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.

Things Are Looking Up

…and so are the fish. Once again, we’re approaching my favorite time of year. Crisp cool mornings and the smell of campfires drifting across the water from the parks and campgrounds along the shores of the Lake Lanier. On a cool fall morning when I leave the confines of the marina in the back of the creek I can look up towards the mouth of the creek and if the surface is flat, I can usually see surfacing fish presenting me with an idea of where to start. We’re just about there and this week was a good indicator that the topwater bite is about to break loose.

This week was a stellar week for me in terms of larger fish firing up my adrenaline glands. It all started the first thing Monday morning when I hit the water fairly early. A front had just come through the day before and the temps were finally in the mid to lower 60’s again with lower humidity. I actually had to break out my orange fleece shirt early in the morning which always indicates the beginning of Autumn. Don’t get me wrong, I know that we are in store for some hot days before it actually starts cooling down for good, but this little stint of cooler weather is just an early reminder that fall is on the horizon. One little piece of tackle that’s been working for me early in the morning before the topwater action starts is the little War Eagle spoon. A few weeks back I talked about the fish feeding on small baits early in the morning when the threadfin pods are on the surface. Every once in a while, a bass would surface chasing a little one-to-two-inch bait, but the fish would return to the depths very quickly with no interest in a topwater offering. For that reason, I’ve been using a small spoon early to get a few bites. I’ve been a fan of the little War Eagle spoons for a few years, and I had one at the ready. More specifically the place I like to throw the spoon is out on the ends of clean points where the bass are cruising and feeding on the threadfin pods that are drifting over their territory. With the spoon I’ve been making long casts and letting it flutter down to the bottom with an occasional pull up to give the bait some action. If there are feeding fish present, usually one will slam it on the first cast and then it’s a “one and done” effort. One Monday at my first stop and on my first cast with the spoon my week started with a bang. This big joker below hammered my spoon right before it landed on the bottom, and I was feeling pretty good.

After that fish I moved a few times, and I may have caught another smaller fish or two on the spoon before breaking out my little chrome Z-dog to test the topwater bite. Last week I had pretty good luck with the little chrome walking bait, so I broke it out again. I’m using a little different technique with the walking bait to get my bites, and it seems to work a little better than the old classic back and forth of walking the dog. I’m using a more aggressive approach with the bait, making a lot of surface disruption and trying to convince the fish to come up. If I just walked the dog slowly the fish had very little interest in the bait but if it looked very erratic, it was enough to fool the occasional fish in the mid-morning hours. It’s usually been starting out with some blow-ups, swirls and missed fish and as the day progresses the fish get much more aggressive. My first topwater fish on Monday wasn’t a real good one but it was a start.

Location has been the key this week and I’ve gotten my bites through the process of illimitation. For weeks I’ve been running out to the main lake first thing in the morning and fishing humps and points for my bites, but that’s changing rapidly. The bait is starting to make the fall migration to the creeks which means the fish aren’t for behind. The offshore bite has been slowly dwindling for me and during the course of the week I’ve given up on it as it has not been very productive for bigger fish at all. After ruling out the offshore bite, I started concentrating on the creeks more and more. Once in the creek it was a matter of the location of active and bigger fish and a matter of how I was going to get the bigger fish to bite. The little chrome z-dog had been doing the trick last week and I was down to my last one, so I was making extra sure I checked my line every so often to avoid breakoffs. The first topwater fish of the week was this one and it was on the little z-dog.

The thing about the topwater is that it gets better as the day progresses. Reason being is that the bluebacks get closer to the surface as the sun gets higher. The fish know this, and they usually don’t start focusing on the surface and cruising for bluebacks till the sun gets high in the sky and the warmest part of the day. Around noon I was over in another creek and a striper tore off with my little z-dog and when I tightened my drag a bit to keep him out of the trees the line broke and my z-dog was gone. I waited a few minutes in the area but the fish never shook the z-dog out. Now I was bummed but I remember a buddy telling me that he had caught a few good ones on a little chug bug the week before and so I looked down at my gut pile and found a little chugger, one of my favorites for this time of year. By the way, here’s a picture of my gut pile right now and the brunt of my friends jokes about the cleanliness of my boat. You can see a little chug bug in the pile, and I tied it on.

It wasn’t long before I found what I was looking for with the little chugger and I figured out the way to work it with success after a few blowups and near misses. My next fish….

Not long after I caught this one, I went back to my creek and ran into my buddy Jimmy S, and I chatted with him a while. I had loaned Jimmy one of my little chrome z-dogs last week and he told me I could have it back because he made a trip to Hammonds a stocked up on topwater. I was elated that I was reunited with another chrome z-dog, and I removed the little chugger and went back to work with the little z-dog. This was my next fish….

After that I caught a couple smaller fish, but I just couldn’t finish off that nice sack and ended the day feeling a little incomplete.

On Tuesday it was a bit cooler early in the morning and I was back out. It was pretty much the same thing as the day before, the spoon early and then I went to work on the topwater. The little chrome z-dog walking bait was getting it done again but I could tell that the fish were getting used to it as I cycled through the places in the creek where I had been getting bit. Later in the day I got a text from a friend who said they had done pretty good with the little chugger, so I tied it back on and caught a few more before ending the day. Here’s my bag on Tuesday.

On Wednesday I was back at it and starting to put it all together. I found that if I moved the little chugger to fast the fish didn’t want it, best case scenario, they would blow up on it or swirl on it, but the hookup rate was low. I found that if I just barely popped it and moved it slowly, that’s how they wanted it and I put another better sack in the boat using nothing but the little chugger on Wednesday. Here’s a picture of the bigger fish on Wednesday. I was really dialing it in, and I knew I was locked into bigger fish. Here’s Wednesday’s sack.

Yesterday I had to pack up and ship a big load of plow blades, but I really wasn’t interested in getting out on the lake early as the bigger fish bite wasn’t getting going till around noon. When I finally hit the lake around lunchtime, I was back at it with the chugger and feeling like I was going to have a good trip. Shortly after starting my fishing, I saw a large fish surface near me, so I threw the little chugger in the area and the fish immediately exploded on the bait. I felt the fish grab the bait and I rotated my body to put pressure on the fish when the rod loaded up. About halfway through my rotation I felt the line give and my little chugger as well as the fish was gone. I figured that there was a possibility the fish would shake it out, so I stayed in the area watching the surface for the little chugger pop back up to surface. I had the little z-dog lying in the gut pile, so I started tying it back on. As I was tying it on, I heard a large fish thrashing on the surface in the same area I just lost my last little chugger, so I finished tying very quickly, turned around and made a cast right into the area the big fish was thrashing and immediately the fish slammed my z-dog. I put pressure on the fish and realized right away that it was large. I was hoping it had a little chug bug dangling from its lip, but it wasn’t the case, but it was still an upper 3lber and my first keeper of the day. I thanked the Lord for the successful catch and went back to throwing the z-dog without another sniff in the area and without my little chugger popping back up to the surface. The chugger was gone but I still had the little chrome z-dog to work with.

I went over to Shoal and hit a little area where I had found a nice fish the day before. Soon after arriving in the area, I saw a large fish chasing a bait very shallow in the rocks and I quickly got close enough to make a good cast. I threw the little z-dog into about 3 feet of water, and it was immediately smashed by a big fish. I got it to the boat without incident and I had another nice fish within an hour of leaving the house. I thanked the Lord again for the nice fish and then moved on without another sniff on the z-dog.

I hit another creek and found Jimmy, Jeff and Tom in the creek, so we all had a little pow wow while Jeff looked for a bandage for an injury I sustained from a fall. Jeff had one of the biggest first aid kits I’ve ever seen, and he got me fixed up. He also had a brand spanking new chugger he gave me after I told him I broke my old one off. I was stoked because I really wanted to get back to chugging, so I tied the new chugger on and went back to BR where I saw Jimmy fishing a point very near where I was fishing. On one of my first casts with the shiny new chugger another very large fish hammered it, and I was praying that I could get the fish to the boat without incident. My prayers were answered, and I boated my 3rd big fish, a nice 4lber. I started thinking that if I could get 2 more like that, I might have one of my best sacks on Lanier. I went over to the point Jimmy was fishing and chatted with him a few minutes. I could see that all he was throwing was the jerk shad and he really wasn’t focusing on the topwater so as soon as he left, I started working the point. I popped the chugger over one brush pile without any takers, so I tied the little z-dog back on and just as I got it tied, the fish started schooling. I threw the z-dog into the fray of schooler and a big one jumped the z-dog. My heart was racing as the fish came boatside and into the net and at that point I realized that it was going to happen. The fish was a little over 4 and I just chuckled because I knew it was over and I was about to catch my biggest sack. I settled in and started fan casting the point. I was totally calm, and I said, “just one more Jesus”. No sooner that the words left my mouth a big fish exploded on the z-dog with some fantastic acrobatics. The fish jumped a good 2-3 feet in the air and came back down to the surface with a thud. The fish jumped again and again coming to the boat, but the z-dog held firm and I slid the net under the fish. I was done. I let out a big exhaled and laughed out loud as I knew my prayers had been answered for a good day. At that point I just drove around the creek for a little while and spent very little time fishing before going home for the day. I was totally satisfied for the week. Here’s my only 5 fish yesterday in just a few hours and more than likely my biggest sack of spots on Lanier to date.

I might get out in a while today, but I seriously doubt I’ll get very serious about fishing today because yesterday pretty much made my week. I only used 3 baits this week, the small War Eagle spoon, the little chrome Azuma Z-dog and the little chug bug. It’s all I needed for a great week.

The lake temps are in the low eighties and the lake level is around 2.5 feet below full pool. The corps is moving water in the heat of the afternoon and evenings right now. Looks like summer and warmer temps are returning for an encore visit next week but we’re getting close to fall and cooler temps.

Flash and Splash (It’s a Blueback Thing)

For the last 20 years or so, Labor Day weekend has always been the litmus test for me to gauge fall and the topwater bite. I know, last year we had topwater all summer and into the fall, but this year is more of a normal year as far as fishing goes. Labor Day has always been the gateway to topwater and it’s always about 2-3 weeks after the holiday when we receive our first stronger cold front, and the fish celebrate by hammering bait on the surface.

Technically speaking, the days are getting shorter, and the lake is usually cooling down slowly by Labor Day. If we have a strong thermocline it takes a strong cold front with wind and rain on the lake to start the saturation process and the mixing of cooler water and oxygen at the surface. When this happens, it’s generally the start of topwater. There is no restrictions and the fish feed from bottom to top at that point. Bait will be more oriented to the surface and seeking the warmth of the sun on the sunny afternoons and the fish are more than happy to feed on the surface without the necessity to quickly dart back down to the thermocline after chasing a bait. Fish will stay nearer the surface, and you’ll notice on your graph that the fish are going to be suspended in the top half of the water column vice the bottom half like we’ve been seeing for the past few months. This week was the transition week and it’s only going to get better from here.

This week I made a lot of observations and I had to cycle through a lot of baits to find out just what the fish wanted. One observation I’ve been making for the past few weeks is the presence of dead bluebacks on the surface. It’s usually in the areas of active fish and the bluebacks were generally fresh. The biggest and most important observation I made was the fact that those dead bluebacks were flashing on the surface in the sun. A few almost fooled me into thinking the dead blueback was some kind of shiny topwater floating on the surface the way thy would gleam in the sun. For that reason and the process of elimination, I used the chrome again this week with success. Just to be clear, I have been trying the ghost pattern topwater baits, but the chrome has worked much much better.

Monday seems like a distant memory to me now, but it was a slow start to the week and my frustration level was building rapidly. I’ve been trying to force the topwater bite this week and the only other baits I’ve picked up besides topwater was the spybait, fluke and underspin. If there was wind, I was using the topwater and if it was slack, I was trying different suspended baits to create a reaction below the surface. Spot lock was used heavily this week and just about everywhere I went in the wind, I was utilizing spot lock up wind to fan cast around the target area. By Tuesday afternoon I was starting to put a pattern together and figure it out. The topwater was very very slow in the morning but I could generally get one or two to come to the surface if I worked hard enough. By mid-morning it was the same all week. The fish would start chasing the topwater a little and they would show a mild interest in the bait on the surface. Generally speaking, if it was before 11am the fish were just coming up and slowly slurping the bait in or they would just follow it and nip at it. They would rarely commit before 11am. Why? These fish know the bluebacks habits and they know that the bluebacks shouldn’t be there until the sun gets up high in the sky. It was like clockwork every day this week but by 1pm it was on and the fish though my chrome Sexy Dawg was the real deal. By 1pm the fish were coming up and some were just exploding on the chrome offering. That pattern tells me we are very close to a good all day topwater bite, but we just need a strong front to flush out the warmer stagnate water on the surface and mix in some cooler, more oxygenated water. When this happens in mid to late September, the topwater bite starts to hit its stride. On Wednesday this week I had it figured out and I had built the pattern I wanted to put a good sack in the boat.

The key to the topwater pattern this week was the flashing and splashing of that shiny chrome Sexy Dawg. If I walked the Sexy Dawn on a normal retrieve the fish didn’t like it and would rarely commit, but if I worked the bait erratically, splashing and skipping the bait back to the boat, the bigger fish would run it down and attack it. Some would choke it, and some would nip at the back and just get one hook in them. Generally, the ones with a one barb hooking would pull off before getting to the boat and that was very frustration as I probably had 4 or 5 times the misses than I did connections to the net. As a matter of fact, this week I’ve lost at least 10 very nice bass that pulled off close to the boat and finally, after losing a very nice bass boatside on Wednesday, I threw my rod down on the deck in frustration and seriously contemplated taking up pickle ball for a new hobby before heading back to the house.

Yesterday, I put it all together to try and boat a nice sack on the sexy dawg and it worked. On Tuesday afternoon, after I came off the water, I made a quick trip to Hammonds to see if they had another Sexy dawg because my old one was losing its luster quickly. They had one and I used the new Sexy Dawg for 2 days and caught a few nice ones in the afternoon on it, but I broke it off on a big one yesterday due to my neglect of checking my line frequently. I still had my old junkie chrome Sexy Dawg and tied it back on to finish my day yesterday. It accounted for some nice fish including the one pictured above, a very feisty 4.7 to end my week and complete a nice sack of spots on nothing but the chrome Sexy Dawg yesterday.

My guess is that by this time next week the topwater pattern will be even better than yesterday and we’ll be seeing some dryer and cooler weather. Water temps are in the low to mid-eighties right now and the corps is generating off and on in the afternoons. The lake came up a bit this week before going back down and we are 2.3 feet below full pool. We should see a different lake very soon so get those topwater baits on the deck! Here’s a few memories from my week. Good luck and try and stay dry if you’re out this weekend, the wet stuff is coming up from the gulf as we speak.

Grinding into September

This week I ended up using a whole smorgasbord of baits, some that I remember having success on in years past and some new baits that I haven’t used this time of year with success ever before. Basically, until a good topwater pattern kicks in I’m just junk fishing and biding my time.

Last weekend was the annual 2-day MLF/BFL tournament on Lanier and a couple of my friends fishing in the tournament had some success on small spoons while pre-fishing for the tournament. It only made sense because a lot of the bait the fish are feeding on right now are small 1-inch baits in small pods out on the main lake and in the creeks. The small spoons are a good imitation of a dying bait and something we use in the dead of winter to catch fish in the ditches feeding on the same size baits. For those reasons I tied on a small War Eagle spoon the first thing early Monday morning and I set out in the creek to see if I could catch one early on the spoon.

On my first cast at my first stop my little spoon I was bouncing it off the bottom back to the boat and I caught a nice 2lber. I followed that up with another 2lber a few cast later. I was feeling pretty confident about the spoon and move to my next stop. The spoon didn’t work there so I moved further towards the mouth of the creek and on my first cast at my 3rd stop a big bass popped my spoon on the drop. My cast was out on the end of a flat that dropped off into the creek channel in about 30 feet of water and the bass turned out to be a very nice 3.5-ounce fish. I put the fish in the livewell and moved a little shallower on the point and a few casts later a bigger bass hit the spoon on the drop, and I netted a 4.1-ounce stud. I took a quick pic of the fish before I released them and moved on to the next point. Here’s a picture of my 2 biggest casting the spoon Monday.

After I caught those 2, I never caught another fish on the spoon for the rest of the day, but I did catch a few on the topwater Choppo, a chrome Sexy Dawg and the American Shad Duo Realis G-fix spybait.

Tuesday and Wednesday I fish from about 8 am till lunch and it was when the grind started. After a initial early morning bite it slowed considerably on both days, but I did manage a few fish here and there with the chrome Choppo, Azuma Z-Dog in a Casper Shad pattern and the spybait, both American Shad and Ghost Minnow. Here’s a few fish from the 2-day period.

On Thursday morning Jeff Nail jumped in the boat with me and we found a few schoolers here and there. I mainly threw the topwater stuff and Jeff was throwing a Jerk shad from Lanier baits or the Trixster Baits 4.25 in Tricky Shad. I think we had 6 fish total and most were caught on the jerk shad while I had 1 topwater fish on an Azuma Casper Shad walking bait. Here’s a nice fish that Jeff caught on a Jerk Shad on a hump we were fishing.

Today I made a lap around the creek around late morning and stayed out a few hours. It was very hard to call a fish up, but I was just swinging for the fences with the Choppo and throwing the spybait to end another grind for the week. Better days are coming and hopefully this little cool down we’re going to have next week yields some better surface action. Here’s a couple fish from this afternoon dodging rain showers. The chrome Choppo and the American Shad spybait accounted for these 2.

The lake is down about 2.5 feet below full pool, and the corps is generating for a few hours in the evening. The water temps in the creek are anywhere from mid to low 80’s. Hopefully we’ll see some water temps in the 70’s and a little better surface action very soon.

Embracing the Suck

The old saying “Embrace the Suck” is a term that was widely used in the military shortly before I retired. The term basically meant suck it up and do your job, however crappy that job may be because the job had to get done. Sometimes I feel the same way about this time of year. It’s hot out and we’re still a few weeks away from any relief but we need to suffer through the bad fishing days to get to the good fishing days therefor I need to embrace the suck.

Some years we have it and some years we don’t. I call it the “Stank Bubble” because we have been sitting under this funky humid air bubble throughout the south for what seems like weeks, and no air is moving to push this humid air out of here. It’s a little too early for a strong cold front and just a bit early for a tropical system to make its way up from the gulf. With no air moving and getting the same old humid rain showers every afternoon or evening it just seems like we’re in a bubble right now. I didn’t spend a lot of time on the water this week because it just feels like Groundhog Day over and over again. I’ve been going out early, popping a few good fish on top as well as missing a few good fish on top and then settling into the spybait and drop shot routine for the rest of my day, which has usually been around lunchtime. By that time I’ve got a pretty good case of butt hurt and swamp*ss and I’m ready to head in for the day.

Lisa was off on Monday, so she came out with me for a while. We made a very interesting observation on Monday while fishing with Lisa. She wanted to try the Choppo after seeing me catch a couple fish on my chrome Choppo so I rigged her up with a shad pattern Choppo and she threw that around. It was a 105 size just like mine but mine was chrome while hers was a more solid light-colored shad pattern. It didn’t take long for us to notice that they would swirl on Lisa’s bait, but they wouldn’t commit while they were more committal on the chrome. We caught 6-7, all on the chrome Choppo including the 2 in the picture above. We had a pretty good time throwing the topwater and we were rewarded with the occasional blow-up.

That’s pretty much been how my week has gone, I’ve been out early throwing the Choppo around brush out on the main lake and around the creek mouths and I’ve been scoring a few fish here and there. The biggest factor to my success this week has been the wind and setting up on spot lock up wind of my target area, whether it’s a brush pile or just out on the end of a point. In past years, according to my log, the whopper plopper or Choppo have been pretty successful during this time period in past years, so I’ve been throwing the Choppo and looking for the blow-ups about 75% of the time this week. The other 25% varied between the spybait and drop shot.

The best plan I had this week to put a sack in the boat was to seize the opportunities early for surfacing fish. There is a pretty good early morning topwater bite and being in the right place at the right time is key to catching these early risers. They are pretty forgiving as to what you can throw at them to trigger a reaction early in the morning. I don’t think you can go wrong with chrome right now and if I wasn’t throwing the chrome Choppo I’d probably be throwing a chrome sexy dawg. One of the main reasons I’m throwing chrome with success is that the fresh dead bluebacks I’m seeing on the surface have a shiny chrome look to them on the surface. I’ve been lucky enough this week to find some schooling fish early and mainly it’s been out on the ends of points on the main lake or creek mouths and some humps out on the main lake. Not all of these points and humps are holding surfacing fish but keeping a sharp eye out on the surface around you can tell you which areas have active fish. The most important thing is to have your topwater bait ready if the fish start coming up in the area you’re fishing, and they are within casting distance. Get that bait in there as quickly as possible because once they leave the surface you only have a couple seconds tops to get them to come back, after that they are back down into the thermocline. Most of the fish I’m catching right now feel cool to the touch, cooler than the 80+ degree surface temps so that tells me they are coming up from the cooler depths to eat.

Also, definitely use the wind to your advantage and set your boat up wind of the target structure and take your time working the area. I like making my casts with the Choppo down wind and bringing the Choppo back against the grain of the chop. I believe you get the most surface disruption doing this and there is a little better bubble trial in the baits wake. I like to use the same upwind technique with the little spybait because I can get a much further cast throwing the spybait down wind. Another important factor, whether it’s the spybait or the Choppo, be patient. Both baits require a slow and steady retrieve for it to be successful so don’t get in a hurry with either bait on the retrieve. With the Choppo I’m using a steady retrieve just fast enough for it to slowly chop and with the spybait I’m using a 20 count with a very slow retrieve.

There’s a lot of different ways to catch fish right now and being in the right place at the right time has a lot to do with it. This week I’ve just been swinging for the fences with the topwater baits so I’m not much help to the tournament guys this weekend. It’s going to be a grind no matter how you look at it so capitalize on those opportunities for topwater fish early and throughout the day and use the drop shot for fish under the boat.

Water temps this week have been in the lower 80’s and the corps is generating for a couple hours in the evening. The lake level is a little over 2 feet below full pool and falling. If you’re fishing the BFL 2 day be safe and good luck.

The Billiard Room

My biological mother left my older brother and I with my father when I just a few years old. My biological mother and father divorced shortly thereafter, and my dad went on to remarry my stepmother, Kay. My biological mother’s parents still lived in our small town in Kansas after my mother moved away and I had a relationship with them growing up even though my mother was not around. My grandfather’s name was Glenn Payne, and he was career Army. My first memory of Glenn was when I was around 8-9 and it was Christmas Eve when Glenn and Margret, my grandmother, came to our little farmhouse for a quick visit. Glenn had just returned from overseas; it was around 69-70 and I can’t remember if it was Vietnam or Japan. By this time Glen had served in WWII, Korea and had also been present at the Bimini Islands for Atomic testing. My grandfather Glenn had a very distinguished Army career and after spending time with him and listening to some of his stories about his life, I kinda wanted to be just like him. When they visited our little house on Christmas Eve, Glenn and Margret brought my older brother and I a kids sized pool table. It was small, around 4-5 feet in length, but big enough to look very odd in our little living room when we set it up. My brother and I were used to getting Christmas gifts like one of those glass race car cologne decanters from the Christmas edition Avon book but here comes my grandparents with this over-the-top pool table Christmas gift. Glenn didn’t care, Glenn pretty much did what Glenn wanted to do and if meant schlepping in a pool table on Christmas Eve, so be it.

Fast forward a few years, my dad and Kay divorced, and it was my old brother, my dad and I living in our little farmhouse. I wasn’t quite old enough to be left alone so I spent time bouncing around my different grandparents houses during the summer months and they would watch me while my dad worked. Glenn had retired from the Army and Margret was still working the evening shift at a nearby Armory. Margret would go to work in the early afternoon, and it was me and Glenn hanging out. Glenn and Margret were drinkers, and when I say drinkers, I mean they drank. I was just a kid and at the time I just figured that some people drank like that, so it wasn’t that big of a deal to me. Usually, Glenn would bust out a pint of Vodka he had stashed somewhere an off we would go to the town square where there was a small pool hall. Glenn would usually meet a few of his friends in the afternoon for a domino or card game and I would hang out in the dark, in the back, shooting pool on the big 9-foot leather pocket style tables, under the hanging lights. Every once in a while, Glenn would shoot pool with me or maybe one of his friends would come back and shoot pool with me. Everyone knew everyone in our town, and I shot pool with a lot of our older local veterans that would drop into the bar during the afternoon. After a couple years of these afternoon visits to the bar with Glenn, I got pretty good at pool. I gotta say also, we didn’t always hang out at the bar, Glenn also loved to fish, and we would go fishing every once in a while. Glenn and Margret like to bass and crappie fish with minnows so we would usually set out to a farm pond somewhere out in the country with a bucket of minnows and a cooler full of beer. Margret would tag along if she was off work at the Armory, and we would have a blast. They had some pretty good farm ponds to fish, and we were always bringing home bass and crappie to clean. I can remember one time in particular we caught a very large largemouth and I was amazed at how big those bass could get. Glenn was an excellent shot and at times I would bring my little Marlin model 60 semi-auto 22 along for us to shoot while we fished. Glenn could shoot the top off a cattail at 50 yards as he was an excellent marksman.

Once I was able to stay on my own at about 15 and got my learners permit to drive, I didn’t spend as much time with Glenn and Margret, I still visited them from time to time but with raging hormones and a license to drive I had very little time for grandparents. Glenn passed away in his sleep when I was 21 and I had moved to Oklahoma by this time. I continued to shoot pool just about everywhere I went. I played on pool leagues and shoot in tournaments throughout my Navy career, and I’ve even been known to hustle a few games here and there during my travels, but it all started with that little out of place pool table when I was a kid.

I now have my own 9-foot leather pocket table, still love to play the game and reminisce about past memories of my youth, shooting pool with Glenn and listening to his stories about his Army travels.