The Mystery and the Thrill of Spring

If you’ve been on the lake lately and watched the surface, you’ve probably seen a little blueback skipping across the water with a large wake right behind it. The bass are like cats sometimes and play with their prey, slapping it in the air, coming back down disoriented so the fish can easily consume it upon landing. It usually ends with a big splash and another blueback has completed it’s purpose in life. I don’t know about y’all but I think some of these tackle companies need to develop a portable pacemaker that comes with each topwater lure purchase because some of these blow-ups and anticipated blow-ups have had my heart racing this spring.

For the past few weeks we’ve been experiencing the ups and downs of our spring topwater bite. It’s kinda been like a false season so far because the fish are on the top one day and relating to the bottom the next. You have to be prepared for that and use a variety of techniques. To give you an example, on Monday I hit the water at 8am and started hitting the points and humps with the topwater. It’s been my experience so far this spring that when I first approach a point or hump there is usually a topwater fish willing to bite provided they haven’t been pressured yet. I call those “green points” and I wrote an article some years ago about fishing the “green points” on Lanier. The term green points came from me describing the points that haven’t been touched by another boat and the fish are still “green” when it comes to committing to a topwater bait. Usually, they are subject to mistakes when they haven’t seen a lure in a few hours and pretty easy to catch. Sometimes the bass will be grouped up and schooling when they are green and sometimes it’s a crap shoot as whether you get a 2lb bass, a big 4-5lb bass, or a nice aggressive striper. Unfortunately, as the day progresses there are less and less green points and less and less opportunity for success unless you make the proper adjustments. On Monday I was able to capitalize on some surfacing fish on a point and I connected with a good fish on my little topwater walker by throwing into an area which the fish were schooling on some bluebacks. After boating the fish, I had to make some adjustments to get a second fish. First, there was no wind on the point so I ruled out big moving baits that they could easily see, plus the bait that they were feeding on was smaller 2-3 inch bluebacks so I was thinking of using my small swimbait but every fish I saw on the graph was either on the bottom or very close so I pulled out my shaky head rig. On my shaky head rig I’ve come to rely on the ElaZtech worms rather than the traditional Plastisol worms the fish have been seeing for years. In my opinion the fish hold the ElaZtech plastics longer than the harder plastisol and if you couple ElaZtech with salt the fish tend to swim away with it rather than shaking it and spitting it out. I also believe that sometimes you can rule out smaller fish by using bigger worms so for that reason I use a pretty beefy worm. Not long after I started throwing the worm I felt a few tugs and missed a bite but it gave me hope that they were interested. I threw back into the area with some shallower brush and before long I felt the soft spongy resistance of a fish slowly swimming away with the bait. I reeled down and set the hook on the fish and was rewarded with the fish pictured below in my left hand. The fish in my right hand was the one I caught on the topwater when I first pulled up and saw the surfacing fish.

After these two I went searching for more fish using the same two punch combination of topwater and then the worm on the bottom. I caught a few more fish with that method and lost another nice fish to the brush. I’m starting to see more fish coming from the shallower water and moving to the summer brush piles every day. This observation brings things like the drop shot and spybait into play but that is for another week down the road shortly. Right now the water temps are still solid in the upper 60’s and we desperately need some warmer stable weather and a pretty stable lake to get the topwater bite really going. I can remember a couple of years ago we had an algae bloom that pretty much destroyed the topwater bite and any activity on the surface. From what I understand the root cause of the algae bloom was from the large influx of fresh water being moved through the lake and the normal stratification did not occur as it usually does. When this happened the fish just went to the bottom and acted like it was the middle of winter when they do the majority of feeding on the bottom vs the top. It didn’t take me long to build a pattern on that and I had a phenomenal time with the shaky head on points and humps out on the main lake. I spent the better part of a month without much fishing in the creek but I found that I could catch better fish on the less pressured main lake. Such could be the case this year but things could be just the opposite as I have found that it’s impossible to predict what will happen down the road. The best advice I can give for any day on Lanier is to be prepared from top to bottom and understand the options vs conditions.

One other pattern I’d like to address and that is the weightless fluke bite. It’s been working pretty well over the past few weeks but for me it’s loosing it’s momentum and luster for the moment. That really doesn’t mean to put it away from the deck. I’ve found it to be a really viable option on the windy points when I can set the boat up wind with spot lock and make my casts down wind and let the fluke soak with the occasional double or triple twitch. I probably caught as many stripers as bass using this technique in the wind but it’s been an effective one nonetheless.

Last week Lisa and I went out for few hours and basically threw the fluke over brush and on a few points. We both used a different color fluke and they accounted for 10 of our 11 fish. I used a plain white pearl super fluke and Lisa used a super fluke with some pearl, flakes and a blue hue. The one Lisa used out fished the white pearl I was using and I believe it was because they hadn’t seen Lisa’s fluke as much as mine. It was a fun trip and the fish were obviously reacting well to the weightless fluke. Here’s a few pics from our trip.

Things kinda changed this week so I made an adjustment to the little Keitech instead of the fluke and that paid off. One of the reasons I started using the Keitech is because my friend Jimmy is retired and fishes the creek just about every day just like me. We fish many of the same spots only Jimmy feeds the fish a steady diet of flukes so I’ve given the fish a different option. Here’s a picture of my preferred rig this week.

It’s my old faithful, the 3.3 Keitech and the Damiki head. I did a little slow rolling over brush for a few good ones yesterday. I can’t brag enough about my little 7’ St Croix medium Triumph rod with a Penn Battle III and 6lb flouro. It’s been getting it done with some big stripers and bass this spring and it’s going to be my spybait rod in just a few short weeks. Here’s a video from yesterday and slow rolling the Damiki swimbait rig over brush.

Right now it’s all about options and I have 5 active rods on my deck including the ghost type walking bait, the emerald popper, a pearl white super fluke, a pearl 125 Sebile and some kind of shaky head option for the bottom fish if I see a trend of fish relating to the bottom instead of being suspended. We’ve had a lot of unstable weather over the past few weeks with fronts coming our way every 3-4 day but soon the fronts will run out of steam and high pressure with start to set up for longer periods of time. Topwater and the bait situation is often driven by by stable weather conditions running for multiple days in late spring. The water temps will soon be north of the 70 degree mark and the shad spawn will be in full swing for the bank beaters. The lake itself is more than a foot above full pool and on the rise. The corps is starting to move a little more water because of the most recent rains so lets hope the weather stabilizes for a while so the topwater will get back to normal.

The Goose in the Pot

It’s been about ten years now, ten years of watching nature at it’s best and at it’s worst. It all started several years ago when we purchased a little doublewide trailer on the lake and started using it for a weekend getaway from our main home which was 10 minutes away. My wife and I really enjoy fishing so buying a lake house with a dock for our boat was a no brainer and a mutual goal of ours to make it easier to fish and enjoy the lake. We really enjoyed the lake life and started making plans to live on the lake full time by building our dream home on the property. One of the main reasons we decided to live on the lake full time was due to the peaceful serenity of our little cove, appropriately named “Cast Away Cove”. Since making our purchase and spending time at the lake we’ve gotten to know our surroundings and our neighbors as well. Our little place is tucked back into a private little pocket that is out of the way of all the boat traffic and is only visited by the occasional fisherman if the water level is high enough to provide cover for the bass around our docks. Also, since making our purchase, we removed the old doublewide and built our permanent full time home on the property. Since our home is above the cove we made the best of the lake views and positioned our large living area bay windows to face the lake. We have an un obstructed view of the cove and the shoreline as well as 4 or 5 of the neighbors docks. Right away when we started making fishing trips from our dock to the creek we started noticing a few Canadian geese that seemed to be hanging around one of our neighbors dock like maybe the dock was their home. They were either on the dock or out in the water swimming around but always making the dock their focus while swimming about. Sometimes they would disappear for months at a time but they would always return sometime in late winter and stay until late spring. During the time that they stay around a neighbors dock we started noticing one particular goose sitting atop one of the large flower pots that the neighbors had sitting on a corner of the dock. At first we thought that the goose had taken ownership of the pot for territorial purposes but we soon realized that the goose was sitting atop a pile of eggs. We were baffled at first because our neighbors have a boat in their slip and occasionally use the boat but the mother goose never really seemed bothered by the neighbors comings and goings, she just kept right on sitting on the eggs. We’ve gotten to be good friends with our neighbors and they are of a mind to let nature take it’s course so they go on about their business of launching their boat around the pot and the nesting goose. She hasn’t been too fond of the neighbors comings and goings on the dock while she sits in the pot but she tolerates the traffic with an occasional squawk.

The remarkable thing about the whole process of nesting and hatching eggs is really ‘the whole process’. In the 9-10 years we’ve been here at the lake, we’ve watched it play out year after year, no two years have ever been the same when it comes to the outcome. What has been constant in the hatching of the eggs is the devotion of mother and father geese and not one year has gone by without mother goose sitting on those eggs through rain or shine for more than a month. She rarely leaves the pot and the male mate is always patrolling the area around the dock for intruders…. and there are intruders. Other geese would try and move in on the territory but the male mate is pretty big and usually takes care of business in short order, running any other geese out of the area. These geese don’t play either, they can fight to the death if one doesn’t relinquish and leave the area. From time to time a big Blue Heron might show up but is promptly run off by the male. I’ve also seen him go after our little Rat Terrier a few times when our terrier got close to the waters edge next to the dock.

The male that hangs around the female has a large neck and he gives me the big stink eye with those big black eyes every time I idle by their dock. They communicate through honking sounds and the male usually has a few low groining sounds when I go by. I’m sure it’s some kind of obscenity in goose language but I politely move on and he goes on about his day without incident. I’ve really been impressed over the years because out of all the years of watching these geese, they have never left the eggs until they either hatched or didn’t. There were years that they didn’t hatch, mostly because of the weather. If we got a real cold spell during the process there was a chance the eggs would get to cold and not hatch at all or in the case of last year, the eggs hatched but the goslings died shortly there after because the mother had smothered them during a bad storm. While she spends hour after hour and day after day on the pot she passes her time pecking away at the edge of the pot and slowly making the pot shorter. Over the last 10 years she has managed to chew the sides down a good 4-5 inches and if this keeps up the pot will dwindle to nothing in the next 4-5 years.

Two years ago we placed a small towel in the bottom of the pot to help with insulation the bottom of the pot and five of the eggs hatched after the mother removed one of the eggs from the pot and left it on the wood stained deck of the dock right next to the pot. I assumed the sixth egg was just too much for the pot so she removed it. It was pretty cool because all five eggs hatched the year and we had a group of seven geese around here for a while before five of the seven left the area, assuming they may have migrated with other geese during the migration periods here on the lake. This year she successfully hatched 4 out of five goslings and they are cruising around here as we speak.

The tragic part about this years hatching is that four of the five eggs hatched this spring but a fifth didn’t. We’re not for certain why the fifth didn’t hatch but I can say that the four that did hatch left the pot while she was still sitting on the fifth egg off and on waiting for it to hatch. Occasionally she would get off the pot and the four little hatchlings would try and jump out of the pot as we could see their little heads bobbing up and down inside the pot. Finally, three of the four vacated the pot while mom was walking around the pot but the fourth was smaller and really struggling to get out while mom was on and off the pot. We could tell the mother wanted to be with her new hatchlings but there was still one egg unhatched and one small hatchling that was really struggling inside the pot to get out. Finally the fourth made it out and left the dock to join the other three. Later we found out that another neighbor who was watching everything unfold with binoculars from her house said a small prayer for the fourth gosling to make it out and by golly the little one finally made it out and joined the rest of the little ones.

Once the little ones left the pot and entered the water for the first time, daddy goose quickly rounded them up and they swam away to another neighbors half submerged gangway that was directly in the warm sun. There the father goose and the four goslings rested at the waters edge of the gangway. Momma goose was still on the pot waiting for the fifth egg to hatch while she helplessly watched the other four of of her hatchlings on the gangway with daddy from afar. Perhaps she knew the fifth egg wasn’t going to hatch or perhaps she couldn’t stand watching the newborn goslings from afar anymore but whatever the reason she chose to leave the pot to be with her newborn goslings and leave the fifth egg unhatched in the cold morning air.

We watched to see if she would come back to the pot after joining the rest of her family but she never returned. Her, daddy and the four babies moved to another neighbors shoreline where mom and dad have spent the bulk of their time coddling the young ones. The goslings have a hearty appetite and eat constantly. The family wanders around the grass and weedy areas of our shoreline while the little ones graze on new grass and weed tops. As in past years I’m sure we’ll be visited by the family from time to time throughout the remainder of the spring and summer as we watch the small goslings grow into adulthood and leave the area by next winter only to see two geese reappear around the dock next February ready to start the cycle all over again.

It’s Time to “Pick Your Pattern”!!

This week started out slow but on Tuesday I was rewarded for efforts with my biggest spotted bass of the year, a 5.23 ounce beauty that I caught slow rolling a swimbait over brush just before giving up for the day and heading back to the house. It was my only fish of the day and I can say that I was totally satisfied with my day. I had the video camera in the boat and made a little video of the occasion…

On Wednesday I took my neighbor David out for a morning trip to see if we could find a few on docks and points. Once again it was a bit slow and we really didn’t have much wind to work with but we put together a decent morning with the shaky head and the weightless fluke. Here’s a nice fish David caught on a weightless fluke in front of a dock.

David had a good morning with the fluke and I was throwing the shaky head a getting a fish here and there. That evening I took Lisa out after work and she was able to catch a few on her favorite shaky head worm, “The Sweet Potato Pie”

On Thursday everything kinda changed for me. I have been throwing some topwater with no good results earlier in the week but on Thursday morning I felt like the topwater was going to work so I tied on an old spring favorite of mine, the translucent walking bait. I was trying to find the right chop in key areas like points and humps. I had the video camera in the boat and made a video of my first topwater action of 2021.,,

This morning, (Friday) I was back out looking for more topwater and found a little area with a light chop blowing over some brush so I set the boat upwind and started making casts down wind with the walking bait. My focus was bring the walking bait across the top of the brush to see if I could lure a fish up to the bait and it worked out to perfection. Here’s a video I made this morning that explains the process.,,

So that kinda gives you an idea of how my week has gone by and also it should give you an idea of how to approach the lake right now. Here’s one more video that I made to cover the baits I’ve been using this week….Water temps are in the mid to upper 60’s and the lake is just a few inches above full pool. This weekend should be a busy one on the lake so be safe and enjoy!!

Fishing on Faith

Call it what you will but this week it was all about “Fishing on Faith”. I think it was the dead of winter just a few short months back when I wrote an article about “Dropping on Faith” and I described the winter deep spoon bite. If you missed the article, the description I gave was about taking a chance and dropping your spoon down when there was nothing on the graph and having “faith” that fish will be there. If you look up the word “faith” in the dictionary, among a few other definitions, one in particular is described as “a firm belief in something for which there is no proof”.

This week is a short week because of a two day tournament this coming weekend. I’m done until Saturday morning when I make my first cast on the lake. This week I fished Monday through yesterday and I could tell that my knees and shoulders needed a rest. I’ve made so many casts in the last 3 days it’s time for a rest but the casts I made were productive casts this week. I have the luxury of fishing every day and with that I am able to stay on the fish and track their movements from one day to the next. Lot’s of times I can follow them by reading my sonar and seeing them beneath the boat or they may surface for a brief second and I can get an idea of what they are doing from the surface activity. I also possess the old school knowledge of reading the shoreline because there was a time in my past that reading shoreline was the best way to locate fish. All this is factored in when I made my decisions on where to fish and what to use. A few weeks ago my up front sonar bit the dust so I’ve been using my console sonar for double duty, moving it back and forth from the front to the back as I need it. Some may think that it’s problematic but to be perfectly honest, I’m not really using my sonar at all this time of year. If anything, the most I’m getting out of sonar is water temp and maybe a verification of depth, the rest is combination of mapping and reading the bank.

Right now the fish are determined; they are on a task right now that cannot be stopped. That’s what I kept telling myself when I’ve been fishing this week. This is the one time of year that the fish are very predictable in what they are doing and where they will be. Understanding that the fish are on a mission to spawn is half the battle, the other half is understanding where they will do it. If you know where they will do it, then you can backtrack to where they will be feeding before they do it and possibly run into one along the way. One of the variables this year is the water levels. They are down a few feet from previous years so what was good last year may not be good this year and that’s where the mapping comes in. My mapping can show contour and underwater features that I can’t necessarily see with my eyes reading the shoreline so that’s where the fishing on faith comes in. I’m positioning my boat at a certain depth while making a cast at a certain feature and trusting that the fish will be there. I’m totally relying on what I am seeing on the mapping and the fact that the fish will be there feeding up and nourishing those eggs. Right now the window for feeding fish is wide open for a lot of the day. Sometimes the window is small and they may only be feeding for a few hours a day but right now, in pre-spawn mode they are packing on the pounds for stored energy and egg growth so I have faith that they will be there. Don’t get me wrong here, it’s never a lock that there will be success but that’s where the second definition of faith comes in, which is a belief in God and being at peace with failure as well as success. Believe me, there is failure for sure but failure can be turned into success if failure is used as a tool for future success. By that, let me give you an example when it comes to fishing; Right now I am making several stops a day and if I continually fail to catch a fish at a certain location day after day, at some point I will quit wasting my time in that location and remove it from my list of stops. That’s what I mean about turning failure into future success, something was learned from the failure of not catching a fish in that location and I moved on to more fertile grounds. I may have moved on but I still ponder the reason why there were no fish in that location and if there was something inherent to the location that made it void of fish.

All that being said, I have found and slayed enough fish for the week and my satisfaction cup hath runneth over. Whatever happens from this point on is just extra gravy on my biscuit and I have reached the pinnacle of my spring fishing. I have moved from creek to creek this week and looked for the same contour with success at just about every stop so bring on the weekend and our chance at success in a field of the best. I’m going to once again rely on Faith as well as experience for my success this weekend. Water temps are in the upper 50’s and on the rise and the lake level is around a foot below full pool. Here’s the pictures from the week.

The Magic Dock

This week was a weird one in terms of finding fish and getting them to bite. One day it was the moving baits that worked and the next, they wouldn’t touch them. When it comes to early spring and pre-spawning fish, finding a pattern and finding the fish can be a grind. There are so many variables this time of year. Weather is probably the biggest variable this time of year because one day it could be sunny and 72 degrees and the next it could be 35 degrees and the north wind howling at 25mph. When it comes to spring you need to learn to fish the elements. When the wind is howling, take advantage of it and fish the wind blown banks and points with the moving stuff and when it isn’t blowing slow it down to the wormy slow stuff on the bottom. That’s my rule of thumb. Next is finding the fish. Look, they could be anywhere right now. They could still be hanging out in the deep water chasing the deep bait or they could be in less that 5 feet of water basking in the afternoon sun and crunching on crawfish.

A few weeks ago I was running a stretch of docks in the creek and I happened into an area of docks where I continually catch fish. At first I thought that maybe there was a series of brushpiles that someone had set out under and around their dock but I could never really find the brush. After fishing the area a few times I finally pinpointed an area where the fish always seemed to be. It was a lock for catching at least one fish when I came to this one dock. If I made a cast about 10 feet off the corner of this dock, I was going to catch a fish. A couple weeks ago I pulled up to the dock and made my first cast to the corner and immediately caught a fish, a nice 2.5lber so I threw back into the area and caught another on the very next cast. I released that fish and caught another, then another. On 4 consecutive casts I had a 10lb sack and needed one more for a limit. When I made my 5th cast I felt my little Ned worm stop as soon as I made my first little pull. I leaned in and set the hook for fish number 5 but I felt nothing but dead weight. I pulled hard and whatever it was started coming to the boat but it was very heavy. I pulled and tugged on the line thinking I had finally found the brush pile and it was slowly coming to the boat. As it got closer and closer I could see fish on the graph scattering everywhere under the boat. It was like someone had dropped a fish bomb over the side of the boat. The graph was loaded like spaghetti and the big piece of structure finally came into view; it was a large plastic Adirondack style chase lounger and I had it hooked by the leg. It had blown or had be thrown off the top deck of the dock I was fishing but before I could get a hold of it my little Ned hook had straightened and let go of the chair. The chair slowly disappeared back into the depths as I realized that these fish were using the chair for structure and there were a bunch of fish occupying the chair. The chair had a lot of algae buildup on it and clouded the water around the area when I brought it up so I left the area for things to settle back down. Since then, I have visited the dock on each of my subsequent outings including the day before yesterday when we stopped at the Adirondack dock and my buddy pulled this one out from under the chair.

For the past few weeks that chair has provided me with some fun fishing and it seems like there is a never ending supply of bass hanging out around the chair. So far it’s provided me with some fun times and at least a couple dozen fish. I never thought my strategy for catching fish would be targeting outdoor furniture but it is what it is and I’ll take the action.

As for my favorite baits this week, I would have to say the little 3.3 KeiTech on a 1/4 ounce Damiki head was the most productive in the wind and around active feeding birds. Here’s a short video I made earlier this week out at the mouth of the creek. I was chasing birds and targeting the fish feeding on the bait beneath the birds with my little Damiki rig and a new St. Croix spinning rod I had just purchased.

My second bait that has been producing in the wind is the a-rig. Just find the windblown points and shoreline and let it fly. Here’s a nice fish I caught on the a-rig on a windy point earlier in the week.

This week there were times I’ve needed to go to the slow stuff on the bottom to get bites and a variety of worms have worked for me. First, I would have to say the Ned rig has done the most damage on the bottom. It’s been good on the points in the creek as well as pitching it around shallow docks. If you’re new to the Ned rig, now is the time to give it a try. It can be casted or dropped down and when the fish are keying on the smaller stuff the Ned is a good choice. Colors may vary so pick out some that you like and give it a go. The fish are very forgiving when it comes to the Ned rig and color patterns.

Lastly, a bait that gets an honorable mention and that’s the Chatterbait. It’s hit or miss with the chatterbait right now but if slinging an a-rig isn’t your thing then pick up a chatterbait on those windy points and go to work. You may be surprised at the results right now. Water temps dropped back down to the mid 50’s over the last few days but I’m sure it will quickly bounce back to the upper 50’s next week. Here’s a few more pictures from my week. Fishing is only going to get better as the water warms so get the popcorn ready, we’re in for an awesome spring for fishing!

It’s All About the Shad

Holy cow, I’m not sure ya’ll have been smelling what I’ve been smelling in the creeks this week but I’m smelling the strong scent of shad every morning that I’ve been out this week. This week I’ve been able to get out fairly early just about every morning and it’s really been worth it. The creeks are starting to come alive with bait moving around early in the morning and the fish have been responding well. I kinda knew the fishing would get better as we’ve had fairly stable weather all week and the water temps are on the rise. We’re getting closer to the spawn every day and the fish are moving around looking for food after a long winter slumber. I can remember just about 6 weeks ago I was freezing my butt off and dragging a little swimbait on the deeper bottom just hoping the little swimbait would lure a fish into biting. The fish were cold and my fingers were frozen but that little Damiki rig I was using got it done in the later part of the winter for me. I had to work it very slow as you can see in the video below that I made back on Feb. 1st. This video was made in the back of the creek while the bait and fish were stacked in the back. Most every fish was under 2lbs but it provided me with some late winter action for days. I probably caught close to 100 fish just making the same cast in the same place for 3 days straight. The fish were sitting on a ledge and constantly intercepting small bluebacks coming out of shallow water into deeper water via the ledge and I was just hoping the little Damiki down the ledge.

Throughout the month of Feb. I used the little Damiki a lot and I’ve built a trust in the bait. In my opinion the little 2.8 Keitech is a pretty good match for the little threadfin shad that the fish are keying on in the creeks so it was just a matter of figuring out how the fish wanted the Damiki. As the water started to warm the fish started getting more active and I found that it wasn’t necessary to drag the bait anymore and I started getting more and more fish while swimming the bait at different depths Rather than dragging it down ledges and across flats. I also jacked up the size of the swimbait to a 3.3 keitech. If you look at my videos from this time last year I was using the 3.3 Keitech with a lot of success. Here’s a picture of the rig I’m currently using and the rig that’s done the bulk of the damage this week.

The cool part about the Damiki is that it is very versatile and I can use it several different ways. Lately I’ve been making long casts on points, flats, around docks, in ditches, rock bluffs and if I see a fish swimming under the boat I’ll drop it down and dead stick it on the bottom. I will say this, you may not get good numbers on it but if you are patient and throw it in the right places it can be fun. The key is the speed. It really reminds me of the spybait technique sometimes because it can be like watching paint dry. Earlier this week I was coming out of the marina and saw some birds diving on some bait so I cruised over to make a cast or two in the general vicinity of the bird action. I had my video camera with so I decided to make a little Damiki video while I was out. You can see the technique and speed I’m using now with the Damiki vice what I was doing 6 weeks ago with the same bait in the back of the creek.

Don’t get me wrong here, there are plenty of other baits besides the Damiki rig pattern that work well right now, there is also a crankbait bite, a chatterbait bite, a jerkbait bite, jigs and a few other things that are working well right now some I wouldn’t exactly hang my hat on a Damiki rig bite from one day to the next but it has been a lot of fun this week and every once in a while I’d bust a good one. Right now I have a ton of confidence in the little Damiki and I’m probably using it just about 80% of the time. As far as the color choice for the Keitech goes, it varies. My advice is to choose whatever catches your eye because the fish are pretty forgiving when it comes to color choices. Just try until you find one that works well.

When I got out this morning the water temps were in the mid to upper 50’s and the lake is down a couple feet right now. Here’s some fish pictures from the week including the last 5 which were from offshore fishing the main lake today. That’s another thing I wanted to mention, this pattern works well on main lake humps and points and that’s where I found them today.

What’s All the Chatter About

For the month of March I have a rolodex of baits and patterns I like to use, so when I hit the creek about mid morning this morning I started factoring the conditions and going through the rolodex of baits and options for a beautiful sunny afternoon with a little breeze. Luckily, this morning, every once in a while we had a gust of stronger wind and I was able to find some wind on a point right away. It wasn’t a lot of wind but the surface had a pretty good chop which meant I had options. One bait I’ve had on the deck for the past week or so has been the chatterbait. It’s been on my deck recently because of this gut feeling I get every year about this time so I’ve been throwing it a little bit each day. One sure thing about the catterbait this time of year is it’s unpredictability of success. One day it will work great and on other days it won’t get a sniff but there are ways you can better your chances, kinda like today. When I saw the wind blowing on the point I thought about my old friend, the chatterbait. I hadn’t caught a fish on it yet in 2021 but it wasn’t for a lack of trying and I felt good about it today. It was Friday and the wind was blowing on the point, a perfect combo to break out the chatterbait and let it fly. I think it was my 2nd cast and the fish pictured above hammered the chatterbait in less than 15 feet of water. That made me feel good and it gave me something to build on. All it took was that one fish to get me going. At that point I started running points and looking for as much wind as I could find on every point I could find and every once in a while I would get a little reward for my efforts. It’s not like the chatterbait bite is on fire or anything right now but the way the fish bite it makes it somewhat addicting. Most times when a fish hits the chatterbait the rod just unloads for a second or two and the quicker you reel down on the slack, the better chance you have of hooking the fish before the fish shakes the bait out. The reason the rod unloads is because the fish hits the chatterbait and usually swims towards the boat with it for a second or two so I’ve learned to reel down quickly and then apply a little hook set. Here’s another chatterbait fish from the afternoon.

Yesterday and the day before were a couple of those early spring days with the temps in the upper 60’s and a little wind out on the lake. Normally I’d be out there slinging a crankbait around because it’s certainly crankbait season but I have yet to find a decent crankbait bite. The crankbait is working well right now and from the reports I’m getting, it sounds like it’s a good choice to have on the deck. Here’s a picture that my neighbors David and Ann sent me a few days ago. Ann caught a nice bass Thursday afternoon cranking a point in the creek with my 1.5 Shad crank.

Earlier this week, before I got on the chatterbait run I was mixing it up with the ned rig on the docks and the little swimbait around the ditches and also on some flats. My little Damiki rig with the 2.8 or 3.3 keitech is still working for me so if I mark a few fish on a 20 foot flat, I back off a casting distance away and throw back into the area, letting the swimbait sink to the bottom and then slowly dragging it through the fish. Here’s a nice fish I caught earlier in the week with the Damiki rig on a flat near brush.

Another bait I’ve been starting to throw each time I got out is the little keitech on the underspin. If you check out my YouTube page and go back to spring of last year I made some videos featuring the little swimbait pattern. So far this spring they are still a little reluctant to get after the underspin for me but that bite is coming very soon and if this warming trend continues and shallow bite will be very good. Here’s a picture of a few underspin fish from earlier in the week. That crappie smashed the underspin in less than 5 feet of water.

More to follow but to recap a few baits in my March rolodex, first would have to be the chatterbait for me right now. Second would be keeping that crankbait handy. Third for me is the little swimbait or underspin and lastly is the little ned rig on docks. If you want one more option for windy points in march I would have to say the a-rig would be a good bet if you like slinging the a-rig in the spring. Water temps are anywhere from 54+ in the backs of the creeks and 51-53 out on the big water. Lake level is rocking on 2 feet low.

Slinging the Rig in Early Spring

It’s been about 10 years now since I first picked up an Alabama rig. Years ago when the a-rig first came on the scene I was making and selling a lot of striper tackle so making the transition to bass tackle wasn’t that hard, especially since an a-rig was just a sized down design of the u-rigs I made for stripers. At the time I was making a lot of u-rigs for the striper guys so it was just a matter of taking a Dremel tool and modifying one of my smaller lead head molds to accommodate smaller wire diameters. Once I finished the design we started manufacturing a-rigs for another label and they were sold at Sportsman’s Warehouse’s across the south. Back then my now son-in-law Levi was still in high school and worked in my shop after school helping me make the a-rigs to sell. Now it’s some 9 years later and he married my step-daughter and now they have a son, my grandson Dawson Hogan. Here’s a video from 9 years ago featuring the castable Georgia rig we designed and manufactured.

There were times when I would throw the a-rig but I always thought it to be a lot of work and in a way, cheating a bit, offering an array of baits instead of just one lure. Nonetheless, it is a good way to target fish and if you learn the technique it can be a lot of fun. The thing about the a-rig is that it mimics a school of bait and that little wired up bait ball can be used in a lot of different places as well as covering a lot of ground quickly. There are two ways that I use the a-rig in early spring and one of the two is around the docks, I really like moving down a row of docks with the rig and there are specific areas of the dock that I focus on. The first is making casts in front of a dock. That’s the first cast I make. Secondly is casting parallel to the sides of the dock and getting the rig as close to the dock as possible. I don’t really let the rig sink that much and I try and focus on keeping it around 5-6 feet in depth during the retrieve. When you let the rig go deeper around docks you take the chance of hanging cables or someone’s brush piles they dropped off their dock so I’m very careful around docks. Another area of the docks I like to throw the rig is the shady side or the shady areas around the dock as well as inside an empty slip (provided they don’t have a hidden lift). Usually in the afternoon bass will be very close to the shady areas and react to objects that pass through the shady patches.

The second area I like to throw my a-rig is just random points and shoals in the wind. Let’s face it, these fish put on the feed bag when the wind is blowing on these early spring rocky points and shoals so throwing an a-rig in these places is generally a lock on warm sunny days.

When I say “wind”, I don’t mean some mild breeze creating a pretty little choppy chop on the surface, I’m talking about a beefy wave event that can push the bait and your boat up onto the shoals or points. I know it’s uncomfortable to fish in the wind and waves but I learned a long time ago that comfort and big fish are rarely used in the same sentence. Big waves distort the fishes view and causes the fish to make bad reactional decisions. You need to get on that trolling motor and get out there in them big waves because those big bass are banking on your fear for not being there….

Such was the case this week when I got to fish. I only went out two times this week as it was a boat maintenance week for me. I fished the day I trailered my boat and I fished yesterday when I put it back in the water. On Tuesday I trailered my boat but before I did I wanted to make a lap around the creek. It was warm and windy on Tuesday and I took advantage of the wind that was blowing waves onto some rocky points that big females like to hang out on in early spring. They are stagers and they are generally looking to eat on those wind blown shallower rocky areas so that’s the areas I targeted plus with the Spot Lock function on the Minn Kota I was just setting the boat in deeper water and fan casting points in the waves. Here’s a few more I caught using this pattern in addition to the bass pictured above.

As far as gear goes, I’m using a pretty basic setup. The rod is a 7’6″ MH baitcaster with a good Shimano reel loaded with 14lb flouro. Here’s a picture of a pretty basic a-rig setup.

In addition to starting with the basic rigs I suggest finding a good plug knocker or rig retriever because you’re probably going to get it hung a few times during the learning process.

A-rigs are a lot of fun and you can cover a lot of ground throwing it. If you commit to throwing it all day, it will definitely work out your core and work a few back muscles that probably haven’t been awake for a while. Water temps are back into the lower 50’s and I’m beginning to see signs of life in the creek.

The Ned Rig on Deep Docks

This past week I didn’t really get to fish a lot and only went out for a few hours on 2 different days. I mainly stayed inside and battled a stomach bug and recovered from the BFL last weekend. I did want to highlight one of the patterns I’ve been having fun with for the past 2 weeks and that’s the ned rig around deep docks. Last Monday I went out for a few hours and I noticed that I was getting more short strikes on my shaky head than usual so I sized it down to a 2.75 Z-Man TRD Finesse worm on a 1/5 NedlockZ jighead and that did the trick. I focused on docks that were 30 feet or deeper and I just skipped or pitched the worm all around the docks including just dropping it right in the front of the dock and letting it fall to the bottom and dead sticking it or just bouncing it very slow. Slow is the key for the deep dock fish right now but the rewards are a few bigger fish in the 4-5lb range. Right now we are getting ready for a big push from the bass as they start their pre-spawn staging and feeding for the spawn but until we see a rise in surface temps above 50 we may still be dealing with slower fish due to their metabolic condition. That’s why I’m still fishing slow bottom stuff like worms and jigs deep. Water temps are still below 50 and the back of the creek is very stained right now with lake levels about a foot below full pool and dropping slowly. If you’re looking for a fun little pattern and you have a lot of patience give the little Ned rig a shot on some deep docks right now and you might get a good one. Here’s a few pics from last week. The biggest one I caught this week pictured above was caught on the ned rig was when I was using a Canada Craw on a deep dock and the others were caught on a Green Pumpkin Goby pattern.

30 Days on the Rock!

When I look back on my Navy career and my life in general, sometimes I wonder just what in the Sam Hill I was thinking during the second quarter of my life. You see, I’ve broken my life down into 4 quarters just like a football game. Unless technology extends my life, I believe I’ll live till around 80 years old, give or take a few years and barring any unforeseen problems. If I live till 80 I can break my life down into 4 quarters and right now I’m just starting the 4th quarter of my life, just hoping I can take it way into overtime. Sometimes it’s like I’m reminiscing about a whole other person when I think back to some of the stupid things I did during my time in the Navy and essentially a good portion of the whole second quarter of my life.

I wholeheartedly believe that some brains never fully develop until that person is well into their adult years and I’m one of them for sure. Dr. Phil actually said it on his show a few hundred times while dealing with young adults and problematic behaviors. That was me, I had problematic behaviors shortly after I joined the Navy. It wasn’t anything serious like bank robbery, it was mainly uniform type regulation infractions and a few alcohol related incidents and it was just that I did not agree with some of the petty regulations the Navy had to offer so I was on a quest to bend or break a few. Unfortunately for me, the Navy has been in the business of dealing with hard cases like me for a few hundred years and they have it down to a science. If you screw up, you pay the price and if you continue to screw up they usually up the ante every time. For instance, the first time, you may get a pass, the second time they start to limit your freedom, give you some crappy jobs and maybe take a little money from you. After that if you continue to screw up they start taking your stripes or they drop you in rank. After they have taken all your stripes and you still want to screw up, they either discharge you back to where you came from or they send you to a “Correctional Custody Unit” or CCU for 30 days of rehabilitation Navy style. On the west coast, the Navy CCU was on a small island in the middle of the San Francisco Bay, not too far from Alcatraz, called “Treasure Island”.

I was a hard case for sure but I was also a hard worker and the Navy had invested a bunch of money training me to work on jets. I can remember standing in my Master Chief’s office and him asking me if I wanted a discharge. It was kinda like that scene in the movie ‘Officer and a Gentlemen’ when Richard Gere looks up at Louis Gossett Jr. who is standing over him just after Gere got his butt beat down and a crying Gere says “I got nowhere else to go!!”. I wasn’t crying or anything like Gere in that scene but I told him I did not want to go back to Kansas and he told me I was going to go to CCU for 30 days so pack my bags. He said that if I ever screwed up again after CCU they were done with me and I would be thrown out of the Navy so this was my last chance. They had taken everything they could from me and now the rubber had met the road; either I straightened up or it was back to Kansas with my clown act. At the time I was young and single so heading off to the Bay area for 30 days and a wake up behind bars didn’t really rattle my cage too much so I was kinda looking forward to the change of scenery.

At the time I was stationed just outside of Fresno at a big Naval Airbase called Naval Air Station Lemoore. The ride to Treasure Island was about 4 hours and myself plus 3 other individuals were taken by the Navy’s Military police or MP’s in an enclosed van. The van was basically a cage on wheels with 2 long bench seats in the back. In addition to CCU on the island they also had a Navy Brig. The Navy brig is the equivalent of jail or prison and usually the hard cases waiting to get kicked out of the Navy or they were doing some time for crimes wound up in the brig. It was more like an extended stay for hardened criminals and Navy misfits. There were three guys in the back of our van besides me and they were all going to the brig to do hard time. They were shackled and chained to the metal benches we were sitting on but I was not handcuffed and I could move about freely. In the 4 hours we were riding together I got to know the guys in the back of the van with me and they were doing time for crimes like assault or robbery type stuff and one guy nicknamed “Ice Mike” was an acquaintance I had run across before while up to no good. Ice Mike was really a nice guy, he just had an anger management problem and at well over 6 feet tall and 250 pounds, when Ice Mike got mad someone was going to have a bad day. He was my friend by the end of the ride and we promised to keep in touch….LOL Not really, I just made that part up but we did cut up and laugh the whole way to Treasure Island in the back of the van with the other guys.

I was the first to be dropped off at the CCU building once we got onto the island. When we pulled up to the CCU building I was greeted by a “Master At Arms” First Class Petty Officer. A “Master at Arms” is like a specialized Navy police officer and the ‘First Class Petty Officer’ part is a rank of E-6. Their whole job in the military is that of a police officer. There were about 5-6 Master at Arms personnel serving as our hosts for the next 30 days while I was to be rehabilitated on Treasure Island. I can remember being told to stand at attention in a small foyer just inside the main entrance. I was standing with my toes touching a taped line on the floor and my nose was just a few inches from an American flag on a pedestal stand. Things were pretty quiet as I had arrived while everyone was at the chow hall for the evening meal. After 5 minutes or so the “Awardee’s started filing back into the building single file. (The “Awardee” tag is what we all were called while in CCU). They had to pass by me just to my left and I was able to sneak a peek through the corner of my eyes at my roommates as they filed back into the building. I’ll never forget the first Awardee I saw walk by me; his name was Patchen and he had just returned from some kind of sinus surgery and he had a gauzed up nose with two black, purple and blue eyes. At the time I didn’t know Patchen had just had sinus surgery and I thought maybe that was how they rolled around here and I was going to be in for a rough stay. After the dozen or so awardees filed in I was directed to the head Master at Arms office and I had a sit down chat with a Navy Chief about what was expected of me during my stay. Basically he told me that they were going to help me understand the difference between right and wrong in the Navy and how to be a better, more productive sailor.

My stay started with not being able to speak to anyone for the first 24 hours and I was also given a blue colored Dyno name badge. After the 24 hour no speaking period, since I was still a blue badge for the first 7 days, I could not watch tv in the evening, in the tv room or work out with gym equipment. Once I completed my 7 day period without causing any trouble I would be rewarded a green name badge and I would be authorized to watch tv in the evening for 2 hours as well as gym privilege’s. We ate 3 times a day and marched to the chow hall for our meals. We were spread eagle and searched for weapons every time we left the chow hall after a meal. The one story brick build we stayed in was essentially a few offices in the front of the building and a open barracks in the back with about 2 dozen beds with bars on every window. There were about 12 beds on each side of the room and a giant picnic type table that ran the length of the room where we could site and do book work. In the back of the room was an enclosed tv room and a small gym area with weights, a speed bag and a full size punching bag for us to take out our aggressions. One thing I did like about my stay was that we exercised twice a day and since I was a distance runner they would let me run around the island which was a 3 mile out and back, plus they would let me run twice a day. One of the Master at Arms guys was a tall, thin black guy by the name of Owens. He was a distance runner too and the only one that could half way keep up with me and since I always needed an escort we started running together. I don’t care who you are, when you run mile after mile with someone you get to know that person pretty well and Owens and I got to be good friends.

Owens had been in the Navy for over 16 years and was in great physical shape as well as a martial arts expert. More than once I watched him bounce a volleyball into the air about 7 feet and then deliver a flying roundhouse kick to the ball with the force of Pele. I made a deal with Owens and I helped him get faster at running by pushing his pace beyond what he had ever run before and he helped me learn to defend myself by teaching me some fly martial arts moves. We had a good time when we were running around the island and generally there was a beautiful view of Alcatraz as well as San Fran and Oakland while we ran. CCU itself was all about learning a different lifestyle and coping with the Navy in a more productive way. We would work on career development and positive motivation every day for hours on end. We spent hours sitting in a classroom listening to cassette tapes with motivational speakers like Gordon Graham and Earl Nightingale. Those are two names I’ll never forget because it was like we were being brainwashed by cassette tape in a semi-dark room and in complete silence except for the speaker on the tapes. We were constantly monitored to keep us from falling asleep and I’m mildly surprised they didn’t Scotch tape our eyes open and shine bright lights at us while playing the tapes. These sessions were mandatory and about the only thing I learned from that experience was to never listen to those two monotoned speakers ever again in my life no matter how long it lasts.

When I think back to my time on Treasure Island I believe that the most productive time I spent there was running with Owens because he was someone I could relate to and I respected Owens. He was able to convince me that life is a lot easier when you do the right thing in the Navy because he was living proof. One of his biggest goals while he was working at the CCU unit was to change people like me into sailors more like him. He also told me that there were a lot of people back at my squadron that were just waiting for me to screw up one more time so they could say “I told you so” and throw me out of the Navy. He told me if I learned nothing else from my experience at CCU, learn how to prove those “I told you so” people wrong. He said that if I did the right thing every day, day after day and went above and beyond, I could prove all of those naysayers wrong and so that’s what I did. I cleaned up my act and I did it for Owens, not for Earl Nightingale or Gordon Graham but Owens was the one person that got through to me so I did it for Owens. I returned to my squadron and cleaned up my act and was rewarded with our squadron’s Sailor of the Quarter award for my first Navy award ever just a few months after my return. I have received a ton of awards since but this one was special and still hangs on my wall of Navy memories.

Treasure Island is mostly closed down now and I’m not sure that CCU or the brig even exists anymore in the Navy but I got to see some pretty cool things while I was there too. It just so happened that while I was on Treasure Island it was Fleet Week in San Francisco and we got to sit along the waters edge and watch the Blue Angels perform over the Bay one Saturday afternoon during my stay. The Navy Blue Angels were flying the old A-4 Skyhawk at the time and I got to see one of the A-4’s ripping through the bay and right by us just feet above the water. The view of Alcatraz through the bars of my window for 30 nights was pretty profound and sent a message to me. It was an awesome site and the whole experience kinda changed the way I viewed the Navy.

More than likely if it hadn’t been for those long runs and long conversations with a First Class Master at Arms named Owens I probably wouldn’t of continued my career in the Navy but that 30 day trip to Treasure Island did what it was designed to do and I continued my Navy career.

As I reflect on my time at Treasure Island, I can’t help but to think it was just another fork in the road for me and I happened to choose the right path. My life has been filled with forks in the road and split second decisions that may have saved my life and I believe that I’ve had help because of my faith. I don’t quote scripture often but there is a passage in the Bible, Jeremiah 1:5 and it is a scripture that I ponder often.

“I chose you before I formed you in the womb; I set you apart before you were born. I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”