Still hitting the Ditches

IMAG0490Nothing much has changed for me over the past couple of weeks, with the exception of a few more stripers showing up with the bass. I’ve been trying my best to find a shallow bass bite but it’s just not happening for me because I know there are still plenty of fish cruising the ditches so that’s where I’ve been spending the majority of my time. Last year I started reading more and more about ditches so this winter I’ve been determined to find these mythical “ditches” and conquer them and the massive schools of fish that reside in them during the coldest months of the year. I’ve spent the last month in the deep underwater valleys and I think I’ve finally located and slayed the mighty ditch this year so it’s on to the next thing.

Lately the best approach for me is to cruise right down the deepest part of a cut or pocket off the main creek and look for the presence of bait and/or fish. This week a friend and I got my structure scan and side scan working which helps tremendously in the search. Usually if there is going to be fish or bait it will start showing up around the 60-70 foot mark and then run into the shallower area of the ditch. When referring to a ditch, it can be nothing more than a submerged valley between two hills. It doesn’t really have to be a defined “ditch” that has been scoured out by years of run-off before the lake was created.

If the fish are present they have been showing up around the 40-55 foot range with a few out even deeper and some much shallower. I’ve been crisscrossing the ditch and if I find fish around I’ve got 3 items close by. The first is my new favorite striper bait, the Lucky Craft suspending Pointer 100 in Aurora Black. I bought this bait from Hammonds for bass but as luck would have it the stripers love them, the bass… not so much. The second bait I’m using is a 1/4 or 3/8 ounce underspin or Fish Head Spin in white or pearl with a all white fluke trailer. I lost all of my Fish Head Spins so I had to got to my low budget homemade version of an underspin. The key to using this bait is to fish it slow. Just when you think you’re fishing it slow enough, slow it down more. Sometimes just letting it set and taking a quick nap will do the trick. I know it takes a while for the 1/4 ounce to sink but you really have to take your time with it. Let it go all the way down and crawl it back, pausing every once in a while to make sure it’s still relating to the bottom. I’m throwing it in the ditch and along the edges where I’m marking fish. The third bait I’m using is a white spoon, about 2 inches in length and I’m not really dropping it unless I’m right over a few fish or a school. I’m just dropping the spoon down to the bottom and bouncing it along in small hops along the bottom. Yesterday, 4 out of 5 of our first keepers in the tournament came from the spoon. Here’s a picture of the three primary baits I’m using right now..

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*Note: I would recommend changing out the hooks and all slip rings including the oval tying ring on the Pointer if you are targeting larger stripers. I just replaced mine with two #4 Eagle Claw nickel plated 375 trebles with 30lb stainless slip rings.

So basically, I’m working the jerkbait and underspin all around the boat when in the area of fish and dropping the spoon when I feel like I can quickly get it close to the fish I’m marking. Very early in the morning the stripers are showing up, usually cruising near shore so there have been a few times I’ve chased them down and picked one off with the Pointer so you need to have it at the ready when they show up. A few more baits I’ve got tied up and ready is the dropshot and Shakey head for the bass and the Bone Vixen for the topwater stripers. If I don’t feel like the bass are responding to the first 3 options and I’m still marking fish, I break out the Shakey head or the dropshot. Both may work at any given time, and a week ago it was a primary bait for me in the ditches and around the docks. There’s been a few fish in the backs of the ditches in shallower water and that’s where the Shakey head has been working the best for me. Water temps have been around 49 very early and warming into the lower 50’s by afternoon.
Here’s a few pics from the last few trips out:

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Cold Weather Ditch Fishing

Guys, I’ve been having a great time with the Fish Head Spin and fluke bait combo in ditches, flooded timber and the backs of pockets. It needs to be fished sloooooow and relating it to the bottom but it’s definitely worth a try for a few decent fish right now. The 1/4 ounce white or pearl Fish Head Spin with a 3-4 inch Fluke trailer cast right down the middle of a small pocket or feeder creek in 10-25 feet of water is doing the trick for us right now.
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Fishing the Winter Spoon Phase

Fishing the Winter Spoon Phase

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Sometimes I try and think of my first catch with a certain piece of tackle and most times I can come up with an interesting story about that piece of tackle but in the case of the spoon I honestly don’t remember spoons being used for the kind of fishing we did in my younger days. About as far as my memory goes back with a spoon is back to my military career, during the Cold War of the 80’s we used Red Devil spoons for Canadian Pike on our squadron trips to a small Canadian air force base in the far northern province of Alberta. To our fighter pilots, going to northern Canada was an opportunity to play with the Russian fighter pilots and for me it was an opportunity to play with the local pike population. That kind of fishing was mostly casting and retrieving and I’ve never really spent much time with jigging spoons till coming to the south. I’ve been fishing the lake for 18 years now and the way I figure it, there are 2 spooning phases here. The first occurs in the hottest days or the “dog days” of summer from July through September as the surface temps top out for the year and the bite is more striper oriented. The other occurs at the other end of the spectrum when the surface temps drop during the coldest months of the year and the bite is more bass oriented. As a striper fisherman that primarily used live bait, spoons didn’t get used that often in my boat and there wasn’t a big window of opportunity for me to catch a big striper on a spoon. You’ve got the hottest part of the summer using a big spoon like the 8 inch Ben Parker spoon and the colder months of the winter with a much smaller spoon like a 2 inch Flex-it spoon, but other than those times catching a striper on a spoon is the exception more than the rule.

Since channeling my fishing efforts to bass the spoon has taken on a different role and this is the time of year the spoon comes out for the bass portion of the “spoon phase”. Last year was my first year for using the spoon for bass and I found it to be a helpful tool in 2 separate scenarios when the water temps dip into the lower 50’s and below. The first scenario is a shallower bite and plays out over and over again in our creek pockets. There is a good population 1-2 inch threadfin shad cruising around the creek right now and some of the backs of the creek pockets are just loaded with schools of these threadfins. At the same time there are a lot of hungry bass that are feeding up before their metabolism slows from the winters coldest water temps in the later part of the winter. Since all this transpires under the surface, without the help of birds, good electronics and/or the luck of being at the right place at the right time these annual clashes of bass and bait go unnoticed time after time. Last year a friend and I were fishing on the north end of the lake during a bass tournament and early in the morning we saw some gulls diving in the back of a pocket near the area we were fishing. We decided to investigate the diving birds and eased into the pocket with the trolling motor. Almost immediately we saw some dead 1-2 inch threadfins floating and started marking fish on a 20 foot bottom so we dropped the spoons down on the fish and within seconds we had our first fish of the morning in the boat. This was a school of cookie cutter 2lb largemouth but they provided us with a limit of fish in less than 30 minutes to start the morning. This all happened in less than 20 feet of water in the back of a pocket and was over 15 minutes after it started.

The second scenario with the spoon isn’t quite as exciting but can yield some very nice fish and nice numbers nonetheless. The number of fish moving out to the deeper channels and ditches is growing and a friend of mine has been working the deep spoon bite for the last 2 weeks. While I’ve been concentrating on the first scenario my buddy has been in his boat moving around the deeper valleys and ditches of pockets and cuts in the creek. His efforts have been focused on deep bass moving around the edges of deep timber in these areas and it’s been paying off for him with bigger rewards. Generally we text pictures back and forth while we’re both out fishing and I’ve been noticing his bass are just a bit bigger than mine lately. His bites have been fewer and far between at times, but the quality of the bigger fish makes the down time worth it, I’m sure.

Those 2 scenarios have been playing out for us for the past 2 weeks and I’m pretty sure the bass bite during the winter spoon phase will continue throughout the winter. Although I haven’t done much spooning for bass around docks yet, that’s something that we had a lot of success with last winter and we’ll be doing a lot more of as the water temps drop lower and the fish start hanging around the deeper docks. Basically the pattern for me has been finding pockets and cuts that hold bait and then look for signs of fish either on the graph or on the surface in the backs of the pockets in 25 feet or less. There has been some subtle surface activity early in the mornings and late in the evenings and is a dead giveaway for the fishes location. Sometimes the loons will get worked up and get very active diving for bait which attracts the fish and starts a feeding frenzy under the surface. It’s always good to watch the loons if they are in the area and if they start actively feeding there’s a good chance there are bass underneath. If I mark a few fish in an area, I’m basically dropping a 1/2 ounce white spoon like a War Eagle or Flex-it down to the bottom and using slow choppy bounces and a few bigger bounces but always keeping my spoon oriented to the bottom. You have to be careful and watch your electronics because we all know that there are a lot of obstacles down on the bottom. If it’s a flat smooth bottom it’s no problem but if there is structure it’s best to work the spoon above the structure in a suspended mode. Most of the time the fish will hit the spoon on the drop or fall so a bite can be as subtle as the rod tip just unloading. For me, I like to use a controlled fall so I can feel the bite. By a controlled fall I mean that I never really loose tension in my line during the fall, so it’s not really a flutter or free fall. The free fall tactic will work better during a shad die-off but for right now I’m slowly bouncing rather than a big pull and freefall drop.

At the same time I’m working the backs of the pockets I can usually see my buddies boat sitting out in the deeper center of the pockets and cuts more towards the mouth. Good electronics are useful to find the deeper fish, sometimes hiding in the timber. My buddy uses a bigger spoon bouncing it around the timber in 50-70 feet of water. His spooning in the deeper water is more pronounced and he uses bigger pulls and drops around the deep timber edges. Sometimes the bigger bass have been coming out of the timber and hitting the bigger spoon while suspended. The bites on the bigger spoon in the deeper water aren’t that frequent unless you’re lucking enough to find a nice group of fish holding in an area. Most times when the fish hits the spoon in the deeper water the feeling is nothing more than the rod just loading up. I think the bigger spoon may weed out some of the smaller fish but it slows the process of catching fish.
A couple more tips I can offer during spooning can help put more fish in the boat; the first is to watch the surface of the area you are fishing for floating dead bait. If you’re seeing a lot of 1-2 threadfin on the surface, be sure to match the hatch with the size of your spoon. Another tip would be to put your caught fish in a live well if they are legal instead of releasing them boat side. IMO opinion a caught and released fish can spoil a good bite so I put the fish in the live well for a bit as to not alarm the other fish. Here’s a couple pictures from earlier this week and matching the hatch with the spoon.IMAG0338

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Early Winter Striper and Bass Creek Report

Early Winter Striper and Bass Creek Report

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Since my last report there was still a little bit of the topwater bite going on in the creek and we managed to squeeze out a few more bass and stripers on the surface before the water temps got too cold and the fish went a little deeper. Back in the month of November a few nice schools of stripers were moving around the creek and they provided us with a little running and gunning entertainment with the my topwater popper. I wanted a dedicated spinning rig for topwater stripers and bass this fall so I paired up a Lew’s Mach 1 Speed Spin 300 series with a Lew’s 7′ MH Laser SG Speed Stick and loaded it up with some 6lb mono for my new topwater spinning combo. I like a spinning rig for throwing my topwater baits and I really depend on a good drag system for light tackle stripers. The total cost of the rig was around $110.00 and I got to put it through it’s paces right away on the striper in the picture below. With the 6lb test mono I didn’t want to over power the fish and the drag system on the reel performed flawlessly with the big striper. If you’re looking for a good spinning rig for around the $100 mark, the Lew’s spinning combo is what I would recommend. This was also my last topwater striper this fall.IMAG0266 When we got a substantial amount of rain last month the lake shot up some 3 feet and the creek changed color. When this happened the stripers moved out for a while until the stained water cleared. Since they came back there hasn’t been much surface activity but there are some smaller schools of stripers cruising around the pockets chasing bait and can be caught with a variety of tactics. A plain underspin in white or something similar to the picture below is what I’ve been using.

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Also a white War Eagle spoon jigged vertically or cast in the areas they are present might get a nice  fish or two. I have also seen some larger single stripers in the backs of some pockets where bait is present very early in the morning.If you’re a live bait fisherman, this is prime time for trout on freelines and planer boards. December has always been my favorite month for stripers on live bait and I’ve seen some big ones being caught already this month. Here’s a memorable video from a few years back on a cold December afternoon of pulling big rainbow trout on planer boards and looking for big stripers:

BASS

My last topwater bass this fall was a doozy and cost me a trip to the hospital to have a hook removed from my thumb. Here’s a picture of my last fall topwater bass on the popper and the hook in the thumb as a result of releasing the fish.IMAG0277
IMAG0281 The experience wasn’t a pleasant one and something I don’t want to go through again. Since then, I’ve been working on some remodeling projects and getting the last little bit of winter preparations done around here. The deck needed repainting and the dock needed re-sealing so we made the best use of the sunny days by painting and sealing instead of fishing.

We managed to make it out for a few hours last Friday afternoon and Saturday morning. Our main focus has been the shakey head with a 6 inch watermelon/chartreuse trick worm and working in a few jerkbaits and underspins as the fish move deeper as the day progresses. Although the shallow water bite has slowed for us, there are still a few fish to be had that are relating to the shallow rock piles. Most of our efforts have been docks and rocks with the shakey head and that has been paying off on every trip. Last week I caught my best shakey head fish that tipped the scale at 4.8lbs and put up one heck of a fight. Here’s a picture of the big fish and a few other Shakey head fish:IMAG0298 (1)IMAG0315IMAG0317IMAG0648

I’ve noticed more and more fish that we are catching on the rocks are spitting up crawfish. I’ve paid particular attention to the color of the crawfish that the fish were spitting up and I went shopping for a jig and crawfish trailer to imitate the color of the crawfish being regurgitated by the bigger bass. I found a certain color pattern on a Facebook bass bait buy and barter website and I purchased a few 1/2 ounce jigs with trailers in a color that matched the color of the crawfish. I got them in the mail a few days after my purchase and I soaked them overnight in my favorite oil. Here’s a picture of the jigs I’ve been throwing:IMAG0310
I’ve been determined to catch a fish on the rocks imitating a crawfish with a jig and it didn’t take long to catch my first after getting the color right. Here’s a picture of a nice bass I pulled off the rocks with a jig pattern I chose after seeing the color of the crawfish the bass have been spitting up. This fish spit up at least a half dozen that I could see and his belly was slap full of more.IMAG0303

Here’s a pic of a feisty largemouth on another crawfish pattern jig:IMAG0314

When I haven’t been fishing the rocks and docks, I have been spending time in some of the creek pockets that are holding bait near or in the ditches. The fish can be caught with a spoon and have generally been in the 35-45ft depth range. Although I have yet to catch a sizable fish over 4lbs on the spoon this winter, I think the spoon bite is just going to get stronger as the winter progresses. Here are a couple spoon fish pics from a recent trip:IMAG0322IMAG0318IMAG0300

One more piece of tackle that has been working for me is a 1/4 or 3/8 ounce underspin in plain white or pearl and I’ve been casting it down the deepest part of the cut or over the ditch where bait is present and just using a slow normal retrieve. I’ve caught both stripers and bass on the underspin over the past couple of weeks.

As long as nothing changes drastically in our weather pattern I think we should a mix of shallow and deeper fish and a variety of tactics to catch them.

How I’ve Become a Better Bass Fisherman

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I’ve still got a long way to go but here’s a short explanation of a few of the things that have made me a better bass fisherman over the last few years. I wrote the following as a response to the question “how do you get better at fishing” in the GON forum and thought I would share it on my blog”.

Well, if you exclude time on the water which is by far the most important and just count that as a given the second most important factor in getting better for me is location. Without productive locations it’s just a waste of time. Here’s how I have gotten better with my bass fishing since changing from primarily fishing for stripers to targeting bass and competing in some local bass tournaments. I like competing because I know there are a lot of other folks that are just as passionate as I am about fishing and I like to compare my effort and skill level against theirs.

First off you need to locate the fish and sometimes that is as simple as watching the surface of the water and watching your graph. On Lake Lanier it’s all about structure most of the year. The spotted bass live in structure such as submerged brush piles, docks and dock structure as well as small submerged trees and venture out away from home for food. I watch the surface a lot and almost always find fish by site, whether it’s fish surfacing or birds diving. I also spend time driving around and marking structure itself and structure that holds fish. Sometimes that’s all I do, I don’t fish it till later but the more structure you’ve got marked, the more options you have for locations.

I’m kinda different than most folks when it comes to tackle. I have the ability to make my own so I can design things you can’t find in stores. A long time ago I read an article by KVD and in the article he talked about trusting your bait. He said that a lot of folks will buy a bait and use it once or twice and if it doesn’t work it sits in the box in a black hole. He said that a lot of folks won’t spend enough time to thoroughly work the bait, and I tend to agree. Just about anyone who has been in my boat and fishes with me knows that my tackle is a mess. I don’t usually use my tackle boxes as much as I fish out of bags. Usually I have a game plan and put the baits I want to use for the day in a bag. I spend time with these baits, sometimes all day. I’ll use different patterns at different depths, speeds and presentations. I’ll use them in different seasons too.

Another thing that helps is finding baits and techniques that work that I haven’t used before and using them till I feel confident that I can catch fish with it. A good example is the dropshot for my wife and I. We’ve used the dropshot technique before, but only on rare occasions with minimal success. This past summer we spent days and days on the lake doing nothing but working on the dropshot around structure and now I feel confident that we can catch fish with it. Same with a jerkbait, I knew that the jerkbait was working good in the spring a few years back so made some jerkbaits and forced myself to learn and use the jerkbait till I felt comfortable with it and caught fish with it. Right now we’re learning the shakey head and using it on every trip till we feel confident with that, then it’s on to something else that is new to us.

Finally, I like to think outside the box. I like to try new things, new color combinations and tackle catches my eye. I think about tackle that has been proven to be successful and find variations of that to try. I’m not afraid to go out for a day and use nothing but new stuff that I’ve never tried before. I don’t get caught up in using what I know works when I’m trying new things and failing. You have to have the patience and the dedication to stick it out and suffer through the bad days to get to the good days with new tackle and new techniques.

Years ago I was a coach and competitor for a Navy marathon team and one of the most basic questions runners would ask me is how to train in order to get better finishing times.
This is my philosophy:
“In running, the only way to improve yourself is to push your body into an uncomfortable zone to the point it becomes comfortable. It’s the same with fishing, the only way to improve your fishing is to push yourself into the unkown until it becomes known”.

Mid Fall Bass and Striper Report

Mid Fall Bass and Striper Report

Well, it’s late October and what a month it’s been for us so far. I’m primarily using a topwater popper and the Shakey Head for bass and as a bonus I’m finding surfacing schools of stripers eager to hit the same topwater bait the bass are keying on. It’s been weird because one day I can find stripers feeding on the surface and the next day they are gone but the bass are hitting the surface baits. The stripers are moving around in and out of the creek but being in the right place at the right time is required to get them. You have to have a keen eye and watch the surface like a hawk this time of year. The fish will give themselves away but in the case of stripers, they are moving around so you have to get to them quick when they surface. Having a boat with a big motor on the back has helped us get to where the stripers are surfacing a lot quicker and we’ve been able to pick a few off before they move on.
More specifically the topwater pattern that I’m using is more of a waking pattern than a popping or splashing pattern. I’m using a popping bait but I’m only popping it a couple of times to get the fishes attention before I lower the rod tip and start a slow wake back to the boat. The wake itself is what the bass and stripers are keying in on. The reason for this is because there are small groups or single 2-4 inch bluebacks roaming the surface right now and the fish are keying in on the ripple lines the bluebacks are leaving. They just follow the trail of ripple lines right to the fish, or in this case, my popper. This is the second year I’ve using my translucent emerald popper on our fall surface fish and the translucent color seems to be a color that can fool these fish. Often times if they miss on the first strike, they come right back to it. It takes some patience and practice to leave the bait alone until you feel the fish but if they miss on the first attempt, if you leave the bait in the strike zone most of the time you can expect another strike with just a small twitch or pop of the bait. Here’s a picture of the emerald popper.
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Note: A lot of folks have asked if I can make these baits to sell and I would like to but the blanks are very hard to get right now and my supply has dwindled to just a few blanks.

Here’s a good example of the way I’m working my bait and a striper following the wake back to the boat before the strike. You can expand the size of the video and see the striper following the bait.

If I can’t find the stripers, I’m using the same topwater popper technique over points and brush to get a few nice bass. The brush pile bass are roaming around a watching the surface for bluebacks so just waking the bait over fish on a brush pile works pretty good right now. Also, points are another good location for bass right now as the fish seem to be cruising up and down the drop-offs and shallow in search of bluebacks. That brings me to my next successful pattern which is the Shakey Head. I had been using the Shakey Head primarily in the back of the creek and catching some smaller fish but I decided to put it to work out further towards the mouth of the creek and beyond and it’s starting to yield some bigger fish. Basically I’m just using a Watermelon Trick worm on rocky points and outcroppings and also around deeper docks with natural rock near. You’ve gotta work it slow because the bite is soft right now. Here’s a picture of the worm and a nice bass from the weekend.
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So there are 2 patterns that should yield a few fish this fall and remember to always keep your topwater handy and watch the surface for both stripers and bass.
Here’s a few more pictures and videos from the month. Note: The last video is not for the squeamish but for you guys that like to see hooks in fingers, this ones for you. I was releasing a bass and caught a treble to the thumb with the fish attached. I had to remove the hook from the fish and my finger. Enjoy!
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