The Spotted Roaches of Lake Lanier

I figured it was time to put this down on the internet before someone else steals my term for all these spotted bass on our awesome lake. A few years back, right after the release of Garmin’s forward-facing sonar, a friend of mine who fished in the Bassmaster Elite series, Jesse Tacoronte, stayed at Cast Away Cove and I got to witness forward-facing sonar on Jesse’s boat not long after the release. He showed me how it rotated in sync with the trolling motor, and I was amazed at the clarity of forward-facing, real-time sonar. I’ll never forget what Jesse said to me while showing me his Garmin, he said “if you aren’t using it on Lanier within the next year, you’re going to be behind the power curve”. He was correct, speaking from a competitive or business sense but if you’re retired and mainly fish for fun is it worth the investment? Well, I guess it depends on what you consider success and reward. On one hand, I feel like there is a lot to be said for the challenge of reading my 2D and mapping to find fish, whether in a deep ditch or around a shallow hidden rock pile. On the other hand, I’m never too old to learn new things and I’m looking forward to learning forward-facing sonar in the near future.

You’re probably wondering about the “roach” reference in the title and if you know me pretty well you’ve probably already heard me refer to our spotted bass on Lake Lanier as roaches. I first used the term a few years ago at a Jimbo seminar when I was speaking to a larger crowd. I explained that the first few times I was on a boat that had forward facing sonar and I got to see first-hand, all the bass that were crawling along the bottom in random places we would stop. A while back my partner and I had a couple hours left in a tournament and were scanning areas around bridge pilings with heavy structure using the Garmin. We couldn’t go 20 yards without marking fish glued to the bottom. If I looked close enough it was like the bottom was alive with little bumps popping up from the bottom and swimming back down. I could see that it was groups of bass just crawling and moving around the bottom like roaches. I was just amazed at the volume of fish just in one area alone, but we saw this in multiple areas throughout the afternoon. After that day I referred to the bass as roaches, especially this time of year when they are more oriented to the bottom.

This week I fished almost every day and bounced between the ditches and the rocks. My docks haven’t made much of a showing lately so it’s down to the ditches and the rocks this week. On Monday I spent the better part of the day looking for productive ditches and I had a pretty good day. On Monday just about every fish I caught was hanging out in 40+ feet of water going into a ditch or bay, and I caught them all with a Lanier Baits 1/4-ounce Damiki head with either a Cast Co. 3″ Prodigy or a 2.8 Keitech. I’d say that 90% of the fish were caught while casting and dragging my bait very slowly on the bottom. Other times I like to hop the Damiki on the bottom. I keep my rod tip up if I’m hopping the bait and rod tip down near the water if I’m dragging it. Here’s a video I made a couple years ago while fishing the Damiki in the ditches. This gives you an idea of how slow I’m working the Damiki on the bottom.

Although I didn’t use the spoon much this week, it’s always a good bet this time of year. If the fish are finicky with the Damiki, definitely give the spoon a try. I made this video a few years back and it kind of explains a little more about ditches and spooning this time of year.

The biggest thing about fishing ditches is DON’T overthink it looking for ditches. A ditch can be the center or deepest part of a bay or cove, or it can be a narrower defined drainage area, but the main ingredient for fish is the presence of bait. When I was out yesterday morning, I saw some gulls diving in the center of a cove further back in the bay I was fishing. Some of the gulls were circling and diving on the water, plus I could see some loons diving in the center of the cove. I idled over to the area and eased up on the cove with the trolling motor. The loons were diving in less than 10 feet of water and the gulls were also diving at bait on the surface. I made a cast to the center of the cove where the loons were working, and I felt a little tap on my Damiki right after it hit the bottom. I was hoping it wasn’t one of the loons, but I knew better because the loons rarely mistake my bait for the real thing. Sure enough, it was a nice spot in less than 10 feet of water to start my morning. Five minutes later I caught my second fish after following the loons out of the cove and into the deeper water. I actually think some of the bass were trailing the loons and feeding on the same bait balls the loons were chasing around and feeding from. It’s always a good idea to keep an eye on the birds, especially early in the morning around pockets and coves. Take your time and watch your graph closely from 50 feet all the way back to the back of a cove. Just as soon as I start marking fish under the boat, I start fan casting the Damiki or I drop the War Eagle spoon straight down.

The second pattern I’m having success with is the shaky head on the south and west facing rocky shoreline in the sunny afternoons, especially if there is wind and chop on the shoreline. If there is a sunny rocky point facing the southwest and there is wind blowing right onto the point, it’s pretty much a lock that at least one fish is going to be cruising the point for a meal. I’ve been keeping the boat out in 25-30 feet of water and making long casts towards the bank, fan casting with Spot lock on. The biggest key is working the worm slowly; the fish are there but moving the bait too fast has been counter-productive for me this week and slowing the worm down to a stop and go craw has been the key. Sometimes I’ve really been soaking it to get my bites, but it seems like the fish were a little bigger on the rocks this week so maybe the staging bass are going to get with it soon. I did notice that the bite got better once the moon was up and visible this afternoon.

I’d almost bet a crankbait or jig would work under the same conditions, but I like the shaky head and I have the most confidence in it right now. Keep in mind that these fish on the rocks are feeding and not particular about what they eat so a variety of baits should work with these fish.

The lake is back up to full pool and the corps is generating 4-5 hours a day now. Water temps were around 49 in the creek and it’s dropped a degree or two this week. Fishing isn’t the best right now overall and it’s definitely cold out there, but ditches or rocks are two good options. Here’s a few of those roaches from this week.

Rockin in the Wind

Patience! Maybe it was something that was taught to me on our little farm on the outskirts of my hometown when I was very young. Maybe patience was born during an evening of fishing on a pond dam back in 66-67 or was it the rocky shore of Grand Lake camping in the 60’s. Maybe it was out at our little river cabin in 70-72 where I learned to set trotlines and limblines. Maybe it was with our Britney dogs on point, waiting for that covey of quail to burst from the ground in a thunderous explosion and just maybe it was staring out across the deep blue pacific from the open doors of the aircraft carrier’s hangar bay, just waiting to come back home.

This week was all about patience and it wasn’t much different than last week in terms of what I did for my bites. I started out on Monday swearing that I was going to spend some time in the ditches but after a couple of hours of driving and looking, followed by casting and dropping I had two pale 2lbers and one 3lber, all on a Cast Co. Prodigy swimbait. Don’t get me wrong here I enjoy a good ditch bite, but I just couldn’t hang with it, and I have decided to let Jeff Nail give me a refresher in ditch fishing because my confidence is lacking. Hopefully next week Jeff and I can get it straightened out.

I’m like a dog rolling on a deer carcass right now when it comes to the shaky head on the rocks. I really can’t help myself and if it wasn’t for my gift of patience, I’d probably be doing something else; but because of that patience I sit with my back to the cold wind with my spot lock on, fan casting and dragging the worm down the hill. If you have been diagnosed with ADD or some other disorder that makes it hard for you to watch paint dry, this isn’t a pattern for you, but if you like the occasional dull thump of a fish sucking in that worm, I think it’s worth it.

The screen shot below explains my position on the secondary points in the creek pockets. If you can imagine that underwater rocky area where I’m sitting with the point facing the west in full sun and the wind blowing right into it; that’s my target area right now. I took this picture because that’s exactly where the fish pictured above came from. I was making casts with the shaky head worm up onto the shallow rocks and the fish was in less than 10 feet of water. Basically, I’m just shopping rocky areas in the sun and looking for rocky outcroppings, ideally, with sun and wind on them. There are places like this all over the creeks on our lake and the options are endless using this pattern alone. The bites aren’t usually fast and furious but moving around and finding the little areas that produce fish are probably going to produce fish again and maybe again day after day. This, meaning that most of the places I caught fish this week provided me fish just about every day I fished it. One of the biggest problems with this pattern, this week was the size. I usually expect the fish to be over 3lbs when I catch them using this pattern but this week, I had a lot of frustration due to the lack of larger fish. The 4’s and 5’s just didn’t turn out this week like I expected. Sometimes it’s like that during the winter running this pattern but soon mother nature takes over and the larger females will find their way to the rocks. Fan casting is the deal on the rocky points for me right now. Whether there is wind or no wind, sun or clouds, just spend a few minutes fan casting the point and move on, win or lose. The fish that are on the rocky points aren’t there for sightseeing or to visit the local sunken lounge chair, they are there to eat and they aren’t really picky eaters. Definitely a crankbait, swimbait, underspin, a-rig or chatterbait could work on these fish but I like dragging the worm down the hill or ledge.

If you look at the background in some of the pictures below, some were cloudy and some were sunny backgrounds. I think there was more activity on the rocks during the sunny/windy post front days at the latter part of this week but there were fish cruising the points in the afternoons whether the sun was out or not. Some of the points I checked in the mornings were barren of fish but a return in the afternoon produced fish. If you’re looking for an addition to the ditch bite right now this pattern is a definite option.

Right now, the lake level is falling again after a heavy generation from the corps yesterday and the level is about a foot below full pool. Water temps are around 50 in the creek and there is still a good stain in the back of our creek. Here’s a few pictures from my week. I will say that there were quite a few smaller fish up on the rocks that didn’t make the picture cut this week.

Looking for them Early Stagers

I woke up at 4am listening to the subtle whining sounds of a cat wanting my attention at the side of the bed. No doubt she wanted to be the first to tell me that during the night 3 local cats, 2 deer and a scary looking possum had tripped the outdoor light sensor and she had also barfed up a juicy hairball because I didn’t empty the litter pan before bed. With all the commotion going on the dog woke up and wanted out for his morning leak. When I stepped outside at 4:15 to let the dog out the north wind hit me right in the face and I was instantly reminded that it was the back side of a front, and it was blowing cold air right through my pajamas. I watched the big pines across the street swaying back and forth in the howling wind and I was happy to go back inside, thinking I just may stay at the dock today.

This week I stayed away from the deeper stuff and ran my early stager milk run, focusing mainly on the creek. I’m still staying close to the house until I get a few more hours on the new motor but it’s hard because a lot of the water is stained around the back of the creek, and this is the time of year I like to fish the backs of the creeks in cleaner water circumstances. It’s not like there is an official staging effort going on with the fish right now and at best, it’s totally random, but there are some fish cruising the usual staging areas for the spawn. Secondary points of the underwater variety have been my target of interest this week and my thoughts are that there should be some big girls showing up around these areas very soon. When I go through my history from previous years, January has always produced some giants pre-staging on the rocky areas close to spawning areas. The fish pictured above was caught on some deeper rocks alongside of a sunny point and the fish had harked up a small dead bream as well as pieces of crawfish around its gullet. It wasn’t the usual 1–2-inch shad so many fish are feeding on right now, but these fish are the meat-eaters, and they are up on the rocks finding the bigger ticket items to chow down on. The good thing about these fish that are feeding up on the rocks is that they aren’t really particular about what they eat. For years we used a crankbait to catch these rock dwelling fish, but more recently I’ve switched to using a worm fished slowly to target these fish. I think that either bait can get the job done right now but I like the slower presentation rather than power fishing the crankbait. I found that the fish are starting to slow a bit and soaking a worm may have the same effect as running a crankbait over a point but it’s less wear and tear on my shoulder if I’m dragging a worm at the speed of a three toed sloth. The way I look at these staging fish is that I can either be proactive or reactive when it comes to the fish. The fish are going to be staging soon, especially on the sunny/windy days and when the bigger fish decide to stage, I want to be there to greet them, rather than find that I’m late for the party.

Right now, I have the mapping coloration on my graphs set up for red-0-5 feet, white is 6-20 feet and green is 21-35 feet. I’m keeping the boat out at 30 feet and casting around and up onto the shallow secondary points. Sometime the fish will be very shallow along the side of a point and sometimes the fish will be cruising out in 25 feet of water on the end of a point. By keeping the boat out deeper I’m covering more of the deeper areas where the fish may be cruising around as I’ve caught fish this week in 5 feet of water and out in 25 feet of water on secondary points. It’s as simple as dragging your worm down the ledge very slowly, and if there is wind on the point, I like to Spot Lock in 30 feet of water up wind and fan cast sunny points, dragging the worms very slowly on the bottom and stopping the worm from time to time. I’m using a 1/4-ounce ball head and a 5-inch Senko in a Junebug or Green pumpkin color and occasionally dipping the tails in a little chartreuse garlic. I gotta say that it’s pretty rewarding as well as addicting when these bass pop the worm on the bottom and you load up on a nice fish.

That’s about all I have to report this week. It’s been a pretty simple week for me just throwing the worm around the rocks and a few docks here and there. The docks did account for a few fish this week but nothing real significant around the docks and nothing worth focusing on yet. The lake is continuing to rise and is now less than a foot below full pool with the corps moving water a couple hours a day. The water temps are right around 50 on my graphs and the further you go back in the creek, the worse the water clarity gets. Here’s a few pics from this week. Size was down from what I expected but better days are coming.

2023 and Back in the Saddle

After a long two months since my knee replacement, I’m finally back on the water and fishing again. This has been a tough one in terms of endurance and recovery. When it comes to knee replacement, everyone handles it differently and some replacements are smoother than others. I’ve had friends that recovered very quickly with minimal pain and others that didn’t fare so well. For me, it was as much mental as it was physical recovery. Physically, the discomfort continues but it’s getting better, but mentally it’s been a struggle. I’ve had several surgeries and a few broken bones over the years, but this was definitely the most debilitating event I’ve ever endured. It was the fact that I couldn’t use my dominate leg for things I’ve used it for my whole life. The anxiety from sitting around waiting for my leg to heal was mentally challenging for me. As far as the physical stuff goes, the best way to describe it is as if my knee went to sleep and I can’t wake it up. It also feels like there is a tight painful band around the upper part of my knee. That is more than likely from cutting or loosening the muscles around the femur and then reattaching them, as it can be painful at times. It is also still painful to step up or step down using my knee. The surgeon says it could take up to a year for that to heal but he seems to think it will be way shorter in my case because my healing has gone much better than he expected. The good part is that the bone-on-bone pain I was feeling before the surgery is gone and that was the ultimate relief for me.

During my time without fishing my boat got a new powerhead after the old one blew right before my surgery. Timing couldn’t have been better because my boat and I both needed a rest. I had been fishing just about every day for months and the boat motor as well as my knee turned out to be the weakest link in my fishing efforts. The guys at C&S Marine got me fixed up with a new powerhead in record time and had I not been recovering from surgery; I would have been back on the water in less than a week. Chris and the guys at C&S know their stuff when it comes to motors and had the powerhead swapped out in 2 days.

Now for the fishing. Monday Lisa and I made a trip out and after breaking in the motor we started hitting ditches. Lisa tied on a little jig head with a 3″ Prodigy from Cast Co. I was using a little silver War Eagle spoon and the little swimbait did all the damage in the ditches for us. Lisa caught a few smaller fish casting the little swimbait in 40 feet of water and bouncing it on the bottom and then she caught the fish below just before we headed home. Every winter I enjoy catching a lot of fish on the Damiki rig and the new Cast Co. 3-inch Prodigy swimbaits are a great option for these fish feeding on small baits in the ditches. Be sure and give them a try this winter on Lanier.

It was overcast and the fish in the ditches we hit were very scattered and not too many were interested in eating in the afternoon. On Tuesday I was back out but only caught 3 in the ditches. On Wednesday I had enough of perch jerking a bunch of 2 pounders in the ditches and I went looking for the meat eaters on the rocks and docks. I wanted to try the little emerald ned rig again since I had good luck with it around this time last year. I pounded a few docks and rocks with it, and it produced a few but I felt like I could do better, so I tied on the green pumpkin shaky head and went to work on the rocks. This time of year, I focus on the sunny rocks for the most part. There are some big fish around the shady/deep rock bluffs, but they are few and far between right now. Same with the docks in the creek, I just couldn’t get bit on the docks successfully this week so by yesterday my primary focus was sunny rocks facing the south and west. With the west wind blowing, most of the west facing rocky points had sun and wind blowing right into the point and the fish were cruising the rocks. With the stained water getting worse in the creek and pushing out towards the main lake, I mainly concentrated on clean water around the mouths of the south end creeks and rocks on the main lake where the water was the cleanest. I had my best day today and I had to leave them biting. With the weather getting more stable the fish seemed to respond well today and they were really getting up on the secondary points and staging areas early this afternoon. I wished I could have stayed longer but I think I put 9-10 in the boat today before heading to the house. This week the best pattern for me was the shaky head on sunny rocks with wind and chop. It’s been slow, partly because of the full moon this week but also because the water temps are getting down into the 40’s now. When the water first hits the 40’s, the fish really slow it down for a bit but they get used to it and they’ll get going with the pre-spawn soon. Most of my fish were caught in less than 20 feet of water this week and the warmer/shallow fish were very strong fighters, unlike the lethargic ditch fish. Water temps were around 50 today and the lake is a little over a foot below full pool. The corps is only generating for an hour or two each day so not a lot of water is moving right now. Here’s a few of the memorable fish this week including my 2023 PB of 4.01pictured above and caught yesterday.

Fall Return to San Luis

During my time in central California, I made a lot of trips to the San Luis reservoir in search of stripers and largemouth bass but there was one fall trip in particular that always rises to the top of my memories of the massive San Luis reservoir and O’Neil forebay. I’m guessing that the year was around 1986, and it was a late fall weekend of fishing with the backdrop of barren rolling hills and cool-crisp mornings around the reservoir. The kind of mornings that you can see your breath and the familiar smell of campfires drifted around the shores of the lake at dawn. Back in 1986 things were very different than they are now. We didn’t have the luxury of cellphones or debit cards like we do today, with most folks using cash or check for purchases and pictures were somewhat rare unless someone in our group was a photo buff. I doubt we took any pictures of our trip, but I still have my memory and this one was a doozy, that’s why I still remember it. Oh, I had made a few trips to San Luis with my good friend Sonny since checking into the squadron 3 years earlier, but this trip was probably the best I had made in terms of numbers of fish and the size as well as shear laughter and fun we had that weekend. Here’s the way it went down….

We had been planning the weekend for a while and it just so happened that our plan all came together for a weekend of camping and fishing at San Luis reservoir, located in central California. It was going to be myself, Sonny and Tom, all from the squadron and all somewhat avid fishermen. As I remember, Tom wasn’t quite as avid a fisherman, but nonetheless he was a musician with an acoustical guitar and an interest in fishing with Sonny and I, so I saw the entertainment value right away. That came into play later on in the story, but Tom was a good friend of mine and our wives also hung out together, so he was a shoe in for our trip. Sonny had the truck and the boat, which was a 17-foot Bass Tracker that he personally picked up from the factory and towed out west to its new home in central California. Sonny and I put a lot of miles on his Bass Tracker and his little Ford Courier pickup truck. His little truck had an aluminum camper shell over the bed, and he had a big handmade wooden camping box inside the covered bed, where he kept all his camping equipment/supplies and kitchen type equipment. Common items we generally had in the back for the trip was at least 1 Coleman lantern, we generally had mine and Sonny’s. We also had a couple Coleman stoves for cooking/deep frying, as well as a few tents and sleeping bags so needless to say, with all that equipment the little truck was loaded down. For that reason, Tom agreed to ride in the floor of the boat for the duration of our trip up to San Luis. Looking back on that decision, I’m not sure that would fly by today’s standards, but we really didn’t see the harm and it was less than 2 hours away. Besides, it gave Tom a chance to wrap up in a sleeping bag and sleep a bit down in the floor of the Bass Tracker on the trip. It was Friday evening, and we were off for our trip shortly after finishing work and getting everything ready. Tom met me at my house and Sonny picked us up curbside with the boat and gear in tow. Tom crawled into the floorboard of the Bass Tracker and covered up with his sleeping bag. It wasn’t long till we hit the I5 interstate, and we were cruising north for the next hour and a half, blasting music and chatting about fishing.

Sonny and I had been up to San Luis a month earlier on a bass fishing trip and we had a good time, not only with the bass but we both caught some nice stripers as a bonus. Before San Luis, I knew very little about striper fishing and I never really thought about targeting them at the time. Sonny and I were mainly interested in bass fishing, that is until I caught my first big striper on San Luis. I can’t remember if I had caught some smaller stripers prior to catching a behemoth right before dark on our last trip, but my fate was sealed, and I found a very large interest in striper fishing from that evening on.

I can remember that Sonny and I were fishing the forebay and there was a long stretch of grass parallel to some rip rap, and we were concentrating on throwing topwater along the edges of the grass. We had caught a few nice bass along with a few smaller stripers and the sun was setting fast. State Park rules said we had to be off the lake at sunset, and we only had another 30 minutes or so to fish. I got a bad wind knot in my reel, and it looked like the reel was done for the evening. It looked like a re-string job, so Sonny told me to grab his little spinning rod with a Pop-R tied on it to finish out the evening. I grabbed Sonny’s little spinning rig and made a long cast out the back of the boat, away from the weed line and out into deeper water. I just wanted to see how the rod and reel felt before working the Pop-R down along the edge of the weed line. Sonny got his topwater snagged in the weeds and I turned to watch him work his topwater out of the obstruction. I heard a large splash in back of the boat and turned around to see a large boil and circular swirl right where the Pop-R has landed. I was confused because I could no longer see the Pop-R on the surface, but my line was very slack. I looked at my slack line and wondered if the Pop-R had somehow broken off or it had come untied. I was baffled so I started taking up the slack on the reel and when I looked down at the remainder of the line where it entered the water, I saw it slowly tighten on a very dark shadow under the water swimming towards the boat. No sooner than I saw the fish, the fish saw me, and the boat. At that point the big striper made a quick turn away from the boat and the drag started screaming off the reel. The big striper was headed for the middle of the lake with the little Pop-R and I was hanging on for dear life. The pile of line wrapped around the spool was getting thin and the striper showed no interest in slowing down, so we had to chase him down. Thankfully there was very little structure and the fish stayed near the surface for the duration of the fight. He must have pulled the Bass Tracker around for 10 minutes before we finally landed the 31lb monster and called it a day. Back then we kept everything for table fare as long as we were within our legal limits and that big striper provided a lot of meat for us Navy folks on a budget. A month had passed since that trip, and Sonny, Tom and I were returning to San Luis in search of stripers for the freezer.

The long drive to San Luis went by quickly and it wasn’t long till we were pulling into a local San Luis gas station, store and bait shop just a couple miles from the entrance of the state park where we were camping. On this trip we were only interested in stripers and the best way to catch them at the time was using cut bait in the form of frozen anchovies. The store sold frozen anchovies by the bag and there were a few dozen in the bags so we wanted to get enough to last us through the next day’s fishing. I wanted to stretch my legs and I was pretty sure Tom wanted to stretch after riding on the floorboard of the boat for a while. When Sonny and I got out of the truck we were chatting about something and I watched as Sonny reached into the bed of his truck, over the side and it dawned on me that something wasn’t right. Tom was walking up after climbing out of the boat and I realized that we no longer had a camper shell on the bed of the truck. Sonny was busy digging in a bag for cash and I asked if he noticed anything out of place? Right away it dawned on him that his topper was missing. Nothing in the bed had blown out and nothing was out of place, the topper was just gone. We asked Tom if he had heard anything, but Tom said he fell asleep and didn’t hear a thing. On further inspection, we found that the shell had hit the corner of the windshield on the Bass Tracker and did minimal damage. We debated on going back up the freeway to see if we could locate it but it was getting late and interstate 5 is a big interstate to try and find a small camper shell, so we let it go for the night, citing that we would look for it on the way back home. Money was pretty tight back then and we all pitched in for groceries and gas. After buying supplies, bait and gas we were on our way to the park to set up camp, grab a quick bite to eat and get some rest. After unpacking, pitching tents and heating up some supper we called it a night and hit the tents.

It was a brisk morning on the water and the ramp was lined up with boats waiting to launch. We got there a little late and by the time we were on the water and moving the sun was up and it was warming up to be a nice sunny morning on the lake. We found an area that had a long tapering point, and we dropped the anchor on the crown of the point in 20 feet of water. We cut the anchovies into 2-inch chunks and put them on a single hook 1 foot leader with a 1-ounce weight 2 feet below the leader. That got our cutbait about a foot off the bottom. We just dropped the baits straight down under the boat till the weight hit the bottom and we brought up the slack which brought the bait suspended a foot off the bottom and dangling from the leader. We just sat and waited for the stripers to show up. It didn’t take long, and we were all three bring in nice 2-5lb stripers. Every once in a while, one of our rods would pull down and another striper would come to the boat. Over the course of the morning, we boated 5 nice stripers a piece and headed back to the launch to trailer and have some lunch. We had 15 very nice stripers, and we were pretty happy with our catch. We cleaned the stripers right after lunch and decided to drive down to the Oneil forebay for an afternoon/evening of more striper fishing. The launch at the forebay was about 15 minutes from the upper lake and the state park where we were staying. Legally we could catch 5 more stripers a piece to finish off our daily limit and there were plenty of stripers in the forebay for us to catch. We used the same method of suspending the cut anchovies and in the course of the afternoon through evening we accumulated our limits again, including a few bigger teenage stripers. We were having a blast and it was by far the best trip that Sonny and I had been on. We had a total of 30 stripers for the day and we were going to be eating deep fried striper for our supper along with some fried potatoes to go with it. When we got back to the camp Sonny broke out the cooking equipment and I started fileting out the stripers from the afternoon trip to the forebay. Tom broke out his guitar and we built a nice fire in the firepit in the center of the camp. Tom played music as we ate fish, drank beer and sang songs into the chilly October night before hitting the sleeping bags for some rest. Nights like that have always been some of my best memories while on fishing trips.

The next morning was Sunday, and our plan was to fish the morning before breaking down camp and heading back home in the afternoon. The morning was a copy of the morning before, and it was a little chilly to start the morning. When we got to the ramp, we realized that none of us had enough cash to pay the launch toll. It was pretty ugly as we pulled up in line to launch but had no money. We had to move out of the way of the other boaters waiting to launch and we were just sitting in the parking lot with the boat trying to figure out what to do. We would need to drive to town and write a check for cash as this was before ATM machines and cash withdrawals. It was really going to screw up our morning, but Tom came up with a plan and took his hat off, broke out his guitar and just started playing songs right there at the top of the ramp with his hat turned over on the ground in front of him. It didn’t take long until a couple of the boaters dropped a few dollars in Tom’s hat and Sonny, and I stood back and watched as more boaters donated to Tom’s hat on the ground and within 15 minutes, we had enough money to launch the Bass Tracker for our morning run. It worked out just the same as the morning before and we all got another 5 fish limit of stripers before calling it a morning and heading back to break down the camp and pack for the ride home. We cleaned the stripers and packed the gear for the ride home in the early afternoon. Tom covered up on the floorboard of the boat again and we had an uneventful ride back home, not finding Sonny’s little camper shell on the way back down Interstate 5.

We made several trips back to San Luis over the next few years, but we never experienced a 45-striper weekend like Sonny, Tom and I had on that October weekend. We didn’t know much about striper fishing at the time, and we only had a flasher for electronics, but we had a blast catching those stripers and I was hooked on chasing stripers for years to follow. We also fished a lot of other lakes for stripers after that and we caught some nice ones out west including the Colorado River, the California Aqueduct and the Delta but the San Luis Reservoir and Oneil forebay is where my striper roots begin.

Cast Away Chicken Pot Pie

This is one recipe that doesn’t take a lot of prep time and is a delicious meal for fish camp or deer camp. I make it from time to time and usually we have enough leftovers for sharing with family members. Since we just celebrated thanksgiving, sometimes, I’ll use the leftover turkey or ham instead of a chicken.

Ingredients:

  • 1 roasted chicken or 1-2lbs of leftover turkey
  • 1/2 stick of melted butter
  • 1 can of cream of chicken soup
  • 1 can of cream of mushroom soup
  • 1/2 cup chopped sweet onion
  • 1 16-ounce bag of mixed vegetables
  • 3 cubed softened potatoes
  • 2 cans of plain crescent rolls
  • salt and pepper to taste

Make sure your vegetables are thawed before mixing and mix all the ingredients above in a large mixing bowl.

I use one of the crescent roll cans and line the bottom of a greased (or Pam) 9×13 baking dish. Spread the chicken mixture evenly on top of the crescent dough.

After spreading the mixture evenly, spread the other can of crescent dough across the top. You may need to stretch it a little to cover the top.

I bake mine at 375 degrees for 35-40 minutes uncovered.

Enjoy!!

Cast Away Hashbrown Casserole

A few years back I discovered a delicious hashbrown casserole at our local Cracker Barrel restaurant and I just had to start making it myself. This is my version of the recipe and I hope you enjoy it. We’ve prepared it for breakfast as well as a side dish for dinner and holiday meals. Keep in mind that you can vary the amounts to your own liking.

Ingredients:

  • 32-ounce bag of thawed hashbrowns
  • 1 stick of melted butter
  • 1 can of cream of chicken soup
  • 1/2 chopped sweet onion
  • 16 ounces of sour cream
  • 3 cups of cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup of parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and add all of the ingredients above in a big mixing bowl. I save one cup of the cheddar cheese for the topping. Once I’ve mixed all of the ingredients above in a big bowl, I spray a little Pam on my 9×13 baking dish and transfer the mixture into the baking dish and bake for 40 minutes before serving.

Enjoy!!!

Recovery Update: Veterans Day Edition

Today marks day 9 since my knee replacement surgery and I can finally feel some improvement. From what I’ve been told and from my own experience, everybody is different when it comes to recovery. I’ve had 2 rotator cuff surgeries on my shoulders, and I’ve also had a ruptured disc repaired in my lower back. I’m terms of comparison, my rotator cuff was just a little worse than the knee. My right shoulder required some bone work to clear a lot of arthritis that had built up over the years and from a lot of shoulder dislocations from playing sports. It was very painful, and the pain lasted a few weeks before subsiding. At least with my knee, I can sleep in my bed at night, with the rotator cuff surgery, I had to sleep upright in my Lazy boy for the first few weeks of rehab.

Rehab on a knee replacement starts the day after surgery and the biggest goal in rehab is getting back to a good range of motion with the new hardware attached to the bones. Something that isn’t really addressed in the days leading up to the surgery and something I didn’t realize is the fact that they not only cut and reshape the end of your femur and tibia bones to accommodate the new hardware, but they also cut a lot of the muscles that are attached to the knee. There are some big muscles around the knee and cutting these muscles make it a lot easier for the surgery team to make the needed repairs. The muscles that were cut during surgery hurt the worst and make it very hard to move the leg. It feels like my leg weighs a ton and it’s very painful to try and move the whole leg with the muscles that were detached and then later sewn back into place. Pain management is the biggest focus for me. I’m bored out of my mind, and I want to get back to my normal activities as quickly as possible. For that reason, I am very aggressive when it comes to my rehab. Being aggressive is good but it’s also very painful. Getting into a routine of pain medication to stay ahead of the pain is imperative because it can be very very painful. Right now, I’m taking hydrocodone every 6 hours and it’s keeping my pain at a minimum, but there are some flare-ups and shooting pains that occur and you just need to kinda suffer through those. I’m trying to keep my focus on other things, so the pain isn’t at the forefront of my thoughts. The knee replacement recovery takes time and I still need a few weeks to get back to fishing. My boat is just about finished, and I have a brand-new powerhead to break in as soon as I can get back out there.

Veterans Day

Today is a day that we honor our veterans for the many sacrifices they endured during their time in service. Understanding these sacrifices are often times underrated or misunderstood. There are the sacrifices of being away from home and not being able to enjoy a family life like most of us take for granted and then there are the mental sacrifices and battles that many veterans endure that we don’t really know much about. Some jobs in the military are great jobs that you can build a career on when you separate from the military. Some jobs give you the experience you need to be successful in civilian life and then there are some jobs that are just plain dangerous without much of a payoff when it comes to a civilian equivalence in the labor force. The struggle to re-adapt to civilian life after working in a dangerous position in the military can be an overwhelming struggle filled with mental failure. One of the biggest struggles I found was coping with the loss of my friends or the people around me. Early on in my military career I learned of loss and coping with it. If you work in a dangerous environment in the military loss is usually something that comes quickly, and you learn very quickly to put it behind you and move on. I call it “desensitizing” and it is a natural reaction when you work in a dangerous job that requires a lot of focus to survive. You can’t dwell on what has happened so your feelings are quickly put in check, usually by alcohol, and you move on. There isn’t time to properly process what’s happened and there’s little to no time to grieve. I can still remember one of my good Marine friends sitting on the floor of my apartment, laughing, drinking beer and having a fun night and less than a week later he was gone. A few weeks later a pilot that I had just had a conversation with and launched for a training flight crashed into the side of a mountain and was killed instantly. You don’t dwell on those things, and you tend to just move on as it’s part of the job description. Some loss was very tragic and some of the incidents you see are very graphic but after a while you get desensitized to the personal aspect of the tragedy which makes it easier to deal with. It’s like all your feelings and emotions from an incident are rolled up in a little ball and tucked away somewhere in the back of your mind to be dealt with in full on another day.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, the lack of emotions from a tragedy is only temporary and a lot of times, after you separate from the military the desensitizing starts wearing off and you start to get those emotions back. There can be anger, there can be guilt and there can be other emotions that come into play. Usually, it’s the same treatment for these things in the for of sleep aids and antidepressants to deal with your emotions. These treatments do nothing but kick the can on down the road and sooner or later the emotions need to be delt with. It’s hard, very very hard to cope with these things. It turns into a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario and suicide can come into play. I can say from personal experience that time is the best medication for dealing with these issues. Having like-minded people around you is another good way to cope with these issues and a great tool for support. It gets better over time and dealing with these issues can often be a process. The biggest thing to understand is that sometimes our veterans are fighting mighty mental battles that no one can visibly see. Understanding the full meaning of “sacrifice” is something we should strive to honor and respect on this Veterans Day.

The Humbling Faith…

…of a fisherman. That’s the only way to describe my hangover from a bad day of fishing. Don’t get me wrong, the fall day itself was fine with the changing of colors along the shoreline of the lake. Btw, if you haven’t taken the time to look up from those sonar screens lately, take a look around at the scenery on the lake, as I highly suggest taking it all in right now because the fall colors are really starting to pop. No, the day itself was fine but the fishing was very rough and I’m not sure I’ve experienced this kind of slump in early October in recent memory. I’ve been asking myself if the pattern has changed and am I just too stubborn to admit it and move on to the next pattern?

The Cove: Getting up and down the steps to my dock has become a chore in itself, with a bad knee and now a bad back that has probably been caused by the compensation from the bad knee. I’ve been eating Motrin like Skittles this week and I feel like I’m back in the Navy, all jacked up on caffeine, Motrin and adrenaline…. not so much the adrenaline anymore but coffee and Motrin for sure. In the Navy we used to call Motrin “fighter mints” and we always had a big bottle at the ready in our Maintenance Control. My knee surgery date is set, and I have 3 more weeks to fish before the surgery takes me off the water for a while.

The Fishing: This week started out good and slowly digressed throughout the week for me. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday were decent days with the typical bite getting better as the sun got higher, but I could sense a change was coming. Early in the week the fish were showing a good interest in the little chrome Z-dog walking bait over brush and out on points, but I could tell that the fish were showing less and less interest as the week progressed. On Monday I was throwing the little walking bait about 90% of the time and it accounted for all of my fish. By Wednesday I was mixing in a translucent Z-dog because the fish just wouldn’t commit to the chrome Z-dog. By yesterday, most of the fish would just follow, swirl or blow up on the Z-dog but only a few actually got the bait in their mouths. Another little move these bass make when they have a bait figured out is that they will knock it high in the air and move on. Nine out of ten times, they don’t actually bite at the bait, but they smack it with their tail in a move of denial. For that reason, I started mixing in other baits and other patterns late this week and the topwater was only occupying 50% of my time. I’m keeping my topwater rod at the ready because there still may be an opportunity to catch a surfacing fish or schooling fish within casting distance, which accounted for some of my fish this week. Basically, if and when the topwater bite comes back around this fall, I’ll spend more time on topwater but for now I’m spending more time with baits below the surface and on the bottom than surface baits.

If you’ve been hitting the back half of our creek or other south end creeks lately you’ve probably seen the water color change, and the lack of schooling fish on the surface. Another sure way to tell is the dirty, frothy bubble trails on the surface from recent prop wash. This is something that happens every year and it’s not because of any recent rains for sure. This actually started happening a few weeks ago back in our neck of the woods. Every morning last month I would see bubbles coming up everywhere in our bay. The bay was covered with ripples from the bubbles on the glassed over surface of the lake. A few weeks later the water changes color around the back areas of the creek and the fishing slows down. You can still catch fish in these areas but the fish slow down and tend to hug the bottom during this period. For that reason, I’m spending more time out on the big water of the main lake or just inside of the mouths of the creeks for my bites. I can tell that the water is a lot cleaner out on the main lake right now and there are some big schools of bluebacks cruising the points and a few humps. Humps have slowed down and I found more fish in areas attached to the mainland than I did out on isolated humps this week. I’m guessing that is part of the migration process.

I can tell that the pattern is changing, and I’m not sure what next week will bring. It looks like were in a full moon phase right now so the bite may be better in the cloak of darkness but my little Z-dog chrome and Casper Shad color pattern did the bulk of the damage out on the surface this week. Water temps were in the mid 70’s yesterday afternoon and the corps in generating a few hours in the evenings. Water levels are more than 3 and a half feet below full pool and dropping fast. Here’s some of my memorable pics from the Z-dog this week.

Gone in a Flash

….summer, that is. It seems like it came and went in a flash, and speaking of flash, that’s pretty much the main reason I’ve caught a lot of fish this summer. I’m still totally baffled by the lack of interest in the translucent baits this year. It’s the first year in 6-7 years that the emerald popper wasn’t a big hit and usually I would be hammering them on the popper by now. Another very successful translucent bait that they have been turning their noses up to is the Azuma Z-dog walking bait in the Casper Shad pattern. It’s a translucent of mine but they just don’t want it. I’m not saying that it’s the gospel and no one else is catching them on the translucent baits but I can only speak for my own experiences, good or bad.

After having an awesome week last week, I started out this week feeling like I was playing on house money. I kinda already knew the deal, it was just a matter of letting it play out again. It’s pretty much been the same with these fish for the past few weeks now, and the bluebacks controls the whole deal. It’s not totally a blueback deal right now because one of the fish I caught this week spit out an orange crawfish on the way to the boat. That tells me that either that crawfish was an oddity or there are some crawfish molting right now. If there are crawfish molting, now would be an excellent time to throw a crankbait or jig around some rock…….Maybe drag a worm?? Heck no!!! My focus has been on 100% topwater this week and it’s my big Kahoona right now, the reason I’m getting in as much fishing as I can before it all comes to a screeching halt for my knee surgery. Hopefully it will only be another month or so and I can finally get some relief.

The topwater this week has been pretty good, and timing is the main thing with the active fish right now. I’ve found that there are very few herring feeders schooling well in the early morning hours but as the sun gets high up in the sky the bluebacks rise to the surface in big numbers and the bass start the topwater routine. Every year is different and this year it’s been about the chrome and the flash.

If you read my report last week, I caught my fish on a chug bug that Jeff Nail had graciously given me right after I lost my last chug bug on a breakoff. I had tied on Jeff’s loaner and was back to catching fish. I liked the little chugger so well I just rolled with it this week and it’s all I used. It was a little slow in the morning hours but around lunchtime the bite was starting to fire up and the bass were committing to the bait. It always started the same way for me. At 9-10am the fish would roll and swirl on the little chugger, but they wouldn’t really commit till after lunch. The fish were very cautious in the mornings, but they turned into full on predators by midafternoon. The main reason for the predatory behavior was these guys below, the mature blueback herring.

The walking bait is a 4-inch Azuma z-dog, and the herring is close to 6 inches. That big ole herring could be seen floating on the surface from a long way away because it kept flashing in the sun. Those floating dead herring we’re seeing out there on the lake in the areas your fishing didn’t die of natural causes or some disease, those herring died while being terrorized by bass and stripers. The flash from those floating bluebacks has told me a lot about what the fish want, and I just rolled with the chrome chugger once again for success. I just moved around in the heat of the day, which btw was hot this week. If you could stand the heat of the day the topwater action out on the main lake was on fire. I sit in a steam sauna 4-5 times a week, so the heat isn’t something that bothers me but the key is to stay covered and cool down with icewater.

The bass were full on chasing bluebacks out on main lake humps and most of the bluebacks were in the 4–6-inch size. It was just a matter of throwing the bait around where the fish were coming up and most times they would come back up after popping the chugger a few times. It was the back-and-forth motion of the little chugger that made it flash and the flash and splash called the fish up. On an afternoon I was hitting 20+ different areas and only spending a few minutes in an area. If the fish were there and wanted to eat it would generally happen on the first few casts and most of the time the biggest in the pack ate first or was the most aggressive. After that initial catch I didn’t hang around much longer. At some places I was able to spot lock in the wind and fan cast for a few more fish but most of the time the biggest fish came up pretty quick out of the brush or in a wolfpack.

Most guys are pretty good about this, but I tend to forget from time to time, and that’s checking your line periodically. Especially when using what I call “flex baits”. If you’re using a bait like a walking, chugging or popping bait, you’re putting a lot of flex at the knot. A lot of fluorocarbon line is very rigid and after a while of flexing at the knot, the flex point becomes weak, and it is the weakest link in the chain. I found that the best knot for flex type baits is a Palomar knot hands down. Much fewer breakoffs at the knot.

I fished on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, a couple hours on Thursday and a few hours yesterday. Here’s a few memorable fish from my week with most coming off the chug bug and a couple on a Rapala Skitter Walk. Water temps are probably in the upper seventies this morning and the Corps is generating a few hours on the weekdays. The lake is almost 3 feet below full pool and dropping right now.