it's not mandatory, I can't fault a fellow for mixing up some hushpuppies and cole slaw to justify the cost of that boat!

Topwater? Who... me?
Aug. 12, 2008
At some point in our lives, every one of us gets tagged with a label. That's just the way it is. Even professional anglers get that privilege. Sure enough, as soon as one of us starts winning on a certain bait, we get tattooed with a label.

Sometimes the label is short-lived and folks soon forget about it. At other times, the label sticks like glue.

For instance, I can name three pros and almost everybody can name their strongest baits:

Denny Brauer jigs. Denny can make a jig of any size do anything he wants it to do by messing with the trailer, weight, skirt or whatever.

Mark Davis worms. Mark is a master at creating life in a little piece of PVC.

Kevin VanDam spinnerbaits. Can anyone argue that KVD doesn't have some Merlin-type skills with a blade? It's almost supernatural is what it is.

And Zell Rowland? Well, I've been tagged with the topwater label. I guess that's fair considering that's what I do best. It's also what I chose to do best.

Having a strength is good, but each of the guys out there doing what we do has to be able to use all the baits. At any given time, our strengths aren't what Barney and Betty Bass are hitting on. But, when the bite is strong for a certain bait, that's when the pro with the most knowledge can really bring home the check.

I probably have the most knowledge when it comes to topwater baits because I throw them more than anything else. I've been doing that since I was thirteen, and I've put a lot of thought into the details of the technique. Success is in the details.

So, even though all of us pros need to be proficient with a lot of techniques across the board, you'll find a few guys who really excel at one type of bait or another over an extended period of time. And, often as not, those dudes will get labeled as "jig" fishermen or "crankbait" fishermen.

If you really examine the reasons why those particular guys are tagged with that label it's not always because they may have won a tournament or two on any certain bait. The real reason is because they have deep, useful knowledge about every aspect of that bait.

I reckon being labeled, at least in this instance, ain't so bad.

Changes in Latitudes...
July 22, 2008
Well, I know the whole world's been holding its breath waiting to hear how my offshore fishing trip went. I don't want to prolong the anticipation too long, so I'll spill the beans.

It was incredible, and we had a blast! I hadn't been out there in years and didn't want to come back in, I'll tell you that.

As far as the fish catching went, it was also incredible. We caught two or three marlin that weighed over 100 pounds and some wahoo, among others.

Now, for anyone who hasn't caught a wahoo, pay attention. Wahoo are some of the fastest fish in the ocean. When they hit bait, they hit it running about 60 miles an hour. One mistake you don't want to make is to put your thumb on the spool as they're running! I did that once and it's a no-no. The spool is moving at such a high rate of speed that it could suck your thumb into the reel, and that would not be pretty. Ouch!

Those marlins aren't exactly goldfish, either. When you don't know how to land a hundred-pound fish with a spear on his nose, you got an issue. It ain't like lipping a little ol' 3-pound bass! If you're not very focused on what you're doing and how that fish is acting and where he's looking and facing, he'll ram that bill right through your chest.

Again ... ouch!

We really caught a lot of good eating fish, but we only kept some of the wahoo, dolphin (real dolphin, not "Flipper") and such to eat. Even though the marlin is like the walleye of the sea, my brother and I couldn't bring ourselves to keep them. They're such majestic creatures and, quite honestly, very beautiful fish.

Yeah, we had a great time.

So, now I'm back home getting ready for the last two tournaments of the year and wondering where the time went. Thankfully, these next two are within a few hours of each other, so the traveling is going to be relatively easy.

I just have to focus now on the bronzeback heavens we're going to and lock away those incredible memories of ocean fishing with my family.

Hot Water Topwater
July 15, 2008
Just like every summer, the topwater bite's nice and strong right now for just about everybody. It's real hard, though, for me to tell another angler what baits to throw. As soon as I do, he'll sure enough go and catch them on another bait.

All things being equal, I'd say the number one choice in my tacklebox for daytime would be the Rebel Zell Rowland Pop-R or similar popper-style bait. There's a real good selection in that style because so many manufacturers offer their own products with different sounds, colors, weights, etc.

The reason I chose the popper-style bait has to do with the bass' obsession with baitfish. Right about now, most of the shad have either spawned or are in the ending throes of their yearly passions. They're grouping up and flicking the surface of the water all the while giving off that sound that a popper can make when retrieved correctly.

In my opinion, if I'm on a lake that has an abundance of 3- and 4-pound bass, I'm also going to up-size the popper. I might even throw one that's a half-inch to an inch larger than a standard size popper. It's always a blast to watch a beast suck that thing in and offer up a great fight. But, even with larger bait, you'll snag the occasional bream with an attitude.

My color choices are pretty basic they're all shad related. Those colors can range anywhere from black and silver, black and gray, black and white and so forth. Really, anything that resembles a shad will work.

Now, at night, my choice of bait would not be a popper. I'd choose something that made a lot more disturbance. A buzzbait fits that bill nicely. I'd also choose one that's dark, including the blade. I don't want the fish to get a good look at the bait in the moonlight. I want him to hear the ruckus and see the silhouette.

Of course, I'll throw a buzzbait during the day and in the spring, too. It's a great bait to vary the retrieve with and that doesn't always mean the speed of the retrieve. You can tune the blades on those rascals to achieve about anything you'd like ... but, that's a future blog. Got to keep up the suspense!

Well, I'm getting ready to head out to the real deep water for a little R&R. Maybe I'll land one of those saltwater hawgs you always see on TV. Man, can you imagine the fight from a sixty-pound smallmouth?

Good luck with the topwater!

They're Only Human
July 8, 2008
You know, it's hard to keep a bass alive in a livewell when the water's over 90 degrees. It's hard on the fish because the oxygen's low, the temperature's high, there's ammonia in the water, and they're under stress. It would be hard on anybody in that situation.

Given the higher mortality of tournament bass in the summer it's important that we anglers remember the fish, and I take that very seriously. Currently, that means stuff like putting ice in the well to cool the water, keeping the water circulating and cleaning and maintaining the wells, pumps and hoses when the boat's back on land. Some anglers even use livewell additives to help with shock and slime coat loss.

All of these actions are positive for the sport and certainly help reduce mortality. The good news is that more help is on the way.

Like I said before, I take the health of the fish seriously. Right now I'm associated with a company that manufactures livewell technology for about 80 percent of the boats being made. What I'm hearing makes me pretty optimistic.

The livewell industry is coming out with better technology across the board. The days of crawling all over the boat to put one of those ridiculous hose clamps on are numbered the new technology will allow anglers to snap hoses together leak-free. There are even boats being designed that will cool the water in a livewell like a refrigerator although I'm not sure I'd want to be carrying a bottle of freon on the boat. That would be like an automatic hand grenade if something ain't right!

I think the key to better survival rates will be concentrating on greater water circulation control. Future livewells will probably have quality sensors that measure temperature, oxygen levels and waste byproducts in the well and adjust the water circulation as necessary.

I have to give the manufacturers credit for their research and development these days. I mean, they're really coming through with some things that will have a positive impact on our sport, especially regarding bass mortality rates. We should always try to take the best care possible of our sport's greatest resource the bass. After all, as Radar O'Reilly once said, "they're only human."

Standings, Smallies and 6-Foot Waves
July 2, 2008
This year's tournament series sure seems to be going by fast. I could swear just yesterday we were wondering whether our boats were going to freeze in place at Hartwell if we didn't troll fast enough.

This is the time of the circuit when the pros pretty much know what their fate's going to be for next year. Nothing's written in stone, of course, but it's going to be difficult for the guys who caught more tough breaks than fish to advance much in points. There's no hiding that it's been a tough year for me, but I'm awfully tough, too. I'm fishing for a spot on the 2009 Elite Series and I'm concentrating hard on that goal.

But we don't have to put our pencils down yet so there's not much use in predicting the future. The next two fisheries we visit Lake Erie and Oneida Lake should provide some high times. Although they're both Northern lakes and heavy on smallies, they each offer different conditions that will play to the individual pros' strengths.

Erie's going to be especially interesting. It's like fishing on the Gulf of Mexico as far as how big the body of water is. I believe there are big fish in that lake that have never seen a fishing lure. If you're catching 2- and 3-pounders, you'd better crank the motor up and move because that won't win there. There's an abundance of 3- and 4-pounders and they're going to get caught sort of like a Falcon Lake for smallmouth. The guys that fish big should do well there.

Also, depending on the weather, there's a good chance it's going to be an endurance test where the stubborn anglers will prevail. If the wind kicks up a lot, it won't matter how big your boat is because the waves are going to be 6 to 8 feet tall. That's enough to beat an angler's backside to death and back.

So, it's on to Erie lake of the big fishing, stubborn anglers. I don't care if the waves are 15 feet high, we're going for it all. I may not feel real good at the end of the day, but we're going.

I wonder if those poor co-anglers know what they're in for.

They Call It a Zellamander
June 23, 2008
Everybody should try designing lures at some point. It's a hoot.

A few years ago I designed one called the "Zellamander." If you're not using them now, take a look at the Yum baits the next time you're at the tackle store. The Zellamander will be there and you can't miss it. It's a lizard with a twin tail, and it isn't pretty, but it works.

Some folks might imagine that the corporate bait designing process is long and drawn out. Well, that might be for some baits, but not for the Zellamander (I like that name, "Zellamander." It's just fun to say.)

Every once in a while, the manufacturers will get the pros together to talk about new baits and designs and stuff. During one of those meetings for Pradco, which owns YUM, there were a bunch of us sitting around discussing new products and things they wanted to make. When it got to my turn, I asked them what they wanted.

Nobody could really give me any ideas so I asked them again, "What are you looking for topwater, plastic...?"

One of the guys said, "Well, we'd like to have a soft plastic bait."

So I asked, "Well, what kind do you want? Do you want a lizard? A worm? A grub...?"

One guy said, "Yeah! We really need a lizard! Everybody's lizard's the same!"

I said, "Well, O.K., I'll give you one right now."

Anytime there's one of these meetings, there's usually a bunch of baits lying in the middle of the table just stuff for people to look at, mostly. I looked at that pile and said to this fellow, "Throw me that lizard you got over there," and he did. Then, I saw these YUM Wooly Hawg Tail grubs lying there.

"Throw me those two grubs," I said and then asked if anybody had a pocketknife.

I got the knife but they still didn't have a clue about what I was about to do. So, I cut the tails off the grubs and cut the tail off the lizard. Then, I took my cigarette lighter out and melted the grub tails to what used to be the lizard's tail. I blew on it a second, threw it out on the table and said, "There you go, boys. Ain't nobody ever had that!"

Those guys were speechless for hours.

About four weeks later I got a call from Pradco and they told me they were going to use the design and they had a name for it the Zellamander.

I never really had a say in the deal...

But, in all seriousness, the bait design process is pretty interesting. There were a few more steps like testing and getting the design just right that I skipped over. But, at least in this instance, the shorter path was a successful path.

Try throwing a Zellamander next time you're out. You can use it for topwater, weighted, weightless, whatever. The twin tail design just gives it tremendous action. Plus, you can impress your partner with the true story about how the Zellamander was born.

What Impresses Me
June 17, 2008
The same fellow who asked me what the pros do besides fish asked me another question yesterday. He wanted to know whom I was most impressed with among the guys in the Series.

Now that's a loaded question that could end up getting me in some trouble.

There are some very talented guys on the tour. I fish with real competitors with skill and drive. All of them, to some extent, are impressive. But, in the end, I have to say that Kevin VanDam is the most impressive guy on tour. To do what he's done in such a short time is very respectable. There's never been anyone able to do that except Rick Clunn.

That's good company.

The reason I say KVD is so impressive is that he has taken advantage of the opportunities granted to him and swung for the fences. He goes for the hat trick, the end zone, the 3-pointer every tournament and every event.

Remember, though, that I said KVD is the "most" impressive because, in a way, all the guys who can make a living fishing are impressive.

Like any other professional sport there are thousands of folks who say, "I want to be...." But, of those thousands only about one percent actually make it. And those that make it to the Big Show can't plan to do it for just a year. That's a recipe to get your butt whooped.
It takes a commitment of about three years to get established and start earning a name.

The most successful guys I fish with have all earned their stripes by being skilled anglers, public speakers and strong advocates for their sponsors. And every stripe represents a hurdle they had to jump over on their way to success. They didn't call it quits when the going got rough and they probably won't if it gets rough again ... and it will.

And that is what impresses me more than any one angler the stubbornness and competitiveness of all these guys just to make it as far as they have. And, truth be told, there are folks out there who are better fishermen than some of us on the tour. But, whether it's financial concerns, lack of consistency, time away from family, or whatever reason, they haven't yet thrown for the end zone.

When they do, I'll be impressed.

Bass Fishing Ain't a Real Job?
May 19, 2008
Alright, so we don't go sit in an office for hours on end, or wear slacks and pressed shirts too often, but we do work more hours than the average desk job per week. Anyone who thinks otherwise can take a lesson from my stepson, who said I don't have a "real job."

Well, he just got out of boot camp, so this is a tough kid to start with. I like to think I gave him a little shot of reality with my own version of boot camp.

Lots of folks think that us pros show up at launch, use all this pre-spooled, rigged and gigged gear, fish, then head to the watering hole. While the latter may have some truth to it, the former is nothing but hogwash. What you don't see is us staying up till the small hours, painting skirts, spooling reels and other prep, but we do it. No one else, just us. Except in this case I made my stepson do it, so he could get the whole Elite angler experience.

We got done at about one in the a.m., and when the buzzer went off at 4:30, lo and behold, he didn't want to get up. I told him if he wanted to catch fish and not get left behind, he'd better get it in gear. Slightly late and extremely groggy, we headed for Sam Rayburn and launched at daylight. While he does know how to catch fish, I really wanted to stick it to him to show him you have to get numbers and cull to be successful. I got four or five before he even got a bite, and he heard about it for some time.

Then, I couldn't have asked for anything more perfect. Some weather moved in ... bad weather. Wanting to illustrate the point that we prepare for anything, I decided to make about a thirty mile run in the downpour. He didn't have a rain suit and just about froze to death in that marathon haul. Man, what a good time!

Cold, wet, and thoroughly miserable, he sat there and took it like a man; all the while I was grinning ear to ear, hauling in fish after fish, watching him struggle.

That day on Rayburn was a sharp learning curve for the boy. I like to believe that he has a newfound respect for the hard work, long hours, and sometimes less than perfect conditions we deal with, and still make it to the office each day. Like any other job, if you don't show up, you don't get paid. While there is a bit of glitz and glam in professional angling, we have to put in the crummy hours like everyone else.

The next time you hear someone talk about how easy we pros have it, let 'em know old Zell would love to take 'em fishing.

Bassin' Mishaps and Musings
May 12, 2008
Being an Elite Series angler doesn't give you some kind of immunity from the unexpected or the strange and bizarre for that matter. We're not perfect. We make the same mistakes as weekend anglers if not more seeing as how we're out on the water more often.

One such thing happened years ago when a buddy, Rob Kilby, and I were finishing up on the water. I had one of those trailers that is fully enclosed, and you drove the boat up into it. When we were done, he asked if he could drive the boat up into the trailer while I backed the truck down the ramp. I said, OK, and down I went. Now the ramp was a pretty good size, it was real long, and he pulled it in without incident. With him still on the boat in the trailer, I started up the ramp to the lot. When I had pulled him about 100 feet up the ramp I heard a loud "pop," and what did I see when I looked back other than the trailer with Rob still in it, speeding toward the water. Since the trailer was real buoyant, when it hit, it just kept going, and Rob was wondering why I was putting him back in the water without even knowing that he broke free!

I waited a while for him to poke his head out to see what was going on, and when he did, he wanted to abandon ship and swim for it. I told him to stay put how else would we get the trailer and boat back? There was a crowd gathered now, and I shouted at him to just fire up the outboard and put the trim all the way down to get the prop in the water. He did, and it was low enough that he drove the trailer and boat back the 40 yards it had coasted out into the lake.

Once he got close enough, four or five guys swam out to him to get him squared away, and we got it back onto the receiver. Luckily, no one was hurt, and we all had a good laugh about it later.

Even though we're competitive fishermen, we always have fun. While everyone's really gunning to win the tournaments, we try to have a good time, and when we're trying to have a good time fishing for fun, we try to beat the tar out of each other even more than at the tournaments. Maybe it shouldn't be that way, but that's how it is. Maybe it's because you're in the same boat, but you always try to out-fish everyone else, same as every angler everywhere at all levels.

It goes beyond fishing, too. Recently I was playing football on PlayStation 3 with Kelly Jordon, and I was kicking him all over the place. But he wouldn't quit until he won one. We must've been up 'til one in the morning playing that thing.

While tournaments are fun, the real enjoyment I get from the sport is spending quality time with close friends and family, and that transcends all levels and styles of fishing, whether you're an Elite or not-so-Elite.

Let's Get Back to Basics
April 25, 2008
When I fished my first professional tournament, I was 13 years old. Back then, it was easier to fish for a living, while making a living fishing. Entry fees were $125 and everyone who fished got a slice of the pie. Sure, everything is more expensive nowadays, but it's harder to go fishing and win a check that puts money in the bank. After the IRS is done with it, you're going to need the rest to cover your expenses, and you might still be in the hole. It'd sure be nice to show mama a check that actually paid some bills, and with the way I'm fishing this year, she won't be very happy.

Don't get me wrong, I love where the sport is going, and having fished for as long as I have, I know it's better than ever. Thing is, it's become more complicated. Fishing has always been a family recreation. It doesn't take much to be able to fish, and that's the beauty of it. It's something that everyone can enjoy. As of late though, the industry has shrunk, and things are getting more expensive professionally and recreationally. What we need to do is rethink the way we present fishing to the public. Back in the day, the local papers and news were at the lake, and a big to-do was made about the tournament. Today, the only coverage is on the most popular fishing day of the week!

Are we getting too far away from bassing's humble roots? Keeping fishing's image as everyman's sport is becoming more difficult with all the corporate involvement and whatnot. Everyone with a hand in it wants a say in how things are run, confusing a relatively simple thing: bass fishing. While sponsors are a necessary part of the sport, they shouldn't take precedence over the fishing. That's what it's all about, anyway, and always should be. When bass fishing becomes more about getting your sponsors' names out there than catching fish, that's the day I'll call it quits. But thank goodness we have someone to count on to keep fishing in perspective.

BASS has always been in our corner. They champion interests close to anglers' hearts things like conservation, getting kids involved and keeping the grassroots part of fishing alive with the Federation Nation. Without them, we would not be fishing the best fisheries in the country, and people would be pulling out their fillet knives right after the weigh-in. BASS has helped fishing gain popularity, and every angler owes them a debt of gratitude.

Getting back to bassing's modest beginnings would reinvigorate the sport, and be good for everyone: the media, the pros and, most importantly, the average folks wetting their lines every weekend.

A Different Kind of Sport
April 10, 2008
As great as tournament bass fishing is, I think our sport can well exceed what it is today if everybody works together. And, after Falcon Lake, it looks like even the bass are on board with that idea, too!

What I mean by working together is that all of us, the pros, weekend anglers, manufacturers, sponsors and BASS itself, play positive and vital roles. We've just got a different kind of sport than a lot of what's out there. If we continue to support each other and build on each other's strengths, we'll have the greatest sport ever for a long time.

For example, this March, right before the Sunshine Showdown, Glenn DeLong had almost all of his outfits and tackle stolen from his boat. In a short time, however, a lot of people worked together to get him ready to compete. His fellow pros chipped in, Berkley chipped in, a whole lot of folks chipped in because it was the right thing to do. And Glenn chipped in too by marching on and competing like a true pro.

Another example is the incredible amount of fisheries improvement that the Federation and even non-Federation anglers do. They give of their own time and money to help create cover, clean up the lakes and streams, fight for open access and help keep our waters and bass healthy. None of that goes unnoticed and it's very much appreciated.

Manufacturers, sponsors, fishing clubs and individual anglers donate time, tackle and funds to round up the youth of our world and teach them to fish and, just as importantly, to respect the sport. Shoot, even guys like Ken Duke, Dave Precht and all the folks at BASS who have incredible knowledge and insight in this industry contribute their time and experience for the betterment of the sport. A lot of what they do is in the background, but it sure has a positive impact.

The manufacturers are also doing their share by providing safer boats and PFDs. They're constantly working on better livewell systems, reel technologies, sunglasses, etc. Sure, we'd buy that stuff anyway, but the reality is that all their research and development isn't cheap, and it's helped our sport tremendously.

Tournament bass angling has a great future. The bass are getting bigger, the anglers are getting better, the tackle, boats and equipment just keep improving, and it's becoming more popular every year. It ought to stay that way as long as we keep working together for this different kind of sport.

Topwater Success
March 25, 2008
The spring fishing season has started off strong. That means we're getting into one of my favorite times the topwater bite. As the waters continue to warm from south to north, everyone should take the opportunity to experience topwater action.

Most times you'll start finding fish shallow as the water warms and bass are in a postspawn mode. That's when bass and baitfish start feeding on small minnows that have hatched and the bluegill and crappie that are moving up to spawn.

Some of the topwater baits that the pros will be throwing are buzz frogs, Pop-Rs, and prop baits. One of my favorite prop baits is the Smithwick Devil's Horse.

Topwater success with a prop bait such as a Devil's Horse really depends on how the individual fishes the bait. For instance, there's a time to pull the bait long distances on the retrieve or short distances. There are times, especially if you're throwing at a target such as a stump, bush or rock, to retrieve that bait in as confined a space as possible.

One of the biggest keys to keeping the bait close to a target is to bend the blades a little more forward. This acts like brakes on a car and slows the bait down a lot. It also helps create more noise.

I'll also take a full turn off the screws of the bait to make sure that the blades are extremely free-spinning.

But, finding the right bait and retrieve doesn't always come with the first few casts. As a topwater fisherman, I often get asked, "How long will you throw that bait?"

The best answer I can give (and this is really for any bait) is that I will run it through a series of tests trying slow, medium and fast retrieves. I'll use different cadences for each retrieve, too. If I don't get a strike, I've got five other topwater baits in my box I can try.

One of the biggest mistakes anglers make is not utilizing the tackle they have and depending on their comfortable, confidence baits. The most successful anglers use that expensive collection of baits for what it was intended.

For topwater fishing especially, I've found my best approach after getting an idea of the water clarity and temperature trend is to throw different colors and sizes with varying retrieves until I find something that works. Then I can expand upon the type of bait, the speed I was working it and the sound that particular bait made.

When the water explodes, I know I made the right choice.

What do you pros do besides fish?
March 13, 2008
I was talking to a fellow the other day and he asked me a question that went something like this, "What do you pros do besides fish?"

Well, I'd just gotten off the lake, and my mind was stuck on this current tournament season. I'd been trying to get my motor started (which isn't easy to do), and that kind of question really helped.

The truth is a professional angler's world is a lot more than just fishing tournaments. There's a ton more involved. In fact, the fishing part is very small compared to what we do to help our fans and sponsors that takes up about 70 percent of our time.

For a pro, there really is no "off season." If we're not competing, we're attending shows, designing and testing lures, working with our sponsors' advertising, etc. It really keeps us busy.

Most of us will also take the opportunity to scout the scheduled tournament lakes. We'll spend two or three days riding around the lakes to see what they have to offer. That's a lot of windshield time.

Scouting helps us get a general idea of what lures we may use and the general layout of the lake. We still have to use the practice days before tournaments to get an idea of the water clarity and temperature and, hopefully, find a pattern.

Being a successful professional angler takes a lot of work and time. The bottom line is that you can be the best fisherman in the world, but if you can't entertain and educate a crowd of 400 to 500 people, it's going to be difficult. But, we love it.

And the fishing part is what we love to do best for our fans and ourselves. We look forward to climbing in the boat, and we don't care if the wind is blowing 80 miles an hour. That's the real fun part just like it is for the amateurs and it's why we do what we do.

But, thinking about fishing and boats has got my mind back on the current tournament season and that fellow's other question, "How's this season going so far?"

That's easy to answer. I'm hoping the season will go well. Nothing unusual has happened ... yet. I feel very strongly that my fishing's good. Up to now, I just haven't been on the water or fish I want to get on.