Not sure when I’ll get back out but yesterday and today I had a good time with my little Damiki rigs. Here’s a couple pictures and a video I made today that covers what I’m doing.
About 12 years ago Lisa and I put a steam sauna in our last house, and we enjoyed it so much we’re going to install another one. When we built the Cast Away Cove house a few years back we had the builder add a small room off of the man cave bath and leave it unfinished. (I also knew that a lot of the sauna heaters are 220vac heaters so I had our electrical install a dedicated 220vac and a switch box in a little utility room under the stairs and will be access to the heater control as well as Bluetooth for tunes when the sauna is complete). Our plan was to install the sauna later. Well. now it’s later and we ordered everything we need from “Superior Sauna” out of Wisconsin. They make it easy with step-by-step instructions, and they ship the whole kit to your house, ready to assemble. We received the shipment yesterday so now we can get started with our winter project 2021. I’ll be posting pictures of the progress until it’s complete. Here’s a link to Superior Sauna.
The Florida Keys and the Key West area was always a magical place for me during my Navy career. As a kid growing up in the Midwest, never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined some of the fun times I had in the Florida Keys while in the Navy. Back before, during the Reagan years and beyond there was a need for aircraft to patrol our southern borders in order to combat drug smuggling and at times our squadron was tasked with helping the feds with drug smuggler detection, interception and interdiction. Basically our squadron was tasked with finding the smugglers and the feds were tasked with apprehension. The squadron would spend a few weeks at a time down on a little known key just north of Key West called “Boca Chica”. The Navy had a small air base there and we would operate out of the airbase during our stay. The Navy also had a resort type area on Boca Chica complete with a private beach, marina, bar, restaurant and other amenities’ to make our stay more comfortable and private while we operated in the area. Unless we went into Key West which was about 10 miles from the air base, you’d never know we were there as just about everything we needed was on the base including a laid back night life at the beachside bar and restaurant after a hot day of working on the tarmac.
Once the feds got a little more technical with their surveillance tactics using satellites and radar, the need for our services dropped off but the base at Boca Chica was tasked with a new roll which was providing fleet adversary training (ACM) or “dog fighting” training to the fleet. Basically, Navy pilots have to stay proficient in different aspects of their job, one of those being “air to air” combat. The central hub for that training became the base at Boca Chica for the east coast air bases and sometimes the west coast bases as well. It made sense because the area in which the pilots operated was way out over the gulf and the Florida Keys was the perfect location to operate from. As a maintenance man, I wasn’t complaining as I loved to fish so when I wasn’t working on the jets I was probably going to be either fishing or trying to find a way to fish.
As my Navy career was winding down I was transferring from a F-18 Hornet squadron in southern Louisiana and I chose to take a I-level job which basically meant that I would not be working on the jets anymore but I would be working on the electronic gear that goes into the jet at a small airbase just north of Atlanta, Ga. called Dobbin Air Reserve Base. I would be in a repair outfit testing and repairing anything from computers to hydraulic actuators. If it used electricity and went to a Navy or Marine Corps aircraft they probably fixed it at one time or another. By that time in my career I was in a supervisory position and was the leading Petty Officer of our division. I managed about 50-75 sailors and Marines in my position and I basically sat behind a desk all day working on paperwork, doing training which included death by Power Point and managing personnel that were half my age. After 2 years of that desk job I was about to lose my mind so I cancelled my my orders and requested to go back to lacing up my boots and working on jets for one last 2 year Hooray before my plan to retire. I was able to finagle my way into a F-18 Hornet squadron right there at the base just down the road from where I currently worked. I had about 12 years of experience on F-18 Hornets so I quickly regained all my old qualifications and started my new job as a Avionics QA rep. I traveled with the squadron when they would be tasked with different aspects of the job and the squadron usually made 3-4 trips to Key West every year for fleet adversary training. On this particular trip I was less than a year from retirement and I had already “dropped my papers” for retirement.
The squadron had scheduled a early fall trip to Key West for another ACM training detachment which was scheduled to last 2 weeks. Just enough time for me to enjoy a little laid back lifestyle in the Keys and squeeze in a fishing trip before getting back to the grind in Atlanta. I knew this was going to be one of my last trips with the Navy to Key West so I really wanted to get some fishing in while I was there. When we were getting ready to spend a few weeks in Key West we always sent an advanced party of about a dozen personnel to make sure all of the logistics are taken care of before the main body of aircraft and personnel arrive. The advanced party would set up our birthing assignments in the barracks at Boca Chica. One nice thing about being a senior first class petty officer is that I rated my own private room so I didn’t have a roommate like most of the squadron personnel. That comes in handy when in Key West because sometimes a roommate could be problematic if they like the night life and you didn’t. On this particular trip my fishing buddy Chris was going with the advanced party and he was tasked with finding us a fishing charter during our stay in the Keys. We were going to work a 24 on and 24 off shift which would give us the opportunity to get in a trip or two. Chris was a great saltwater fisherman and many times Chris and I had rented fish boats from the Navy marina and fished for Mai Mai or other predatory fish around the drifting offshore weed beds and floating structure. We also fished the reefs for bottom feeding grouper and snapper at times. We dove for lobsters during the summer lobster season and fished on our own a lot but we wanted to let someone else do the guiding so we could focus on fishing on this trip. Generally the squadron would have a big beach party during our stay at Boca Chica so in addition to steaks and lobster on the grill Chris and I were going to try and provide some fresh fish for the beach party grill. In the past we had brought Mai Mai for the grill but it was late in the season and that kind of seafood wasn’t really anticipated to be on the menu for this trip.
Chris called me a few days after he arrived with the advanced party and he had found us a charter captain for a night fishing trip to the reefs for grouper and snapper. It seemed Chris had run into a commercial fishing captain who made his living catching reef fish and selling them to the local restaurants and markets as well as exporting a few up the state. Chris told me that they hit it off and the captain agreed to take Chris and I out on an all night trip to the reefs located about an hour offshore. He said that we would probably catch enough fish for our upcoming squadron party and if we would just kick in 100 bucks total for gas and bait that would pay for a night of fishing. It was mostly going to be snapper, grunts and grouper but that sounded like something we could put on the grill along with about 50-60 ribeye steaks, lobster, baked potatoes and vegetables to feed the squadron. Our plan was to leave the docks at sunset and fish most of the night. When we felt like we had enough for our party and the captain had a good amount of fish for his business we would come back in. That was the plan.
I arrived in Key West with the main body of our squadron on a Saturday and I immediately had to go to work. There was a lot of things to set up and we needed to get everything ready to start flight operations early on Monday morning. Chris and I were working as squadron QA reps and we worked the same shift which was from noon on one day till noon on the next day. Our squadron just rotated 2 separate shifts around the clock so we were flying and performing maintenance almost non-stop for 2 weeks. We made our plans to leave on a Thursday evening, fish all night and procure the fish we needed overnight then coming in on Friday morning, clean and refrigerating our catch for the beach party and cookout on Saturday afternoon.
Work went pretty smooth during the week and Thursday finally arrived. We got off work at noon and went back to our rooms for a little 4 hour power nap before preparing for our night trip. Chris and I grabbed a bite to eat, headed to the pier and found the captain just before sunset . We were joined at the dock by 2 other Navy guys from another squadron that the captain had met a few days earlier and wanted to join us. The captains boat was an older wooden fishing boat, maybe 35-40 feet in length with an open stern area and a coffin type box right in the middle of the open deck at the stern. When we boarded the younger captain introduced himself as Rob and I could tell he was of either Cuban or Puerto Rican decent. He showed us around the boat and got us familiar with his vessel. Rob was younger than me but I could tell he was seasoned and knew his stuff. He explained about the function of the box in the back. The box itself was open at the top and about 4 feet high, a good 7-8 feet long and 3 feet wide. There was a wire about the diameter size of a clothes hanger wire that ran right down the middle of the opening and the length of the box. The idea was that once you caught a fish you could drop the hooked fish in the box and pull the fish and hook into the wire and give a quick jerk and the fish would be released from the hook and fall down into the box. The box was actually the storage area for our catch and the idea keep the fish iced as we caught them overnight and to fill the box by morning. If it was anticipated that we were going to fill the box overnight that meant that we were going to be catching a heck of a lot of fish but that was fine by me. The more fish catching, the better the trip as far as I was concerned. Once we got the tour of the boat and everyone knew where the safety equipment was we were off. There was a small pilot house and Rob jumped in the captains chair and pulled the boat away from the dock right at sunset. We were heading east away from the island once we cleared the navigation channel and headed for one of the many reefs that surrounded Key West. As we pulled out into the open water the sky to the west was a mixture of orange and gray colors where the sun was last seen before setting. Off to the east in the direction that we were traveling was a far off thunderstorm and we could barely make out the lightning inside the high reaching anvil cloud of the storm. Storms offshore in the keys at night aren’t uncommon and most times provide a little bit of a light show after dark and off in the far distance. Myself, Chris and the other 2 guests got familiar while we were on our way to the reefs.
It was a beautiful early fall evening and the temperatures were very mild at the time. We were dressed for mild weather and I think we all had shorts and a long sleeve fishing shirt for attire and we only brought light snacks and drinks with us. Chris found a cast net that Rob had stored in the pilot house so about 30 minutes into our trip we stopped and fired up a portable generator and put out a large sodium light along the starboard side where there was a small winch. We anchored over a shallow area and ballyhoo started gathering around the glow of the light. Rob asked if any of us wanted a beer from a cooler he had brought and I took him up on it. Nobody else in the group wanted a beer so myself and the captain cracked a natty lite while we watched more ballyhoo gather under the light. We drank and waited as the baitfish group got bigger and Chris readied the cast net for a throw over the side on top of the circling ballyhoo. I looked out to the east and the storm over the Atlantic was growing bigger and moving slowly towards us. At the time I wasn’t really concerned because captain Rob was at the helm and working on his 2nd natty while Chris let the net fly and drop over a couple dozen nice big ballyhoo to use for bait. After we threw the net a few more times for a few more baitfish over the course of the next 30 minutes we pulled anchor to find the fishing grounds. Once again we were heading right for the storm but it was still far off in the distance. We finally found the reef and there was just a small chop on the water when we dropped anchor and back the big boat into place. Captain Rob turned on the stern lighting and deck lights which lite up the whole back of the boat. He brought out some conventional fishing gear which was just some old Penn Squider baitcasters and heavier mono on a stiff rod with a circle hook tied to the line and a small weight at the bottom. The idea was to drop a small piece of squid on the hook down about 30-40 feet, wait till you feel and jerk and then reel the fish up. Most of the fish were smaller type grunts, yellowtail and a few grouper but since Rob was a commercial fisherman he was allowed limits of fish in the hundreds of pounds vice the smaller recreational creel limits imposed by the state. Once you got the fish in you just take it to the box, drop it down, release it and bait up again. Rob, on the other hand was old school, he was a hand line fisherman. He basically had the same set up we had with the hook, bait and line but his line was wrapped around his hand vice using a fishing rod and reel. I’d experienced folks that hand lined in the past so it wasn’t anything new to me but I preferred the rod and reel method.
We all baited up and Rob dropped a couple of chum boxes down to the bottom in a wire basket to get the fish stirred up and eating. Just as soon as we dropped our bait down we had a fish on. Most of the fish were 10-20 inches in size and for the first hour or so it was fun to be catching fish that quick. I kept watching the storm to the east and after about an hour of catching fish we all knew the storm was moving towards us and we were probably going to get wet. Captain Rob told us that it wasn’t unusual and they generally passed through rather quickly without and problems but by this time Rob was working through the last of his first 12 pack of natties and I could tell he was getting a little jacked up with liquid courage. I had quit drinking earlier when I realized that the storm was going to hit us and that little breeze we had turned into a moderate blowing wind with a beefy chop on the water. It wasn’t long till we could hear the thunder and we could see lightning inside the giant thunderhead, some of the lightning bolts slammed down onto the waters surface lighting up the night sky under the storm cloud. The boat was starting to rock as the waves got a little more pronounced but we were still catching fish and having a good time. The box was getting filled fast and we had a variety of fish for the party. Rob wanted to take advantage of the good fishing and said that if it got rough we would ride it out in the pilot house till the worst had passed and we could go right back to fishing. There were a couple long bunks inside the pilot house along the wall and you could lie down and rest or sleep if need when out fishing on overnight trips. Soon the sky darkened and the waves came in with more of a rolling action. There was a beefy chop on the surface from the wind but there were also some big rolling swells which tossed the boat back and forth. The rain started and the wooden deck became slick to walk on with the pitching and rolling deck. It was still fairly warm out but the rain and the wind had definitely cooled us down and none of us brought any proper rain gear nor did Rob carry any on the boat. As the storm came in the the thunder and lightning is what made me nervous. Not so much the thunder but the lightning is something we could have done without. Chris and the other 2 fellows in our group finally broke down and put away their gear, heading for the pilot house. By this time the storm was in full swing and Captain Rob was definitely hitting the natty hard. It was blowing rain with occasional lightning and reminded me of some of the storms I endured back in the Louisiana marsh during a hot summer afternoon. The boat was old but very seaworthy and I felt the anchor release and re-seat on a few different occasions. The old boat slammed back and forth with the waves and I figured that if the big boat was going to come apart in the storm I’d rather be outside than inside so I rode it out with Rob and fished right through it. I was either holding on to the gunnel rails or clinging to the fish box most of the time but I kept right on fishing. There was a point during the height of the storm that it was nearly impossible to walk on the deck to get back and forth from the side of the boat to the fish box with a fish. It was a scary situation to fish with the boat rolling, tossing, turning and all the lightning but I figured that if this was the way I was going out I might as well be fishing when I bite it. I gotta tell you that it was rough, even in a big boat it was rough. There was a time during the storm when I was completely soaked and chilled, sliding around the deck of the boat and I said a quick prayer asking for a little help from the big guy upstairs. I wondered if all that natty light that Rob was drinking gave him the courage to stay out in the storm rather than run back to the safety of the dock but I also figured that the man had to make a living and he had 4 able bodied deck hands that actually paid to help him. He probably didn’t run across a mentally challenged labor force like us Navy guys that often and he had recruited 4 of us top notch sailors on this trip.
Finally, I could tell the storm was loosing it’s punch on us and the rain started to subside. The wind calmed and the waves turned to a small chop again. Chris and the other guys came out from the pilot house and we all went back to fishing. We continued to catch fish and laughed about the storm and everyone sliding around the deck with the fish we were catching. It was around 4 am when we finally filled the box with fish and we were all whipped and ready to call it a night so we pulled anchor, started the big diesel motors and headed west toward the dock at Key West. We chatted about our night of fishing and Rob told us about his fishing adventures up and down the east coast over the years. When we finally reached our dock at the pier I could see the sun rising off to the east in the same area I saw the approaching storm the night before. I was beat when I stepped off the boat and I had a good case of sea legs from all the rocking and rolling. Rob told us that he would dress out and half shell some bigger fish filets for us and we could pick them up Saturday morning before our squadron beach party. It worked out perfectly and we had enough fish to add to our grilled table fare at the party for everyone to get a taste of grouper and snapper from the keys. I’ve probably visited the Keys a dozen times since that trip but fishing the reefs through a storm in the middle of the night is a trip I’ll never forget.
This morning I was back at it bright and early. My plan was to hit the back of a few ditches early and see if I could find a few more nice bass first thing in the morning. This morning the wind was already blowing out of the northwest just like the last 2 days but it was definitely blowing a little harder early this morning. When the wind is blowing early in the morning the chop makes it harder for the gulls to see the bait below the surface so the gulls weren’t much help early this morning. I found a few fish in the backs of the pockets but I kept getting distracted by the loons and gulls moving around the creek in different areas. I saw the loons off in the distance and they were in a a pretty big group. I moved closer to the area the loons were in and I started watching them work. There were 12-15 loons in the group and they were all diving at the same time which means that they were working. When loons are moving around looking they tend to dive randomly looking in a search mode but when they find a good pod of bait they all go to work together to round up the bait in a tight pattern for the feeding. I saw a few baitfish hit the surface where the loons had been and that little bit of surface activity with the baitfish triggered the gulls to move in. A few of the loons surfaced and quickly dove back down splashing the surface in the process. More loons were popping up, quickly moving around and diving back down for another mouthful of small 1 inch shad or small bluebacks. More gulls showed up and started diving on the water but by that time I was within striking distance with my little white spoon and I let it fly right into the area where the birds were working. I made a very long cast to get into the area and when the spoon hit the water I just let it freefall for about 5-10 seconds so it would clear most of the loons before I made my first long pull on the spoon. The loons know the difference between my spoon and live bait so they rarely get hooked accidentally and thankfully so. Hooking a loon is no fun and something you want to avoid at all costs. Once the spoon cleared the loons I gave the spoon a good long pull upward and then let it freefall while I reeled down. I was over 60+ feet of water and after my second long pull I felt a familiar tick and the line going slack. A tick and slack line can only mean one thing when you know the spoon hasn’t hit the bottom. It means that it’s time to reel down on the slack and make sure your drag is set because your fixin to go for a ride. I set the hook on the tick and felt a pretty sturdy pull back and I knew it was the man in the striped tuxedo. I spent the next few minutes in a tug of war with my biggest striper this year, pictured above.
My setup was primarily for vertically jigging bass or the shaky head rigs and is pretty light when it comes to stripers but I was using 12lb high vis braid with a 30 foot 7lb flouro leader mounted on a Shimano 3000 Ci4 spinning reel and a 7’6” Enigma HPT rod and a 1/2 ounce War Eagle spoon. After landing the fish above I watched the loons and gulls move out over the middle of the creek channel and well over 100 feet in depth when they all started working again. The gulls showed up again and I could tell that they had more bait corralled so I moved the boat to within striking distance. I looked down at the graph and could see striper suspended at 20-30 feet over a 110+ foot bottom. I let the spoon fly into the group of loons and gulls and within 10-15 seconds I felt another tick on the line, I set the hook and missed but within seconds I felt another near miss before the line loaded up again with another nice striper. This striper spent most of the fight near the surface which was the way I like it. Sometimes bigger stripers will take you right down into the standing timber when over deep water but this fish swam on the surface and rolled a few times. It was another stout fish that really put that Shimano drag system to the test. This fish had really put on the feed bag and was another stout teenager and a little smaller than the first fish.
After those two stripers I decided to look around for any kind of pattern for the bass which was a washout effort today. I’ve been trying a few new things and checking some new areas for fish every time I go out. Soon these fish will start making their way to the staging areas and shift to a pre-spawn feeding pattern. Every year is different and to this date I can’t nail down a time when that will happen, but it will happen gradually and soon. I have years of data to draw from and I’m able to put together a trend analysis from my past posts, videos and pictures. That’s the reason I’m starting to focus more on the pre-spawn staging stuff as well as the deep fish on every trip.
With the exception of a few smaller variety bass on a shaky head in the marina area on the way back to the house my effort for bass didn’t pay off today so called it a day early. The stripers made my morning and really made up for the lack of greenfish so if you find yourself in a slump during the dog days of winter there’s always a few stripers hanging around the loons waiting on the action to start. Give it a shot sometime. Water temps are just below 50 and the wind was out of the NW again today.
This morning I was able to get an early start in the creek. I hadn’t been out before 10am in a while but this morning I was on the water before 8am. As soon as I cleared the marina the first thing I noticed was the bird activity. Gulls were everywhere in the creek this morning and they were active, tracking the loons and capitalizing on the labor of the loons. Gulls are notorious for following groups of loons that are moving around looking for schools of baitfish such as schools of small shad and small bluebacks that are drifting near the surface. The loons generally travel in small groups and they work together to move, corral and devour schools of baitfish. The gulls see opportunities for meals when the loons are feeding on the schools the loons have found and have pushed to the surface. The gulls will hover and circle the loons and when the gulls see a target baitfish they dive into the water to pick off the baitfish. Now just pretend for a minute that the gulls are bass and stripers, only the attack on the baitfish comes from below. The fish also capitalize on the labor of the loons and often times are right below the action picking off a wounded baitfish or a few baitfish that have escaped the wrath of the loons and gulls above. I noticed that some of the birds and a few loons were in water less than 20 feet deep and they were actively feeding on the surface. That’s the perfect scenario for me casting my little white spoon. Generally when I see loons and gulls feeding in shallow water it’s just about a lock that feeding fish will be nearby and that was the case this morning. My first fish this morning was the fish pictured above, caught in less than 15 feet of water and caught casting my spoon around diving birds. The second fish of the morning was the striper pictured below which is my biggest so far this year and I caught the striper in a little deeper water but casting right into the middle of about a dozen feeding loons. The striper was a blast on a little Shimano Ci4 2500, 7lb test and casting a little white War Eagle spoon.
I was just making the cast and letting the spoon freefall for 3-4 seconds, then a slow pull upward and letting it fall again. The idea is to mimic a dying baitfish under the loons. This technique worked well early this morning but once the sun came up a little ways the spoon bite slowed considerably. I was able to catch a few more smaller fish and I also got stupid and tried to boat flip a 3lber which didn’t work well. All in all it was a good morning and I also managed a few more smaller fish pictured below.
That little white spoon works well in the winter for vertically jigging fish in the ditches in the winter but it can also be cast around feeding birds for big fish in the winter.
This report is from yesterday which wasn’t much to talk about after having such success earlier in the week but I was only able to get out for a couple hours total. I did catch some fish but nothing worthy of my “big fish only” photo rules so in order to carry on the tradition of many humbled anglers before me I have included a picture of a beautiful sunset. I didn’t make it out till noon yesterday and I needed to be back at the house at 3 to pick up the grandson so that is my excuse for doing poorly. I didn’t have much time so I decided to try a few new places and a few new baits since time was short. I ran into my buddy Mike out in the creek and he was catching a few in a ditch. I assumed he was spooning but he told me he was using a Damiki rig in 40 feet of depth. I didn’t have one and Mike hooked me up with an extra he had so I put it in my pocket for later and another ditch I had in mind, my lucky ditch. I left Mike and his ditch and started hitting some rocky points and bluffs. I wanted to spend some time throwing a chatterbait on the sun soaked points to see if I could get a bigger fish to react to my chatterbait. My favorite and most successful chatterbait has always been the 1/4 ounce pearl Jackhammer with a pearl paddletail fluke. That chrome blade on the front of the jackhammer seals the deal. You want to always keep that blade as clean and reflective as possible. It’s the flash of that blade that often times causes the reaction on sunny days like yesterday. Turns out that wasn’t the deal yesterday and after about a solid hour of throwing the jackhammer I went to the shaky head and some rocky stuff I hadn’t checked in a while. I spend a little more than an hour with the shaky head on rocks and docks with just a couple of solid 2lbers to show for my efforts. After catching some big beefy 4+ bass earlier this week, every time I set the hook yesterday I just about ripped the lips off the little scrappy 2lbers thinking every fish is a big one now. I had a little less than an hour left and I remembered I had the Damiki rig in my pocket and I still hadn’t checked the lucky ditch yet so I eased up on the ditch after tying on the newly acquired Damiki head and little swimbait trailer. As I hit the ledge and dropped down into the ditch I could see a few fish on the ledge but I wanted to drop where the ditch bottomed out at 40-45 feet. When I hit the 40 foot mark I saw what I was looking for, a small group of suspended bass so I dropped the Damiki right through them and watched every one chase the Damiki down to the bottom. As soon as it hit I raised the rig up off the bottom slightly and then held it there. I could see the group of fish watching the rig on the graph. I started to pick up the rig and I felt a small tick. I lifed a little higher and realized there was a fish holding the Damiki. I jerked, the fish jerked and it was on. It was another feisty 2lber but hey, it was my first on the Damiki. I moved around the ditch a bit and found another group of fish to drop on, catching another smaller fish before calling it a day and heading to the house. Not sure what day I’ll be out again but I’m looking forward to playing around with the little Damiki rig in the ditches again next week. Have a safe weekend!
Early this morning I made an entry in my blog about the shaky head and some pointers on how and where to fish it. My trip out in the creek this morning was textbook what I had written about earlier. I didn’t get out to the creek till around 10am again so I missed the early morning stuff. This morning the sun was out and for a while the creek was flat and calm. Once I cleared the marina I made a quick dash to my lucky ditch that wasn’t very lucky this morning. There were no fish in the ditch at all so I went to a little stretch of deep docks that I frequent in the winter. I hit pay dirt and busted a beefy 4+ on some deep dark chunk rock right next to a deep dock. It’s the fish on the left pictured above. Just to give you an idea of the dock depth, it was 50 feet deep at the very end of the dock and the dock sat on top of some big dark chunk rock. I was using the same setup as yesterday with the senko style shaky head rig. I wrote a little more about the senko rig in my earlier blog post but I believe these bigger fish really like the looks of that fat body worm. Some of these bigger fish could be down in the ditch with all their buddies chowing down on 1-2 inch threadfin shad but they choose to hang out around deep dark rocky areas in ambush mode or they go cruising the shallow sunny secondary points in search of the bigger ticket meals like crawfish, bream and gizzard shad. I call these fish the “meat eaters”. After catching the big girl next to the dock I started throwing the worm on sunny secondary points. I tried to keep the boat out in 25-30ft of water on the point and throw the worm up as shallow as possible. The fish I caught on the points today were in 10-15 feet of water including the one pictured above on the right. Another solid 4lber. The key to my fish today was fishing the worm very slow. I caught a few fish this morning while dead sticking the worm but the common theme with all of my fish this morning was a very slow presentation. It’s hard for a power fisherman to slow it down to the speed of a three toed sloth but it’s the best speed for success right now. The two fish below were caught on back to back casts on the same secondary point in the creek. A good example of why throwing right back into the area of where you just caught a fish pays off.
Since my bum shoulder is only good for a few hours of fishing I spent the rest of the time just hitting sunny secondary points and working my way back to the house. I was back in the house by 2 pm and all totaled I had caught 7 fish, all of which were keepers. The water temps were around 47-48 at 10am and the wind was minimal and out of the west.
For the past few winters I’ve spent more and more time throwing the shaky head worm rather than fishing the deep stuff. The more time that passes the more I’m convinced that there is a population of larger fish that cruise the shallows all winter in search of bigger ticket meals such as crawfish, bream and larger gizzard shad rather than the millions of threadfin shad and blueback herring that are stacked in the deep ditches. I have yet to figure out why these bigger fish would want to leave the “sure thing” but if they are like me, maybe they just get bored with the same old seafood diet and go searching for the meat and potatoes. I’ve found that these bigger fish cruising the shallows generally hark up a array of regurgitated chow from crawfish pieces to decomposed bream. I can tell they are in the shallows for bigger meals judging from what they’ve been eating. Since I’ve established the pattern of bigger fish cruising the shallows in the winter, it’s just a matter of finding and catching them.
Years ago I was all about the crankbait all winter. My thought has always been that the fish, like me, enjoy the warmth of the winter sun and I would always gravitate towards the sunny rocky shorelines with my crankbait. I would tie on my crankbait, beat the banks with reckless abandonment and usually run across a few fish by days end. That was my strategy back in my cranking days but for the past few years I’ve decided to slow it down and learn more finesse with less power. Probably the most frequently asked question I get is “what worm do you use“. That seems to be the key to success with the shaky head but you need to be able to define success. My definition of success with the shaky head may differ from yours. I think back to a few years ago when I was fishing as a boater in a BFL tournament on Lanier. I had been on a great crankbait bite and spent most of the day cranking with little to show for it. With a little less than an hour left till weigh in my back seater tied on a little green pumpkin finesse worm on a little screw lock ball head and put 5 keepers in the boat to cash a check. I didn’t make the switch quick enough and I didn’t cash a check. On another occasion I was on a guided trip and my guest absolutely smoked them on the same little setup of a green pumpkin finesse worm on a ball head. One thing to note was that most of the fish were smaller keepers in both instances but nonetheless it was fish and it was success for those cases.
For me, success has a different definition now. Primarily because I live on the lake and I can fish several days a week but for the past few years I’ve grown tired of numbers in favor of quality. With the shaky head it’s hard to rule out quantity at times because it’s just a good bait for Lanier. It’s bailed thousands of tournament anglers out of a bad day and helped cash a lot of checks I promise you. Lake Lanier offers a lot of rocky shoreline plus shoreline structure such as docks and those two areas are perfect for the shaky head tactic. With my knowledge of where the bigger fish may be in the winter it was just a matter of the right offering. A few years back I went through my jig phase and enjoyed the thump of a big ole spot pounding my jig. That will get your heart racing but I wanted to slow it down to light tackle finesse with big fish in mind. That’s when I found the 5 inch senko type baits on a shaky head. The 5 inch stick baits are fat, beefy and heavy. They sink quick and the smaller fish tend to leave it alone. The 5 inch bait on a 1/4 ounce ball shaky head out performed all the other worms I’ve used including the good ole 6 inch trick worm for big fish just about every time. Another thing I like about the senko type rig is that I can throwing it a mile, control it and I can feel everything with my light tackle spinning gear.
Speaking of gear, a lot of times in the winter months with the shaky head the bite can be subtle, For that reason I switch my gear to a more visible line such as hi-vis braid with a flouro leader. I want to be able to see my line at all times so I usually tie on about 30 feet of 7-8lb good fluorocarbon to a load of 12lb green flouro braid. I use a modified Alberto knot, appropriately named the “Jimberto” knot for the flouro to braid and I like a good Shimano spinning reel such as the 250 Ci4. I’m using a 7′ 6″ MH rod with a lot of backbone so I can make a good hook set on these bigger fish and that boney mouth.
Location is a big part of the process and probably the second most asked question I get. In the creek, it’s just a matter of me going back to places I’ve caught big fish in the past. Some of my favorites are the deep dark rocky bluffs. Those deep dark areas are a place that big bass like to wait in the shadows and ambush a unsuspecting meal. Probably the absolute best area is a dark rocky bluff very near a dock and very very near deep water. There are strings of docks in the creek as well as all over the lake that offer this setting. My second favorite area is secondary points in the creek. These points will load up with bigger fish as we get closer to the spawn. I’ve found that the bigger fish spawn the earliest in the creek so usually they are in a post spawn feeding mode and staged up on points going back to spawning areas as early as late Jan. On a sunny day these staging areas are a magnet to bigger bass as well as foraging food moving around the warmer water. As the fish warms in these sun soaked areas, there color gets richer and their metabolism speeds up a bite. The fish are much more aggressive and much stronger than the cold slow fish in a ditch and that’s why I like to target them. I’ve gotten to the point of accepting less bites for better quality so if you ask me how I catch the bigger fish in the winter, there’s a few tips that may help this winter.
It’s been a while since I was out in the creek in my boat so I needed to get familiar with the creek again today. I’m using my brace for my bum shoulder and mainly using the low impact baits like the shaky head so I don’t damage the shoulder further. I didn’t leave the dock till after 10am and came back shortly after lunch. The water temps are 48-49 right now, water levels are just below full pool and today it was cloudy with the wind out of the NW. My first stop was just up the creek from the house and I pounded a few docks with the shaky head. Not much was going on in the back so I headed out into the creek and straight to a ditch that I had been getting some nice fish out of. Nothing was happening in the ditch so I ran another stretch of 8-10 docks near the ditch with nothing to show for it. After that I went to the secondary points and caught my first big fish of 2021. It was a nice 4+lber and I caught her on a 1/4 ounce shaky head with a 5 inch Yamamoto senko worm. This was the fish below.
After that fish I concentrated on the points in the creek but I couldn’t scrape up too much more. I lost another larger fish next to the boat when I was trying to get fancy and lip it like the pros and I also caught my first largemouth of 2021 pictured below. The largemouth was hanging out on some rip rap in less than 5 feet of water, also with the stick bait shaky head combo.
I headed back to the house around 2pm after checking a few more docks back by the house. I’m going to try and get back out for a while tomorrow and expand my search so will see what that brings.
There just wasn’t much fun for me during this New Years holiday season. First, I came down with some kind of sinus/bronchitis funk before New Years eve and secondly I’ve been suffering through another torn rotator cuff. For me, making the transition from 2020 to 2021 is very similar to making the transition from 2010-2011 and 2016 -2017. Those were the New Years transitions that I had a torn rotator cuff and it looks like I’m going to need another repair on an already repaired right shoulder soon. I’m pretty sure I know how I did the damage and that was from making the transition to the Ultrex trolling motor from the Fortrex. I know it sounds weird but I noticed that the Ultrex was just a bit heavier and unfortunately I generally use my right arm to deploy and retract the trolling motor. The reason I use my right arm is because I’m left handed and I usually have my rod in my left hand so it’s out of force of habit. A few weeks back I started experiencing some minor separations in my right repaired shoulder and it just went down hill from there. It’s finally gotten to the point of burning pain anytime my arm isn’t supported so it’s just about impossible as well as very uncomfortable to fish right now. I’m in the process of getting a MRI and finding a Ortho surgeon that takes my insurance so going forward, I have a shoulder brace and I may try and fish a little here and there if possible.
With all that being said, my buddy Mike took me out for a couple hours this week and we were able to catch a few fish and I got my first few bass for 2021. The first was a feisty 2lber on a shaky head in a 40 feet deep ditch and the second was a small deep ditch bass on a spoon. We caught a few more on the jig and a little swimbait and most of our fish were deep fish this week. Hopefully I can get back out on the lake next week with my shoulder brace and I can find a few more fish. This is the time of year it can be tough, slow and cold but there are also opportunities for some very big fish and hopefully I can find some soon.