Three Weeks of Cranking

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When I looked at the schedule for the HD Marine Lake Lanier tournaments and the date for the FLW Bulldog series tournament on Lake Lanier I knew it was going to be a grind. This grind included the grind of telling my wife I was going to be busy fishing for 3 weekends straight and probably doing a lot of pre-fishing in between. Now what fisherman can pull that one off without winding up in the dog house?? Well, you know what they say; “behind every good fisherman is an understanding wife”. They do say that you know…. Thankfully, I have an understanding wife, or she just wants to get rid of me, one of the two…..

Just over a month ago a few of my retired buddies and I were hitting the creek and catching fish out in the ditches and along the edges where the water runs up shallow. It’s not my style of fishing but I suffered through the agony of jerkbaits, underspins and spoons while the fish made their winter home out in deep water. The whole time I was just biding my time till my shallow water bite came around. While hanging out in the shop on the bad weather days I was making crankbaits in preparation for warmer days and the upcoming tournaments. I knew that we would have some nice days and from past experience it wouldn’t be long till our winter started giving way to spring and the bass would start foraging on the rocks. Usually when the water temps reach the 50 degree range the crawfish get active and the bass start fueling up for the upcoming spawn. On the sunny days the bass will hit the rock piles to find just a bit more warmth and whatever food source they can scavenge. It’s not like they always stay on the rocks but they will stage in deeper water and run up and down the shallow rocks when it’s time to put the feed bag on. When this happens I like to hit the rocks with crankbaits and jigs. Here’s a picture of the cranks I made and a good one I caught right after making them.
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Just over 3 weeks ago we had a sunny day and I was starting to pre-fish my first tournament of the 3 week stretch. I decided to hit a few rocks with some custom DT10 knock-offs I made in a shad pattern. It’s a pattern that I’ve been making for a few years now and it’s a pattern that works really well on the rocks when the bass are foraging. To that point I had been zeroing on the rocks with the crankbaits but on that day the pattern came around and I caught some fat bass up on the shallow rocks on a sunny day. That gave me some hope and something to go on. This was on the south end of the lake but I pretty much knew it would be the same up north too. There are some good rock piles up on the north end of the lake and that made it more convenient than running all the way down south from a tournament that launched on the north end, which all 3 of the upcoming tournaments did. Prior to the tournaments the best pattern I found while pre-fishing was throwing the crankbaits and jigs up on the rocks so I made up my mind that’s what I was going to do. The day before the first HD tournament was a sunny day so I checked my rock piles up north and I was right, the fish were on the rocks and I caught a nice limit. That gave me confidence for tournament day. The only drawback was that on tournament day it was overcast. When we hit the first rock pile the morning of the tournament the fish had backed off the shallows and suspended in 15-20 feet of water which threw a monkey wrench in my well laid plan. That morning I was able to compensate and I caught a quick limit using my shad crankbait pattern and caught my fish slow cranking the medium diver through the suspended fish. Usually I’m working the bottom with the cranks but these suspended fish wanted it up in the column. Problem was, once I caught the limit, that was the last fish I caught for the day. We went on the hunt for bigger fish and came up empty. We strolled into the weigh-in with just short of 10lbs and there were a lot better fishermen than us out there on that day.

Moving on to the FLW pre-fishing, my creek buddies were giving me some intel on a good pattern they had been using and that was using crawfish colored crankbaits. I knew I was going to have to bust double digits in the FLW tourney and it seemed that the crawfish pattern was yielding some bigger bass than my shad pattern. I made a few of my little DT-10 knock-offs in a crawfish pattern but as usual I started shopping at Tackle Warehouse. “Forget Holly Madison, if anyone ever hacks Tackle Warehouse I’m screwed”.
After looking at pictures my retired creek buddies had sent me, I was looking for anything in a crawfish pattern that caught my eye and that’s when I found the Rapala DT-14 in Red Crawdad. It caught my eye and it was perfect so I ordered 5. The day before the FLW tournament my buddy and I took a little boat ride and threw a few of our crawfish baits up on the rocks and we caught a few nice ones. I felt good about my chances for the tournament and I kinda knew I was going to put some fish in the boat. The tournament launched out of Laurel Park and my plan was to hit 2 of my favorite rocky points just north of Browns Bridge and try and get a couple early morning bass for a confidence builder then hammer down south all the way to Bald Ridge The night before the tournament I meet my partner at the meeting and we went over all the particulars of the next morning. I told him we were going to be making a long cold run and to dress warm.
The next morning everything went off without a hitch but when we rolled up on my first spot there was a boat on it so we moved to another point in the same area but came up empty. I pointed the boat south and ran to Bald Ridge without a fish to start the morning. I wondered if my co-angler was starting to wonder about my strategy but when you’re cranking the rocks, most times you have to be patient and give the sun time to get up and the rocks to warm up. On our first stop I zeroed but one the second stop I busted a 2 pounder to start us off. I was using the DT-14 in the crawdad pattern and I finally put one in the livewell. We went through a little lull of maybe 2 hours and I was wondering if it was going to get better. Finally I popped a 3 pounder up on the rocks and that made me feel a little better. I was just running and gunning rocks at that point. Soon I popped another 3lber off the rocks and followed it up with another 2 pounder over the course of a couple hours. Time went on and I had 4 fish in the livewell. My partner wasn’t really expecting a crankbait on the rocks bite and he didn’t have much in the way of crawfish colored crankbaits so it was slow back there for him. He did catch one on a red lipless but it just wasn’t happening for him back there. I just needed one more fish and there was less than an hour before I had to head out of the creek to the weigh-in. FINALLY, with minutes to spare I hit my 5th fish that we though was the 5 pounder that I had been looking for but it turned out to be a foul hooked 2 pounder. It was ok though because I couldn’t of ask for more in getting 5 fish to the scales in my first tournament that size. When I got to the weigh-in and started talking with other guys I realized it was a bad day for many and I was going to finish in the money!! I weighed 11.9 and finished 20th out of 142 Anglers. I was pleased. Here’s a couple pics.
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One more tournament to go and was feeling pretty good coming off my finish in the FLW. I didn’t fish till the day before the tournament due to weather changes but I figured the pattern would hold since we were looking at a warming trend through the tournament weekend. My partner and I checked our rock piles the day before the tournament and busted 4 nice keepers in a matter of a couple hours on the crawfish cranks and the jigs. Here’s our 4 from the day before.
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We felt good about the next day but as luck would have it, my luck ran out. Over night a weak front had past through and the fish pulled off the rocks and shut down for us. It was very hard for me to switch tactics when we realized it was going to be a tough day. We had basically came up empty through our first 4 stops and I started second guessing. We shifted to docks and pitching the shakey head but without pre-fishing the docks we were just fishing blind and pulled up a zero on the docks. We went back to the rocks and finally busted a decent fish cranking but it was too late and the fish just didn’t cooperate for us. Here’s a pic of our only fish from the tournament.
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There’s a lesson in there somewhere but I haven’t figured it out yet. It’s been a long 3 week stretch and I’m glad it’s over so I can get back to fun fishing for a few weeks. Here’s a picture of the baits that I’ve been catching my fish on for the last 3 weeks on the rocks and a few random pre-fishing pictures.
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Fishing the Winter Spoon Phase

Fishing the Winter Spoon Phase

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Sometimes I try and think of my first catch with a certain piece of tackle and most times I can come up with an interesting story about that piece of tackle but in the case of the spoon I honestly don’t remember spoons being used for the kind of fishing we did in my younger days. About as far as my memory goes back with a spoon is back to my military career, during the Cold War of the 80’s we used Red Devil spoons for Canadian Pike on our squadron trips to a small Canadian air force base in the far northern province of Alberta. To our fighter pilots, going to northern Canada was an opportunity to play with the Russian fighter pilots and for me it was an opportunity to play with the local pike population. That kind of fishing was mostly casting and retrieving and I’ve never really spent much time with jigging spoons till coming to the south. I’ve been fishing the lake for 18 years now and the way I figure it, there are 2 spooning phases here. The first occurs in the hottest days or the “dog days” of summer from July through September as the surface temps top out for the year and the bite is more striper oriented. The other occurs at the other end of the spectrum when the surface temps drop during the coldest months of the year and the bite is more bass oriented. As a striper fisherman that primarily used live bait, spoons didn’t get used that often in my boat and there wasn’t a big window of opportunity for me to catch a big striper on a spoon. You’ve got the hottest part of the summer using a big spoon like the 8 inch Ben Parker spoon and the colder months of the winter with a much smaller spoon like a 2 inch Flex-it spoon, but other than those times catching a striper on a spoon is the exception more than the rule.

Since channeling my fishing efforts to bass the spoon has taken on a different role and this is the time of year the spoon comes out for the bass portion of the “spoon phase”. Last year was my first year for using the spoon for bass and I found it to be a helpful tool in 2 separate scenarios when the water temps dip into the lower 50’s and below. The first scenario is a shallower bite and plays out over and over again in our creek pockets. There is a good population 1-2 inch threadfin shad cruising around the creek right now and some of the backs of the creek pockets are just loaded with schools of these threadfins. At the same time there are a lot of hungry bass that are feeding up before their metabolism slows from the winters coldest water temps in the later part of the winter. Since all this transpires under the surface, without the help of birds, good electronics and/or the luck of being at the right place at the right time these annual clashes of bass and bait go unnoticed time after time. Last year a friend and I were fishing on the north end of the lake during a bass tournament and early in the morning we saw some gulls diving in the back of a pocket near the area we were fishing. We decided to investigate the diving birds and eased into the pocket with the trolling motor. Almost immediately we saw some dead 1-2 inch threadfins floating and started marking fish on a 20 foot bottom so we dropped the spoons down on the fish and within seconds we had our first fish of the morning in the boat. This was a school of cookie cutter 2lb largemouth but they provided us with a limit of fish in less than 30 minutes to start the morning. This all happened in less than 20 feet of water in the back of a pocket and was over 15 minutes after it started.

The second scenario with the spoon isn’t quite as exciting but can yield some very nice fish and nice numbers nonetheless. The number of fish moving out to the deeper channels and ditches is growing and a friend of mine has been working the deep spoon bite for the last 2 weeks. While I’ve been concentrating on the first scenario my buddy has been in his boat moving around the deeper valleys and ditches of pockets and cuts in the creek. His efforts have been focused on deep bass moving around the edges of deep timber in these areas and it’s been paying off for him with bigger rewards. Generally we text pictures back and forth while we’re both out fishing and I’ve been noticing his bass are just a bit bigger than mine lately. His bites have been fewer and far between at times, but the quality of the bigger fish makes the down time worth it, I’m sure.

Those 2 scenarios have been playing out for us for the past 2 weeks and I’m pretty sure the bass bite during the winter spoon phase will continue throughout the winter. Although I haven’t done much spooning for bass around docks yet, that’s something that we had a lot of success with last winter and we’ll be doing a lot more of as the water temps drop lower and the fish start hanging around the deeper docks. Basically the pattern for me has been finding pockets and cuts that hold bait and then look for signs of fish either on the graph or on the surface in the backs of the pockets in 25 feet or less. There has been some subtle surface activity early in the mornings and late in the evenings and is a dead giveaway for the fishes location. Sometimes the loons will get worked up and get very active diving for bait which attracts the fish and starts a feeding frenzy under the surface. It’s always good to watch the loons if they are in the area and if they start actively feeding there’s a good chance there are bass underneath. If I mark a few fish in an area, I’m basically dropping a 1/2 ounce white spoon like a War Eagle or Flex-it down to the bottom and using slow choppy bounces and a few bigger bounces but always keeping my spoon oriented to the bottom. You have to be careful and watch your electronics because we all know that there are a lot of obstacles down on the bottom. If it’s a flat smooth bottom it’s no problem but if there is structure it’s best to work the spoon above the structure in a suspended mode. Most of the time the fish will hit the spoon on the drop or fall so a bite can be as subtle as the rod tip just unloading. For me, I like to use a controlled fall so I can feel the bite. By a controlled fall I mean that I never really loose tension in my line during the fall, so it’s not really a flutter or free fall. The free fall tactic will work better during a shad die-off but for right now I’m slowly bouncing rather than a big pull and freefall drop.

At the same time I’m working the backs of the pockets I can usually see my buddies boat sitting out in the deeper center of the pockets and cuts more towards the mouth. Good electronics are useful to find the deeper fish, sometimes hiding in the timber. My buddy uses a bigger spoon bouncing it around the timber in 50-70 feet of water. His spooning in the deeper water is more pronounced and he uses bigger pulls and drops around the deep timber edges. Sometimes the bigger bass have been coming out of the timber and hitting the bigger spoon while suspended. The bites on the bigger spoon in the deeper water aren’t that frequent unless you’re lucking enough to find a nice group of fish holding in an area. Most times when the fish hits the spoon in the deeper water the feeling is nothing more than the rod just loading up. I think the bigger spoon may weed out some of the smaller fish but it slows the process of catching fish.
A couple more tips I can offer during spooning can help put more fish in the boat; the first is to watch the surface of the area you are fishing for floating dead bait. If you’re seeing a lot of 1-2 threadfin on the surface, be sure to match the hatch with the size of your spoon. Another tip would be to put your caught fish in a live well if they are legal instead of releasing them boat side. IMO opinion a caught and released fish can spoil a good bite so I put the fish in the live well for a bit as to not alarm the other fish. Here’s a couple pictures from earlier this week and matching the hatch with the spoon.IMAG0338

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How I’ve Become a Better Bass Fisherman

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I’ve still got a long way to go but here’s a short explanation of a few of the things that have made me a better bass fisherman over the last few years. I wrote the following as a response to the question “how do you get better at fishing” in the GON forum and thought I would share it on my blog”.

Well, if you exclude time on the water which is by far the most important and just count that as a given the second most important factor in getting better for me is location. Without productive locations it’s just a waste of time. Here’s how I have gotten better with my bass fishing since changing from primarily fishing for stripers to targeting bass and competing in some local bass tournaments. I like competing because I know there are a lot of other folks that are just as passionate as I am about fishing and I like to compare my effort and skill level against theirs.

First off you need to locate the fish and sometimes that is as simple as watching the surface of the water and watching your graph. On Lake Lanier it’s all about structure most of the year. The spotted bass live in structure such as submerged brush piles, docks and dock structure as well as small submerged trees and venture out away from home for food. I watch the surface a lot and almost always find fish by site, whether it’s fish surfacing or birds diving. I also spend time driving around and marking structure itself and structure that holds fish. Sometimes that’s all I do, I don’t fish it till later but the more structure you’ve got marked, the more options you have for locations.

I’m kinda different than most folks when it comes to tackle. I have the ability to make my own so I can design things you can’t find in stores. A long time ago I read an article by KVD and in the article he talked about trusting your bait. He said that a lot of folks will buy a bait and use it once or twice and if it doesn’t work it sits in the box in a black hole. He said that a lot of folks won’t spend enough time to thoroughly work the bait, and I tend to agree. Just about anyone who has been in my boat and fishes with me knows that my tackle is a mess. I don’t usually use my tackle boxes as much as I fish out of bags. Usually I have a game plan and put the baits I want to use for the day in a bag. I spend time with these baits, sometimes all day. I’ll use different patterns at different depths, speeds and presentations. I’ll use them in different seasons too.

Another thing that helps is finding baits and techniques that work that I haven’t used before and using them till I feel confident that I can catch fish with it. A good example is the dropshot for my wife and I. We’ve used the dropshot technique before, but only on rare occasions with minimal success. This past summer we spent days and days on the lake doing nothing but working on the dropshot around structure and now I feel confident that we can catch fish with it. Same with a jerkbait, I knew that the jerkbait was working good in the spring a few years back so made some jerkbaits and forced myself to learn and use the jerkbait till I felt comfortable with it and caught fish with it. Right now we’re learning the shakey head and using it on every trip till we feel confident with that, then it’s on to something else that is new to us.

Finally, I like to think outside the box. I like to try new things, new color combinations and tackle catches my eye. I think about tackle that has been proven to be successful and find variations of that to try. I’m not afraid to go out for a day and use nothing but new stuff that I’ve never tried before. I don’t get caught up in using what I know works when I’m trying new things and failing. You have to have the patience and the dedication to stick it out and suffer through the bad days to get to the good days with new tackle and new techniques.

Years ago I was a coach and competitor for a Navy marathon team and one of the most basic questions runners would ask me is how to train in order to get better finishing times.
This is my philosophy:
“In running, the only way to improve yourself is to push your body into an uncomfortable zone to the point it becomes comfortable. It’s the same with fishing, the only way to improve your fishing is to push yourself into the unkown until it becomes known”.

The Topwater Bite is Starting!

I hadn’t been out in the morning all week so I decided to get out yesterday morning and take a peek at the topwater situation. It still isn’t quite ripe yet but there are some bass hitting the surface in pretty good numbers. If it’s like last year, a lot of small fish will be hitting early in the topwater season and as we get into the cooler days of fall the big guys will start surfacing more and more. Right now, for me the topwater bite is kinda subtle. They aren’t hammering it on the surface so I’ve been just popping the popper a few times and then creating a wake and then a few more pops and more wake.
I caught as many waking the bait as popping it this morning and I probably caught somewhere between 10-15 fish with maybe 5-6 keepers and 2 small stripers as well. I only had a few minutes of battery power this morning but I made a little video of how I’m working the bait and a couple of fish as well as some keeper pics.

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Fixin the Bone Vixen

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Just last week I made my first purchase with Tackle Warehouse. I wanted to pick up a few things I needed, and as always, a few cool looking new things I wanted. I’ve been reading a lot about these topwater lures called “Vixen” on the Bass Barter and Buy website I frequent and some of the old Vixens on the site sell for upwards of $200.00. The fishermen on the website rave about these Vixen lures and I remember reading about the lures last summer in a Georgia Outdoor News magazine. In the magazine they had a cover page picture of this guy holding up a solid 5 pound spotted bass and this bone colored “Vixen” topwater lure was dangling from the fishes jaw. I could see the word Vixen plain as day on the back of the lure. That was a pretty cool picture and just about all the convincing I needed to buy a few of those Vixens.
With summer just around the corner and a shallow water striper bite in full swing I decided to take the plunge and buy the Vixen. The only color I was interested in was the bone colored pattern. The bone color is the universal color for stripers and bass. I’ve been throwing lures for a lot of years and when I think back to some of my most memorable topwater striper catches, a bone colored topwater lure made the top 10 on a few different occasions. Probably the most memorable was a few years back in the July heat of the summer, my friend Capt. Doug Nelms and I ran across a big school of stripers pushing bluebacks to the surface over deep water. We were pulling a spread of leadcore rigs and decided to take a crack at the big school of stripers with some light tackle topwater action. I circled the boat towards the surfacing school and we took a shot at the school while pulling leadcore. We couldn’t stop the boat with the leadcore lines running 250 feet behind the boat so we had to take a shot at the surfacing stripers on the fly. I had a bone colored Spook Jr. tied to a medium light spinning rig at the ready. You know, sometimes timing is everything with a topwater striper. If you put the right bait in the right area at the right time you’ll usually get the right reaction and the right result. I did all that stuff right and here was the end result:

That was my first topwater striper while trolling leadcore and casting to a single striper on the fly. My buddy Capt. Doug did an excellent job of driving the boat and circling the fish while I battled the striper on light tackle. You can see that bone colored Spook Jr I was using in the video.

Well, back to the bone Vixen. I received my package on time and timing couldn’t have been better. We have some crappie fishing friends who have a lake house out towards the mouth of our creek and this is the time of year the crappie like to hang out around docks and brush piles. Our friends enjoy catching crappie at night under their dock lights and these warmer spring nights provide some nice evenings for catching crappie. The only problem is the big stripers like to frequent the same areas at night during the spring and scare off all the crappie so striper eradication is necessary to make our friends evenings more enjoyable. That’s where I come in. If there is ever a need for striper eradication I’m your man, Johnny on the spot and ready to do battle with those pesky unwanted stripers day or night. Those three bone colored Vixens I bought were going to work right away. It was Friday afternoon and I was finishing up and order of shad baits and checking out the box my lures came in. Heck the box looks seductive in itself so I guess if the lure doesn’t work, well, you’ve got the box to look at. Here’s a photo of the lures and the box just before going into battle.
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I inspected the lures and determined that the hooks were somewhat tough looking and slip ring looked a little weak but with todays new technology those slip rings were probably some kind of miniature forged metal heavy duty slip rings. Hey, it’s a Vixen and a somewhat pricey one at that so it’s bound to have good hardware. It looked sweet and I thought about a big striper blowing up on it as I tied it on my medium spinning gear with fresh 8lb test mono. I was ready.

We were settled in at the lake house right after an early Friday dinner and I was heading out towards the mouth of the creek in our little 17 Lowes. I wanted to do a little recon mission and then come back and get Lisa right after dark for the night raid on the stripers. I showed up in the pocket our friends dock is in and I cut the motor down to watch the sun set and look for stripers. They already had the dock lights on and it didn’t take long till I saw the first surfacing striper. I had to do a double take on the boil the striper created. It was big and I watched the same area for other activity. Another boil caught my eye in a little pocket to the left of area of the dock so I kicked the trolling motor up on high and made my way into the area of the boils. I saw another good sized striper in the very back of the cut and he was full on chasing bait on the surface. The little pocket came alive with stripers and boils as I approached. I took my foot off the trolling motor pedal and quietly picked up the Vixen on the spinning gear. I was right in the middle of a feeding frenzy and stripers were moving all around me. I unhooked the Vixen and watched the water to pick out a target. I was looking for one aggressive surfacing fish and as soon as I found it, I was going too put that Vixen right in the area as quickly as possible. Finally I saw a bigger striper hit the surface and I made my cast; it was perfectly placed just beyond the area where the big striper surfaced and I moved the Vixen for the first time, walking the dog back to the boat. The lure had a big clunky ball bearing in the forward area and the sound the ball bearing made banging back and forth provided some audio attraction for the fish. I saw the striper come up and swirl behind the Vixen but then left it alone as I brought it back to the boat. I liked the feel of the lure and I got ready to make a second cast when I saw the same striper come back up in the same area and was swimming on the surface like he was looking for something. I threw the lure back at the fish and within an instant he attacked it. The lure disappeared from the surface with a small pop and it took a second for me to process what happened. As soon as everything was processed I set the hook on the running striper. He was big, tearing drag off the spinning reel with no intention of slowing down. He was heading for the back of the cut, right down the middle and pulling deeper as he went. I put my foot down on the trolling motor and started chasing the striper down. He didn’t stop so I put my hand on the spool of the spinning reel for just a tad more drag on the fish to see if I could stop him before snapping the 8lb test. Finally he stopped in mid channel after a 200+ foot run. Now came the task of turning the fish and getting him pointed in the right direction. I knew just about how much force I could put on the 8lb test and I began to try and turn the fish and I pulled hard to turn the fishes head. When I did, I felt the line unload and I was cranking back a weightless length of line. It took a while to get the line back to the boat but when I did I was glad to see the Vixen still attached and ready for the next cast…. well almost anyway. Upon further inspection of the lure, I found one of the back hooks straightened. My heart sank.. I don’t mind losing a fish now and then but it stings pretty bad when losing one to faulty hardware. Especially brand new lures that cost some coin. Hey, it happens and I know that was a big striper. It looked well over twenty up on the surface and I know a big striper has a hard boney mouth so a single hook holding a striper that big is probably a pretty tough task. There are 3 big treble hooks on a Vixen for a total of 9 barbs to be used to hold a fish and the chances of just one of those barbs being used is pretty slim. Usually the fish get at least 2 sets of hooks buried in his jaw to hold the weight. I thought to myself, I should probably change those hooks out when I get back to the shop and put some bigger hooks and heavier slip rings on these lures.
I sped back to the lake house to pick up Lisa and get back out to the action right after dark. Lisa was ready to go and I tied on a blue bomber on her medium action rig. The blue bomber is my second favorite jerkbait type lure to use after dark. It has some evil looking florescent orange eyes that glow in the dark and stripers love them. Our friends were on their dock as we pulled up and we chatted for a minute and watched for surfacing fish. It was dark beyond the reaches of the dock lights but we could hear splashes off in the distance in the direction of the cut where I had lost the big fish earlier. After chatting, I kicked in the trolling motor and started moving us towards the darkness and the feeding stripers. Luckily there were some smaller lights from a couple docks in the cut and it made seeing the ripples from the surfacing fish more visible. We slipped ito the area and cut the trolling motor and waited. The stripers were swimming everywhere on the graph. We could see schools of 5-10 fish moving all around. Lisa started throwing the bomber and I went to work with the Vixen. It didn’t take long and Lisa was hooked up with a nice 8 pounder on the bomber. She was having a blast and the striper provided us with some aerial acrobatics in the darkness with the dim dock light in the backdrop. The smaller stripers were feeding and we were sitting in the middle of a striper feeding bonanza. The Vixen was a big hit with the smaller stripers and a few bass that were getting into the action in the cut. We lost as many hook ups and we landed but after about an hour of this I think the stripers figured us out and moved out of the area. Lisa and I headed back to the lake house for the night and with a plan to get back out the first thing in the morning before light. Here’s a nice striper we caught on the Vixen just after dark.
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My internal alarm went off at around 4am and I gathered my thoughts before rolling out for that first cup of coffee. My plan was to have a few cups of coffee and get the boat ready for a early morning run back to the scene of the crime from the night before. I made a cup of coffee to go and off I went up the creek channel with the occasional dock lighting on both sides acting as a large runway path up the creek in the early morning hours. Lisa was still fast asleep and I would be fishing alone for the first hour or two before I went back to the lake house for breakfast. As I pulled into the area in front of the dock I saw a smaller striper just to the front edge of the dock. The striper was right at the dock and swirling on bait attracted to the light. I threw the Vixen into the area of the smaller striper and he swirled on the Vixen just as soon as it made the first rattle. After the swirl he disappeared and I briefly thought he was gone, but in a second I heard another pop and felt the line tighten of the spinning rig. The striper was smaller and I was able to horse him to the boat rather quickly and in a couple minutes I had the fish at the side of the boat using the lights on the dock to help me land the fish. It was a little guy compared to some and maybe made 5lbs but fought like a solid 10 pounder. These stripers had been spending the last month feeding on the abundant bait that had made its way into the creek in search of warmer winter water. The stripers we were catching were fat March stripers and very very strong.

As the sun was rising through the still leafless trees, I could feel the air warming and I could see a mix of pinks and blues in the eastern sky. I saw two big stripers roll on some bait very near the shore so I pointed the boat in the direction of the big swirls and splashes. I put the hammer down on the trolling motor and got ready for a precise cast. I took a quick look at the line from the lure up about 4 feet to make sure there were no scuffed up areas. The line looked good and the trolling motor couldn’t get to the area fast enough. I had about 100lbs of pressure pushing down on the foot pedal and I could still see the stripers in the shallow water chasing threadfin shad and blueback herring. They were making a big wake as they moved through the shallows and I only had a few more feet to make the perfect cast. I could tell these fish were bigger fish. Maybe 20+ pound fish and they were making some big splashes as they went. I could feel my heart beating in my chest and I know my knees were shaking as I quietly pulled my foot off the trolling motor. I put my first cast right into the area next to the mud bank and within an instant one of the big stripers sucked the Vixen down and I set the hook on the running fish. The fish made a run directly under the boat and I had to stick the rod deep in the water to avoid the fish getting tangled in the trolling motor. I cleared the trolling motor with the rod somehow and the fish was clear and heading for deeper water. My drag was set perfectly and I knew I could put some pressure on the fish as I stood on the bow of the boat and let the big striper pull the boat along. For some reason the striper wanted to stay on the surface which made my job a lot easier. If I could keep the fish on the surface it was just a matter of wearing out the fish and gaining line till he gets to the side of the boat. That’s the preferred method but sometimes the larger and wiser stripers go rouge and swim down deep, looking for that underwater standing timber or huge brush piles that riddle the bottom of Lake Lanier. I’ve been outsmarted by some big stripers before and when I’m fighting a big striper I always know that going deep is something in the stripers bag of tricks. If the striper starts going deep I always like to add a little extra pressure to the fish in hopes of turning the fish back towards the boat.
I had the fish on the ropes and I could see the Vixen in the fishes mouth as he came along side the boat just under the surface. At the sight of the boat he made another run and I held the rod up high too keep him at the surface. I just about had him turned when the line went limp and I saw the Vixen come to the surface 10 feet behind the boat. The big striper was gone, pulled off…so I thought until I inspected the lure and found the whole front hook was missing right down to the eyelet. The big striper had straightened the slip ring and made his escape sporting some new hardware on his lip. Man, the Vixen let me down again…. I felt like a dumb*** for letting it happen a second time. I pulled up the trolling motor and headed back to the house to pick up Lisa and switch out a few hooks and slip rings. Let’s just say that the ride back to the house was the ride of shame as I reflected on my inner stupid coming out in full force this morning.

The bone Vixen needed fixin and I had just the hardware it needed for these big stripers. I dug through the hardware box at the house and found some brand new Eagle Claw #2 nickel plated 375 treble hooks with 30lb stainless slip rings. Lisa drove the boat back out to the mouth of the creek while I switched out hooks and rings on the Vixens. No big deal, they just needed a striper modification. I guess those stock hooks were good for those feisty little green fish jerking around on those spindly hooks and rings but this was one of those times where I have to put the big boy pants on the bass lures to accommodate the larger variety of the bass species. I knew my new hardware modification would be up for the task. One thing that I like to do with these bigger stronger stripers once they are hooked is set the hook a few more times during the fight because these bigger fish have very big and boney mouths and a good hook set is necessary to hold the fish during the fight. The nickel plated Eagle Claw trebles were more than enough to hold the bigger stripers.
When pulled into the cove the stripers and bass were in full feeding mode with boils both large and small. We could tell the difference between the stripers boiling on the surface and the bass boils. I saw one big boil in particular near the shore. This was a bigger fish and it was working it’s way down the red clay shoreline wreaking havoc as it went. When the striper surfaced it was like a train wreck with tremendous splashes and slapping from the big fishes tail crashing the water. This fish was an upper 20’s, maybe low 30’s and I told Lisa to get ready as I made my way to the shoreline to intercept the fish as she worked her way up the shoreline. This fish was more than likely a female feeding for the upcoming spawn. I eased up in the area and put Lisa in position for a cast just as the big fish surfaced between the boat and the shore. When she surfaced again Lisa was startled by the size of the fish and she put the perfect cast just where I would of put it. She rattled the Vixen and few times but nothing came up. In the next instant the striper resurfaced to the right of where we had guessed the big striper to be and had moved on up the shoreline. I realized we had the morning sun to our backs and the big striper more than likely saw us approaching and quickly departed. I was really hoping that Lisa would get hooked up with one of the bigger stripers we were seeing and she was working the Vixen perfectly with the back and forth rhythm of walking the dog. As it turned out, that was the last striper we saw for the morning when a couple of jet skiers decided to cruise through the area several times. The stripers moved on but we stayed for a while and was able to manage a few nice bass to salvage the morning. Here’s a few pictures of some nice spring bass on the Vixen.
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Here’s a good video of the Vixen in some early morning dock action with a feisty spotted bass:

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As we were leaving the area just before lunch the jet skiers pulled into the dock next to our friends dock and we were able to chat for a few minutes. Turns out, the jet skiers would be renting the neighbors lake house for the next two weeks and there would be several kids swimming and jet skiing throughout spring break in the cove. I figured all the extra traffic and noise would probably run the stripers from the area in just a few days but we were able to pull a few good ones out of the area before they left. We headed back to the house to call it a day.

The next morning was Sunday and we were packing for an early departure from the lake. It was raining outside and it had been since just after midnight. We were going to grab some breakfast on the way home from the lake and watch a little nascar in the afternoon. I was pretty sure the neighbor kids next to our friends house would take care of the striper problem over the next week. Lisa told me she wanted to do a little cleaning before we left and it was going to take about a half hour….well that’s all I needed. I told her I was going to dawn my rain gear and make one more check on the dock before we headed out. She said ok and I was off in an instant. I jumped in the boat, fired it up and untied for the quick trip up the creek. The rain had let up a little and it made the run a little more bearable for the run at 30mph to the cove. When I got there nothing was happening, no surface activity except the small circles made by the rain droplets on the water. I sat and watched but nothing was happening. I figured the neighbor kids were up half the night swimming and hanging around the dock making noise and running the stripers to the next county. The rain started to get heavier again and I was just about to head back to the house when I saw 2 separate stripers come up at the same time right in front of our friends dock. They rolled on the surface again and again and I knew they were attacking a big pod of bait in front of the dock. I was just in range to make a cast so I tapped the trolling motor to get my body in position to make a good cast right in the area. The two stripers were still on the surface when I made my cast and it was a good one, right in the area the two were swirling around. I rattled the Vixen and nothing….I rattled the Vixen and just as I thought it wasn’t going to happen the big striper popped the Vixen and it was gone. I set the hook on the striper just as she took off. My rod tip was bouncing as the reel drag gave the fish the resistance needed to wear the fish down. I faced the fish and let her run. She peeled off a good 100 feet before slowing and turning parallel to the boat. My knees were shaking and my heart was thumping and I watched the 8lb test line from the rod tip to the water. The striper was coming to the surface as I watched the angle of the line rise and I could see small pieces of lake debris hanging from the 8lb mono rising above the water. The fish was pulling the boat along and I knew that if the fish stayed on the surface I had him. I pumped the Vixen a few times to ensure a good hook set. I watched the end of the line sink and the angle of the line change and I knew the fish was looking deep again. I kept constant pressure on the fish and kept the rod tip high in the air to hopefully coax the fish back to the surface away from the underwater structure that bigger fish like to get into. Finally the fish started to rise again and I felt a sigh of relief as she swirled on the surface. I went to work on gaining the line back and for the next few minutes it was a game of tug of war with the striper as she stayed near the surface. I kept the right amount of pressure on the fish and she eventually calmed down and came along side for a quick landing and photo Before being released. Here’s a photo of the striper:
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She was a pretty stout teenage fish and a great fight on light tackle. She was just the fish I had been looking for to end the weekend and I considered the striper eradication to be a complete success. The neighbors called and said between the hurting we put on them and the neighbor kids in and out of the cove the stripers had cleared the area for the year and the crappie had returned to the underwater brush piles.

Here are a few more videos from our spring with the Bone Vixen.


Winter Crankbaits on the Rocks

Over the past week or so I’ve been working the crankbaits over warm rocky shoreline in the middle of the afternoons. Once I caught a few fish on a medium crankbait last weekend I tried a bigger 3.0 DD with same color pattern. I tried casting it in the same areas I’ve been catching fish and after a couple hours I put it back in the box. I tried trolling the bigger deeper diver but it got no attention.

We also tried my old faithful 2.75 CB medium/deep diver. It’s the one that we used over the summer and up at Burton with great success, both trolling and casting. Something that is very interesting about the 2.75 medium/deep CB blanks I’m getting is that the bill has changed from a clear plastic to a frosted looking plastic. Since the change, our catch rates have went way down with the lure. The clear bill really makes a difference in the CB and I probably won’t get any more with the frosted bill. We have yet to catch a fish on the 2.75 over the last month.
Once I determined that the fish weren’t interested in the 2 inch and bigger CB’s we just concentrated on the 1.75 medium crank and the 1.5 medium crank. The 1.75 medium is the one in the pictures above. The 1.75 has the loudest rattles of all my CB’s and I think that’s a huge success factor on the rocks.

Some folks have ask me about how I target bigger fish and finding the right areas where they reside.
I gotta say that over the past few days the biggest fish have come from areas where the sun is heating them up. All the fish yesterday came from rocks and docks. The big fish came from a southwest facing rocky outcropping with a dock directly facing the afternoon sun. When the sun comes out and starts heating up these areas, the bigger fish usually follow. The fish have been hitting in the 5-15ft depth.

Something else that is very important is presentation. My buddy and I used the same bait a few days ago and he zeroed with the bait while I caught 4 nice fish. The difference was that he was just casting and cranking. I’m casting, hard jerking the bait to the bottom and then cranking, jerking and stopping over and over. I’m working it more like a jerkbait than a crankbait and I think that mimics a foraging bait on the rocks instead of a swimming bait. here are a few pictures and videos from some of our recent crankbait trips in the creek. The first picture below is a picture of my last bass for 2014, caught on New Years Eve just before sunset. It was a nice way to end 2014.

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Early Winter Creek Report

It’s been a while since my last report and the water has cooled to around 50 degrees in the creek. The fish have done what they do best this time of year and that’s getting cold and slow. The fish take a few weeks to acclimate to the cold water and generally they will sit down on the bottom and slow their eating habits. This is the time I like to slow down with them so I go to my slow baits like worms and jigs. I like to crawl the worm down the drop-offs and ledges as well as working the worm on points. The best color I’ve found is a green tomato color I made. This worm is kind of special because it changes colors in the sunlight. I added some chartreuse to a watermelon color and added some red and black flakes to make a killer color for these winter bass. We’ve been using the Carolina and Texas rig and dipping the worm tails in a garlic dip. That seems to be what the bigger fish are looking for. Here’s a few pictures and a couple videos from some recent worm fishing trips.

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Bald Ridge Report week ending 6-8-2014

This week I fished on Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning and then again Saturday evening. This past week the deep diving crankbait in my Sand Key pattern was the dominate bait all week. The best location was rocky points in a 20 to 25 foot depth. If there was brush out on the point at that depth, there were generally fish in the area. I caught a lot of nice fish with some pushing 3-4lb mark on the deep diving crank and I found that working it slow was generally the key to the bigger fish. Trolling the cranks were successful, but casting, cranking the bait and working it back to the boat slowly was a better pattern. The slower the better with stopping the bait on occasion was the key. When the bigger spots hit the bait it was generally a good strike and some of the fish were hooked with both sets of trebles which would take some of the fight out of them. I caught fish all week on this pattern and figured the same pattern would hold true for a tournament we fished up on the north end of the lake on Sunday. As fate would have it, the crankbait bite was slower up on the north end but I was able to catch a smaller keeper and lost a very nice fish at the side of the boat that was barely hooked with a single treble barb. It was just that kind of day for us as I caught a few dinks but the fish were generally chasing and short striking it. We tried a variety of baits but the other 2 keepers came from the dropshot with my little dropshot worms in a crystal blue pattern. They seemed to really react to that color.

Water temps were moving up through 80 degrees and above. The wind was out of the north and the west later in the week and the barometric pressure was lower due to a front that moved over our area and stalled. The bass seemed very active, especially early in the morning. Here’s a few pictures from the week.
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