My “Popping the Top” Popper Challenge Coming This Fall

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It’s been a long hot summer this year and I know I’m not the only one ready for fall. Once again we’ve endured the heat of summer to get to the cooler, dryer air of autumn. We are quickly approaching a time of year when the bait rises from the cooler depths of the thermocline and I’m already seeing numerous pods of small threadfin scattered throughout the creek on the surface. It won’t be long now till the 1st and second year bluebacks follow suit along with the threadfin and seek the warm sun near the surface. Inherently, groups of bluebacks in Lake Lanier rise to the surface in October basking in the remaining warm surface water as the lake begins it’s winter cool-down and bass as well as stripers start feeding up for the winter gorging themselves on the surface offerings. Our summer stripers have been hanging around the deep waters of the main lake chasing massive schools of bluebacks but in the fall the stripers start making their way back into the creeks where the new batch of first year threadfin are piled up and waiting. The threadfin are just an addition to the menu for our stripers and bass and they provide some excellent topwater opportunities for us anglers. When I think back to October over the past few years, one thing that always comes to mind is our fall topwater bite. More specifically, for the past few years the stripers and bass have fallen prey to my Emerald Popper in the fall and the way things are shaping up, this fall should be no different.

This fall I’m going to do something a little different and make an interesting offer to ya’ll. As some of you know I fished my first FLW Bulldog series tournament as a Pro earlier this year on Lake Lanier and I really enjoyed the tournament and the tournament atmosphere in the FLW. I’ve always been a competitor and the level of competition in the Bulldog trail was a challenge that I couldn’t resist. I managed to finish in the money in my first tournament as a Pro and I’ve set a goal for myself of fishing the full Bulldog series trail next year. With that being said, as you can guess it isn’t going to be a cheap endeavor. I need to offset some of the cost and I’m going to offer a few things to help with that. First off, as some of you know I have a military background and in the military one of the things we used to do was award challenge coins to our over achievers. It was always a big honor to be given a challenge coin and I’ve collected a few over the years. I’ve designed a Cast Away Baits challenge coin for my Emerald Popper topwater bait and it will come complete with a inset notched bottle opener with my old cast away fishermen under a palm on the front of the coin and the words “I popped the top with Cast Away Baits” inscribed on the back. I should be receiving 100 of the custom challenge coins in the near future and I’m going to offer these coins to anyone who wants to jump in my boat with me this fall and take a shot at catching a fish or two on the popper for a few hours of fishing plus you’ll get to keep your own popper. I’ll even throw in a Cast Away decal to sweeten the deal even more. That a total of learning to use the popper on a topwater fishing trip with me, a custom Cast Away “Popping the Top” challenge coin, one of my Emerald Poppers and a decal to commemorate the trip.

*If you’re not local and would like to drop in for a weekend, be sure and ask about availability of our 3 bedroom private fish camp on Lake Lanier. I can offer a weekend getaway package that includes a day of fishing with me and if you bring your own boat, we have a single slip covered dock to park your boat for the weekend.

I don’t consider myself a guide and we have some very knowledgeable, talented bass guides on Lanier so I’m not going to charge a guides fees for the trip but I do need to earn some money to offset the cost of the trail fees. I’d also like to invest in a wrap for my boat for the trail next year and represent some local businesses as well as some bigger tackle names in fishing. I will be spending the fall and early winter soliciting some sponsors in exchange for advertising on my wrap and on my videos so if you are interested in a trip out this fall or you have an interest in some sponsorship just drop me a line or give me a shout for more information. Keep an eye out here on my blog for a topwater start date and a picture of the Cast Away Challenge coin very soon.

Here’s a few videos from some awesome fall topwater fishing over the past two years to get you in the mood…






Late summer Lanier report 8-27-2016

It’s been a rough 2 weeks with a bout of bronchitis and the lose of a dear family member and my shop mate for the last few years, our cat Blacky. It took him 16 years to used up those 9 lives but after a 2 year battle with diabetes, he passed yesterday. I decided I could be sick and depressed at home or out on the lake so I I’ve been hitting the lake. A few things are starting to change right now and all we need is a good cold front to come through and drop the temps and humidity. Right now the heat of summer is hanging in there like a hair in a biscuit and even though the days are getting shorter the surface temps are still in the upper 80’s with no relief in site. I’ve been spending most of the time messing with the bass but I’ve thrown in some striper fishing out over deep water. For the bass, not much has changed but I have started to mix in some cranking on the big natural chunk rock piles on points and I’ve found a few nice fish willing to hit a crankbait early in the morning. My philosophy is that the early morning rocks are providing the bait and fish a nice little cool haven to hang out in and some nice big bass are foraging the shallow rocks in search of crawfish, bream and shad. I would look for this bite to get stronger and stronger and it won’t be long till the fish start running the shad up into the shallows. When this happens there are 2 crankbaits I like to use, the first is the DT-10 in a shad pattern. It’s been a favorite of ours in the fall and the perfect bait for bass on the rocks when they are pushing shad into the shallows early in the morning. Here’s a picture of the crankbait, it’s definitely one you need for the collection in Sept. IMAG1009My second “go to” crankbait is my old favorite and one I make in the shop, the DT-10 knockoff Sand Key crank. Here’s a picture of that one. IMAG0613

Believe it or not, I’m still getting some bass on the topwater and just yesterday I nailed a good one on the surface throwing a popper. My buddy has be getting some good ones on the surface with a blueback pattern Whopper Plopper over brush but you have to make a lot of casts to call up the topwater fish right now. The surface bite is only going to get better and by late September we should see a lot more fish rising to feed on the shad pods and bluebacks swimming on or near the surface. The key to calling up topwater fish right now is a little bit of chop on the water. With a little chop to distort the surface in gin clear water you can fool the bass where as with no chop they can see the topwater bait better and usually just swirl on the bait without eating it. Most of the bass we’re catching on the surface are bigger fish in the 2-4lb range right now so it’s worth making a few casts on points and over brush.

If you’ve been out lately, you’ve probably seen more and more bass suspended above brush piles in 5-10 feet of water. These bass can be frustrating but a couple baits that have been working for us is a spy bait and a little 1.5 squarebill in a shad pattern. I’ve also had some success with a shallow suspending LC Pointer jerkbait in a blueback pattern and it makes a good follow up bait for surfacing fish that refuse to resurface for a topwater bait.

The drop shot bite is still going strong but frustration can set in with more window shoppers and chasers than eaters on the drop shot but we can still get good numbers with a bigger bass or two mixed in, mainly in the afternoons and evenings. The biggest mystery for the drop shot is the color selection. A month ago the fish were killing the Aarons Morning Dawn 4-5 inch worms and I wiped out Hammonds for every bag they had. Since then the bass have been eating the lighter colored baits and I’ve been catching a few on flukes as well as the worms.

For the stripers, I’ve been using a Ben Parker spoon and a 2-3 ounce bucktail with a 5-6 inch paddletail in a chartreuse over white pattern. For the spoon, it’s as simple as dropping it through the fish and bringing back up with a steady retrieve. With the bucktail/paddletail combo I’ve been having a blast enticing the fish to bite it by using a yoyo pattern while watching it on my graph. With this technique I’ve been dropping it down as deep as I can get it and getting the fish to chase it. The stripers are very curious of this bait and if I can get multiple fish to chase it, I just keep bring it up and down between 20 feet and 60-80 feet and just keep going up and down with it until a fish reacts. I’ve come to the conclusion that these stripers are very competitive and if I can get a few fish to chase it, one of the fish will inevitably get aggressive and take a whack at it. It’s a challenge but a lot fun to watch all this unfold in real time on the graph. Here’s a little video using the bait and a pic of a nice one I caught this week. IMAG1007
If trolling is your thing, there are plenty of stripers to be caught with leadcore right now and a variety of baits will work for that. I’ve got some older videos on my YouTube page that will explain and demonstrate how the leadcore works. Just go to YouTube and type in Jim Farmer or jfarm44 and look at some summers past for my trolling videos.

We’re right on the verge of weather changes and pattern changes and I’m more than ready for cooler weather. Stay cool out there

Lanier Summer Report #2

Since our return from Lake Guntersville I’ve fished a few times out on the lake and it seems that not much has changed since my last report. The bass are out on the brush piles in full force but getting them is just a little tougher than it was a month ago. Today we caught them on the drop shot as shallow as 15 feet and as deep as 40 feet but most have been around 25-30 feet in and around brush. A month ago I was loading the boat using Robo worms in Aarons Morning Dawn on the drop shot but that bite has slowed considerably so we’ve had to change our color tactics. It seems the fish are liking the lighter colored worms right now and Lisa has been doing well on a clear white ice color scheme that my buddy makes for us in his shop. I’ve been doing ok on my little 4-5 inch sky blue drop shot worms but Lisa has the magic touch and has been wearing them out on her ice worms. Here’s a pic of Lisa and her new favorite drop shot worm color. 13902205_10206079241854690_2100370255_o13902205_10206079241854690_2100370255_o (1)13898178_10206080872055444_1787630607_o
Drop shotting has been hit and miss for us but when the bite is going good we can get a dozen or two a day but not very many big ones right now. I’ve been using light tackle spinning gear with 6lb test fluorocarbon line, Mustad twist free or VMC Spin Shot hooks and a 3/8 ounce weight about 18 inches below the hook.

The big ticket item for me has been the topwater bass bite this summer. If there is a little chop on the water I could probably sit out in the heat and catch fish all day on my emerald topwater popper on points and humps. The bass are pushing singled out bluebacks to the surface all day long and the emerald popper is a great imitation of a blueback getting hammered on the surface by a bass. I’ve been using a lot of splashing and popping to get the basses attention and the chop on the surface causes enough of a distortion to fool the bass into hitting the popper. Here’s a couple pics we took this morning with the emerald popper and a couple nice bass on top.20160801102805 (3)
13898504_10206079241814689_417112716_o (1)I’ve also been catching a few by adding some red eyes and a red dressed trailer hook. Here’s a pic of that color pattern and a nice bass on it.IMAG0924IMAG0920
If I feel like the topwater popper isn’t working or there’s no chop, over the past few days I’ve been using a suspending Lucky Craft Pointer blueback colored jerkbait when I see the fish are moving around in the upper water column or suspending over the brush. I like the blueback pointer because when you jerk it a few times it creates a good flash in the water and I can flash it and suspend it over the brush and usually I can get a few to slam it while letting it sit on a long pause. It’s a fun little bait to use and I’ve been using a jerk-jerk-slow moving pause pattern for it to be successful. I’m still throwing a underspin but it really hasn’t been getting very many bites lately.
Here’s a little video I made last week that kind of explains what I’ve been doing and a couple fish we’ve caught over the past few days.
For the stripers we’re using 2 baits to get bit. The first is the big Ben Parker spoon and the second is a big 7.5 inch swimbait on a 1-2 ounce jig head. The hardest thing about the stripers right now is finding them. Once you find them just dropping the spoon up and down is all you need to do to attract more fish and catch a few. If I really want to have some fun and we’re over a lot of active fish, another bait I’ve been using is a big swimbait vertically jigged just like the spoon on a Heavy 7’9″ Mojo Bass rod and a Revo baitcaster with heavy flouro. I can also cast it, count it down to around 40-60 feet and bring it back to the boat in a horizontal retrieve. You can figure out your sink rate with the swimbait jig by dropping it under the transducer cone and counting it down while watching it on the graph. 13918662_10206079958072595_590005335_oSwimbaits and spoons are a lot of fun this time of year on Lanier for stripers and it’s pretty easy to catch a few if you can find them. Around the river channel or the deep 100 foot ditches near the mouths of our south end creeks have been the best locations to look for the stripers. Here’s one of a few I caught this morning on the spoon. 13918739_10206079241774688_797089199_oIf If you can stand the heat, now is a pretty good time to get out there and get a few. Surface temps are in the upper 80’s and the bite has been varying from early morning to late evening but the best bite seems to be when the sun gets up. Good luck out there and take plenty of water, cover up or use sun screen.

Lake Guntersville trip 7-13 through 7-17-2016

This was a 5 day trip to Lake Guntersville and the last 2 days of fishing included our club tournament with the Greater Atlanta Bass Club. I needed 3 days to figure out a game plan for the tournament, this time of year finding fish and catching them can be hot and tough. On Wednesday I fished with a friend who knew a little bit more about ledge fishing than I did. All I was interested in was learning about ledge fishing on Guntersville. We found a few areas of small shell beds on some flats while fishing a long stretch of ledge or the drop off into the main channel. The shell beds on the flats next to the ledge just kept producing 2-5lb fish on every pass. I marked two primary beds that were producing and one bed in particular had chunk rock next to it which made a perfect spot. On every pass we made we picked up at least one nice fish. My first fish of the trip was a 7 pd’er which I lost at the boat and this fish was on the shell bed with the neighboring chunk rock so it was the first mark I made on the gps. We went from one shell bed mark on the graph to another down the stretch of ledge Wednesday through Friday. Tournament day we sat on the shell bed that produced the most fish the entire time. It’s hard to believe the amount of fish that just kept coming, it’s fair to say we caught around 35-40 fish. The fish ranged from dinks to 6lbs with Lisa catching 10-15 fish and my buddies catching a few also. Overall is was a prosperous ledge.

The tournament was a 3 fish limit which made it pretty easy given we were averaging 10-20 fish a day from that stretch of the ledge. The tournament format was a 3 session tournament with the first session being Saturday morning from dawn till noon. The second session was from 4pm till 8:30pm and the third session was Sunday morning from dawn till noon. There was a tournament within a tournament with each session having a total weight pot and a big fish pot. There was also a bigger pot for overall total weight and big fish for combined both days. I like the format because it gives more teams a chance to get in the money.

Basically for the first session we made sure we were sitting just off the shell bed at dawn. We threw a shakey head with a magnum trick worm across the shell bed and dragged it back through the shells to the boat. There were numerous fish on the ledge and you just needed to be able to tell the difference between the shaky head running across the shells and a fish picking up the bait. Once you get the feel of that, then it’s all in setting the hook. You need a good hook set because the fish figure out very quickly to run at the boat if they can’t shake the hook initially. That little tactic is by design to keep you from digging that hook barb into the hard cartilage of their inner mouths. When they get near the boat they surface, jumping and shaking their heads violently as a last ditch effort to shake the hook. Keeping the rod tip low is a must.

In session one, every once in a while the fish would turn on and we would catch a few with one or two nice keepers in the mix. My strategy was to be patient, just sit on them and wait them out…..all weekend. I knew if we could average 4-5lb we would probably do very well, so waiting for the fish instead of running around and missing the bite was my strategy. We just needed patience and trust in the plan.
It was Lisa’s first day of fishing for the week so there was a little learning curve for her to get up to speed. Unfortunately she lost a couple of good fish before she got dialed in with the feel of the bite and good hook set. Once she accomplished that she was good to go and brought several good fish to the boat. On this session I did the damage and put 3 fish at over 13lbs in the boat right away then it was just a matter of working on an upgrade.
We went to the weigh in with 13 and change, all from the same little shell bed. It was good enough for first place in the session and I had a 5+ pounder to take big fish. A lot of teams struggled to find fish and a working pattern but these club guys figure out patterns and strategies very quickly so we were glad we jumped out to an early lead. Here’s a pic of the fish from session #1.IMAG0904

When session 2 started a local club was having their weigh in at the ramp…. it was a cluster so getting out to our spot was a little slow. We finally reached the shell bed and it was wide open… but man was it hot! We could see a big thunderhead building just north of the lake and I was hoping it would give us some cloud cover to cool things down, and it did…. Unfortunately there was an outflow wind from the storm. The stretch of ledge was covered in white capping water, soon came cloud cover and then blowing rain. We stuck it out and every once in a while picked up a 3-4 lber. We ended up heading back to the ramp with three decent 3-4lb fish just as the wind and clouds broke at sunset.

When we got to the ramp to trailer to the weigh-in a big catamaran looking center console was launching. I didn’t pay much attention as we parked along side a couple of cool looking high dollar Phoenix boats, Lisa held my boat at the dock as I went to get the truck. When I pulled down to the ramp area I noticed the big center console was still at the ramp and the guy couldn’t get the boat off the trailer, he hadn’t backed down far enough. He quickly jumped out of the running boat and ran back up to his truck to back it down further. When he did, the boat jumped off the trailer and started heading out into the bay …. with the boat in reverse. The guy in the truck just drove away as his boat headed out into the bay, motor running, in reverse. It took me a few seconds to figure out what was going on but I quickly realized this boat was making an arc and if my trajectory calculations were correct it was heading right for our Ranger and the 2 unmanned Phoenix’s. I looked at Lisa and she was bracing for impact as the big boat was bearing down for her and our boat. She was standing at the back of our boat with our little dog Chigger in her arms. She quickly thought to take her foot and push the big center console. I knew that wasn’t going to work so I jumped out of the truck screaming as I ran for somebody closer than me to stop that boat. I was at a sprint trying to get there before the collision. Thank goodness there was one lone guy who came flying from nowhere and jumped in the center console just as it collided with Lisa’s foot and our boat. Our boat collided with the Phoenix and that Phoenix hit the next Phoenix but luckily the guy that jumped in the big center console slammed it into drive and minimized the damage. The boat owner came running down just after it was all over and I quickly said a few choice words about him driving away full knowing his boat was in reverse putting everyone in danger. There were only a few minor scratches and we needed to get to the weigh-in. We made it with time to spare but our weight was off so we ended up with 10.5 for the second segment. There were a few teams that were getting things figured out and we finished the session in 3rd or 4th but we were still leading the overall weight by a good 6lbs. We just needed to stick some good ones in session 3 to seal the deal.
It was getting late and Lisa and I swung into Burger King for a burger and onion rings. By morning we were both sick. I don’t think the whopper and the onion rings was a good idea for us…..

At 5am Lisa got sick on the way to the ramp which made me even more sick just watching her so. We were both a mess but we knew we needed to fish and finish well. We got to our spot and by some miracle it was wide open again. We had a lot of company in our spot for the first 2 sessions but the shell bed was so small nobody could get a good angle on it but us. Not long after we got into position Lisa got a nice one on, unfortunately I was a little slow getting the net and it shook the hook boat side. Lisa and I both got a little discouraged but it wasn’t long till Lisa tied into another good fish and we boated a 5+. I just held the boat in one position and Lisa cast to the same spot over and over and before long we had another 13-14 pound sack. Lisa steadily caught fish off the back of the boat on the shell bed and I made a great net man for her. It was getting hot and we still had an hour till weigh-in so we just rode around in the breeze keeping the fish cool with o2 and ice. Our little dog Chigger likes to ride in the boat so we just let him enjoy the ride. At the end of the day we finished in first place for total weight at 36+ pounds, second place was a little over 28. Here’s a picture of the fish Lisa caught in the 3rd session to win the tournament for overall weight.IMAG1034 (1)We won total weight and big fish for session one as well as total weight for the tournament. Here’s a few pictures and a video of Lisa’s final day weigh-in with the winning fish!!

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Lanier Summer Report 7-8-2016

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I’ve been hitting the lake on a regular basis and finding plenty of fish to keep me busy. The bite has been great for me over the past few weeks and I guess you could say that we’ve hit the summer pattern. The lake temps are hovering around the mid to upper 80’s and the thermocline is scattered throughout the creeks and out in the lower lake right now. The stripers and bass are taking up residence in their predicable locations and using a variety of methods for catching these fish can lead to a day of fun fishing…..

For the bass I’ve been starting my mornings very early (dawn) casting a topwater favorite over the same brush piles I’ve been drop shotting later in the day. This time of year the bass are reluctant to hit the surface but early in the morning and sporadically throughout the day they will attack the bluebacks swimming near the surface and they will attack a surface lure as well. Unfortunately this is one of those times of the year that the fish doesn’t stay up on the surface long so if you’re site fishing, making a quick and accurate cast is key to catching the surfacing fish. Basically, a topwater fish is a low percentage endeavor and I’m starting to see more and more bass refusing to come back after a topwater bait just seconds after they initially surface. Just yesterday I was able to catch some nice topwater fish just blind casting wind blown points but the chop across the point had to be perfect before they would surface. Just about every fish I caught on the topwater was a good 3lb+ stout fish and they attacked the topwater baits like they were hungry with the aggressiveness of the stripers. Lately the only topwater bait I have tied on and at the ready is the bone Sexy Dawg. The bass in the picture above was caught yesterday 7-7-2016, mid-morning on a wind blown point using the bone Sexy Dawg.

If the topwater isn’t working there are a couple other options I’ve been using to put fish in the boat. The first is casting a Fish Head Spin or underspin across the top of brush on humps or out on the ends of points. I’ve been targeting the brush in 25-35 feet of water. There are some fish at the shallower depths but I think the bigger fish have been deeper and near deep deep water. For the under spin, I’ve been using a 1/4 ounce with a pearl super fluke, casting across the brush pile and counting it down to 5-10 seconds with a steady retrieve over the brush pile and back to the boat. Another tactic you can try if the underspin isn’t working or the wind kicks up a little and that’s a jig. Take your pick, there are plenty to choose from that will work right now. I’m just casting a 3/8 or 1/2 ounce size type casting jig with a watermelon trailer, letting it sink and slowly crawling it across the bottom. Sometimes you’ll feel a distinct thump and other times they rod will just load up or get heavy. Most of the time the larger fish have been on the under spin and the jig.

Once I’ve had some fun with those three early morning tactics and the sun gets higher, I’m going to the drop shot tactic. For me, the drop shot is like playing a video game, I’m just finding the brush and fish on the electronics and dropping my little drop shot rig right down in front of them. Sometimes they hit it right away and sometimes I just dead stick the bait in a waiting game. There are times when holding the drop shot worm perfectly still will entice a bite and other times I have to make the worm dance to get a reaction. A lot of times I’m very focused on my electronics and I am watching the fish as well as my worm on my sonar screen. I can watch the fish chase the bait down and get hooked in real time. Worm color and size selection is a whole other topic. We’ve been using different  sizes and colors, some days it matters and some days it doesn’t. My wife Lisa is the queen of color selections while I’m more of a tried and true kinda guy. We are both competitive and always have a competition on the drop shot. Lisa has that women’s touch which is perfect for that type of finesse fishing and the drop shot is her specialty so it’s always a challenge for me to beat her at the drop shot. Earlier this week she mopped up on me for numbers using a worm color that I never dreamed of using but it worked. Last year Lisa came up with a worm color that was a lock for us in late summer. We had a blast with it and caught some nice big fish just drop shotting our normal brush piles. It was just a color and size that the bigger fish reacted to during that period in time. I caught my biggest drop shot fish on that worm while the corps was generating in the brutal afternoon heat and got it on video. It’s probably my favorite drop shot video from last summer and that fish put up one heck of a fight on light tackle:
You can see the way I’m working the worm in the video. I’m using 6-7lb fluorocarbon line with a 3/8 ounce drop shot weight and a #2 or #4 VMC Spinshot hook about 18 inches up from the weight.

Once I’ve had my fill of drop shotting bass I’m moving on to a bigger target which is our summer striper population. I’m only carrying one item for stripers this time of year but the excitement that lure provides is more than enough for a day of fishing. The lure I’m carrying is the Ben Parker Magnum Spoon and the summer stripers just love this thing. You need to work the spoon kinda like working the drop shot, it’s a matter of seeing the fish on your electronics, dropping the spoon vertically and enticing them to bite. Finding the stripers to drop the spoon to is the hardest part of the equation and it may require some driving and watching your electronics for arches in deep water. Once you find the arches it’s as easy as dropping the spoon and reeling it back up. The stripers will let you know when they hit the spoon, sometimes taking you by surprise and trying to jerk the rod out of your hands.
Here is a video I made last summer that can give you an idea of the way the spoon tactic works for stripers.
A lot of folks have asked what rig I was using. The rig I was using to catch those big stripers was a big Penn Fierce 6000 reel loaded with 25lb Big Game on a 7′ Ugly Stik Heavy Spinning rod. I like the bigger reels because you can gain line very quick with the big spool and gear ratio. We’ve already been catching some nice fish on the spoon, both up lake a ways and down lake as well. It seems that the fish are scattered in groups and finding fish and having a group of fish to yourself is very possible right now. The spoon bite is only going to get better as we progress through the summer and I’m looking forward to a couple months and a solid pattern of hitting the brush for bass and spooning summer stripers for a change of pace. I haven’t really been taking many pictures or videos lately but here’s a few pictures from so recent trips out:

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On the Radio this morning

 

I spent a little time with my buddy Brad Myers and his radio show, Georgia Outdoors Radio 92.5 “The Bear” FM. We talked about Lake Lanier stripers and bass this morning and some of the tactics we’re using right now. We talked about spooning up a couple of stripers for the grill and a good striper recipe we use for a little summer holiday stripers on the half shell. I also talked about the drop shot tactic and the fun we’ve been having with that. Just click on the link below. My portion of the show starts at the 91:45 mark.

https://www.spreaker.com/user/georgiaoutdoorsradio/gor-07-02-16?fb_action_ids=963130547119547&fb_action_types=spreaker_radio%3Abroadcast&fb_ref=image_bigbutton

The Marching Party

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It would take me a lifetime to write about my Navy career but here’s a little peek at a small moment in my career that helped shape me into what I am today.  I wanted to put this in words before my withering memory wipes it away

Before you can understand the story I need to get you up to speed on what San Diego Navy boot camp was like in 1982. When I joined the Navy I had rarely been out of the Midwest except for a few family vacations as a kid so flying into San Diego, Ca. at 10:30 in the evening to report to boot camp was a big deal. I don’t care who you are, you’re going to be a little freaked out for the first 48 hours or so. You go through a series of fun events within the first few days but one of the first things that happens after a good haircut is you go through uniform issue. This is a time when you are issued all of your Navy uniforms and undergarments and you stencil your name just above the pocket on all of your “dungaree” shirts and trousers or working uniform as well as your “skivvies”, hat or “lid”, socks and personal belongings. By this time you have formed a “Company” which is a group of about 50-75 guys that you’ll be spending the next few months with, living in cramped quarters in a barrack without heat or air conditioning. Each person is referred to as a “recruit” for the duration of boot camp and we marched in formation everywhere we went.

While we stenciled our clothing our prospective “Company Commanders” were walking around watching us work on stenciling our gear. Company Commanders were more senior members in the Navy and could be recognized by a chest full of medals and ribbons, a lot of stripes on their uniform and these red ropes dangling in a loop from their shoulders. We referred to them as “red ropes” behind their back and “Sir” to their face. There would usually be 2 Company Commanders assigned to a Company and they were the boss, your mom, you dad, you’re best friend, your worst enemy and just like Sgt Hulka, they were our big toe. While stenciling my uniforms I could tell the Company Commanders were watching us to see who was paying attention to detail and doing a thorough job in a timely manner so I made sure I did everything to perfection when they walked behind me and looked over my shoulder. It paid off to perfection and a week later I was dubbed our new “Company Yeoman”. Our Company Commander, First Class Petty Officer Marlor took a liking to me and trusted me the responsibilities of a Yeoman which was taking care of the daily logistics of head counts and mail call. I was the liaison between the company and our Company Commander. I liked my job but our Company Commander was mean, I mean real mean. He was covered in tattoos from neck to toes and could out run, do more push-ups, set-ups or any number of exercises we did on a daily basis. This guy was covered in tattoos before that sort of thing was cool. He was intimidating to say the least but in the back of my mind a little part of me knew this was all part of the act. The act of shaping us all into young sailors before setting us out to start our real Navy careers.

I don’t think words can properly describe the feelings I went through in Boot Camp. Besides the obvious things like missing home, a girlfriend, mom and dad and all of those creature comforts, you learn very quickly to do without. There were challenges on an hourly basis and there was so much to learn in a short period of time. There were great things that got accomplished in boot camp and there were failures and consequences to be paid. A few weeks after the start of Boot Camp we were all settling into a routine and starting to feel a little cocky. Feeling a little cocky was something that was not advised during boot camp. Us recruits feeling a little cocky made the Company Commander feel a little cocky too. Their idea of feeling a little cocky was singling out any one person who thought he was better than the rest or maybe someone who made a mistake? This person would become the target of Company Commanders enjoyment. Sometimes the Company Commander would take matters into his own hands and sometimes he would send a hard case to a “Marching Party”. A marching party was something that took place after dark once a week, usually on Thursday and there was usually someone going from our unit every week. The ones that went never came back the same. They didn’t chat much about it, only saying it was 2 hours of hell and involved Navy SEALs. At the time about all I knew about the SEALs was that they were elite and mean. I only knew what I had read in our “Bluejacket” manual which is the sailors bible and has everything about everything in the Navy. In the manual they gave a brief job description of a Navy SEAL and I knew they had to be tough.

After about a 4 week period of being our company Yeoman I had things down to a science. I knew my job inside and out and I got complacent. One of my jobs was to do a head count of every recruit in our company prior to sitting down for a meal. For every meal I would report the number of recruits to our Company Commander and we would file into the chow hall for our meal. Sometimes a recruit would be sent to sick call or some other demand so the number of recruits going to a meal may vary from meal to meal. After 4 weeks on the job as the head counter before meals I just started winging it and throwing out a number thinking no one was checking my numbers. We went days with me reporting a headcount that went unchecked so I thought it was just a formality. Yea, I was dead wrong. One day our Company Commander call me into his office out of the blue. Up until this point I had been his “Go To” guy in the company and could do no wrong. On prior meetings with him in his office it was generally a pleasant experience but on this occasion it was all business. He informed me that from his best estimation somehow over night perhaps, a big rock had came in contact with my head and made me a dumbass. He had been watching me operate at the chow hall head counts and had been checking my numbers for the last week. Needless to say I was busted and for punishment I would be fired from my position and sent to the marching party on Thursday evening. He looked me in the eyes and in a stern  voice he said “You know Farmer, in the Navy complacency can get you killed, or even worse, you’ll get the people around you killed. I want you to remember that“. It was like my whole world just tanked. I was fired from my position and banished to the marching party. I wasn’t going alone as I soon found out that another recruit from our company had done something wrong and would be accompanying me to the party. His name was Powell and we were both trying to find out all we could about what went on at a marching party but the guys from our company who had went didn’t was to talk about it much siting a sworn secrecy.

Thursday night finally came after a long day of marching and classroom events. Everyone else was finishing their duties for the evening as Powell and I were donning our gear to go to the marching party at 10pm. Our gear included our working uniform with a watch cap or black stocking cap. We were told to march to a empty parking lot or “grinder” directly in front of the little store where we got our supplies. We would be greeted by our hosts for the night and they would give us our instructions for 2 hours off hell. Powell and I really didn’t know what we were in for so the mood was light as we marched to the grinder. When we got there the party was in full swing and we were immediately told to join ranks for a little chat before we got started. We were all in formation standing at attention while these big face painted gorillas walked through our ranks explaining to us how we had fucked up really bad and we were about to pay for it. They asked if anyone wanted to go home to momma before we got started but no one had the balls to go that route so without further ado we started doing different physical exercises while being yelled at by about 6-8 Navy SEALs. They got in your face, they got in your ear and tried in every way to make us break and cry. I won’t go into detail but some of the exercises were very extreme with names like “Hello Dollies” and “Eight count body builders” and one of my personal favorites, “The Superman”. We would do push-ups but you would have to stay in the down position with your nose and body 2 inches from the deck. It didn’t take long till the sweat started mixing with the dirt on the ground and everyone’s faces were black and dripping mud. My working uniform was covered in sweat and dripping, making a puddle of mud beneath me. They tested ever muscle in my body and I was in outstanding shape at the time. After the first hour my body trembled from exertion and my muscles were fading fast. If you were caught screwing up an exercise the SEAL’s were on you like a pack of wild dogs with 2 or 3 of these gorillas in you face screaming obscenities and just try to get you to break. I finally decided that these SEAL’s were probably betting big money and taking a head count on how many of us they could break before it was over so I made up my mind that wasn’t going to happen to me. They could break my body but they couldn’t break my spirit. Names were a form of enjoyment for these guys and they would make light of our names. When they saw my name was Farmer they had a little fun with me and my name designed to see if mocking my family name would break me. They never put a hand on us but it was degrading to say the least. Just before we were done, Powell, who was directly to my left finally broke and the tears started flowing. They showed no mercy and crying only gathered a crowd of these antagonizers.  That was the point in the evolution that I realized the reason that no one who had been there before me talked about it much. They didn’t break me and when it was over Powell and I marched back to the barracks with muscles either locked, cramping or in some kind of spasm.

When we got back to the barracks, everyone was asleep except for the 2 night watchmen. We were covered in dirt and told by the night watchmen in the barracks to get a quick show and hit the rack for the night. One of the night watchmen asked us how it was and neither myself or Powell wanted to discuss it much. I promised Powell on the way back that I wouldn’t say anything about what went down. I showered and hit the rack for the night. It seemed like I had just closed my eyes when the lights came on and it was morning. I had slept a total of 4 hours but it seemed like I hadn’t slept at all. When I tried to get out of my rack, my muscles were completely locked up. I have never felt like I felt that morning at any time in my life. I have competed in military and civilian marathons at a lightning pace and pushed my body to the brink of destruction but I have never ever felt like that since. Powell and I went on to graduate from boot camp and start our Navy careers but that little 2 hour snippet in time will never be forgotten by me and I’m sure, by Powell also.

Although that was just a small fragment of my life there was a lesson to be learned and our old Company Commander was right, during my career in the Navy I’ve witnessed more than one incident or accident where complacency was the culprit and the outcome wasn’t good. On the flight deck of an aircraft carrier there is an old saying “The moment you get complacent on the flight deck, that’s the moment you jeopardize your life and the lives of everyone”.