Welcome to the Cold War

cwm-set-basic1Athough I’ve seen the movie at least a half a dozen times I never get tired of “The Hunt for Red October”. It always brings back memories of my service in the Navy during the Cold War. To me, the Cold War was a war that we never hear about and could easily be forgotten but there are stories out there from sailors like me that will hopefully let it live on. -Jim Farmer
I believe the year was 1984 and at the time I had about 2 years in the Navy under my belt and I was assigned to Strike Fighter Squadron Three Zero Three, an F/A-18 Strike Fighter Squadron stationed at NAS Lemoore, smack in the middle of the rich farming community of the San Joaquin Valley of California. We were the Golden Hawks and our claim to fame was that we were one of the first active duty squadrons to receive the new F/A-18A Hornet aircraft and we were all eager to flex our muscles with our new formed squadron of a couple hundred active duty and reserve maintenance and aircrew. A fully formed squadron generally consisted of 12 aircraft and on the average 8-10 of those aircraft were usually available for our pilots to fly. In a tail hook squadron you work long hours with very little time off and there is always something going on that makes every minute very important. A squadron plans it’s calendar a year in advance and there are requirements for the pilots to meet to keep current in their qualifications with the aircraft such as shooting missiles, dropping ordinance such as bombs and mines, shooting rockets, Aircraft Countermeasures or ACM (dog fighting adversary aircraft) and a minimum of 20 aircraft take-offs or “cats” and 20 landings or “traps” on the aircraft carrier.

Our squadron had been to the Nevada desert a few times earlier in the year, as well as a few other trips to different areas of the country but we were planning a 2 week detachment to the USS Ranger (CV 61) for carrier qualifications. This was going to be a detachment designed to qualify all of our pilots on the carrier as well as qualifying the maintenance crews for certain job details that could only be done on the carrier. The plan was to fly the squadron personnel from the base to NAS North Island, a small air base on Coronado Island just south of San Diego and board the Ranger to head out to sea. A small detail of squadron personnel would stay behind to launch the squadron F/A-18’s and send them down to North Island in lieu of flying out to the carrier once it left port. My job was going to be to stay behind and make sure every jet we had available made it to North Island then I would hop on a Navy DC9 flight to North Island and jump on a Navy Sea Knight helicopter to fly out to meet the carrier somewhere in the pacific. My job on the aircraft was an electrician. Our shop consisted of about 8 other electricians besides myself and we ran 2 shifts when we were at home and on the road. As an electrician on the F/A-18 we were responsible for just about everything electrical. We took care of scheduled and unscheduled maintenance on a daily basis and there was always something to do. For a maintenance man on the aircraft the work never stopped. Generally speaking every shop always had something to do, it was just a matter of prioritizing the maintenance effort with a goal of meeting the demands of the next days flight schedule. Every day there was a flight schedule which required just about every available aircraft the maintenance team could ready for the day. There were always flight hour requirements for the pilots and each squadron was graded on the years total flight hours as well as how well the squadron completed all their assigned tasks for the year. Each year each squadron competed with other squadrons in our Carrier Air Group for awards like the Meritorious Unit Commendation award or “MUC”, the Battle Efficiency Award or the “Battle E” and the Safety “S” award. It was a big competition for us and it was always an honor to receive the award. The Battle E award meant that we got another ribbon or hashmark on our uniform as well a big “E” to display on the side of our jets. Going to the carrier was just another test for the squadron in the year long competition.

The time finally came and the main body of squadron personnel were gone to North Island and myself and a hand full of other maintenance personnel were launching the aircraft to head to North Island. The launch went without a hitch and spent the next 2 days waiting on a DC9 to take me to North Island. In the mean time I worked on the remaining few aircraft we had in the hanger that were broken and didn’t get to go to the carrier. Out of 12 aircraft assigned to the squadron we always had a couple of what we called “hanger queens”. Hanger queens were aircraft that were in some kind of scheduled maintenance cycle and while receiving the annual scheduled maintenance we robbed parts off of them for the aircraft that were flying. Sometimes parts were hard to come by so we would take parts off the hanger queens to use to meet flight schedule needs.

I finally got a ride down to North Island on a DC9 transport aircraft and soon there-after I met a Sea Knight helicopter on the tarmac at North Island for a ride out to the Ranger. This was my first ride on a helicopter so it was kind of a big deal to me. This wasn’t some ordinary helicopter ride, we were going to be flying out over the pacific for a 2 hour flight and meeting the Ranger somewhere off the coast of Mexico in international waters. When I boarded the Sea Knight I was greeted by a couple of aircrew guys that were assigned to the helicopter and took care of the passengers and cargo. There were about 8 other personnel on the flight that were headed out to the Ranger, plus a few boxes, bags, mail and our personal baggage. There were jump seats along the wall inside the helicopter and I’ll never forget what the aircrew instructed us to do before the flight began. They asked everyone to remove their hats and hold them in our hands. Any bolts, nut, screws or any other hardware that fell from the ceiling of the aircraft were to be picked up, placed in our hats and given to the aircrew personnel after we landed safely on the carrier deck….if we landed safely. That was very comforting information for my first helicopter flight. Here’s a picture of a Sea Knight helicopter:

120910-N-KB563-242 PHILIPPINE SEA (Sept. 10, 2012) A CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter, assigned to the Flying Tigers of Marine Medium Helicopter Squadron (HMM) 262 approaches the flight deck of the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) during flight operations. The Bonhomme Richard Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), along with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (31st MEU), is participating in a certification exercise. The evaluated event determines if the 31st MEU is capable of doing certain missions such as humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations or non-combatant evacuation operations with the ARG. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Michael Russell/Released)

When the helicopter started the engines and the rotors started spinning I realized why there would be nuts and bolts falling from the ceiling. That thing vibrated worse than anything I’d ever rode in before. Things were shaking and banging around and when it lifted off I was white knuckling my seat for sure. I couldn’t see much out the port hole windows but I could definitely see the blue of the ocean as we headed out to the southwest. I tried to sleep for a while but I was looking forward to getting out to the carrier and getting to work. I had been on 1 other carrier before so I was pretty familiar with what it was going to be like. A year earlier while I was still in school at my training squadron or “RAG” outfit, I was offered the opportunity to board the USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) for a 2 week detachment out of North Island and worked for 2 weeks as a Plane Captain or what’s referred to as a “Turd Shirt”, mainly because of the brown shirt that the plane captains wore on the ship. The primary job of a Plane Captain was to take care of the aircrafts servicing needs and launch and recover the aircraft on the flight deck during flight operations. It was a dirty job and you were always covered in grease, oil, fuel, hydraulic fluid and anything else that you could collect on your body and clothing. The aircraft required chaining down anytime it was on the flight deck of the carrier and one of the jobs of a Plane captain was to chain the aircraft when it wasn’t moving. The aircraft required a minimum of about 9 chains and each chain weighed about 15lbs. The plane captains always had a load of chains thrown over their shoulders waiting for their assigned planes to come in to be chained down after a flight. The job of a plane captain was a hard tiring job but it was good training for me and it got me familiar with life on the carrier. The Carl Vinson was a big Carrier, much bigger than the little Ranger I was going to be working on this time around. Here’s a picture of the Carl Vinson and the Ranger:

050315-N-3241H-001 USS Carl Vinson (March 15, 2005) -- Prior to the first launch, nuclear powered aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson or the "Gold Eagle", teamed up with Carrier Airwing 9, steams through the Indian Ocean at over 30 knots. The Carl Vinson Strike Group is currently on a six-month deployment to promote peace and stability and respond to emergent events overseas. USS Carl Vinson will end its deployment with a homeport shift to Norfolk, Va., in support of a three-year refuel and complex overhaul. U.S. Navy Photo by Photographer's Mate Third Class Dusty Howell

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You really can’t tell the difference in the two until you step out onto the flight deck but the Carl Vison was much newer, larger and nuclear powered carrier and the Ranger was an older, smaller non-nuclear powered carrier.

While on my ride out to the carrier I looked around the inside of the helicopter. Everything was exposed and along the ceiling there were hydraulic lines, fuel lines, oil lines and actuators everywhere. The jump seats we were sitting in were old and if you’ve never ridden in a military jump seat, the first time you ride in one you realize very quickly they were not designed for comfort. The bar across the front of the seat aids in putting your legs to sleep very quickly and the vibration from the helicopter eventually will put your butt to sleep also. It is very uncomfortable to say the least. The noise is deafening and ear plugs are a must. There were 2 aircrew guys that were sitting in jump seats also and they were wearing giant bulbous white helmets with boom mics to talk to teach other and the pilots during the flight. As we approached the carrier the helicopters engine pitch changed and we started circling the carrier below. The carrier flight deck sat about 70 feet above the waterline and we circling at a few hundred feet. I watched out the porthole window next to me and I could see aircraft taking off from the flight deck of the carrier. We were told by the aircrew that as soon as all the aircraft were off the deck we would land. Behind the carrier and to the starboard side there was a smaller Navy ship, a Fast Frigate, and it was there to guard the carrier from any unwanted guests in the area. At the time we were in a Cold War with the Russians and it wasn’t uncommon to run into Russian trawlers or Russian Navy warships that were out in the ocean spying on our operations. The frigate usually had loaded guns and missiles ready to go in case another ship got to close. Here’s a picture of our Fast Frigate escort. Notice the gun and missile launchers on the bow of the ship:55117

We hovered off the starboard side of the carrier for 15-20 minutes and I could see the never-ending trail of prop wash from the carrier that went on for miles. Finally we rolled the helicopter and headed for the flight deck. The helicopter pitched and banged around lining up for the landing. The carrier was still traveling at 20-30 knots of speed into the wind which was normal for a carrier during aircraft take-offs and landings. Finally the Sea Knight hit the deck right in front of the super structure of the carrier and we were instructed to get up and depart at the rear ramp. I jumped up and immediately got some feeling back in my legs and got the heck out of that flying coffin. I thought to myself that I hoped I never had to do that again. Once we got out of the helicopter I was met by some squadron mates who immediately took me and my sea bag to berthing. Berthing was where we slept and it was always tight quarters. Here’s a couple of pics of what carrier berthing looks like. If you were lucky you could find some blue curtains for privacy:

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Once I found my sleeping arrangement and got my gear stowed it was time for me to got to work. One of my electrical shop mates showed me around the carrier and I found my workcenter as well as the galleys and a few other areas I would need to know about. On the carrier the galley is where we ate. There were at least 2 operating most of the day and into the night. They were small but efficient. They fed up to 3000 sailors a day and the food wasn’t bad. Food was very important on the carrier because of the work. You were constantly going up and down stairs and if you worked on the flight deck you were moving around all the time. The average sailor on the carrier burned a lot of calories in a day. On most modern day carriers there were 4 galleys, 2 main galleys somewhere near mid ship where the main hot meals would be served 3 times a day and 2 forward galleys that were almost always open and served sliders and dog or hamburgers and hot dogs. If you went to the forward galleys on the ship, as an enlisted man you had to stay out of officers country unless you were an officer. Officers country was just forward of mid ship and was only on certain decks. You could tell officers country by blue tile on the floor. The enlisted areas used green tile and officers used blue. We avoided officers country like the plaque. If you were enlisted and got caught there, there would be hell to pay.

During this detachment on the ship I was working as a green shirt which meant I was maintenance crew. I was working as an electrician and mainly working on aircraft in the hangar bay area during the day shift. I would also be working part time with other electricians as a troubleshooter on the flight deck during launches and recoveries. The way it worked was when we launched our aircraft each work center had at least one troubleshooter on the flight deck at all times during flight operations. There were a hand full of work centers such as the airframers which took care of any airframe or hydraulic problems as well as engine guys or “mechs” that took care of any engine or fuel issues, electricians like myself and a few other folks that took care of seats and environmental control issues like the heating and air conditioning in the cockpit of the jets. We all wore green shirts and we had special codes on our shirts and head gear to identify us and our job descriptions. On the carrier you fall into a routine. Everything is regimented and you can easily forget what day it is. Basically you work, eat, rest, rinse and repeat. That’s what I did on this detachment. There wasn’t much to write home about, it was just the same thing day after day. We just cruised around the pacific for a week or so without incident, pilots flying off and on all day and into the night with us maintenance guys fixing problems with the jets as they arose. If a jet had a problem that kept it from flying it would be hauled down the massive flight deck elevators to the hangar where it would be strategically parked and repaired as quickly as possible so it could get back onto the flight deck and ready for flight. The hangar bay on the carriers are massive and at times filled wall to wall with aircraft to be repaired.  Some aircraft would be down in the hanger overnight and the night shift guys would work all night just to get it fixed for the first launch in the morning. Here’s a picture of a carrier hangar bay:

hangar

For the first week everything went as planned with flight operations and the maintenance effort. On the flight deck during flight operations it’s a very dangerous job. I think working on the flight deck of a carrier is one of the top 5 most dangerous jobs in the world. As long as everything is going good it’s fine but it only takes one little thing to happen for it all to go bad. There are crashes, fires, people caught in the wrong places at the wrong time and any number of things that could happen….and they do. On this detachment it was all good. About the only excitement we had after the first week was the fact that we were operating in an area where the pacific was very rough with huge swells tossing the Ranger back and forth. These big waves in this area were called the “Troughs” and they were big, some reaching heights as high as the carrier and it really made the carrier roll back and forth and up and down. There were a lot of first timers that were getting sea sick during the period we were operating in the troughs and a lot of sailors were walking at odd angles down the passageways and anything that wasn’t tied down would fall off shelves. Our plates and glasses in the galley would slide back and forth. It was an interesting ride for a few days.

The Commanding officer of the ship was very nice to the crew and very personable. He talked to the ships crew every night over the 1MC which was a loudspeaker system throughout the ship and could be heard from anywhere and everywhere. He would talk to us about current events and let us know about the next days goals. On the first Sunday aboard the ship he hosted an Ice Cream social in the galley and anyone could come to the galley and have ice cream and meet the “skipper” or Commanding officer.

During the start of the second week the carrier spent the majority of a morning taking on supplies and fuel from a supply ship. This isn’t an uncommon event and it happens all the time on a carrier. Flight operations stop during this period and it’s quit a show for the first timer on the carrier. Fuel hoses are strung from one ship to the other and both ships move through the water, side by side in close quarters for miles.

The fast combat support ship USNS Arctic (T-AOE 8), left, conducts an underway replenishment with the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69) Jan. 15, 2007. Eisenhower and embarked Carrier Air Wing 7 are on a regularly scheduled deployment in the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command area of responsibility in support of maritime security operations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Miguel Angel Contreras) (Released)

This is where it got interesting. Once the supply ship finished the replenishment and broke away from the carrier to sail off into the sunset, our Fast Frigate escort departed with the supply ship and the carrier was on it’s own. Sometimes it happens but as a rule the carrier always has some kind of escort within a few miles. The next morning when we looked out into the ocean from the hangar bay doors we saw that we had a new visitor. It was a strange looking ship off the starboard side of the carrier and it was very close to us. I could see some strange looking numbers on the side of the bow and there were some folks on the ship looking, waving and some were taking pictures. The ship looked something like some kind of large fishing trawler but it had some strange looking electronics and antennas on the masts. Here’s a picture of what it looked like:trawler

As we were standing in the hangar bay looking at the ship along side of us a hangar bay worker from the ships company walked over to us. The ships company guys generally wore purple shirts and were in the Navy just like us but were stationed on the ship full time. We just borrowed the ship to qualify our squadron crew but the ships company were there full time and had usually seen it all. The ships company guy looked at us and our puzzlement and said “welcome to the Cold War”. He told us it was a disguised Russian spy ship and they were interested in taking pictures of the new F/A-18’s on the flight deck. The rumor was that our escort had left to escort the supply ship back to American waters because there were Russian Navy ships in the area and the supply ship had no way to defend herself. Our carrier had more than enough firepower to fend for ourselves so the decision was made to leave us on our own. We watched for a while longer as the crew of the Russian ship continued to take pictures from very close by.

As soon as we started flight operations for the morning the Russian ship disappeared but then reappeared again as soon as all of our aircraft were back on the flight deck after the first launch and recovery. The Russians again came in close to snap photographs and wave as if they were our friends. This went on for 2 days with the same thing, if the jets were off the deck the Russians would disappear and reappear as soon as all the F/A-18’s were back on the deck. They were very interested in the jets and flight operations and had no fear of getting close to us. After 2 days of this little game with the Russians we had finally had enough. On the third morning the Russians were still hanging with us so we went about our business as if it were just another day. The Russian trawler was once again off our starboard side but on this morning we left one F/A-18 hidden from view from the Trawler behind the super structure of the carrier. It was out of view of the Russians and they just assumed all of our jets had left the area to fly the mornings missions. The Russians kept their distance until they assumed every jet was back on the deck before they made their move to get in close but during the recovery of all of the aircraft we snuck the extra F/A-18 off the catapults and the Russians just assumed that every one of our aircraft were back on deck. They were making their move in close and the skipper came over the 1MC to tell everyone who was interested and available to gather on the starboard side of the flight deck and hanger bay for a little mini air show. He said that if the Russians want to get a look at our aircraft we’d give them a up close and personal look at the jet and it’s capabilities. Keep in mind we had snuck a jet out into the area for our little surprise. It went off just as planned. When the Russians thought the jets were all on deck they made there move to get in close. We were all watching as the trawler got closer and closer. The skipper called out on the 1MC, “off the fantail aircraft 303 incoming for a mach run” which basically meant our aircraft #303 was coming from the back of the ship and was going to break the sound barrier very close to us. If you’ve never seen a fighter jet break the sound barrier it is a sight to behold. The aircraft is basically hauling ass at over 700 mph and when it breaks through the sound barrier or the speed of sound the concussion is enormous, especially if your are close by. This is what it looks like at the moment the sound barrier is broken:

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In this case the jet came in fast and low and was only about 100 feet off the water and bearing down on the trawler. It was amazing as the jet dropped down from high in the sky and leveled out on the Russians. We all knew what came next. As the jet got closer to the trawler the vapor cloud started building around the jet and just as it reached the trawler there was a eardrum shattering BOOOOM that shook the carrier to it’s core but what was even more interesting is that the trawler actually squatted down in the water and we actually saw pieces of the trawler like maybe windows and radar parts go flying. The trawlers smoke stake bellowed black smoke from the diesel engine and it started shifting it course away from the carrier. We all cheered and yelled with some jumping up and down and giving the Russians the bird. The F/A-18 made a vertical climb and disappeared in front of the carrier. Within a minute or so we heard the 1MC go off again and the skipper said “from the bow aircraft # 303 incoming for mach run # 2”. We all cheered wildly as the jet dropped back down out of the sky and leveled off on the fleeing trawler. We could see the jet put the hammer down in full afterburner as it approached the trawler and we knew it was going to be good. The jet once again approached mach and the vapor built up around the jet. Just as it closed in on the trawler BOOOM very near the trawler and once again the trawler squatted deep into the water with more pieces of the trawler flying everywhere. More smoke poured from the stack and the trawler turned away even sharper than before. We all cheered wildly and some flipped the trawler off again as some grabbed their crotches at the Russians as they limped away never to be seen again. It was something I’ll never forget about the cold war. We spent some of our time messing with the Russians at sea and up in the northern reaches of Canada but a lot of the times we played with the Russians it was just that, play. They knew as well as we did that someday we might be fighting each other for real but a lot of what we did was designed for us to test their capabilities as well as them to test ours. Shortly after the end to the cold war one of the Russian Navy warships pulled into San Diego bay and they docked in San Diego for a few days and we got to meet our counterparts. We drank together, swapped stories, traded cigarettes, Levi jeans and the old Walkman cassette players for pieces of their uniforms and personal items from Russia. They were no different than we were, just a bunch of sailors looking for a good time.

 

 

 

Baker’s Hedgerow

It was the Christmas of 1970 and all I wanted for Christmas was a Daisy BB gun. I’d been hunting with my dad for a few years without a gun and I was ready to go it on my own and get my first gun. By the time I was 10 my dad had taught me about gun safety and I had learned a lot about hunting. Whether it was dove, quail, pheasant, ducks, geese, rabbit, squirrel or deer I had learned a lot from my dad when it came to guns and hunting. I watched, learned and mimicked his every move when it came to hunting. I could work our bird dogs and I knew exactly what to do when a dog went down on point and I had good training in gun muzzle awareness and how to handle and care for guns. My dad spent several years in the Army and Army reserve so he knew a good bit about firearms. We usually loaded our own shells and I spent many days as a kid reloading 410, 12 gauge and 20 gauge shells for a winter of hunting. My dad especially liked bird hunting and working with bird dogs so I helped my dad train our Brittney Spaniels so I was used to dogs and I knew what we required of them on a hunt. I was a little too young for our towns hunter safety course but I knew exactly what I could and couldn’t do when it came to firearms and hunting at a very early age.

Christmas finally arrived and we had a white Christmas in 1970. There was at least a foot of snow on the ground that year and I knew I was going to get that BB gun. Of course I played along with my parents when they told me I may or may not get a BB gun depending on what Santa thought but I was way past that Santa stuff. I planned it out in my head and I was ready to take myself, my new BB gun and 2 of our best bird dogs out for my first solo hunt. When I unwrapped my Daisy my grandparents were there and I can still remember it like it was this Christmas. I can remember the ouuu’s and the ahhh’s from my family as I tore the wrapping paper off to expose the long rectangular Daisy box and I was ready to start another chapter in hunting. My dad and I went out in the back yard and my dad helped me load and cock the gun. We both sighted and shot the BB gun at some makeshift targets and my dad made sure I knew what I was doing before he turned me loose with the gun and the dogs. He quizzed me on a few safety items and made sure I was confident in handling the dogs. He knew that I could handle the dogs and he was aware that I would mimic everything he did when it came to commands for the dogs. I had already planned everything in my mind months in advance and myself and the dogs were headed to Baker’s Hedgerow.

Baker’s Hedgerow was a mile long row of hedge apple trees and briars that lined two large crop fields about two miles from our farm. I had to cross a few big fields and climb through a couple of barbed wire fences to get to Baker’s hedgerow. My dad and I hunted the hedgerow frequently and there was generally a few coveys of quail somewhere along the hedgerow. Our dogs knew the area well and our Brittney’s knew exactly what to do when hunting the tree line and adjacent fields. The great thing about Brittney dogs was that their tails were bobbed and they would work in heavy cover and briars when other dogs wouldn’t. Our dogs were trained to work close to the hunter and not range out too far ahead and spook the birds, whether it was quail or pheasant. Our dogs were taught to be obedient but to them hunting was a job and a job they did well. Our best dog was a large male named Prince. Prince was a breeding male and sired several litters of Brittney pups over the course of his life. I had a little female Brittney named Buttons and she was a great hunter also, just like Prince. Buttons was a breeder dog and provided us with some fine litters from her and Prince. Another female we used for hunting was Princess. She was another female we used for breeding but not as bird savvy as Prince and Buttons but she did well enough to take on hunts as long as Prince was there to lead the way. On my first hunt I chose to take Prince and Buttons because they worked well together and they were easy to handle. Prince was the boss and looked at hunting as his job and he knew exactly what to do. The only problem we ever had with Prince was that he didn’t ever want to quit. If he knew we were quitting and heading for the truck or the house he would do his best to drag it out and keep hunting. Although Prince bit my sister once while she was trying to play with him while he was eating, we never had a problem with him and he seemed to understand that I was an extension of my dad and he always adhered to my commands. My job was always feeding the dogs and I think that’s another reason he respected me, I was the guy the brought the hot food on a cold winter night.

Shortly after feeding Prince and Buttons a hot meal of dry dog food with warm water poured in, which we always did before taking them on a hunt, I bundled up and got final instructions from everyone in the family including a laughable warning not to shoot my eye out. I was ready and let the dogs out for the hunt. We headed southwest out across our pasture and the nearest neighbors field, the Peaks, covered with snow. We had to cross our neighbors field to the south to get to Baker’s hedgerow. The Peaks pasture was used for their cattle to graze and included two watering ponds in which I frequently fished during the summer months. The dogs knew the way to the hedgerow and all I had to do was try and keep up. Prince would stop at every little clump of grass to sniff it out for any evidence of bird activity. Buttons was always in tow of Prince and they worked their way across the fields. Just before we reached the hedgerow there was a little draw with thickets and a small creek. As we approached the thickets I cocked my BB gun and got ready for action. I knew that their could be a covey of quail anywhere around the draw and my suspicions were confirmed when Prince started getting birdy. When the dogs would get birdy they would seem more serious and more pronounced in there movements. Their bobbed tails would start working back and forth with excitement and they would be nose to the ground working the area with a serious intent. If their keen noses caught a whiff of a bird or birds they would stop suddenly, frozen it time and a front paw would come off the ground, bent at the knee. This is what is referred to as “on point”. Prince didn’t exactly go down on point in this case but before he could I saw what was making him birdy. It was a Prairie Chicken and one of the only ones I had ever seen in my life. Prairie Chickens were very rare in our neck of the woods but I knew they existed from our years of hunting and listening to my dad speak of them in my younger years. I knew exactly what they looked like from the numerous books and magazines I had on upland gamebirds and the stories I read of bird hunting. Compared to a Bobwhite quail, the Prairie Chicken is much larger and would rather run from danger than hold tight in the snow or fly away. Both Prince and Buttons finally got a good whiff of the bird and went down on a hard point. I held the dogs point with a “whoa” command. A “whoa” or “whoa back” command was a command we used for the dogs when we wanted them to hold point and not move. This command would be given to the dogs over and over until we got into position to flush the bird and got ready to take a shot.This Prairie Chicken chose to run while the dogs held point from my command and I got a close look at the large bird. I don’t know if me or the bird was more shocked but as the big bird ran out away from us I didn’t take a shot and the bird didn’t fly until it was way out in front of us. The dogs finally broke point when they realized the bird had ran and after they saw that the bird had taken flight they went back to scouring the ground for more birds.

We worked our way to the hedgerow and started down the edge with the dogs working in and out of the thickets. They never strayed to far ahead and I could usually see them of hear the ID tags on there collars clinking as they ran. They would zig zag back and forth and in and out of the hedges.  I saw a few single quail kick up and fly ahead of the dogs but we just couldn’t find a nice covey over the course of walking the tree line. I never got to fire a shot at a bird with my new Daisy. We were just about to leave the hedgerow for home when I heard a faint crying noise from inside the tree lie and it sounded like a baby crying off in the distance. I saw Prince stop and listen, ears up and straining to hear the noise. We heard it again and Prince took off through the trees with Buttons in tow. They were gone for a while and I started thinking it may have been a Bobcat but soon Prince came out in a clearing carrying a small kitten in his mouth. The kitten was crying and Prince dropped the kitten at my feet. To this day I don’t know how that kitten wound up out there in the middle of nowhere but there it was, a little male tomcat cold and squalling. I picked the kitten up and put it inside my heavy coat and headed for home. Prince and Buttons were jumping around all the way home wanting to get a look at the little kitten in my coat. When I got back to the house I put the dogs up and walked in the back door to show everyone what I had found. When Kay saw the little kitten she went and got some milk from the fridge to warm and feed him. My dad wasn’t to keen on the idea of another mouth to feed but Kay had a soft spot for animals, especially a stray left out in the cold so we decided to keep the tomcat and I would add him to my chores to take care of. I named that cat Tommy and he spent the next several years hanging out around the farm catching rats, mice, snakes and any other small varmint that was around the house or barn. We made several trips back to Baker’s Hedgerow over the years but I’ll never forget my first hunting trip with my new BB gun and finding ole Tommy out there on Christmas day 1970.

Early Life on the Farm

I can’t really go back any further than 1966-67 but my earliest recollection starts on a little 7 acre farm on the outskirts of a little rural farming town in southeast Kansas. At the time the population of Girard, Ks. was around 3000 including the surrounding farms and the town was not much more than a bunch of grain elevator towers along the railroad tracks that held the grain from the massive crop farms around the town. My granddad worked at the grain mill and his job mainly consisted of filling 100lb burlap bags with soybeans to move on down the tracks. I remember his hands were big round hands that were as hard as granite rock from holding the ears of the burlap bags as the beans came down the bean chute and filled the bags. His forearms were gigantic, much like Popeye’s forearms, minus the tattoo’s.  Later on when I was a teenager I got to feel the wrath of those big hands when he caught me smoking for the first time. Those hands also doubled as a club up side my head after ripping a pack of cigarettes out of my shirt pocket when he saw them in my front pocket of my t-shirt. He wanted to make his point stick and to this day I still remember those hands, both in a grandfathers loving way and also to teach me a lesson in life.

Our little town had a town square with a 3 story stone courthouse in the middle with a diner, a five and dime, a drugstore, an old bar called “The Long Branch” a clothing store as well as a little grocery store called “Farmers Food Center” owned by my dad and my dads brother, my uncle Richard. There were a few other businesses on the square surrounding the court house but it was just a small farm town like any other that dotted the Midwest. We had a small school system and I think there were no more than about 60 if that many in my graduating class. At the time the town was booming with a homecoming every fall when the square would be shut down with carnival rides and a homecoming parade, a homecoming football game in which the whole town attended and everyone took a lot of pride in our little town.

Since my dad worked a full time job as a half owner and butcher at the grocery store my stepmother Kay and us kids were responsible for taking care of the farm. It’s safe to say that I started working about the time I was strong enough to carry a bucket. My brother Steve was just a couple of years older than me and my little sister Debbie was a couple years younger. We each had our chores which consisted of feeding cattle, slopping and watering pigs, feeding chickens, gathering eggs and taking care of our Brittney Spaniel dogs that we bred, trained and sold for bird hunting. All this had to be done, rain or shine, 7 days a week and 365 days a year. It was a team effort and my dad usually didn’t get home till after 5pm to help out. Although my dad owned a grocery store we drank fresh milk we received for free from our neighbor’s Jersey milk cows in trade for letting them graze in our pasture. Our eggs came from the chickens we raised and our meat came from the cattle and pigs we raised and took to slaughter. The slaughter house was right behind my dads store and I used to watch my dad slaughter the cows and pigs and then cut them up for the freezer. The chickens were decapitated and feathered 10 at a time and we shared some with my grandparents and put a few in the freezer. My dad and I hunted and fished every year but hunting and fishing wasn’t for sport but it was to supplement our food supply. We never ever hunted or fished for sport when I was growing up. My dad didn’t believe in killing anything for sport and it was only out of necessity that we killed anything. With the exception of a pack of coyotes,  desperate raccoons or a hungry bobcat looking to raid the chicken house, everything we killed we ate. Everything else we shot or caught came home and was cleaned, plucked, skinned or scaled and put to good use as food for the table. Our little farm was a mile west of town and surrounded by crop and cattle fields on all sides with an old dirt/gravel lane from where the pavement ended at the west end of West Walnut street. That was the layout of where I was raised until my dad sold the farm and we moved away after I graduated from High School.

Fall Lanier Bass Report

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Well, October is finally here and I couldn’t be happier. October is by far my favorite month of the year with baseball play-offs in full swing, college and pro football is getting cranked up (even though my fantasy team is tanking), the nascar chase is on and most of all, the topwater is busting loose. For the past 3 weeks I’ve been stepping up my topwater game and the bass seem to be busting the surface more and more each day. The surface temps are getting down to the mid seventies and I’m seeing signs of the turnover in the back of the south end creeks right now. A few weeks ago there was a good early morning topwater bite but for the past few days it seems that the better bite has been in the afternoons. I suspect that the bluebacks are cruising near the surface when the sun gets higher in the sky, soaking up the warmth of the afternoon sun and the bass are feeding on them as they cruise the surface. We’ve watched plenty of fish and bluebacks tearing across the surface on points and over submerged brush in the creeks and out on the main lake. This is something we see every October and with all the bass chasing the bluebacks, the topwater bite is in full swing right now. Over the past few weeks I’ve been using my emerald popper with great success and once again October and the emerald popper is a big hit. I’ve also found a good bite on some walking baits such as the Yozuri 3DB, Sammy type baits, the bone Vixen, the Sexy Dawg and Sexy Dawg Jr. At times, when the fish get finicky and they aren’t cooperating with the topwater I’ve been throwing some blueback type jerkbaits and the spybait to get a few bites. When it really gets slow, we’ve been using the drop shot around brush to get bit but the majority of the fish we’re getting on the drop shot are on the small side right now.

One bait that I’ve been having a lot of fun with for the last week is the larger Chug Bug. Last week I took a friend out and he broke out the big Chug Bug on a windy point and caught a nice striper and then followed it up with a nice bass over 5lbs as well as a 3lber. Here’s a pic of my buddies Chug Bug bass:10-3-bass2
That’s about all the convincing I needed and I remembered that I had seen the big Chug Bug hanging on the shelf at Walmart last week so I went back to Walmart and bought the last 2 they had on the shelf. I started using it right away and over the past 4 days of using it I have wore the bass out. I’ve literally wore the paint off the lure and probably caught a few dozen fish on it so far. The big Chug Bug works the best for me on windy points with a small to moderate chop on the water and I like to cast it down wind and bring it back up wind, making it splash and pop as much as I can. Here’s a video I made using the Chug Bug for a couple hours this afternoon. I was supposed to be going out this morning but when I launched my motor sucked up some mud and I spent most of the day cleaning mud from my impeller and cooling system on the motor before going out.

Right now is probably the best time to get out and try your luck with the topwater fishing with a lot of points holding fish that are feeding up for the cold winter. For the topwater baits, my little emerald popper is a big hit once again this fall and I’ve got plenty in stock if you would like to try one. Here’s a link to the emerald popper: http://www.castawaybaits.com/product/the-emerald-popper/
Here’s a few picture of some popper bass over the past week or two.
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My “Popping the Top” Popper Challenge Coming This Fall

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It’s been a long hot summer this year and I know I’m not the only one ready for fall. Once again we’ve endured the heat of summer to get to the cooler, dryer air of autumn. We are quickly approaching a time of year when the bait rises from the cooler depths of the thermocline and I’m already seeing numerous pods of small threadfin scattered throughout the creek on the surface. It won’t be long now till the 1st and second year bluebacks follow suit along with the threadfin and seek the warm sun near the surface. Inherently, groups of bluebacks in Lake Lanier rise to the surface in October basking in the remaining warm surface water as the lake begins it’s winter cool-down and bass as well as stripers start feeding up for the winter gorging themselves on the surface offerings. Our summer stripers have been hanging around the deep waters of the main lake chasing massive schools of bluebacks but in the fall the stripers start making their way back into the creeks where the new batch of first year threadfin are piled up and waiting. The threadfin are just an addition to the menu for our stripers and bass and they provide some excellent topwater opportunities for us anglers. When I think back to October over the past few years, one thing that always comes to mind is our fall topwater bite. More specifically, for the past few years the stripers and bass have fallen prey to my Emerald Popper in the fall and the way things are shaping up, this fall should be no different.

This fall I’m going to do something a little different and make an interesting offer to ya’ll. As some of you know I fished my first FLW Bulldog series tournament as a Pro earlier this year on Lake Lanier and I really enjoyed the tournament and the tournament atmosphere in the FLW. I’ve always been a competitor and the level of competition in the Bulldog trail was a challenge that I couldn’t resist. I managed to finish in the money in my first tournament as a Pro and I’ve set a goal for myself of fishing the full Bulldog series trail next year. With that being said, as you can guess it isn’t going to be a cheap endeavor. I need to offset some of the cost and I’m going to offer a few things to help with that. First off, as some of you know I have a military background and in the military one of the things we used to do was award challenge coins to our over achievers. It was always a big honor to be given a challenge coin and I’ve collected a few over the years. I’ve designed a Cast Away Baits challenge coin for my Emerald Popper topwater bait and it will come complete with a inset notched bottle opener with my old cast away fishermen under a palm on the front of the coin and the words “I popped the top with Cast Away Baits” inscribed on the back. I should be receiving 100 of the custom challenge coins in the near future and I’m going to offer these coins to anyone who wants to jump in my boat with me this fall and take a shot at catching a fish or two on the popper for a few hours of fishing plus you’ll get to keep your own popper. I’ll even throw in a Cast Away decal to sweeten the deal even more. That a total of learning to use the popper on a topwater fishing trip with me, a custom Cast Away “Popping the Top” challenge coin, one of my Emerald Poppers and a decal to commemorate the trip.

*If you’re not local and would like to drop in for a weekend, be sure and ask about availability of our 3 bedroom private fish camp on Lake Lanier. I can offer a weekend getaway package that includes a day of fishing with me and if you bring your own boat, we have a single slip covered dock to park your boat for the weekend.

I don’t consider myself a guide and we have some very knowledgeable, talented bass guides on Lanier so I’m not going to charge a guides fees for the trip but I do need to earn some money to offset the cost of the trail fees. I’d also like to invest in a wrap for my boat for the trail next year and represent some local businesses as well as some bigger tackle names in fishing. I will be spending the fall and early winter soliciting some sponsors in exchange for advertising on my wrap and on my videos so if you are interested in a trip out this fall or you have an interest in some sponsorship just drop me a line or give me a shout for more information. Keep an eye out here on my blog for a topwater start date and a picture of the Cast Away Challenge coin very soon.

Here’s a few videos from some awesome fall topwater fishing over the past two years to get you in the mood…






Late summer Lanier report 8-27-2016

It’s been a rough 2 weeks with a bout of bronchitis and the lose of a dear family member and my shop mate for the last few years, our cat Blacky. It took him 16 years to used up those 9 lives but after a 2 year battle with diabetes, he passed yesterday. I decided I could be sick and depressed at home or out on the lake so I I’ve been hitting the lake. A few things are starting to change right now and all we need is a good cold front to come through and drop the temps and humidity. Right now the heat of summer is hanging in there like a hair in a biscuit and even though the days are getting shorter the surface temps are still in the upper 80’s with no relief in site. I’ve been spending most of the time messing with the bass but I’ve thrown in some striper fishing out over deep water. For the bass, not much has changed but I have started to mix in some cranking on the big natural chunk rock piles on points and I’ve found a few nice fish willing to hit a crankbait early in the morning. My philosophy is that the early morning rocks are providing the bait and fish a nice little cool haven to hang out in and some nice big bass are foraging the shallow rocks in search of crawfish, bream and shad. I would look for this bite to get stronger and stronger and it won’t be long till the fish start running the shad up into the shallows. When this happens there are 2 crankbaits I like to use, the first is the DT-10 in a shad pattern. It’s been a favorite of ours in the fall and the perfect bait for bass on the rocks when they are pushing shad into the shallows early in the morning. Here’s a picture of the crankbait, it’s definitely one you need for the collection in Sept. IMAG1009My second “go to” crankbait is my old favorite and one I make in the shop, the DT-10 knockoff Sand Key crank. Here’s a picture of that one. IMAG0613

Believe it or not, I’m still getting some bass on the topwater and just yesterday I nailed a good one on the surface throwing a popper. My buddy has be getting some good ones on the surface with a blueback pattern Whopper Plopper over brush but you have to make a lot of casts to call up the topwater fish right now. The surface bite is only going to get better and by late September we should see a lot more fish rising to feed on the shad pods and bluebacks swimming on or near the surface. The key to calling up topwater fish right now is a little bit of chop on the water. With a little chop to distort the surface in gin clear water you can fool the bass where as with no chop they can see the topwater bait better and usually just swirl on the bait without eating it. Most of the bass we’re catching on the surface are bigger fish in the 2-4lb range right now so it’s worth making a few casts on points and over brush.

If you’ve been out lately, you’ve probably seen more and more bass suspended above brush piles in 5-10 feet of water. These bass can be frustrating but a couple baits that have been working for us is a spy bait and a little 1.5 squarebill in a shad pattern. I’ve also had some success with a shallow suspending LC Pointer jerkbait in a blueback pattern and it makes a good follow up bait for surfacing fish that refuse to resurface for a topwater bait.

The drop shot bite is still going strong but frustration can set in with more window shoppers and chasers than eaters on the drop shot but we can still get good numbers with a bigger bass or two mixed in, mainly in the afternoons and evenings. The biggest mystery for the drop shot is the color selection. A month ago the fish were killing the Aarons Morning Dawn 4-5 inch worms and I wiped out Hammonds for every bag they had. Since then the bass have been eating the lighter colored baits and I’ve been catching a few on flukes as well as the worms.

For the stripers, I’ve been using a Ben Parker spoon and a 2-3 ounce bucktail with a 5-6 inch paddletail in a chartreuse over white pattern. For the spoon, it’s as simple as dropping it through the fish and bringing back up with a steady retrieve. With the bucktail/paddletail combo I’ve been having a blast enticing the fish to bite it by using a yoyo pattern while watching it on my graph. With this technique I’ve been dropping it down as deep as I can get it and getting the fish to chase it. The stripers are very curious of this bait and if I can get multiple fish to chase it, I just keep bring it up and down between 20 feet and 60-80 feet and just keep going up and down with it until a fish reacts. I’ve come to the conclusion that these stripers are very competitive and if I can get a few fish to chase it, one of the fish will inevitably get aggressive and take a whack at it. It’s a challenge but a lot fun to watch all this unfold in real time on the graph. Here’s a little video using the bait and a pic of a nice one I caught this week. IMAG1007
If trolling is your thing, there are plenty of stripers to be caught with leadcore right now and a variety of baits will work for that. I’ve got some older videos on my YouTube page that will explain and demonstrate how the leadcore works. Just go to YouTube and type in Jim Farmer or jfarm44 and look at some summers past for my trolling videos.

We’re right on the verge of weather changes and pattern changes and I’m more than ready for cooler weather. Stay cool out there

Lanier Summer Report #2

Since our return from Lake Guntersville I’ve fished a few times out on the lake and it seems that not much has changed since my last report. The bass are out on the brush piles in full force but getting them is just a little tougher than it was a month ago. Today we caught them on the drop shot as shallow as 15 feet and as deep as 40 feet but most have been around 25-30 feet in and around brush. A month ago I was loading the boat using Robo worms in Aarons Morning Dawn on the drop shot but that bite has slowed considerably so we’ve had to change our color tactics. It seems the fish are liking the lighter colored worms right now and Lisa has been doing well on a clear white ice color scheme that my buddy makes for us in his shop. I’ve been doing ok on my little 4-5 inch sky blue drop shot worms but Lisa has the magic touch and has been wearing them out on her ice worms. Here’s a pic of Lisa and her new favorite drop shot worm color. 13902205_10206079241854690_2100370255_o13902205_10206079241854690_2100370255_o (1)13898178_10206080872055444_1787630607_o
Drop shotting has been hit and miss for us but when the bite is going good we can get a dozen or two a day but not very many big ones right now. I’ve been using light tackle spinning gear with 6lb test fluorocarbon line, Mustad twist free or VMC Spin Shot hooks and a 3/8 ounce weight about 18 inches below the hook.

The big ticket item for me has been the topwater bass bite this summer. If there is a little chop on the water I could probably sit out in the heat and catch fish all day on my emerald topwater popper on points and humps. The bass are pushing singled out bluebacks to the surface all day long and the emerald popper is a great imitation of a blueback getting hammered on the surface by a bass. I’ve been using a lot of splashing and popping to get the basses attention and the chop on the surface causes enough of a distortion to fool the bass into hitting the popper. Here’s a couple pics we took this morning with the emerald popper and a couple nice bass on top.20160801102805 (3)
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If I feel like the topwater popper isn’t working or there’s no chop, over the past few days I’ve been using a suspending Lucky Craft Pointer blueback colored jerkbait when I see the fish are moving around in the upper water column or suspending over the brush. I like the blueback pointer because when you jerk it a few times it creates a good flash in the water and I can flash it and suspend it over the brush and usually I can get a few to slam it while letting it sit on a long pause. It’s a fun little bait to use and I’ve been using a jerk-jerk-slow moving pause pattern for it to be successful. I’m still throwing a underspin but it really hasn’t been getting very many bites lately.
Here’s a little video I made last week that kind of explains what I’ve been doing and a couple fish we’ve caught over the past few days.
For the stripers we’re using 2 baits to get bit. The first is the big Ben Parker spoon and the second is a big 7.5 inch swimbait on a 1-2 ounce jig head. The hardest thing about the stripers right now is finding them. Once you find them just dropping the spoon up and down is all you need to do to attract more fish and catch a few. If I really want to have some fun and we’re over a lot of active fish, another bait I’ve been using is a big swimbait vertically jigged just like the spoon on a Heavy 7’9″ Mojo Bass rod and a Revo baitcaster with heavy flouro. I can also cast it, count it down to around 40-60 feet and bring it back to the boat in a horizontal retrieve. You can figure out your sink rate with the swimbait jig by dropping it under the transducer cone and counting it down while watching it on the graph. 13918662_10206079958072595_590005335_oSwimbaits and spoons are a lot of fun this time of year on Lanier for stripers and it’s pretty easy to catch a few if you can find them. Around the river channel or the deep 100 foot ditches near the mouths of our south end creeks have been the best locations to look for the stripers. Here’s one of a few I caught this morning on the spoon. 13918739_10206079241774688_797089199_oIf If you can stand the heat, now is a pretty good time to get out there and get a few. Surface temps are in the upper 80’s and the bite has been varying from early morning to late evening but the best bite seems to be when the sun gets up. Good luck out there and take plenty of water, cover up or use sun screen.

Lake Guntersville trip 7-13 through 7-17-2016

This was a 5 day trip to Lake Guntersville and the last 2 days of fishing included our club tournament with the Greater Atlanta Bass Club. I needed 3 days to figure out a game plan for the tournament, this time of year finding fish and catching them can be hot and tough. On Wednesday I fished with a friend who knew a little bit more about ledge fishing than I did. All I was interested in was learning about ledge fishing on Guntersville. We found a few areas of small shell beds on some flats while fishing a long stretch of ledge or the drop off into the main channel. The shell beds on the flats next to the ledge just kept producing 2-5lb fish on every pass. I marked two primary beds that were producing and one bed in particular had chunk rock next to it which made a perfect spot. On every pass we made we picked up at least one nice fish. My first fish of the trip was a 7 pd’er which I lost at the boat and this fish was on the shell bed with the neighboring chunk rock so it was the first mark I made on the gps. We went from one shell bed mark on the graph to another down the stretch of ledge Wednesday through Friday. Tournament day we sat on the shell bed that produced the most fish the entire time. It’s hard to believe the amount of fish that just kept coming, it’s fair to say we caught around 35-40 fish. The fish ranged from dinks to 6lbs with Lisa catching 10-15 fish and my buddies catching a few also. Overall is was a prosperous ledge.

The tournament was a 3 fish limit which made it pretty easy given we were averaging 10-20 fish a day from that stretch of the ledge. The tournament format was a 3 session tournament with the first session being Saturday morning from dawn till noon. The second session was from 4pm till 8:30pm and the third session was Sunday morning from dawn till noon. There was a tournament within a tournament with each session having a total weight pot and a big fish pot. There was also a bigger pot for overall total weight and big fish for combined both days. I like the format because it gives more teams a chance to get in the money.

Basically for the first session we made sure we were sitting just off the shell bed at dawn. We threw a shakey head with a magnum trick worm across the shell bed and dragged it back through the shells to the boat. There were numerous fish on the ledge and you just needed to be able to tell the difference between the shaky head running across the shells and a fish picking up the bait. Once you get the feel of that, then it’s all in setting the hook. You need a good hook set because the fish figure out very quickly to run at the boat if they can’t shake the hook initially. That little tactic is by design to keep you from digging that hook barb into the hard cartilage of their inner mouths. When they get near the boat they surface, jumping and shaking their heads violently as a last ditch effort to shake the hook. Keeping the rod tip low is a must.

In session one, every once in a while the fish would turn on and we would catch a few with one or two nice keepers in the mix. My strategy was to be patient, just sit on them and wait them out…..all weekend. I knew if we could average 4-5lb we would probably do very well, so waiting for the fish instead of running around and missing the bite was my strategy. We just needed patience and trust in the plan.
It was Lisa’s first day of fishing for the week so there was a little learning curve for her to get up to speed. Unfortunately she lost a couple of good fish before she got dialed in with the feel of the bite and good hook set. Once she accomplished that she was good to go and brought several good fish to the boat. On this session I did the damage and put 3 fish at over 13lbs in the boat right away then it was just a matter of working on an upgrade.
We went to the weigh in with 13 and change, all from the same little shell bed. It was good enough for first place in the session and I had a 5+ pounder to take big fish. A lot of teams struggled to find fish and a working pattern but these club guys figure out patterns and strategies very quickly so we were glad we jumped out to an early lead. Here’s a pic of the fish from session #1.IMAG0904

When session 2 started a local club was having their weigh in at the ramp…. it was a cluster so getting out to our spot was a little slow. We finally reached the shell bed and it was wide open… but man was it hot! We could see a big thunderhead building just north of the lake and I was hoping it would give us some cloud cover to cool things down, and it did…. Unfortunately there was an outflow wind from the storm. The stretch of ledge was covered in white capping water, soon came cloud cover and then blowing rain. We stuck it out and every once in a while picked up a 3-4 lber. We ended up heading back to the ramp with three decent 3-4lb fish just as the wind and clouds broke at sunset.

When we got to the ramp to trailer to the weigh-in a big catamaran looking center console was launching. I didn’t pay much attention as we parked along side a couple of cool looking high dollar Phoenix boats, Lisa held my boat at the dock as I went to get the truck. When I pulled down to the ramp area I noticed the big center console was still at the ramp and the guy couldn’t get the boat off the trailer, he hadn’t backed down far enough. He quickly jumped out of the running boat and ran back up to his truck to back it down further. When he did, the boat jumped off the trailer and started heading out into the bay …. with the boat in reverse. The guy in the truck just drove away as his boat headed out into the bay, motor running, in reverse. It took me a few seconds to figure out what was going on but I quickly realized this boat was making an arc and if my trajectory calculations were correct it was heading right for our Ranger and the 2 unmanned Phoenix’s. I looked at Lisa and she was bracing for impact as the big boat was bearing down for her and our boat. She was standing at the back of our boat with our little dog Chigger in her arms. She quickly thought to take her foot and push the big center console. I knew that wasn’t going to work so I jumped out of the truck screaming as I ran for somebody closer than me to stop that boat. I was at a sprint trying to get there before the collision. Thank goodness there was one lone guy who came flying from nowhere and jumped in the center console just as it collided with Lisa’s foot and our boat. Our boat collided with the Phoenix and that Phoenix hit the next Phoenix but luckily the guy that jumped in the big center console slammed it into drive and minimized the damage. The boat owner came running down just after it was all over and I quickly said a few choice words about him driving away full knowing his boat was in reverse putting everyone in danger. There were only a few minor scratches and we needed to get to the weigh-in. We made it with time to spare but our weight was off so we ended up with 10.5 for the second segment. There were a few teams that were getting things figured out and we finished the session in 3rd or 4th but we were still leading the overall weight by a good 6lbs. We just needed to stick some good ones in session 3 to seal the deal.
It was getting late and Lisa and I swung into Burger King for a burger and onion rings. By morning we were both sick. I don’t think the whopper and the onion rings was a good idea for us…..

At 5am Lisa got sick on the way to the ramp which made me even more sick just watching her so. We were both a mess but we knew we needed to fish and finish well. We got to our spot and by some miracle it was wide open again. We had a lot of company in our spot for the first 2 sessions but the shell bed was so small nobody could get a good angle on it but us. Not long after we got into position Lisa got a nice one on, unfortunately I was a little slow getting the net and it shook the hook boat side. Lisa and I both got a little discouraged but it wasn’t long till Lisa tied into another good fish and we boated a 5+. I just held the boat in one position and Lisa cast to the same spot over and over and before long we had another 13-14 pound sack. Lisa steadily caught fish off the back of the boat on the shell bed and I made a great net man for her. It was getting hot and we still had an hour till weigh-in so we just rode around in the breeze keeping the fish cool with o2 and ice. Our little dog Chigger likes to ride in the boat so we just let him enjoy the ride. At the end of the day we finished in first place for total weight at 36+ pounds, second place was a little over 28. Here’s a picture of the fish Lisa caught in the 3rd session to win the tournament for overall weight.IMAG1034 (1)We won total weight and big fish for session one as well as total weight for the tournament. Here’s a few pictures and a video of Lisa’s final day weigh-in with the winning fish!!

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Lanier Summer Report 7-8-2016

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I’ve been hitting the lake on a regular basis and finding plenty of fish to keep me busy. The bite has been great for me over the past few weeks and I guess you could say that we’ve hit the summer pattern. The lake temps are hovering around the mid to upper 80’s and the thermocline is scattered throughout the creeks and out in the lower lake right now. The stripers and bass are taking up residence in their predicable locations and using a variety of methods for catching these fish can lead to a day of fun fishing…..

For the bass I’ve been starting my mornings very early (dawn) casting a topwater favorite over the same brush piles I’ve been drop shotting later in the day. This time of year the bass are reluctant to hit the surface but early in the morning and sporadically throughout the day they will attack the bluebacks swimming near the surface and they will attack a surface lure as well. Unfortunately this is one of those times of the year that the fish doesn’t stay up on the surface long so if you’re site fishing, making a quick and accurate cast is key to catching the surfacing fish. Basically, a topwater fish is a low percentage endeavor and I’m starting to see more and more bass refusing to come back after a topwater bait just seconds after they initially surface. Just yesterday I was able to catch some nice topwater fish just blind casting wind blown points but the chop across the point had to be perfect before they would surface. Just about every fish I caught on the topwater was a good 3lb+ stout fish and they attacked the topwater baits like they were hungry with the aggressiveness of the stripers. Lately the only topwater bait I have tied on and at the ready is the bone Sexy Dawg. The bass in the picture above was caught yesterday 7-7-2016, mid-morning on a wind blown point using the bone Sexy Dawg.

If the topwater isn’t working there are a couple other options I’ve been using to put fish in the boat. The first is casting a Fish Head Spin or underspin across the top of brush on humps or out on the ends of points. I’ve been targeting the brush in 25-35 feet of water. There are some fish at the shallower depths but I think the bigger fish have been deeper and near deep deep water. For the under spin, I’ve been using a 1/4 ounce with a pearl super fluke, casting across the brush pile and counting it down to 5-10 seconds with a steady retrieve over the brush pile and back to the boat. Another tactic you can try if the underspin isn’t working or the wind kicks up a little and that’s a jig. Take your pick, there are plenty to choose from that will work right now. I’m just casting a 3/8 or 1/2 ounce size type casting jig with a watermelon trailer, letting it sink and slowly crawling it across the bottom. Sometimes you’ll feel a distinct thump and other times they rod will just load up or get heavy. Most of the time the larger fish have been on the under spin and the jig.

Once I’ve had some fun with those three early morning tactics and the sun gets higher, I’m going to the drop shot tactic. For me, the drop shot is like playing a video game, I’m just finding the brush and fish on the electronics and dropping my little drop shot rig right down in front of them. Sometimes they hit it right away and sometimes I just dead stick the bait in a waiting game. There are times when holding the drop shot worm perfectly still will entice a bite and other times I have to make the worm dance to get a reaction. A lot of times I’m very focused on my electronics and I am watching the fish as well as my worm on my sonar screen. I can watch the fish chase the bait down and get hooked in real time. Worm color and size selection is a whole other topic. We’ve been using different  sizes and colors, some days it matters and some days it doesn’t. My wife Lisa is the queen of color selections while I’m more of a tried and true kinda guy. We are both competitive and always have a competition on the drop shot. Lisa has that women’s touch which is perfect for that type of finesse fishing and the drop shot is her specialty so it’s always a challenge for me to beat her at the drop shot. Earlier this week she mopped up on me for numbers using a worm color that I never dreamed of using but it worked. Last year Lisa came up with a worm color that was a lock for us in late summer. We had a blast with it and caught some nice big fish just drop shotting our normal brush piles. It was just a color and size that the bigger fish reacted to during that period in time. I caught my biggest drop shot fish on that worm while the corps was generating in the brutal afternoon heat and got it on video. It’s probably my favorite drop shot video from last summer and that fish put up one heck of a fight on light tackle:
You can see the way I’m working the worm in the video. I’m using 6-7lb fluorocarbon line with a 3/8 ounce drop shot weight and a #2 or #4 VMC Spinshot hook about 18 inches up from the weight.

Once I’ve had my fill of drop shotting bass I’m moving on to a bigger target which is our summer striper population. I’m only carrying one item for stripers this time of year but the excitement that lure provides is more than enough for a day of fishing. The lure I’m carrying is the Ben Parker Magnum Spoon and the summer stripers just love this thing. You need to work the spoon kinda like working the drop shot, it’s a matter of seeing the fish on your electronics, dropping the spoon vertically and enticing them to bite. Finding the stripers to drop the spoon to is the hardest part of the equation and it may require some driving and watching your electronics for arches in deep water. Once you find the arches it’s as easy as dropping the spoon and reeling it back up. The stripers will let you know when they hit the spoon, sometimes taking you by surprise and trying to jerk the rod out of your hands.
Here is a video I made last summer that can give you an idea of the way the spoon tactic works for stripers.
A lot of folks have asked what rig I was using. The rig I was using to catch those big stripers was a big Penn Fierce 6000 reel loaded with 25lb Big Game on a 7′ Ugly Stik Heavy Spinning rod. I like the bigger reels because you can gain line very quick with the big spool and gear ratio. We’ve already been catching some nice fish on the spoon, both up lake a ways and down lake as well. It seems that the fish are scattered in groups and finding fish and having a group of fish to yourself is very possible right now. The spoon bite is only going to get better as we progress through the summer and I’m looking forward to a couple months and a solid pattern of hitting the brush for bass and spooning summer stripers for a change of pace. I haven’t really been taking many pictures or videos lately but here’s a few pictures from so recent trips out:

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On the Radio this morning

 

I spent a little time with my buddy Brad Myers and his radio show, Georgia Outdoors Radio 92.5 “The Bear” FM. We talked about Lake Lanier stripers and bass this morning and some of the tactics we’re using right now. We talked about spooning up a couple of stripers for the grill and a good striper recipe we use for a little summer holiday stripers on the half shell. I also talked about the drop shot tactic and the fun we’ve been having with that. Just click on the link below. My portion of the show starts at the 91:45 mark.

https://www.spreaker.com/user/georgiaoutdoorsradio/gor-07-02-16?fb_action_ids=963130547119547&fb_action_types=spreaker_radio%3Abroadcast&fb_ref=image_bigbutton