Keto Bass vs The Meat-Eaters

This week was pretty typical for an early winter warming trend, and I played it perfectly. The west wind we saw all week followed by very warm temps brought some good fish to the bank. This time of year, a small population of bass will migrate to the shore for one of two reasons: first being rises in the water level will put fish on the bank in search of a meal in new submerged shoreline and the second reason they come to the bank is for the warmth of the sun.

When the water cools these fish have a metabolism that slows as their body temperature drops. The fish is much more lethargic and not very aggressive when it comes to eating and they tend to take on a paler coloration in the deeper water. These fish tend to stay in the comfort of the deep ditch and gorge on the massive schools of bait that seek the same comfort of the depth of the ditch. They spend all day chowing down on the schools bluebacks with a high fat and adequate protein diet with little exercise because of that slower metabolism, these bass are my “Keto Bass” of Lake Lanier.

This week I found a massive school of bass in the creek, just chilling on a 40-50 creek channel bottom. These fish were in 5-10 fish wolfpacks and were just lying on the bottom for the most part. When clouds of bluebacks would drift by the fish would feed on the school and then go right back down to the bottom. Some of the wolfpacks were moving around looking for bait and some were just lying on the bottom in wait. On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday I had my way with these fish and boated a bunch of the deeper bass. Most of the bass were in the 1-3lb range and pulling them out of the depths with my little chrome or white spoon did the trick either casting or dropping the spoon vertically. Each day I was fishing the area I could tell the population of both bass and bait was dwindling and each day the temps were getting warmer. I figured that the bait and the fish were migrating as the temps got warmer. When Thursday morning came, and I went to my little deep water honey hole only to find the hole had been compromised by a boat that had passed through and seen me the day before. It was bound to happen eventually, but it was fun while it lasted. I did make a little video of some of the spooning technique I was using for the Keto Bass.

The cool part about the compromised location is that it got me to thinking about an alternate plan and it didn’t take me long to figure out that the west wind that was kicking up, outside air temps approaching 70 degrees with abundant sunshine meant the meat-eaters would be out on the rocks. The meat-eaters are the fish that seek the warmth of the sun to boost their metabolism into predator bass in search of the steak and lobster diet up on the rocks. These bass are revved up and looking to eat the crawfish that are out in the sun and going through their spawning rituals. They are also looking for bream and gizzard shad to add to their foraging diet. These fish are much stronger than the lethargic keto bass and these bass tend to take on darker, richer colorations in the warmer water. I chose to spend the rest of my Thursday pursuing the Meat-eater bass up on the sunny wind-blown rocky areas.

There are 2 baits I use on the windy rocky banks and that’s a crankbait or a worm. There are an assortment of crankbaits that will work as these meat-eater bass are up on the rocks for one reason and that is to eat just about anything that moves. Crankbaits rattle and the crawfish clicks and rattles when they spawn so the crankbait on the rocks is a no brainer, especially when the wind blows.

When it comes to worms, I prefer the shaky head worms, but I’ve also had tremendous luck using Texas rigged worms also. On Thursday I chose the shaky head as I’ve got more confidence in the bait plus I just love to feel the bite when it comes to the shaky head. In just about every instance, I can expect to catch larger fish when targeting the areas where the meat-eaters show up.

About lunchtime on Thursday the wind was blowing at a pretty good clip so I started pounding the wind-blown rocks with the worm using spot-lock and my fan casting method. On my second cast up into less that 3 feet of water this bass pictured below just smoked my worm and the fight was on. I knew that it was going to be a good afternoon for the worm when I got this fish to the boat. A true meat-eater.

After This fish it was just a matter of bouncing from rocky area to rocky area and I even found a bonus of larger fish hanging around the docks so I was able to whack a few more very nice fish with the shaky head on deeper docks as well as sunny shallow docks. I ended my week Thursday and it was definitely a fun week of Keto and Meat-eaters. Water temps are in the mid to upper 50’s right now and the lake is down about a foot and a half. The corps is generating off and on and the lake level is slowly falling. Here are a few of my memorable fish from the week.

Breaking Down the Poop

I haven’t told many people this over the years but way back when I used to run the marsh in Louisiana I was always learning. I was always trying to better understand the feeding habits of the redfish in the marsh so I could be more successful. One of the most important factors to being successful in the marsh is finding the fish and sometimes it can be a chore in the vast open marsh. Observations were very important to me and one observation I made after a few years is that groups of feeding fish poop a lot when they are feeding, and the redfish was no different. On a few occasions when I had found redfish in an area feeding on mullet, I also found the presence of what looked to be small floating dog turds in the same areas I was catching a lot of fish, so I started examining the floating oddities and sure enough they in fact were fish turds. I finally cracked the code on locating redfish; just look for the presence of turds. Of course, that’s not always possible if the wind is blowing or the tide is moving very swiftly but, on a few occasions, when the wind is calm and there are a lot of hidden fish in an area, you can’t hide the turds.

Ok, you’re probably wondering where I’m going with this, so I’ll get to the point. Yesterday when I was making my rounds in the creek checking ditches, I pulled into one ditch and around 45-50 feet in ditch depth I saw a massive school of bluebacks that were thick from 20 feet all the way down to the bottom. Another observation I made and it’s not the first time I’ve made this observation, is the presence of these small floating splotches of discolored bubbles about the size of pancakes above the middle of the ditch. Shortly thereafter I started marking a steady stream of fish moving about the bottom but not interested in feeding. I knew right away what was going on; these were stripers that had just got done feeding on that massive school of bluebacks and they were just chilling in the pocket. The pancake splotches on the surface are something I see often in the areas where large schools of stripers are or have been feeding and there is no wind to break up the flotilla of liquid poop. I took a snapshot of the stripers chilling on the bottom while I was banging my spoon all over these fish and they had no interest in eating at that point. They were just chilling on the bottom near the massive cloud of bluebacks. This isn’t the first time I’ve found this phenomenon and since I first observed it, I’m seeing it more and more over the course of the past few years. If anything, it’s just another tool to help find these fish and sometimes you really need to get outside the box to do some thinking. Next time you’re out, keep in mind that there could be the presence of poop, and where there’s poop, there are probably going to be some fat stripers just chilling on the bottom after a delicious meal of bluebacks.

Loons and Spoons with Rocks and Docks

Around 15-16 years ago a friend and I were fishing a big striper tournament up at Lake Cherokee in northern Tennessee. It was the end of the year Gold Cup Championship and there were 50 of the best striper teams in the south competing for the Gold Cup. Lake Cherokee had a striper kill just before the tournament and about the only stripers left in the lake were below 5lbs. There were also hybrids in the lake that were not affected by the striper kill so a hybrid was probably a bigger and better choice than a striped bass and hybrids were legal to weigh for the tournament. My partner and I fished all day and had a 2 fish striper limit of 6-7lb which would have put us at about a mid-pack finish and time had run out for us. We had just enough time to get back to the ramp, trailer and run 10 minutes to the park where the weigh-in was held. It was over for us and after 4 days of pre-fishing and countless hours of prep we were going to the weigh-in to watch others win some nice new striper boats and collect those checks after a long season.

As we were hurrying to load gear and get to the ramp a small school of hybrids started blowing up within 20-30 yards of the boat. We both were watching and shaking our heads as we put away the last of the rods. My buddy and I just laughed and said: “just our luck”. The action grew and more hybrids joined the schooling so my buddy and I decided to grab our spoon rods and cast into the schooling hybrids in a last second attempt to upgrade our fish. We both made a cast into the schooling action and immediately hooked up with big hybrids. After a short fight we both got our upgrades in and made it to the weigh-in just in time to weigh 2 big hybrids for 14lbs and received a big fat 4th place check. We actually got to sit in a nice new striper boat on stage in first place for most of the weigh in and it was awesome. Had it not been for those little flex-it spoons and perfect timing, we would have been watching someone else up on that stage.

More recently my friend Matt and I won a UGA tournament on Lanier just a few years back and we had a nice sack of 20lbs including a 5.12 and a 5.1 and all were caught casting a spoon. It’s that time of year for me. It’s not only the spoon bite for me but I’ve got a couple of other options that I’ll utilize from now till the early spring.

This week started out with my usual November pattern which consists of a lot of shaky head and ned rigging on rocks and docks. On Monday I was beating the rocks and docks with the shaky head and running across a few nice fish doing that. I call the fish on the rocks “the Meat Eaters” because they are in search of that large high protein meal instead of out in the depths gorging on a menu of small bluebacks and threadfins. One observation I’ve noticed from the week is that the bulk of the creek is turning over so the bait and fish are in locations to avoid the turnover areas. The biggest key right now is to find the bait. That’s where the fish are going to be. Whether it’s the back of a pocket, shallow or deep, find the bait and find the fish. There are fish that have chosen to beat the turnover by hanging out on the shallow rocks and that was Monday’s target area, shallow rocks and rock bluffs in the creek and out on the main lake and my bait was the shaky head. Here are a couple of nice fish from Monday using the worm on the sunny south facing rocks in the afternoon. These are the meat eaters.

Those bigger fish on the rocks and docks are few and far between but a lot of fun if you have the patience and your satisfied with a few big fish instead of a bunch of 1-2lbers. My suggestion is to use a bigger worm on your shaky head. A magnum trick worm in a darker color like green pumpkin is a good choice to start with but sometimes a smaller work like a finesse worm is what the fish are looking for but use your own imagination and find a worm/jig head you can build some confidence in.

On Tuesday I was running a stretch of rock bluff where a creek channel ran against the bluff. Bait was moving through the area in clouds and balls which is usually a combination of shad and bluebacks. On your graph, a school of bluebacks will look like a long random cloud and the threadfins will look more like a ball of bait, whether it’s a big ball or small ball it’s probably threadfin shad. Not long after seeing the first school of bait I started seeing fish around the bait so I picked up the spoon and it was pandemonium for the next few hours. It was just a matter of dropping the spoon down anywhere around a bait school as they drifted by and a bass was going to eat your spoon. It was that simple and I caught a fish on just about every drop. Most of the fish were cookie cutter 2lbers but every once in a while, a bigger fish would come to the boat. There were a few largemouth mixed in and I could tell that these fish were putting on the feed bag with the bait. Some of the fish I caught would be barfing up shad in and around the boat so I knew the bulk of the bait was shad. I’m not sure how many fish I caught but only one was big enough to need fizzing for the release, all of the others swam away just fine after less than an hour in the livewell. I was able to take some pictures of my afternoon fun.

On Wednesday I was back out in the early afternoon and I was checking other areas, trying to find that same scenario with the bait and the deeper water. A few years back I found a big flat spot on the creek channel, across from a point and for some reason stripers, bass and bait show up there every year. It is void of any structure whatsoever and there is very little reason for the fish to be there but they are. I can pull into the area and see nothing but clean flat mud bottom but as soon as I drop the silver War Eagle spoon down the whole bottom will light up with fish within minutes. That’s the beauty of the chrome War Eagle spoon on sunny days, you just drop it down to the bottom and back up a few times and that flashing from the spoon spinning is like a fish call, they all want to know what is flashing and they start gathering around the spoon. As soon as I pulled up, I saw a long cloud of bait, dropped the spoon down to the 45-foot bottom and lifted it, I felt the little tap as the rod unloaded and I was reeling in my first fish of the fall in my secret winter honey hole. I spent the next hour or so moving around and pulling up fish after fish only this time, since the bottom was flat and void of any structure, I started casting the spoon and letting it fall with long pulls and drops. Basically, I cast the spoon just as far as I can and give it a 5-10 count before giving the spoon a long pull and letting it freefall but keeping the slack out of your line. Usually if there is a fish around they will hit it while freefalling and you need to be able to feel the strike when they hit it. For that reason and others I always keep the slack out of my line while spooning. Here’s some pictures from my Wednesday at the honey hole.

On Thursday it was a maintenance day and I worked in the shop all day making baits for some upcoming stuff.

Yesterday, Friday, I went back to the honey holes and both spots were void of both fish and bait. I think the front that passed through on Thursday had moved the bait and I just couldn’t find fish nor bait in the area so I went back to my old trust shaky head on the rocks and docks with some success including my last fish of the week pictured below off a spud pole. Be sure and check those spud poles folks, they hold heat and fish.

If you’re still reading this report and haven’t bailed by now, good for you and you get a special treat for hanging with me. Here’s another little piece of advice that has definitely helped fill my late fall and early winters with excitement and that’s watching the loon’s work with my spoon in hand. Soon the loons with be migrating to lake Lanier where they will spend their winter months gorging on Lanier’s abundant bait supply. The fish love the presence of the loons because it also helps the fish when it comes to feeding time. The loons work together very well to coral bait into balls and then run through the bait eating as they go. Bait will be scattering and skittering everywhere to avoid the loons and the carnage starts to cause a scene as bass and stripers show up if they are in the area. There are also opportunists in the air in the form of gulls’ dive bombing the surface to scam their fair share. It’s a frenzy from above and below and the fish start making runs at the bait from below and it’s all a blast if you can get close enough to make a cast or two with that little silver War Eagle spoon. The loons are pretty smart and can tell the difference between a spoon and a bai fish but I still try to avoid casting right into where loons are working, instead, casting to the outer fringes and letting the spoon freefall just like a wounded or dying bait. Chances are, if there are fish in the area you’re in for a treat and if they are bigger stripers, you’re in for a real treat. That’s all for this week so keep those spoons handy and watch that graph for bait!

The Handshake

It’s only happened a few times in my life but each time it has happened the memory has lasted my lifetime. I can remember the first time I felt that hand and it was my grandfathers hand. It was a hand that was hard and almost unshakable because of the size of the fingers and the hardened blisters that turn the skin to granite. It was a working mans hands. Hands that aren’t afraid of a hard days work and raising a God fearing Christian family. Hands that are full of love and faith.

I only knew James for a short period of my life but the first time I met Mr. Kelly and shook his hand I felt that old familiar feeling in that hand shake. He probably thought I was weird because it took me so long to let go of his hand as we talked but I was savoring every moment and I felt it all. Man, I felt it all. I felt the hard work, the kindness, the understanding, the knowledge and above all else, the faith. James quoted scripture and told me stories from the bible which related to our conversations just about every Sunday morning before church. James used to ask me every week, “How many fish did you catch this week”? After I would give him a number he would take a long pause and nod. It took me a while but I think James pondered if that number of fish could be turned into the number of men I could bring to Christ every week. I honestly think he was thinking that every week when he asked me that question, and he asked me that same question every week. We talked about many things during our short friendship but just having a conversation and a laugh or two with James was one of the many reasons I love our little church and church family.

Loss is a bitter sweet fact of life and we’re all going to miss James Kelly but Jesus has a special place in Heaven for James Kelly and when I get there I’m sure I’ll hear that beautiful voice once again and James and I will be able to catch up with those fish numbers. James was laid to rest in a little meadow behind our little church this past weekend so we can visit with him often.

Etowah Church

Most folks didn’t know this till now but a few years back Lisa and I were contemplating finding a church. We are both Christians and both brought up going to small churches. In our conversations Lisa suggested we both pray on it and we’ll get our answer. Lisa’s daughter Callie and her friends drove by this beautiful little church nestled on a hill along the banks of the Etowah River and they just loved the church surrounded by horse pastures and meadows along the river. Callie was engaged to be married and thought that the little church in the country would be a great place to be married so Lisa contacted the church and we made plans for a spring wedding at the church. When spring came we had the wedding there and it was beautiful. It was a great cermony and we couldn’t have asked for a better backdrop for a wedding.

After the wedding Lisa and I had discussed going to the little church some Sunday for their Sunday service although it was a pretty long drive for us. We never acted on it until late in the year when I got an invite to do a podcast from my friend Danny who was starting up a fishing podcast called “Fish North Georgia” and he and his friend Josh wanted me to come out one evening for an on air interview. I agreed and he gave me the address to the building where they did there podcast on a Thursday evening. When the evening came I wanted Lisa to drive me because it was raining and dark which makes it hard for me to navigate with bad eyes. Lisa agreed and off we went out to the country for the podcast appointment. Lisa was driving and I was navigating as we went. Lisa said, “remember the church where Callie got married”? I said yes and she replied “Well, I think it’s around that area. As we approached the address the rain was really coming down and when the gps lit up it said “You have reached your destination” just as the lights from my truck lit up the whole church. James Kelly had a big metal building behind the church and Danny and Josh were members of the church and had their podcast in James Kelly’s metal building every week. It took me a bit but the odds of landing back at the little church out in the country so far from home twice in a short period of time when Lisa and I were praying for an answer, well, it’s pretty astronomical in my view so Lisa and I had our answer and we have been attending our little church ever since.

On a final note, today is a very special day for me as it was one year ago today I was baptized in the Etowah River right next to our little church. It’s a sweet memory for me and I’m very happy that James Kelly was there. It was his and Linda’s land that led to that little spot on the river where I was baptized.

Black Shoals in the Wind

I did a little something different today and went out to a new lake called Black Shoals, down south outside of Loganville. A friend had just built a house on the lake and invited me out to check out the house and jump in his Pond Prowler for a little fishing plus a little of my insight on fishing the lake. He is just starting out fishing the lake and also fishing in general so we set out today in the windy white caps cutting across the lake in the Pond Prowler…

It was absolute post front conditions today and the wind was getting it coming across the lake at 8am. It was already starting to white cap and off we went from my buddy Cary’s shoreline in his pond prowler. He was looking for suggestions and my first one was to get up wind so if /when the little trolling motor died at least we would be up wind for the occasion. The first thing I wanted to check out was a few windy points but with 2 grown men in a pond prowler in the wind it’s a task so we settled a couple of creeks and pockets out of the wind. I started out throwing a whopper plopper while Cary threw a spinnerbait but I pretty much knew what the bait was going to be already, I was just going through the motions to show Cary the topwater stuff. After about an hour of throwing the power stuff we headed for a calmer cove or creek and put on the old faithful shaky head and found the pattern. There is a lot of submerged grass and timber lining the shore on the lake and I found the fish mainly hanging on the edge of the grass. Once we figured that out we caught some very nice fish for Cary and his wife who is from Peru and loves to eat fish, qs well as Cary. When I say she loves fish, I mean she loves to eat the whole fish, like eyeballs and all so they keep everything which is fine with me.

I was able to show Cary how to rig the shaky head rod and it didn’t take long till he caught his personal best bass 5lber (pictured above). He was pretty stoked and the bass put up a valiant fight. We caught 7 nice keepers in about 3 hours of fishing and a couple smaller bass which went back, all on a pretty simple 1/4 ounce green pumpkin finesse shaky head. I didn’t get to check out much because of the conditions but I’m sure I’ll visit again before long and maybe get a chance to cover more of the lake. Since the wind was out of the north and we were on the south end of the lake we didn’t make it up to the northern part of the creek but since Cary now lives on the lake I’ll be fishing it more over the coming months. Fun morning of fishing!

Jonesin for a Sebile

First it was toilet paper and then it was my favorite corned beef hash, but now they’ve gone too far with this shortage of 125 Sebiles. If I was a country singer I’d be singing a number one hit called “Jonesin for a Sebile on Lanier” right about now because you can’t find a slow sink 125 Sebile anywhere in the south. They’re gone except for a few of those fancy chrome ones. There are probably thousands of Sebiles sitting in one of those containers off the coast of California headed for Tackle Warehouse right now. I have a stash of 125 Sebiles somewhere in this house and I’ve been searching for them for days but I have tackle everywhere including 2 shops, an attic and a large garage so finding my stash of Sebiles could take years. I’ve tore this place apart only to find one usable 125 Sebile and then I bummed one from my buddy Mike to make it 2 usable Sebiles for the week. I painted both of them my pearl white color and started my week.

This week the Sebile bite hasn’t been off the charts for me and I’ve had to work for my bites but I’ve really amassed some fish by weeks end. It’s mainly been right place right time but there has been a little skill involved. I only needed the pearl white Sebile all week and I literally wore them out, both the fish and the Sebiles. Right now my milk run is out on the main lake early and then working my way back to the creek by midday. This week the bulk of my numbers have been from the creek in the afternoon but the larger size is still out on the main lake, whether it’s humps or points.

I think that my gear was the most important part to my success this week. On Monday I started using 10lb Tatsu flouro with the Sebile but the fish were very leery of the bait so I dropped it down to 8lb Tatsu and that was the ticket. The fish started showing more interest in the bait and were much more aggressive with the 8lb. I was able to catch a few fish just blind casting the bait around brush and out on points which has been kinda hard lately as most of the fish have been caught while fish were schooling or shortly after they stopped schooling. I was throwing the Sebile on my 7’6″ MH Shimano Clarus with a Diawa Fuego 2500 spinning reel. I could throw the Sebile a long way with the spinning gear and it handled the bass and stripers just fine. Speaking of stripers, I caught a lot on the Sebile this week and at times they were much more aggressive than the bass and that 8lb Tatsu handled the stripers like a champ. I gotta hand it to the Tatsu, it takes away a lot of worry about line breaks when catching a big one.

Basically this week was about moving around and making casts early on the main lake. If the fish weren’t coming up on a hump or point out on the main lake I was making blind casts with a steady retrieve and the pearl white Sebile I painted was very visible just below the surface. It was pretty awesome to watch some of the fish just slam the Sebile. Some of the stripers would just come out of nowhere and aggressively slash through it and sometimes a whole school of a few dozen bass would follow it back to the boat without a reaction. Sometimes bass would fight over it and sometimes they didn’t want anything to do with it. If the fish started schooling and I could cast the Sebile into the area they were schooling, the Sebile would be hammered almost immediately every time. I gotta tell you that there were times when I just knew I was going to get hammered by a schooling fish and my heart would be racing with the anticipation of feeling that tug and the chance for a big bass. You fishermen know exactly what I’m talking about. Sometimes I could cast the Sebile in the area where schooling had just occurred and I could coax a fish back up to whack the Sebile. It was just a fun week of not having to throw the kitchen sink at these fish and the Sebile is low impact with high rewards. I suppose there could have been other baits out there that worked better than my painted Sebile this week but I was perfectly content with just sticking with it and getting the occasional nice fish. The video below pretty much covers the extent of my pattern, cast the Sebile out and reel in back in.

I think the fish were much more aggressive in the afternoon also. It seemed like a lot of fish in the morning were just a bit slow to react to the Sebile but by the afternoon they were out in the sun chasing bluebacks. A lot of times I was just looking around to see where the fish were coming up and if I saw fish schooling I would make my way to where the action was and make some casts. I think it’s a good idea to keep a watch out for surfacing fish on points and humps right now. If you see fish schooling and surface activity make a mental note of it and pay that area a visit as soon as you can. I was also able to utilize my Spot Lock on the trolling motor and sit up wind of a lot of places and just fan cast the Sebile down wind when the fish weren’t coming up. It was a blast to feel the rod load up with a nice fish out in the wind and white caps on the main lake. Even in the big choppy waves the fish were still blasting the Sebile.

This week I’m not much help with the fishing report unless you’ve got a stash of light colored Sebiles hid away in your tackle box and if that’s the case, it’s time to use them.

The lake is just above full pool and the water temps are mid to low 70’s. The corps is moving water in the afternoons and evenings. Here are a few pictures of some memorable fish this week. All of these fish were caught on the custom painted Sebile including 2 very nice largemouth caught on back to back casts on a rocky secondary point.

Bittersweet Klamath Falls

Some of the most beautiful country I’ve ever seen and one place that I used to frequent during my Navy career but never really wrote a whole lot about was my time visiting Klamath Falls, Ore. There was a time when I thought that I wanted to retire in the area after fishing the Klamath River, the wild streams and the majestic mountain lakes for trout during our squadron visits. Klamath Falls, the town itself was small and nestled along the the Klamath River in south central Oregon. Some of the biggest trout that I’ve ever caught were out of the Klamath River and the best smoked trout I’ve ever tasted came from the trout we caught in the river and flew back to San Diego. My friend and our squadron Maintenance Officer, Lt. Dave Lopez was one of the guys in the squadron that loved to fish so he and I would visit a few streams in the mountains so he could fly fish. I was more of a conventional tackle guy but I enjoyed tagging along with Dave and throwing a rooster tail while he whipped that fly rod around. I also enjoyed fishing for trout along the shores of the Klamath River and we caught some monster trout using a floating cheese bait and nightcrawler combo from the shore while freezing our butts off.

I also like to play billiards and I was very comfortable in an old smoky bar and pool room trying to hustle a little pool to offset my bar tab and compare my skills against the locals on their turf. While a squadron buddy and I were spending an evening at a pretty rough local bar I befriended a female under cover narcotics officer and spent a little time playing her boyfriend and cover for her while she worked undercover in the town to bust some local drug dealers who were dealing out of the bar. It was pretty interesting and she was very upfront with me from the get go about what she was doing. She showed me her badge and her gun while explaining what she was doing and asked me if I would help her by just pretending to be her boyfriend for a while. I agreed, hoping maybe it would lead to being her real boyfriend but she was all about business and wasn’t looking for romance at the time. She was very fit and pretty and looked a little out of place in the biker bar scene so that’s where I came in. There’s a lot more to the story including late night car rides to the countryside for her to make drug deals with me waiting in the car strapped with a Glock she gave me. She had just moved to the Klamath area and the police force from south Florida where she was in the narcotics division and since nobody knew who she was in town, she was perfect for the undercover police work. She was very determined in her work and I was amazed at how fearless she was when it came to dealing with a very bad element. A true badass.

The year was 1988 and I was assigned to a F-14 Tomcat squadron at Naval Air Station Miramar, just outside of San Diego. Travel and training is something we did a lot of back then and it seemed like we were always on the road with the squadron. I’m not sure how it all started but my squadron got an invite from the Air National Guard unit at Klamath Falls, Ore. to come up for a couple weeks and do some dog fighting with the Air Guard and their F16’s. At the time the Air Guard had plenty of funds and offered to provide us with full per diem if we came up and played with them for a couple weeks. The story is that our Commanding Officer was single and met a lady friend up in Klamath so our trips up to Klamath became very frequent for a while. I was perfectly fine with that because I really liked the laid back area and the fishing was awesome. Every time we went up to Klamath, which was about once every couple months for 2 years, the Air Guard would roll out the red carpet and we were treated like royalty. I can remember a few trips up there where we had a party just about every night complete with steak and lobster meals prepared and guests (mostly female) were bussed in from the local area to have dinner and meet single sailors from a Tomcat fighter squadron. Keep in mind that this was just a year or two after the release of the movie “Top Gun” and everyone wanted to meet fighter squadron folks. Beer trucks were on hand and the taps were always flowing for about 40-50 of us young sailors. It was a party every time we went and we got to be good friends with some of the locals. There were also dance bars that we frequented and I still have to shake my head at some of the antics we pulled while running around town back in the late 80’s.

One of the most memorable trips and my last was a trip to Klamath was after about a 6 month period of no trips to Klamath for the squadron. Just 6 months prior to us returning my good friend and fishing buddy Lt Dave (Lucky) Lopez passed away as a result of a car accident while he and one of our technical representatives were returning from a fishing trip to the mountains outside of Klamath. It was a trip that I could have easily went on but because I partied the night before I just wanted to get to my rack for some much needed rest after my shift was over. I learned of the car accident the next morning and Dave was in critical condition at the hospital. Dave had a massive head injury and he passed after a few days. It was hard on all of us in the squadron but loss is something you learn to deal with in fighter squadrons. It happens and you just have to put it behind you and move on.

On my last trip it was late October and I wanted to fish the Klamath River in a section I had never fished before. I didn’t know much about where to fish along the river but a trip to the local bait and tackle shop can do wonders for a fishing trip. I was able to borrow one of the squadrons rental cars and head into town for some tackle for the borrowed rods and reels. The tackle shop was in town and it was a rainy day in Klamath. I found the tackle shop and talked with the guy running the store about a good location along the river that a friend and I could fish from the bank. The fella behind the counter was more than happy to give me a little information as soon as I told him that we were visiting town from the Navy. He told me of a little access road along the river outside of town where we could go and fish along the bank. It sounded like my kinda place so I bought the trout buffet of yellow floating Powerbait and a couple dozen night crawlers. If I needed to catch a trout out west, those two baits would be all I needed to get the job done just about anywhere.

After getting the 411 on the fishing I left the store and drove through town. When I was stopped at a light in town a police cruiser pulled up next to me and as I looked over danged if it wasn’t my old friend, the undercover narcotics officer driving that cruiser! I honked the horn and at first she stared me down and then realized who I was. We pulled into a vacant parking lot up the road and she told me the story of how they busted the drug dealers in town and how she had met a local man and they were getting married. During the bust, she had done a few shady things and instead of firing her they put her on the street instead of the narcotics division. It was cool seeing her again and it was the last time I ever saw her.

It was a Friday morning and we had till 2pm to fish until we had to go to work. We worked the night shift and got up early on Friday to hit the river. There was 3 of us going fishing, Les, Doug and myself and we had commandeered a rental vehicle for the morning. It was in the lower 40’s when we drove out to the access road in the cold rain and tried to find a good spot to set up a few shore rods. It didn’t take long and we spotted another fisherman along the shore in a rain suit with a line in the water, sitting on a rock. We stopped the car and I walked down to the rivers edge to ask him about the fishing. He was an older fella and told me he hadn’t had any luck but he shared his secret bait with me which was a old tin with some dried and salted shiners. They looked and smelled pretty rough so I decided to stick with the tried and true floating cheesebait and nightcrawlers. I asked if he minded if we set up down the shoreline in an opening about 20-30 yards away and he gave us the go ahead so off we went. The rain was cold and blowing and it didn’t take long for us to get uncomfortable, standing around in the wet and cold after we baited up and put the 3 rods we had in rod holders. I had rain gear and I found a good place to sit down around the rods while Les and Doug went up to the car to dry off and run the heater for a few minutes. I’m glad I hung out in the cold rain because a few minutes after my buddies left I looked at one of our rods as it doubled over and started pulling drag. This fish managed to tangle the other 2 lines on the way in but we had our first trout, a very large rainbow around 5-6lbs. It was a blast to fight the fish and I couldn’t help but think our old friend Lucky was with us that morning along the shoreline.

After we caught the first big trout that cold rainy weather didn’t feel so bad to Les and Doug so we were all 3 hovering around the rods shivering and waiting for the next fish after untangling the mess from the first fish. It didn’t take long and another rod went off and Les was fighting another good trout. We got that one in and baited back up. Again and again we caught these large rainbows until the 3 of us had 2 nice trout a piece and we headed back to the base all proud with our catch. The funny part was that the old man fishing down the bank had paid us a visit just before we left to ask what bait we were using so we gave him the nightcrawlers and our left over cheese bait. The plan was to freeze the fish for the trip back to San Diego and then slice them into steak slices and smoke them on my buddies Weber. As it turned out, we had to replace my buddy Les’s water heater right after we returned from Klamath on that trip so we spent the day smoking trout and replacing his water heater. We had a lot of smoked trout and it filled the smoker from top to bottom so we bagged up a bunch and took it to the squadron for everyone to enjoy.

Just after that trip to Klamath it was the start of the first Gulf War and things changed fast. There were no more trips to Klamath and the focus of just about all the fighter squadrons was the Gulf War. I never went back to Klamath after that trip but I’ll never forget the beauty of that area. To me, the air was always fresh with just a hint of the pacific ocean in the mix. Unfortunately, when I think of Klamath I also think that I had a good friend who’s life ended in that place, so young and so far from home.

Lt, Dave (Lucky) Lopez

Cast Away Meat Eaters Dip

This is another of my old Fish Camp/Deer Camp recipes and I made it yesterday for the Georgia game at Cast Away Cove. Lisa and I were working on the house while watching the game and we both found ourselves going back to the crockpot again and again for more of this delicious dip. It’s pretty meaty, cheesy and addicting, especially watching football on a fall day. Btw, you can replace the ground beef with sausage, venison, chicken or even turn it into a seafood dip with shrimp or Langostino lobster. Here’s my best stab at the amounts as I have never really officially measured anything and I always suggest making changes to the way you like it.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees

Ingredients:

  • 1/2-1 pound of cooked ground beef/venison, cooked sausage or cooked chicken
  • 2- 8 ounce packages of cream cheese (softened)
  • 1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup of shredded parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 can of Ro*Tel Dice tomatoes with lime juice and cilantro
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1 cup of chopped andouille sausage (optional)
  • I like to throw in a little Old Bay for that southern flair
  • salt and pepper to taste

I just mix all of the ingredients listed above in a big mixing bowl and then put it all in my big blue baking dish. I cover and bake the dip for about 25 minutes covered and another 15 minutes uncovered. After I remove it from the oven I transfer it to the crockpot to keep it warm and ready to serve with my favorite, Tostito’s scoops. Enjoy!!

Shake and Bake in the Chop

This week I started my mornings offshore in search of a few things that needed to come together to make the topwater bite work for me. I would leave the creek about 8am and look for the areas of choppy water out on the vast main lake. Luckily, I was blessed with the ability to see well at a distance in my later years so I’ve been able to find the choppy areas for a great distance on the waters surface. It seemed like every morning there were these random areas of choppy water where there were areas of breezes across the lake. When these random breezes and patches of choppy water would collide with offshore humps or points with brush, that’s the areas I was targeting. If it was a hump or point and it had chop on it I would fish it because the chop seemed to distort the fishes view of the bait and they were more apt to commit to the bait rather than just swipe at it or ignore it. These patches of chop or random breezes would just drift around the lake in different areas in the mornings so I would just jump from one spot to the next following the breeze. The only 2 baits I threw this week was a custom painted pearl white Sebile and the Azuma Z Dog walking bait made by Profound Outdoors. It’s really all I needed to catch some nice beefy fish. I didn’t score big numbers but I did score some big fish. Here’s a picture of the 2 baits I used this week.

Once I found the areas I wanted to fish I generally approached the area from up wind and made my casts down wind while letting the boat drift as much as I could without using the trolling motor and without the noise of waves slapping the side of the boat. The trick to making the Z Dog work was to make a long cast down wind and immediately skip it across the water erratically for 5-10 feet and then a normal walk for a few feet and then skip and walk it erratically again and slow it back down. The splashing from working the bait erratically would get the fishes attention and they would react to it. If I just made a cast and walked the dog normally I would get far less bites. It seemed like the fish would react to the bait a lot better if I shook the bait and made it splash periodically. I named it my “Shake and Bake” pattern with the little Z Dog and I generally brought the bait back up wind kinda “against the grain” of the chop so to speak.

Another thing that was happening in these areas if I stayed around long enough was periodic schooling. That was a bonus and if I was in the right place at the right time I could score a nice fish with the right cast. If I saw fish schooling in the area I was fishing I would immediately jump on the trolling motor and get within casting distance as quick as possible. If I could get there within 5-10 seconds I could usually get the fish to come back up after the Z Dog if they had quit schooling. If I could get my bait into the area while they were actively schooling they would generally smash the Z Dog within seconds. I would say about 60-70% of my fish this week were from actively schooling fish and the other 30-40% was from calling the fish up over or around brush. The key was just about always the chop and the erratic behavior of the walking bait.

A lot of times the chop would kind of fizzle out while I was there and most of the time that’s when I would head out looking for other patches of chop. I would also take into account what bass boats were where and I didn’t really fish areas where boats had been recently. The whole thing was like an orchestrated dance that moved with the chop out on the main lake in the morning before I would head back to the creek to finish off my day fishing the Z dog over brush in the creek. I will say this, I caught some nice fish in the afternoons in the creek this week but I caught and lost some monsters offshore on the main lake.

The other bait I used this week was the pearl white Sebile. I sanded down a couple of 125 slow sinking Sebile’s I had lying around and repainted them my pearl white color pattern. This is a pattern I’ve used in the fall for a few years now and it has been money for me on overcast days and low light. This week I used it early in the morning out on the offshore stuff while the fish were actively schooling and I could make a cast to them. My Sebile was just about as deadly as the Z Dog with the fish chasing bluebacks on the surface. Here’s a picture and a video from Tuesday with a nice offshore bass on the custom painted Sebile. We had some good cloud cover Tuesday morning and it was a perfect time to use the custom Sebile. The bass in the first picture below spit up the blueback in the second picture and a video of catching the fish below.

It was pretty simple this week, find the chop on top of the brush on points and humps in the creek and offshore and use the shake and bake method over and around the brush for a few nice fish. When they were actively schooling on schools of bluebacks they were so lit up they would have probably hit a cat turd if you painted it white but out of convenience I used the Z Dog or white pearl Sebile this week. That’s all I’ve got from this week. Good luck!

The lake level is a foot above full pool and as I predicted the corps is moving a lot more water right now so the lake level is very slowly dropping. Surface temps are in the upper 70’s as I type this but that shouldn’t last much longer. Here’s a few pictures of some of my memorable fish this week.

Who Moved My Cheese?

“Who moved my cheese”. It was a pretty popular short book back about 20 years ago. It’s been described as a motivational business fable involving two mice and two little people and their ways of dealing with the change of periodically moving a pile of cheese in a maze. Just like in the book, this week I felt like my cheese had been moved but I kept going back to the old cheese location instead of looking for a new cheese pile. Highly recommended reading.

Transition is a hard time for me and it usually happens around the turnover. There comes a time when the cheese pile gets moved and I have to accept the fact that the cheese is gone and I need to move on. My topwater bite left town yesterday afternoon when that big striper tore off with my last Z Dog walking bait in the YouTube video below so late this week I needed to find a new confidence bait or confidence pattern. The popper isn’t the best choice for me right now and about all I can get with the popper is a couple swirls and a blowup or two. Just a week ago I was slaying the bass with the popper and I’m sure that bite will return as it always does in October but it’s about time for me to move on…..

When it comes to the turnover period on Lanier, remember two things to make it simple; 1st, turnover does not happen all at once on the lake, the back half of the creeks could be in turnover but the main lake hasn’t got to that change yet. Secondly, when the water turns over so do the fish. By this I mean that the fishes primary focus is no longer what’s above them for their food supply and they start looking below them. That’s why beating the bank with things like a crankbait, jig or shaky head become very popular after the turnover in late fall/early winter. Just keep that in mind and make the transition from one pattern to another early instead of late. Go find the fish or the new cheese pile and don’t be like me and return to the old area of cheese hoping more cheese will show up. Another thing to keep in mind this time of year is lake level. We just had a significant rise in the water level and if there is one thing I know about Lanier and these spotted bass, they move with water level changes. When the water rises some fish come to the shoreline in search of new foraging grounds that may be rich in crawfish and baitfish feeding in the shallows, so anytime the lake rises it’s a good time to check the shoreline and rocky areas for foraging bass or “Meat Eaters” as I like to call them. I copied an excerpt from the fable below and if you replace the word “cheese” with “pattern” it’s pretty sound advice when it comes to transitioning bass.

Change Happens: They Keep Moving The Cheese

Anticipate Change: Get Ready For The Cheese To Move

Monitor Change: Test The Cheese Often So You Know When It Is Getting Old

Adapt To Change Quickly: The Quicker You Let Go Of Old Cheese, The Sooner You Can Enjoy New Cheese Change

Move With The Cheese: Enjoy Change! Savor The Adventure And Enjoy The Taste Of New Cheese!

Not to change the subject but I certainly wish I had the ability to take more photos back when I was running the marshes in Louisiana, but 30 years ago taking a picture was a little different than today. A selfie would take a week and $20 to develop the film only to find out it was out of focus and not centered. I guess my point is that if I were able to take pictures back then there would have been hundreds of pictures of me catching speckled trout by the dozens right now in the marsh. This is the time of early fall when the trout migrate into the marshes and I loved to catch trout in October in the marsh. The possession limit was 25 and speckled trout are delicious as table fare. Here’s one picture from an October marsh trip with my friend Eric some 25 years ago.

Every time I went out on the lake this week my mind kept going back to the Louisiana marshes and catching trout with a sparkle beetle under a popping cork. If you have never experienced speckled trout fishing in the fall in Louisiana I highly recommend making a trip and loading a cooler with trout and redfish in late October.

The lake level is about 1.5 feet above full pool, water temps in the mid to upper 70’s and the corps is pulling water a few hours a day. I figure they may start a more frequent generation soon to draw the lake down. Hopefully my topwater bite will return soon but I may be looking for a new cheese pile next week.

Here’s a little video from the last few hours of my last Z Dog. Z Dog….you served me well my friend.