The First Week of Summer

It’s official, it’s summer on Lanier and time to settle into the summertime fishing patterns on Lanier. This week I had four rods on the deck and every one of them produced good fish and good numbers, it was just a matter of figuring out which one worked the best for the conditions where I was fishing.

First and foremost, I have to brag on my electronics this week. There are certain times of the year I can get by without electronics but for the next few months my Humminbird units are essential for the way I’m fishing. For the next few months brush and structure in the 20–35-foot range is what I will be targeting and boat position in relation to the brush or structure is crucial for my success. My Humminbird mapping is what I’m relying on to get the boat in position in relation to the brush. A lot of times, if there’s wind, I want to position the boat up wind of the brush and make my casts down wind, using the wind to help carry the little spybait or topwater bait on a long cast. Being up wind and pulling a topwater bait against the grain also provides more surface disruption. I really need good mapping to target summertime fish in or around the brush and my Hummingbird’s get the job done every day.

This week started out on Monday with Lisa joining me in the morning. We were going to do a little topwater and drop shotting on our trip and Lisa loves to drop shot. I kinda figured we could find a few with the drop shot and maybe a few topwater fish if the wind picked up. That was the problem early this week, the wind has been sporadic and the topwater was only good when the wind picked up for me. We struggled to find a topwater bite and the spybait was still coming around, so we focused on the drop shot fish. Lisa started us off as usual and started boating fish right away on the drop shot on our first brush pile, so we spend the next few hours dropping. I think we boated 12-14 fish and just about all were from the drop shot around brush. LJ had re-stocked me with some fresh Blue Lily drop shot baits and we used Lanier Baits Blue Lily fruity worms and Roboworms Aaron’s Morning Dawn for just about all of our fish. Here’s a few pictures from the trip.

On Wednesday I got out for the morning with my neighbor David, and we focused on the topwater and ended up with 12 fish for the morning. We had a decent Choppo bite, and we had a little wind to work with, so David used a pearl white 105 Choppo and I had a 105 in a ghost pattern. I think we were about even in the number of fish we caught and that pearl Choppo was the ticket early in the morning while it was still a little low light. After the sun came up, mid-morning the ghost pattern started producing better. The pattern for the bait was back to slow rolling it. Ripping the Choppo wasn’t necessary to get bit, it was just a cast, a few quick pulls to draw attention and then slow rolling it back to the boat. The technique would usually gather a school of bass and it would get hammered by the school. We had some good explosions but the topwater really slowed down about late morning. I dropped David off at his dock around lunchtime and I went back out to see if there was a better afternoon spybait bite and drop shot bite. Here’s a few pictures from our morning and some of David’s pearl Choppo fish.

On the way back out I was digging through my little passenger glove box and found a brand-new little chrome and blue chug bug that I had been looking for over the past year or so and I tied it on just in case I saw some fish surfacing. I was really surprised to catch a nice fish on my first 2 casts using the little spybait at my first stop after dropping David off. It was getting hot, but it seemed like the fish were responding a lot better to the spybait in the afternoon which is usually the case in early summer. I spent the next few hours catching fish with the spybait and occasionally I threw the little chug bug if I saw fish surfacing nearby. The little chrome chug bug was money if I could quickly get it into where fish were schooling, and I caught some decent fish on it, but I also caught a lot of dinks on it. I also caught a few on the drop shot when I moved in on the brush. Here’s a couple of nice spybait fish from Wednesday afternoon in the heat.

Wednesday evening Lisa and I had dinner at the BBQ place (Smokey Q) at Bald Ridge marina again. Great food and if you’re on the water, it’s a good place to stop in and cool off and grab some great food. Lisa and I both had a brisket dog, mac and cheese and some Cajun tater tots. It was delicious.

Yesterday I got back out early in the morning, and I had 4 rods on the deck. First was the 105 Choppo, second was the little chrome chug bug, third was the little Duo Realis G-fix 80 spybait and last was Lanier Baits Blue Lily 5-inch worm rigged up on the drop shot. I caught fish on all four and it was just a matter of how I wanted to approach my target area.

Approach can be a problem in the summer months and sometimes it’s a good idea to leave the topwater on the deck and make a more subtle approach to your target area. This week I found that a lot of times if I threw the topwater when I approached a brush pile the fish would school and follow the bait back to the boat only to turn away and head to the bottom without reacting to the bait when they saw the boat. I could see them on my electronics and the school would head to the bottom and disappear. After doing that a few times the schools would scatter, and the brush pile would be just about depleted of fish by the time I decided to move in on the brush to drop shot or throw the spybait. Sometimes the topwater approach would work but most of the time the topwater would amount to a big blow-up without producing a fish so I left the topwater stuff on the deck unless there was a good chop over the brush pile. If there was a good chop, I would usually give the top water baits a quick try because the hook-up percentages went up when there was wind, so it was worth a shot. I could still call a few fish up to the topwater offerings yesterday but today when I got out there was hardly any topwater fish to be called up.

Today I was on a mission to get a buddy some bass for a family get together. I pretty much bypassed the topwater and went straight to the spybait and drop shot method I’ve been using. We had a nice wind today and lots of chop. I utilized the Minn Kota spot lock upwind of the brush piles and I made my casts down wind. It didn’t take me long till I had some very nice fish for my buddy and his visitors to have a nice fish fry this weekend with the spybait and drop shot combo.

Here’s a video I made this week to explain the spybait and drop shot approach I used. I also added a video that explains a little more about the drop shot technique and my gear. At the end of the video I included a nice 4+ on the spybait.

I also had a little fun this week with Lanier Baits chrome swimmer out on the main lake. Here’s a video of the swimmer in action as well as a couple pictures.

Water temps are in the mid 80’s right now and the lake is about a few inches below full pool. The corps is generating during peak power hours in the afternoon and evening. Hopefully next week will be cooler.

Rip’n Stop, Spybait and Drop

There are times I feel guilty playing dirty tricks on these fish but it’s all in good fun and a lot of times the fish swims away with nothing but a sore lip and a bruised ego. This week the fish were waiting on me to give them the ole “plop-plop-plop” over the top of the brush pile with the 120 Choppo again, but I blew their little fish minds and mixed it up this week. I noticed that when I threw the Choppo over the brush piles early this week the fish were slow to react to the constant plopping or chopping sound of the Choppo and there was little to no schooling like the weeks before. They were tired of the Choppo and they had gotten used to the chopping sound of the Choppo. With the exception of a few overnight newbies to the brush pile it was the same old schools of bass at the brush pile, and they knew the chopping sound meant trouble. I could see the fish swimming around the brush but the Choppo had little effect on the fish. They had fallen for the Choppo’s constant steady plopping sound for the last 2 weeks and they were done with it. They had figured it out so I gave them the old razzle-dazzle “rip’n stop” with the Choppo.

I haven’t used the rip’n stop technique with the Choppo lately, but I used to use it this time of year with the Choppo and the 130 Whopper Plopper when it became a little harder to call the fish to the surface as the water heats up. Years back my buddy Jake Wohlers painted a 130 Whopper Plopper knock-off and he called it the “J-rip”. At the time I had never had the pleasure of ripping a Whopper Plopper and I wondered why he would use the name “rip”. I asked him and he told me that they had been catching them by ripping the 130 rather than the steady retrieve I had been using exclusively. I tried ripping and killing the big J-rip on my next trip out and to my surprise it was a great success and another great option for the whopper plopper type baits. This week I brought the old ripping technique back into play and that’s how I caught about 80% of my fish. I found out earlier this week that the fish were used to the constant chopping technique I had been using but they didn’t expect the ripping technique and just about everywhere I went there was schooling, followed by either a blow-up, multiple blow-ups, and about 50% of the blow-ups resulted in a hook-up. I reduced the size of the Coppo 120 to a slightly smaller 105 which netted me a lot more smaller fish this week.

With every school that came to the boat with a caught fish, I could see bigger fish beneath the caught fish swimming around whereas last week I was catching nothing but the bigger fish on the 120 with a steady retrieve but for whatever reason this week, they weren’t as interested in the big 120. I could actually cast the smaller 105 a little further and one of the key features of ripping the Choppo is the amount of water it splashes out in front of the bait and the amount of water it displaces around the bait when you rip it and kill it. The amount of displaced water around the bait is important, especially when the surface is flat because the displaced water confuses the fish much like a choppy surface with a little wind. When the fish sees all that displaced water around the bait, the fish thinks it’s a distressed bait and takes a whack at it. Unfortunately, they are somewhat cautious of the bait and the hook-up rate was slightly lower. Lots of blow-ups but not a lot of hook-ups, and a lot of times the bigger fish would let the smaller fish react to the bait as they would be swimming a few feet beneath the schoolers.

We had pretty extreme temps this week but if you could stand the heat, the fish didn’t care, and they were usually putting on the feed bag early in the morning and then again in the hottest part of the day. Mornings were pretty awesome with that big ole moon in sight and a lot of surfacing fish. If I was in the right place at the right time, I could put the 105 Choppo in a “Perfect Ghost” pattern right in the area and they would react to it. The fish were very active in the morning, but the grind was the hottest part of the day. Rewards were bigger in the afternoons, but you also had to contend with no wind and lots of summertime recreational boat traffic if you were in the creek. The afternoons didn’t really bother me so much as I spend about 4-5 days a week in my sauna for 30 minutes and the temps in the sauna are 130-170 degrees for the 30 minutes I spend in it. My body starts pouring sweat quickly and it’s just a matter of staying hydrated with lots of water and covering my skin from the sun.

The trend this week was numbers in the morning and big girls in the afternoon for me. I could catch a few big ones early here and there, but in the heat of the day the big ones took over the show and got way more aggressive. Here’s a couple of those fish I caught on a mid-day Monday trip out to the main lake.

There were two other baits that I used successfully this week and one was the G-fix 80 Duo Realis Spybait in an American Shad pattern. I tried my old faithful spybait color pattern, but the fish only had an interest in one pattern, and it was American Shad for me. Once I caught a fish or had the fish school on the Choppo I could pull back away from the area and then cast the little spybait around the area and pick off another fish or two. It was just a matter of casting the spybait as far as I could and giving it a 10-15 count before a slow retrieve back to the boat. Here’s a video I made a while back that explains a little more about the spybait and how I use it. It’s a tactic that is coming into play now as the water continues to heat and the thermocline becomes more defined.

The last technique that I used to put fish in the boat this week was the drop shot. The population of fish on brush has exploded over the last week and competition for a Lanier Baits Blue Lily worm is getting stiff in the brush. If I was directly over a school of fish this week or I saw fish in the brush, I had my drop shot rod at the ready and I had it baited up with the 5-inch blue lily pattern. Here’s a link to the Lanier Baits Blue Lily and I recommend getting some for the summer month ahead:

https://lanierbaits.com/shop/ols/products/fruity-worms/v/FRT-WRM-BL-LLY

Yesterday I made my final trip of the week and I caught fish on all 3 baits listed above but ripping the 105 Choppo over brush this week was the big-ticket ride for me. The blow-ups would come from nowhere at times and sometimes I could watch the fish school around the bait before inevitably one would take a crack at it. Other times a big one would come from nowhere and just blast it into the air and attack it when it came back down. It was a fun week for topwater and I got to hone my spybait/drop shot skills for the upcoming few months. Water temps are pushing the upper 80’s now and the lake has dropped a few inches below full pool. The corps is only generating for a few hours a day and during the week it’s generally during peak usage hours. I got a new I-phone this week and didn’t figure out how to take pictures till yesterday.

If we thought this week was hot, wait till next week, it looks like a scorcher. Here are a few pictures from yesterday’s trip.

Choppin chop with the Choppo

This week wasn’t much different than last week in terms of what I was using and what I was doing. One big bonus this week was the wind. I was able to do very well this week when working with the wind in the right areas and utilizing the choppy water to my advantage. It has become very apparent to me that my bite all hinges on the wind, and it becomes very hard to connect with larger fish when the wind isn’t blowing.

I only had 2 baits on the deck this week and the size of the chop determined which one I used. If there was medium to heavier chop, I used the Berkley Choppo 120 in a “Perfect Ghost” color pattern. If there was light to medium chop I used my little Azuma Z-dog in a “Casper Shad” pattern, which closely resembles the Perfect Ghost pattern on the Choppo.

I can say this about both baits that I used this week; 90% of the fish I caught were larger fish. I didn’t have hardly any smaller fish this week and when I did connect with a big one, the blow-up was phenomenal, especially on the Choppo in the wind.

I found that the Berkley Choppo is more of an annoyance bait to the bass and their cat-like mentality. I think the bass just get riled up when they hear that chopping sound around their home at the local brush pile, and pretty soon one of the bigger ones in the area decides to give it a whack. I’m using a larger Choppo (120), so the profile looks pretty big going through the water. That may be why I don’t get many smaller fish. As far as the cadence for the bait, it’s pretty simple, just a slow and steady retrieve. No burning it or jerking and pausing it, just a slow steady retrieve is enough to drive them crazy. I had a lot of near misses and it’s a test of nerves to keep from jerking the bait away from the fish, but the key is to keep your composure and just keep right on cranking until you feel the fish load up. There’s a chance the fish will continue to pursue the bait after an initial and intentional miss because of the translucent bait.

With the wind being a factor out on the main lake, I really utilized the Spot Lock function on the Minn Kota a lot this week. I just positioned the boat upwind of brush on a point or hump and fan casted the Choppo against the grain for the best surface disruption with the bait. Some of the blow-ups on the windy humps and points out on the main lake this week were the best I’ve seen this year. That Choppo really makes the fish aggressive and although I haven’t used it this year, the 130 Whopper Plopper would probably get you the same results. I’ve used the big 130 out in the wind over the years and I’ve had great success with it, so that may be an option to try besides the Choppo. I’m using 8lb fluorocarbon on a spinning reel for the Choppo. The further you can cast this bait the better. The more time this bait is running through the water the better chances of it gathering a school of fired up spots.

The second bait I used with success this week was the Azuma Z-dog in a Casper Shad pattern. It was a little tricky to get it to work but I could get the fish to school on the bait and it was also a good option if fish were schooling on the surface and you’re close enough to make a cast to the action. If you got the Z-dog in the area of schooling quick enough, they would just hammer the Z-dog. I found that I could call the fish up and get them to school on the bait if I could make it splash and skip enough to get the fishes attention but not let the bait sit long enough for the fish to see it well. You have to keep the bait moving 90% of the time. It was imperative to keep the fish moving and guessing rather than a traditional walking of the bait. If I walked the bait normally, the fish would follow or swirl on the bait, but they would not react to it. Another big reason both the Choppo and the Z-dog worked well is the fact that they are translucent baits. I’ve found that the fish will keep coming after the translucent baits if they miss the first strike. A lot of times the fish will strike at the bait with its tail and knock the bait in the air if they are unsure of the bait. When they do this, they want to see what the bait does when it comes back down. A live blueback will be disoriented when it hits the water after being knocked in the air. It becomes easy prey for the bass. I found that a lot of times a bass will turn down a solid-colored bait after knocking it in the air or swirling on it, but they tend to keep reacting to a translucent bait more often than not. It just seems to me that the fish is just a little unsure about the clearer baits and they just keep coming after it 9 times out of 10. The Z-dog is just a great bait to mimic a blueback and if you can make the fish think that it’s a blueback skipping across the surface and having some kind of blueback seizure the fish definitely react to it.

Once again, the way I used this bait was in the smaller chop areas of the main lake and the creek, both points and humps. If I felt like the chop wasn’t large enough to fool the fish with the bigger Choppo, I broke out the Z-dog. I used either one or the other depending on the size of the chop. I really utilized the Spot lock this week in the wind and I didn’t move around quite as frequently, mainly because it wasn’t blazing hot and I had good wind to work with.

Two other baits that I caught a few fish on this week was the Emerald Popper and the little Duo Realis G-fix 80 Spybait. I’ll probably talk about the spybait a little more next week because I’m pretty sure that bite is going to kick in very soon.

Water temps are in the low 80’s and the lake is hovering around full pool. The Corps is generating during the high power usage times, usually late afternoon and into the evening. Lots of summer boat traffic out there so be safe. Here’s a few pictures from my more memorable fish this week.

The Law of Averages

Shortly after I checked into boot camp almost 40 years ago…to the day, our Company Commander (the equivalent to a Drill Seargent) sat us down for a little chat one evening. There was about 75 of us sitting cross-legged on the floor of a gathering room in the barracks and the Company Commander told us about the “Law of Averages”. Something I haven’t forgotten, and I apply it to everyday life still to this day. Our Company Commander explained to us that out of the 75 of us sitting on the floor, in the next 8 weeks someone’s immediate family member would die, and they would have to leave bootcamp to mourn with their family and attend a funeral. For that reason, one of us would be set back and graduate at a later date because of the time missed to go back home. He said that it was the law of averages and it always happened. Guess what, he was right, about halfway through bootcamp, sure enough, one of our shipmates mother had passed and he had to leave for 10 days. We never saw him again and I learned a lesson in the “Law of Averages”. It never fails.

This week was fast and furious for me. It’s been hot and I’ve shifted gears into my early summer topwater milk run, averaging over 30 stops in a day right now. The law of averages says that out of 6 hours of fishing and 30+ stops, I’m going to put fish in the boat. It never fails. I’m probably spending 10 minutes or less at each stop, trying to stay cool and hydrated in the warmer part of the day. Moving around frequently helps stay cool and as far as the fishing goes, I usually know within a couple minutes if the stop is going to produce. It’s just a matter of throwing my little walking bait out just as far as I can and walking it back over brush to lure a fish or a school to my bait. It’s been tricky but I figured out a way to up my success and its pretty much textbook what I wrote last fall in one of my topwater reports. I included a link to the report because it explains exactly what I’m doing now with the little Azuma Z-dog to catch my fish. here’s the link below. It fits this week to a T.

https://castawayblog.com/2021/10/15/shake-and-bake-in-the-chop/

I started this week with my last Azuma Z-dog walking bait on Tuesday after the holiday festivities during Memorial Day weekend. I didn’t get out on the lake over the weekend, and I was anxious to get back out for some topwater this week. I’ve been diligent about checking my line and taking good care of my last little z-dog but Tuesday morning it happened, and I lost my last Z-dog in the Casper shad pattern. I dug around in the tacklebox and found a similar bait in the little 4-inch Sexy Dawg. The sexy dawg was translucent and that was one of the key factors in success this week. The fish were just a little too smart for the solid colors so you I had to trick them with translucents. It’s pretty common with Lanier when the water gets gin clear, I have the best success with the clearer topwater baits. It’s mainly because the fish can’t quite figure it out and he keeps after in instead of moving on and not committing to it. Another aspect of my success this week was the cadence of the bait and making the fish think it’s the real deal without letting the fish analyze the bait too much. I explained the cadence in the link above and once again, it’s helped me put fish in the boat. The sexy dawg was the perfect replacement, and I really didn’t skip a beat until I lost my only sexy dawg yesterday afternoon when I was out with my buddy Steve. Before I lost it though, it accounted for my 2 biggest fish of the day and also most of the fish yesterday. I gotta say that the clear sexy shad pattern for the sexy dawg did the trick. Here’s a few fish it accounted for this week.

After I dropped Steve off yesterday afternoon the boat traffic was getting pretty bad, but I wanted to try one more bait that I’ve had good success with this time of year and that’s the Berkley Choppo. I had it sitting out on the deck of my boat and I had planned to make some casts with it during the day. The wind was hit and miss yesterday but I stopped at a point on the way back home yesterday and on the first cast with the Choppo, I was rewarded with a nice 3lber. On the very next cast it was the same result with a smaller fish, but those 2 fish told me it was a pattern, so I ran with it for another hour yesterday afternoon and probably caught another 6-7 fish just running points with or without wind. The Choppo did the trick yesterday afternoon. One other little pattern I had some success with this week was the drop shot. What little bit I did the drop shot, it produced a few fish. The drop shot is going to get much better over the next few weeks. I still haven’t found a good spybait bite yest but that’s a thermocline deal and the thermocline is still setting up. The lake is at full pool and the Corps is generating during peak usage from afternoon into evening. The bite seems to be hot first thing in the morning and then again in the hottest part of the day. Water temps are in the low 80’s.

Mooning the Lincoln

First off, an apology is probably in order up front as this story may offend a few folks, but you need to understand the time period and also the crazy nature of being young and being assigned to a Navy F-14 Tomcat fighter squadron at Miramar, Ca., home of Top Gun. I’ll just have to spit ball the exact time this happened as I just can’t remember the date, but the year was probably 89-90. At the time I had been assigned to a tomcat fighter squadron at Naval Air Station Miramar, Ca. for a few years and I had a few pretty good friends who, like me, loved to fish. There were about 5-6 of us in the squadron who were always trying to figure out a way to wet a line. A friend of mine, Oscar, was in my squadron and an avid fisherman. He had spent some time working down at North Island Naval Air Base which was south of Miramar and right on the waters of San Diego Bay. San Diego Bay was a pretty vast area, running for miles and the bay itself held a submarine fleet as well as leading to 32nd street where most of the Navy ships were stationed when in port. It also led to the pier at North Island where the big aircraft carriers docked when in port. North Island was a very large base and there was a little military recreation/rental shop on the water where sailors and Marines could rent small fishing boats and fish in San Diego Bay. The boats were little 14-foot Boston Whalers which were docked right at the rental center, and you had to pass a Coast Guard administered test to rent the boat. Once you took the Coast Guard “rules of the water” exam and passed you were issued a laminated card issued by the Coast Guard which was your license to rent a Whaler without taking the exam again. Oscar had the license and he and I fished the bay quite frequently. Sometimes there would be 3 of us as our other friends Steve, Lucky or Frank would jump in the boat with us from time to time.

The bay had very good fishing and when we went fishing in the bay it was all about table fare. We were usually targeting Sand Bass, Calico Bass, Halibut and Sculpin. All were very edible, and a nice big Halibut would go a long way for our meals back at the house, so we liked to target Halibut, dragging big 2-3-ounce root beer Scampi rigs on the sandy bottom of the bay. The picture below was taken by Oscar during one of our fishing trips in the bay. A beach on the south end of the airstrip at North Island is in the background and we were near the mouth of San Diego Bay. We had a mixture of fish including a nice big Halibut, sand bass and sculpin that afternoon and you can see a little bit of our old rental Whaler with a little 25hp Johnson tiller on the back. I was in my late 20’s when this picture was taken.

There were restricted areas of the bay that were off limits to recreational boats and there was a floating bait barge nearer to the mouth of the bay. The bait barge was a regular stopping point for the charter boats and longer-range fishing boats so they could stock up on bait. There was a small submarine base in the bay, and it was one of those restricted areas we couldn’t be around. Often times when we were fishing the bay, we would watch Navy SEAL’s working with dolphins or sea lions and training for all kinds of different scenarios. The SEAL’s had special boats with access doors on the gunnel and the dolphins or sea lions would jump into the boat and hitch a ride with the SEAL boats from location to location. The dolphins and sea lions were the equivalent of a trained military K9, and they worked with the SEAL teams often, training in the bay. Frank and I made friends with a Navy SEAL while we were stationed in San Diego but when they were out in the bay working, we didn’t get near them.

Most of the times that Oscar and I fished together, there was a third in the boat. My good friend Frank was probably the one that went with us most. Frank was an electrician in our shop, and he and I rented a house together in the suburbs of San Diego. Frank was from Brooklyn and he and I were stationed together in San Diego, then again in Louisiana. Next was Steve. I met Steve not long after checking into the squadron. Steve was like me; an aviation electrician and he like to fish. Steve was from San Diego, and he knew the area pretty well. Steve and I became good friends and like Frank, Steve and I were stationed together in San Diego, then again, later in Louisiana. Steve and I were close, and we spent a lot of time together in Ca. as well as Louisiana. We had a lot of fun times together, both in San Diego and in Louisiana, but Steve’s wife passed suddenly, shortly after they were transferred to Louisiana and Steve’s life changed dramatically. At times, he wasn’t the same person I knew in San Diego, and after his wife’s passing, I worried about Steve a lot. In some ways, it seemed like a part of Steve was lost with the loss of his wife. We eventually parted ways after I moved to the Atlanta area, and he moved back out west. I learned of Steve’s passing a few years back and I just wonder if Steve found happiness again before his passing. He was a good friend and I miss him.

Another guest that Oscar and I had from time to time was “LT” or Lieutenant Dave “Lucky” Lopez. He was our Maintenance officer and the squadrons liaison between the enlisted folks like me and the pilots. LT was a fisherman and really enjoyed going out with us in the Whaler. LT was also an excellent fly fisherman and we wet a line together a few times in the mountain streams of Oregon while on detachment to a small Air National Guard base in central Oregon. LT had a hard job in the squadron and many times I saw LT go toe to toe with the pilots, making sure us enlisted guys were well taken care of. We worked very hard to maintain our jets and there was a balance between being overworked and successfully completing our mission without accidents. Believe me, there were accidents in the squadron. Our squadron had a reputation for accidents, and I just have to shake my head at some of the loss of life in that squadron. Everything from fishing boat accidents to crashing jets, it brought new meaning to the phrase “work hard, play hard”. When I got to the squadron, they had just returned from a 2-week detachment to the Nevada desert where 5 of the squadron maintenance personnel rented a fish boat at a marina on a large lake near our air base. Somehow the boat capsized in the wind and the 5 fishermen in the squadron swam for shore. Only 2 made it back. Shortly after I checked in, our squadron crashed one of our jets and the “RIO” or back-seater was killed in the crash. The pilot survived the crash, but the passing of the RIO was another life lost while I was in the squadron. It was a tough squadron to be in, the work was very very hard, and LT was the ringmaster for the whole show.

From time-to-time LT would join Oscar and I on a fishing trip out in the bay. We always had a few cocktails and LT would indulge during our fishing trips. Even though LT was an officer and there were some unwritten rules about fraternization between officers and enlisted folks, but LT really like hanging out with us fishermen in the squadron. He was one of us out in the boat and we treated LT just like another fisherman. During my first year in the squadron my dad came out to San Diego for a visit, and I set us up for a multi-day offshore fishing trip. It was Oscar, LT, myself and my dad on the trip and we had a blast. My dad and LT got along great together while we fished all day, played cards and drank bourbon at night. My dad would tell the story of that trip for years afterwards and he had quite a fond memory of LT. This was LT was holding up a Pacific Sheepshead and my dad was taking a picture of me taking a picture of LT.

There was one particular memory that has always been a favorite of mine and I’ve never really shared it with anyone till now but I feel it may be appropriate for a Memorial Day memory and I don’t think LT would mind a bit. I think the year was 89 and the USS Lincoln had just been brought into service as the newest aircraft carrier in the fleet. The Lincoln’s homeport was San Diego, and the San Diego area was very proud of the newest addition to the area and Pacific fleet. The USS Lincoln was a “Nimitz” class aircraft carrier which basically meant it was big. When it came into the San Diego Bay it got a lot of attention, both on the water and on the shore. The shoreline would be lined with people wanting to watch the big carrier come into the bay and pass right by the city itself. The bay police on the water would guard the massive carrier when it came into the bay and tugboats would help to steer the massive ship if needed. The bay police were on big Zodiac type boats, and they made sure that no recreational boats got near the carrier as it came through the bay. There were also trained Navy personnel with weapons on the carrier to watch anything the bay police might miss but it’s a big deal when the carrier comes in.

It just so happened that myself, Oscar and LT happened to be fishing in the bay when the Lincoln came back into port from a highly publicized 3-week mission off the coast of South America. The operation was a success, and the return of the brand-new USS Lincoln was a big deal in the area. As the Lincoln came into the bay there were news helicopters circling above and water cannons going off around the carrier from the fire boats in the bay. The flight deck of the carrier was lined with sailors in their dress whites as the carrier passed through the bay. We were fishing just inside the bay as the massive Lincoln entered the bay at high tide.

I gotta say this about the moment the big carrier pass by our little Whaler in the bay. The carrier was majestic, and the moment was very surreal as the carrier came by. It was almost completely silent as it came by, with the only sound being the low drumming hum of the big motors turning the giant propellers to move the massive floating city. I was standing on the bow of the boat with LT in the middle and Oscar at the stern as the carrier passed us. I could see the men lining the edge of the flight deck and I could see their black neckerchiefs and bellbottoms blowing the same direction in the wind. At the time, there were no women allowed on the carrier and it was all a bunch of dudes in dress whites just looking down at us fishermen. That’s when it happened, I was living in my best patriotic moment with a tear in my eye when LT just turned around and dropped trial right there in the Whaler. LT gave those sailors standing silently and motionless at parade rest on the flight deck a show they really didn’t expect. I think at that point, Oscar and I followed suit and dropped trail also. Here were 3 guys in a small fishing boat mooning our shipmates as they passed by in the bay. I’m sure those guys were hoping for topless ladies in tiny bikinis and LT made sure we got their attention by yelling and a few gyrations during the exhibition. It was one of the funniest moments of my Navy career and something I’ve never forgotten. I’ve stood on the flight deck of aircraft carriers as they came into the San Diego Bay, and I’ve seen the bay from the flight deck perspective often but there’s only been one time that I’ve seen an aircraft carrier from a Boston Whaler while exposing my backside to a bunch of sailors. It was a hilarious moment, and it was our fishing friend LT that made those kinds of moments for us. There was never a dull moment with LT.

LT was a great friend and a great fisherman who helped bring some great memories to my life during his time on this earth, but LT lost his life in a vehicle accident during a short squadron detachment to an Air Guard base in Ore. It was devastating to our fighter family and especially us fishermen in the squadron.

I remember attending LT’s memorial service at the chapel on base. It was standing room only and the crowds spilled out of the church. LT was single and I believe there were no fewer than 3 dozen pretty women in attendance. LOL… (LT could charm the ladies and usually provided the entertainment for the Officers Club at Miramar).

At the end of LT’s memorial service at Miramar these were the last words spoken during his eulogy. Most referred to LT as “Lucky” but he was “LT” to us fishermen and enlisted guys in the squadron.

The 4 Jimigos do Venice

For me, southern Louisiana has become like an old friend that I like to visit periodically, if for no other reason, it’s just to catch up on what’s going on and reminisce about old times. It’s very hard for me to believe that it’s been almost 30 years since I first laid eyes on the Louisiana marsh and the best fishing Louisiana has to offer. Running down the Mississippi and diving into the marsh by boat is like entering another world for me; a world mixed with the timeless beauty of the marsh and the always present invasion of the ones who may eventually destroy it.

I‘m not sure how many times I’ve made the trip from the Atlanta area to Venice, but I can assure you that there has never been a faster trip down to Venice to my recollection. I’m not saying that because my friend Jimmy Sanders is a fast driver, which he is, but it’s because we were never lacking in laughs and conversation, so the miles just flew by at Mach speed. Our last meal before checking into the lodge was a lunch stop at Salvo’s seafood in Belle Chase. Salvo’s Po’boys has always been the gateway to a trip down highway 23 and some of the best red fishing in the world.

After a good lunch and about 9 hours on the road we were finally at our destination for the next few days. It was Wednesday and me, Jimmy Harmon, Jimmy Sanders and Jimmy Meadows were staying at the lodge through Friday night and leaving out very early on Saturday morning so Jimmy Meadows could make a 5pm wedding back in the Atlanta area on the day of our return.

The Lodge.

The lodge itself is located in the Buras area and is just off highway 23. We checked in mid-afternoon and just after the fishermen staying at the lodge had returned from a day of fishing. When we parked the truck, I could see a shovel on the front of a small tractor sitting by the fish cleaning station and the shovel held several redfish, sheepshead and trout carcasses. That was a good sign to start the trip. We were welcomed by the staff right away and we were shown to our rooms for the next 2 days and 3 nights. The lodge was good sized and spread out with a very large kitchen/dining area and the was also plenty of room to relax on the lower floor. The 4 of us split 2 rooms and our rooms were located upstairs. After we unpacked, we went back downstairs and sat in the kitchen/dining area and talked with our chef, Casey while she was preparing the evening meal. Casey cooked our lunch and dinner while miss Kim prepared our breakfast for the morning. There was a group of about 10 other fishermen from a manufacturing company up north that were on a team building/appreciation fishing trip and they kinda occupied the billiard room area. I went into the billiard room and started chatting with the group who had been there for 2 days prior to our arrival. I introduced myself and told the group that we were all named Jimmy or Jim so it would be easy to remember our names. During our conversation I found out that 2 of the guys were from Kansas so that struck up a whole new conversation on growing up in Kansas. I got the 411 from the group as far as the fishing went and it sounded like it was going to be another popping cork trip.

Years back, when I lived in Belle Chase and fished the marsh, after the first year or so of fishing the marsh, I started using more and more artificial baits instead of live, fresh or frozen shrimp. For speckled trout, it was usually a sparkle beetle under a popping cork, or I was beating the banks with a jig head/ plastic cockahoe minnow combination. After many trips back to the Venice area and using different guides for inshore fishing, I see more and more guides just using shrimp under popping corks for their clients. It seems that the shrimp under popping corks is effective and fairly easy to use for the novice and there is usually plenty of action from a variety of local fish. Personally, I’d rather take my chances beating the banks with a plastic minnow than slinging a popping cork around but on this trip, I was able to compromise with a big Gulp plastic shrimp under my popping cork which yielded our largest redfish for the day.

We settled into our new surroundings and after dinner and some evening chatting we all hit the sack for a early morning wake-up.

After a 5:30am wakeup call consisting of a knock at the door from Miss Kim the cook, “breakfast time-fishing time”, we quickly got dressed and headed downstairs. Scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon and a biscuit were on the morning menu and the guides for the guests were waiting around the kitchen area. One of the other guests from the guys up north let me in on a little secret and told me that the quicker you got on the road the better chance you had of getting live shrimp at the bait shop. If you were one of the last ones leaving the lodge, chances are that the bait would be gone by the time you got to the bait shop. The guys from up north were the first ones to leave followed my Jimmy Meadows and Jimmy Sanders. I was paired up with LJ and when the dust settled from all the guide boats and the clients headed down the road to Venice from the lodge, myself and our guide, a 6’6″ -280lb local behemoth named Rodger were left standing in the driveway waiting for LJ to finish his business in the toilet. Rodger wasn’t happy about the delay, and I assured big Rodger that we were just getting started and LJ usually provided the entertainment for the day, one way or another. When LJ finally came out and we got underway, we hadn’t gone 5 miles and LJ realized that he left his cellphone in the toilet. That was the final sign that it was going to be one of those special LJ kinda days. I gotta say in LJ’s defense though, he redeemed himself when he fixed Rodger’s electronics after we blew a fuse while running down the Mississippi and hitting a large wake from a barge. Our skiff slammed down hard, and all of our electronics just died. LJ had us back up and running in record time.

LJ put us in the books with his first redfish of the trip on shrimp and I jacked a few more on the Gulp shrimp before we both started throwing the big Gulp shrimp under the popping corks. Using the Gulp shrimp cut down on the hardhead action and if something hit it, it was probably going to be a big redfish.

Here’s a few fishing pictures from the first day of fishing.

We returned to the lodge, which is about 15 miles from the Venice Marina around 1-2pm and the guides promptly went to work on cleaning the fish. We grabbed a cold drink and some hot gumbo from the kitchen, and we met our new friends and new guests to the lodge, Angie and Girard. They were from Pheonix and a treat to chat with. We quickly made friends with Angie and Girard and before you knew it, we were all joking and cracking up.

Angie is a divorce attorney and Girard….well Girard did a lot of things over the years. Girard was born in Morocco and eventually made his way to the United States. Girard is 81 years old and he has led a very interesting life full of adventure and success as a businessman. He spoke 3 languages fluently and a total of 7 languages, not so fluently. I took the opportunity to chat with Girard about his life and growing up in a foreign country so long ago. Girard rubbed shoulders with some very important leadership in our country and the fact that he could speak so many different languages opened a lot of doors for him over the years. Angie shared the story of how her and Girard had met at Girard’s restaurant and we all shared stories from our lives as the time flew by on a Thursday afternoon. Both Angie and Girard were fascinating people, and we were so glad we crossed paths. Angie actually has some relatives that own a house on Lake Lanier and they visit periodically so I’m pretty sure our paths will cross again someday in the future.

Angie gave the 4 Jim’s a title while we were all chatting, and Jimmy Sanders was dubbed “The Elder”, which I thought was appropriate. LJ was given the title “The Mayor” which made his head swell to an enormous size during our conversation. Angie gave Jimmy Meadows the title of “The Gentle One” which was a good description of Meadows, and I was named “The Storyteller”. I have a lot of stories, so Angie hit the nail on the head with that title. On Thursday evening we all had dinner and hung out till time to turn in. A storm was on the way.

At 2am on Friday morning I was awakened to the sound of thunder. I knew that there was a cold front on the way, and it was scheduled to hit the area around dawn according to Accuweather. The 2am arrival was a little early but nonetheless, the earlier it got through the area, the better. The thunder I heard was followed by some lightning flashes and over the next few minutes I could tell that the storm was quickly approaching. A few minutes later the rain started pelting the window next to my bed and my mind was taken back 25 years ago and the rain beating against the window by my bed at our old Man Camp. Thought about my old Navy friends and our trips out to Man Camp and all the fun we had over the years, fishing the marsh. I laid in the bed and thought back to our drive over the big bridge at Empire and looking out at the Empire rock jetty, in the summer of 1993 it was the location of my first redfish catch while sitting out on those big rocks with a pound of fresh shrimp for bait.

The wind and rain passed over the lodge and before we knew it, there was a knock on the door and miss Kim’s voice outside the door around 5:30, “breakfast time, fishing time”. We all knew that the quicker we got downstairs and had breakfast, the quicker we could get bait and get on the water. None of us was dilly-dallying around the room and Jimmy Meadow’s and I were paired up for fishing the second morning. It was going to be a rough morning on the back side of the front. They were calling for heavy winds out of the northwest. For that reason, our guide decided to fish the east side of the river where the winds would be a bit calmer. It made sense and I was all for the calmer winds in the marsh. After getting bait we launched out of an old broken-down ramp right on the Mississippi and we were running down the big river in record time. The wind was blowing when we went into the marsh for our first fishing stop. It didn’t take long, and Jimmy Meadows put the first nice redfish in the boat but then it got bad. I noticed a lot of the water was changing colors and the wind was howling over the reeds. The heavy winds were pushing the river water into the marsh where we were fishing, and the water was quickly becoming very stained from the river and the wind pushing currents. At that point the fish shut down and we were just going from canal to canal trying to find cleaner water and a better bite. At the same time Sanders and LJ weren’t doing much better and by lunchtime we were ready to call it a day. The wind was just too brutal to fish a lot of areas in the marsh and a lot of the guides were heading in for the day. One thing I liked about our guides is that they all talked over the radio, and they helped each other while we were fishing. Here’s a few pictures from Friday morning including a sunrise looking back up the Mississippi river to the east and some approaching storms out over the gulf to the west. We had to dodge the storms, wind and lightning most of the morning on Friday, but the front moved through and by mid afternoon the sun was back out.

When we got back to the camp, I was greeted by an old friend and tuna boat Captain from about 15 years ago, when I used to come down to Venice to go offshore tuna fishing. His name was Hooper but everyone in the area knew him as “Hoop”. He was a Captain on one of the boats I went out on and he was the co-captain of another tuna boat I went out on, so we got to know each other pretty well after a few long-range tuna trips. Hoop iss an inshore guide now, and he was the guide for Angie and Girard. When Angie asked Hoop how old he was, he said that he was so old that he played in the sandbox with Jesus. LOL…He is 80 years old and still going strong. We had a chance to chat for a while and it was great to see Hoop still kicking butt at 80. I hope that I’m in that kind of shape at 80.

After a quick lunch back at the lodge we got cleaned up and sat out back of the lodge under a gazebo and chatted the afternoon away. We played a little cornhole and had a few drinks before dinner, knowing it was our last evening at the lodge as we would be leaving out a 3:30am. Each person from all the fishermen donated a fish for the chef and Casey made us all blackened redfish for dinner and it was delicious. The meals we had during our stay at the lodge were to notch and very well prepared. We ate well the whole time we were there and there were always coolers with drinks available. They had an icemaker which supplied us with all the ice we needed for our filets. Jimmy Sanders and I loaded up and iced down all of our fish filet for the trip back home and we had quite a few filets for the cooler. After getting cleaned up and packed up we chatted for a bit longer and called it a night.

We were up by 3:15 in the morning and pulling out of the lodge by 3:45am. Jimmy Sanders laid the hammer down and the big Dodge Ram was headed back to Georgia so Jimmy Meadows could make a 5pm wedding. I think I wore a hole in Jimmy’s floorboard in the back seat, but Jimmy got us all back safely and in record time. Jimmy Meadows made his wedding by 5pm and I was prepping our catch for the freezer.

Was it just a Fluke?

Almost…. This week I put the worm away in favor of another favorite springtime bait of mine and I went to work with the weightless fluke. When I checked my history for this time of the spring there is one bait that always stands out for me and that’s the nose-hooked weightless fluke. This week wasn’t the best for the fluke, but it kept me occupied and every once in a while, I’d get a good one which made the slow sink rate of the fluke worth it. Mid to late this week I started seeing more and more bluebacks on the surface very early in the morning and I also found some schooling fish here and there in the creek around dawn. I used the weightless nose-hooked fluke early in the morning for the schooling fish and caught a few nice ones.

I focused on points and brush this week and much of the stuff I caught fish on this week is on my summer milk run which tells me that there are some post-spawn fish already setting up around their summer homes. Working the fluke over brush accounted for my biggest fish this week and they were mainly caught in the middle of the afternoon. The topwater walking bait on windy points accounted for a few nice fish also this week and I’m sure it’s only going to get better and better over the next few weeks.

Water temps are right around 70 degrees, and the lake is at full pool right now. The corps is generating water for a few hours in the afternoon and evenings. I made a video and talked about the baits I used this week and how I used them. I also included some random pictures from my week.

Fishing With Faith (A will to live)

Did you ever wonder why every fish fights for its life on the end of a hook? Why is it that all living creatures have this inherent desire to survive?? Why is it that we don’t just curl up and surrender our lives when faced with imminent danger? We’ve all been given a special purpose in our life and that purpose is often shrouded in mystery and occasionally highjacked by the devil along the way. I often wonder why Jesus went to the sea and chose fishermen for his first disciples. He didn’t really require their boats for travel with his ability to walk on water. Peter and his friends were terrible fisherman, so I don’t think it was because of their skill set but perhaps it was because of a fisherman’s willingness to accept failure and continue coming back armed only with the faith of a successful tomorrow. –Jim Farmer

The St. James Hotel

My stay was just a brief 3 months at the St. James Hotel in downtown Miami, Ok. in the spring of 1982 but the memory is now 40 years old, and I can still vividly remember one evening in particular that may have changed my life forever. It was a Friday and a buddy had told me about a little place off the road along Horse Creek a few miles before the creek dumped into Grand Lake……

Prepping for the Post Spawn

This week was somewhat abbreviated for a few reasons, the first being that it’s time for some boat maintenance in preparation for the long spring and summer run. The second reason is to give these fish a chance to finish their business with the spawn. Swimbaits on the Damiki heads and shaky heads in the afternoons/evening were the biggest producers this week. Water temps are just below or right at 60 degrees right now and the lake is just above full pool. The corps is moving water off and on every day now and they’ll be moving water tomorrow afternoon. Below are a few videos I made this week including a rundown of baits I’ll be using over the next few months for the post spawn. I also included some pictures of memorable fish this week.

Stalking the Huckleberries

There’s usually one in the bunch, the one that raises their hand and says, “I’m your Huckleberry”. The fish have their own version of a Huckleberry and that’s the fish I was looking for this week.

Not much has changed for me since last week. I did manage to get out to my buddy’s place on Sunday afternoon for a springtime crappie trip which never disappoints. We’re just kicking back and trolling around the pond in the Pond Prowler while catching the occasional crappie on lite crappie tackle to add to the cooler. Fileted out boneless, these little guys are the perfect size for fish tacos, and they are very tasty. We usually take out several every spring which helps with the pond size management. Here’s a couple pictures from the trip on Sunday afternoon.

This week I fished for a few hours almost every day and I pretty much did 2 things all week. I ran points and humps casting the Damiki swimbait, and I also threw the shaky head when I got bored with the Damiki. On the Damiki rig I rotated between the 2.8 size and the 3.3 size Keitech. The 2.8 averaged more bites and actually caught my biggest fish this week while it seemed like the fish just didn’t like the 3.3 as much this week. I can’t say that the Damiki bite is on fire and that’s where the “Huckleberry part comes in. Sometimes this week I would pull up to a point that held fish and I would start casting the Damiki all around the point. I would mark fish under the boat and some fish were suspended at 10-15 feet over a 25–30-foot bottom. I would just make a long cast with a 5-10 second count down before starting my slow retrieve and every once in a while, one fish would just randomly come out of the bunch and smack the little Damiki. It’s like the fish just raised his hand and said, “I’m your Huckleberry”. Usually, the first Huckleberry would be the biggest and if I caught another in the area it would be smaller more times than not. It seemed like this week the biggest fish ate first. For that reason, I didn’t stick around one place to long and I kept moving if I was throwing the Damiki.

The wind was definitely a factor late this week and some of my Damiki stuff was blown out from the wind, so I chose to drag the shaky head around the secondary points and docks for a few nice fish. I’m still using a 5-inch Senko style worm in green pumpkin with a 1/4-ounce head and fishing the worm very slow on the bottom is the key. Whether it’s rocks or docks my focus has been from 5 feet all the way out to 20 feet in depth. It seems like the fish on the docks are getting shallower by the day now and the docks that had rocks some kind of structure like a spud pole produced the best. This week the worm was more of a sure thing, but I couldn’t help but throw the Damiki about 50% of the time this week. I had good numbers this week and I released a bunch of 1-2lb fish on both baits all week.

The water temps are still in the upper 50’s and the lake level is almost a foot above full pool. The corps is pulling water a few hours each day and will be pulling water tomorrow afternoon and evening.

Here’s a few memorable fish from my week.