What is UPF?

What is UPF protection?


Now we’re not talking about the United Peace Federation – maybe later. We are talking about the Ultraviolet Protection Factor rating in clothing.

 Zinc Oxide Nose

We all remember from growing up (especially here in Arizona) that sunscreen was essential for outdoor  activities. Remember the white zinc oxide nose cover?  Our moms forced us to wear this stuff because it was common knowledge that the sun’s rays were harmful and we have to protect ourselves from them. Well, as much as they try, our moms don’t take care of us anymore and don’t dress us in the morning, hopefully. So now it’s our own responsibility to protect ourselves… enter UPF rated clothing.


A few years ago this acronym, UPF, popped up from almost no where. Is it SPF for clothing?  Kinda. What actually is it? It’s been around since 1998 and most people know that it’s good for you in the sun, but they don’t know the science or reasoning behind it. As we enter into these sun-intensive summer months, let’s explore what UPF is.


The first thing to know about UPF is the rating system. 

UPF Rating

Protection Category

 % UV radiation Blocked

UPF 15 - 24


93.3 - 95.9

UPF 25 - 39

Very Good

96.0 - 97.4

UPF 40 - 49


97.5 – 97.9

UPF 50+

Ultimate in UV Sun Protection

98.0 or more


As you can see from this table, the higher the UPF rating, the higher the percentage of UV protection and that means the more protected you are from the sun’s harmful rays. This is important because we do not realize that clothes without this UPF rating can let these rays through to our skin. We could wear the appropriate hat and the best sunscreen money can buy, but we are still vulnerable through our clothing. This is why it is essential to upgrade your outdoor clothing to UPF rated stuff.


There are a number of factors that affect the level of ultraviolet protection provided by a fabric and the UPF rating. In order of importance these are: weave (tighter is better), color (darker is better), weight (also called mass or cover factor - heavier is better), stretch (less is better) and wetness (dry is better). The other major factor that affects protection is the addition of chemicals such as UV absorbers or UV diffusers during the manufacturing process. Many factors that make a garment comfortable also make it less protective – the major design challenge for sun protective clothing is how to combine comfort, style and protection in the one garment (http://www.coolibar.com/upf-ratings.html). Check out today’s UV Index in your area here.

 UPF Hiker

So now that we have a bit of understanding as to what UPF rated clothing is and what it entails, let’s have a look at a couple of examples from head to toe…

Columbia Omni-Shade Schooner Bank Hat
UPF 50 - $20

UV Buff Headwear UPF - $23

UA HeatGear Tech T-Shirt UPF 30+ - $25

Columbia Omni-Freeze Woven Shirt UPF 50+ - $70.00

WWS Hybrid Angler Pant UPF 50+ - $25


Whether you're fly fishing, bow hunting, or just out enjoying the kids' soccer game... now you’re protected, stylish and ready to take on the outdoors!

-- Richie Campana
Bass Pro Shops Mesa, AZ


Spring Turkey Hunting in Missouri

Montana 2010First I would like to introduce myself, I am one of the Hunting Department Team Leads at the St. Charles Bass Pro Shops store. My name is David and I actively engage in several of the hunting and fishing seasons here in Missouri and in other states around the country. I enjoy the freedom and the serenity that is provided by actively engaging in such activities through out the year.

As spring begins to blossom, the weather begins to break and the temperatures increase, it sounds the signal on the spring turkey season. Spring turkey hunting this season promises to be more of a challenge than it has been in the previous few years. According to the MDC; several breeding seasons of foul and unfavorable weather conditions have reduced the number of birds per acre on average, and as such the large gobblers are more scarce and harder to call in and the jakes are even scarcer and are smaller on average. Though the overall numbers remain strong the competition for food, space, and hens is not as aggressive; setting the stage for a challenging season.

This year's season runs from April 18-May 8th, so now is the time to get equipped and get that essential must have gear:
  1. Shotgun
  2. Call
  3. Camouflage
  4. Permit
  5. Other items that I suggest you take but are not entirely necessary:
    • Knife or Knives for cleaning your bird
    • Camera- to capture that great moment
    • Binoculars- its a great help to spot those distant birds
    • Bug Repellent as often it can be damp and humid
    • Rain gear for those days when mother nature just doesn't cooperate

First lets look at the Shotgun, its the most essential part of your gear. There are a number of suitable choices from brands such as Mossberg, Remington, Browning, Winchester, and Benelli. While there is a dizzying array of choices, just keep in mind that there a a few specific features that make a "Turkey Gun" different from just another shot gun. Most are customized to some degree to take full advantage of the condition that most turkeys are hunted in, there fore they have shorter barrels that allow for great movement and ease of handling in dense foliage. They have more constrictive chokes either full or extra full to maximize the killing potential at the greatest distance possible by controlling the spread of the shot pattern. Many also make use of fiber optic rifle style sights to aid the shooter in aiming and making that perfect shot. Many now also make use of collapsible or pistol grip stocks to give the shooter greater comfort and control; and number one single defining factor is that a turkey gun sports a dense foliage camo pattern. Some of the best choices this season for a turkey gun are the Mossberg 500 series "Thug", and the Remington 887 Turkey Magnum- which is a Bass Pro Shops Exclusive. Both feature a dense woodland camo pattern, with fiber optic sights, and chokes optimized for turkey hunting. The Mossberg also sports a Choate Inc. Pistol grip stock.

The ammunition also makes a big difference on your success. Winchester, Remington and Environ-metal Hevi-Shot all make turkey specific hunting loads designed to exploit the advantages of the full and extra full chokes. These loads maximize effective range and killing power while being easy on the shooter and reliable in all conditions.

Next, we will look at the call. Once again this can prove to be a harrowing experience. To simplify your life there are two basic types of calls, the diaphragm call and the friction call.
  • The diaphragm call produces sound by the user forcing air through either a silicone of latex reed. The diaphragm call will often be referred to as a mouth call.
  • The friction call produces sound by rubbing two pieces of material against one another. The most common of the friction calls are the box and slate.
The diaphragm is most likely the hardest for the beginner to use, as it requires conditioning and hours of practice to master. Then it requires a different call for each type of sound you are wanting to produce. The box and slate calls however are rather user friendly and you can produce many types of sounds of varying length, volume and urgency from a single call. The box call is the simplest of the calls and can be used by anyone with little to no experience. The slate is a bit more advanced and its benefits far outweigh its learning curve. I suggest that even the greenest novice learn to use a slate call as its versatility lend itself to the varying conditions that are often encountered on a hunt. You can call soft and subtle or loud and aggressive, from a simple yelp to a full blown mating call. New for this year and one of my favorites is the Knight & Hale Warlord diaphragm call- quickly becoming a customer favorite. Its a full featured call ideally suited to the conditions that many face hunting spring turkey in Missouri. In the box calls the RedHead RTX box calls are a great value and are built to last through years of punishing use! In the slate call arena there are several great options; One of my favorites is the Primos Jackpot Slate, however there are some others that are great options as well: the HS Strut Lil Deuce II is a great beginners slate call as well as the all new for 2011 RedHead Cherry Friction slate call.

On to the camouflage, many times you can simply use what you have for early season bow hunting. However if your starting from scratch you will want to look at a thinner weight camo clothing that will provide comfort and concealment for those cool mornings but won't overheat you in the early afternoons. Ideally you want to be looking at something in an Mossy Oak, or a Real Tree pattern, as this best matches the Missouri foliage conditions. You also might want to purchase a blaze orange vest to wear when traveling to and from your hunting area. A face mask is also a good idea for a couple of reasons. One, it keeps the pestering bugs from your face. Two, turkey have particularly strong eye sight and your face and eyes are most often the portion of your body that give your position away when the rest of you is concealed.

The permit is just that: the state issued hunting permit that is required to be on you at all times while you are in the field hunting. It is available at any sporting goods retailer and now through the MDC website for an additional dollar. Its amazing just how many people forget just how important this piece of gear is. Its arguably the single most important piece of gear in your assortment. Don't risk your hunting privileges, get your permits on time and guard them like cash!

The other category is where many people go overboard and collect a lot of useless items. You have to remember everything you pack takes up space and adds weight, so pack sensibly. I prefer to keep my other items as light and compact as possible. For a knife I carry either a Buck Alpha Hunter with the Gut Hook feature or a Knives of Alaska Muskrat. For a camera I rely on either a Nikon or Canon pocket size digital camera. When using binoculars I prefer to carry the Nikon Monarch 8X36's. They are robust and have great light transmission for those early morning birds that are just out of naked eyesight, but be careful because you don't want to use them when there is a change of shadowing or prismatic reflection which may give away your position.

As far as bug repellent goes the best thing going right now is the Therma Cell. If you want or require bug repellent look no further; its light, compact, highly effective, and refillable. For those wet mornings quality rain gear is a must. I prefer a product with Gore Tex, as I have had great experience with it. However there are some new fleece materials on the market that are just as effective. Both the RedHead Storm Tex and Bone Dry backed clothes are great, as well as the Storm Kloth branded products.


It Spins and Flies on the Bow

A spinning fisherman from Ontario asks about fly-fishing The Bow River in Alberta

I’m sitting here, writing this blog, when Jarett Black (BPS manager) comes up to me holding a White River fly-rod in one hand. “This is how you fish on the Bow,” He says. I examine the 9 foot rod skeptically. I even more skeptically examine the little plastic box filled with what he calls flies. Instead of effective, first rate trout lures, these look like something I made in Kindergarten art class. He continues to smile like he just handed me the holy grail of Bow River fishing. I smile back and wonder - is he right?

I grew up in Northern Ontario fishing for Pikerel and Smallmouth Bass using a spinning reel and 6’6 medium action rod. This is how I was raised to believe it was done. You used Lindy rigs, jigs, spoons, cranks and soft plastics. When I moved to Calgary everyone seemed to agree that if I wanted to fish in Alberta I’d have to learn to Fly-fish. It was described to me as the finest angling art … a fusion of craftsmanship and sport. They spoke of enlightenment and serenity. To this Northern angler it sounded a little bit like ‘Feng-Shui fishing’.

I’m looking at the White River Fly-rod now and I’m noticing that the reel looks a little like a tire rim. Where is the drag? Where is the bail? I tune back into the conversation and find that Jarett is talking about turning over rocks to see what kind of bugs are beneath it. I laugh at him, thinking it’s a joke, but it isn’t. This is one of the best ways to determine what kind of fly you’re going to use. “I’ve been fishing the bow like this for years. There’s more satisfaction in identifying exactly what the trout are eating and then matching it and catching one,” I start to see the appeal. It must be like the feeling you get when you’re calling for big game and you get an answer. This makes me think that Fly-Fishing is somehow closer to nature. There seems to be less technology standing between the angler and the fish.

 I ask him then about waders. “They’re pretty useful when the water is cold in the spring and fall.” I can’t shake the image of a man wearing waders, flinging his line out, breaking the mist on the water just as the orange sun peaks over the pine tree tops. It’s a powerful image.  It might be from a painting I once saw, but it’s more likely my inner-angler having his interest peaked in fly-fishing. So I finally ask him what he thinks about spinning for trout on the Bow. “I’ve never really been much of a fan of it,” he says then adds jokingly, “It’s sort of a lesser art.”

XPS Lazer Eye Brown Trout Floater and The Rapala Countdown #7 Brown TroutIn talking to guys and ladies in the fishing department here at Bass Pro Calgary, I hear a much different story. “Of course you can spin for trout on the Bow,” Jason Cahoon (Fishing Department Lead) tells me. “You just need a CD07 brown trout Rapala or an XPS Lazer Eye Brown Trout Floater and away you go.”  

I think that a lot of people from out east that come out here are intimidated by the prospect of having to learn to Fly-fish to enjoy the angling experience they so crave. I know I was. But you can take part in the world-class trout fishing we have here in Alberta with the gear you’re most accustomed to using. We have everything you need to get started including opinions on which way is best. Either way we can get you geared up and ready to rip-lip this fishing season here at the store. Just don’t ask us to turn any rocks over, you’re going to have to do that yourself.

Chris Wragg is a lead at Bass Pro Shops Calgary.


·         Fishing License

o   We sell fishing licenses in our store at the customer service desk.

·         Rod and Reel

o   A good combo rod and reel is really all you need. Make sure that your rod is long enough for extended casts (7Ft+). Look for something in a Medium Light or Light for increased sensitivity.

·         Lures

o   XPS Lazer Eye Brown Trout Floater

o   Rapala Countdown 07 Brown Trout

o   XPS Tournament Series 1/4oz Micro Spin – Brown Trout

o   Mepps Black Fury #2

·         Tools

o   Bass Pro Shop XTS Angler Tool Kit

·         Net

o   White River Dog Canyon Net

·         Tackle Box

o   Bass Pro Shops Tackle Box Trays


Launch-Ramp Etiquette

By Monte Burch


In low-water conditions, make sure your tires don't drop off the end of the ramp, sinking into the soft lake bottom. 

At first it was an amazing but funny sight. Then it became serious as we watched the automobile being pulled backwards into the water. The elderly lady was yelling at the top of her lungs and trying to get her car door open while her husband kept gunning the big cruiser in reverse without so much as a glance toward his wife. My fishing buddy and I ran into the water, finally got the husband's attention and the lady out just before the car dropped off the end of the ramp into deep water.   

I've seen a lot of stupid mistakes at boat ramps in my years of boating, and I've made many myself, including the usual forgetting to unhook the boat from the trailer as the couple just mentioned. I also forgot to install the drain plug, and even forgot to hook up the winch and safety chain. The latter resulted in having to re-launch the boat, but I was lucky. I've also seen an expensive fiberglass bass boat sitting "dry docked" in the middle of a boat ramp.

Most pro and weekend bass and walleye tournament anglers are pretty sharp at boat-ramp etiquette, mostly because they have to be. I've watched over 400 boats launched within an hour's time during a Charger Owner's Tournament, and watched the efficiency of ramp "sergeants" at B.A.S.S. Tournaments as well. It's usually when you mix in the less-experienced recreational boaters that problems begin. They park on the end of the ramp, then begin getting their boat ready for the water, hauling stuff down from the parking lot, and in general creating a long line of frustrated boaters. Here's how you can make your day easier, and less of a hassle, as well as other boaters happier.

Pre-Launch Preparation

In the parking lot, before you approach the ramp, or in the case of a long ramp access with a waiting line, begin your pre-launch preparations. First, remove tie-downs securing the boat. Make sure, however, you leave the winch line attached to the bow eye. Install or check and tighten all drain plugs. Check livewell drain positions or plugs. Connect fuel lines, and pump the primer bulb a few times to pressurize the fuel line. Turn the motor key very briefly to check the motor-battery charge, but do not turn the motor on. If it fires immediately, turn it off. If I haven't used my boat for some time I install a water-flush hose attachment to the outboard motor water intake, and turn it on for a minute or two before leaving home, ensuring it will start. Sitting on a boat ramp with a motor that won't start can be extremely frustrating to you and everyone around you.

Move coolers, fishing gear, lifejackets or other equipment you may have in your automobile to your boat. Lay out PFDs and make sure you have enough for all passengers. You may also wish to connect the driver's pfd to the engine kill switch if the lanyard is long enough. If your trailer lights are not waterproof, unplug the wiring harness between the trailer and your tow vehicle. This will prevent damage to your lights and blown fuses. Raise your outboard or stern drive so it won't scrape on the ramp. Next, be sure to tie at least one, and preferably two, docking lines to the boat so that anyone helping you will be able to control the boat after it's launched. This is also helpful in case you're doing the job yourself, enabling you to quickly secure the boat to a floating dock or other temporary tie-up while you park your vehicle. 

Another step that can prevent a lot of headaches is to check out the ramp situation before you pull onto it. How steep is it? Is it algae-covered, slick or dry? Is it smooth or does it have roughened surfaces for traction? Depending on your tow vehicle, all these factors can be extremely important. Determine if there is a dock to tie to after you launch the boat, or will you need to beach and tie to the bank. You should also check out the parking lot, making sure there is space for you to park. Some ramp areas require parking vehicles and trailers in separate areas. 

The Launch

Next to forgetting the drain plug, backing a trailer down the ramp into the water is the single most embarrassing chore for many boaters. Like many other skills, however, it just takes practice. One of the best things you can do is practice, practice and practice some more, in an empty parking lot until you're comfortable backing the boat and trailer. Some ramps are more challenging, to say the least. Some are extremely steep, or have a change of angle where the boat and trailer disappear from view until your tow vehicle drops to the same angle. And some ramps are also multi-lane, which means less space, but make sure you stay in your ramp. 

Some ramps have turn areas at the top. Make sure you don't turn so short you jam the trailer tongue against your vehicle. In the case of square-bow boats such as some aluminums, and on short trailer tongues, you can even put a dent in the back of a utility vehicle with the corner on a tight turn. Regardless, the key to success is to take your time and keep your cool. 

Two methods can be used for launching, without power and with power. How far you need to back into the water depends on the method chosen, steepness of the ramp and water depth. With a little experience you'll quickly learn the best positions on ramps you use frequently. A good rule of thumb is to stop when the step in front of the trailer fender is even with the water level. Then set the parking brake on the vehicle and you're ready to launch.

A properly fitted trailer will allow a boat to launch itself. But be careful on steep ramps because a roller trailer might launch your boat before you're ready. Either have a friend hold the docking line as you back into the water, or secure it to your vehicle or the trailer. It's best to stop, loosen and then unhook the bow eye winch hook just before final entry into the water. One dangerous possibility exists if using the winch rope to launch. If you snap the ratchet mechanism open without a firm grip on the handle, the weight of the boat may pull it back off the trailer quickly, causing the handle to spin rapidly with possible injury. In some cases you may need to give your boat a slight shove to get it moving backwards, but in most instances it's easier to simply back a bit farther into the water. In low-water conditions watch that the ramp doesn't end before the boat floats and your tires drop off into the soft lake bottom. 

Launching a boat by power is usually the choice, particularly if fishing with a partner--one drives the vehicle and the other the boat. You can even do this single-handed on some ramps. I've found my Chevy Suburban allows me to open the back doors, step through the back and onto the boat bow without getting my feet wet. In any case, leave the winch strap attached to the bow eye until you're actually in the boat, then reach over, snap the switch to off and making sure you hold firmly to the handle, loosen the winch enough to unsnap the eye and you're ready to launch. I usually like to start the engine before this step. Make sure you have the engine tilted down, but there's enough water for prop clearance before a power launch. Then apply power slowly and smoothly, just enough to get the boat moving off the trailer. Once the boat is afloat, quickly tie it to the dock and park the trailer, allowing the next person access to the ramp. 


Loading your boat onto a properly fitted trailer at the end of the day can be a breeze; with an improperly fitted trailer it can be the single most frustrating situation of the day. 

Use common courtesy. Don't park your boat on the ramp while retrieving your tow vehicle. Park at a dock, or beach it off the ramp. Loading is basically a reversal of launching. Again two methods can be used, power or non-power. Trailer position is important in both cases. If using power-on the best tactic is to have the trailer in the water just enough that a little power is needed to get the boat in place. This settles the boat correctly on the bunks. If the trailer is too deep the boat can float side to side and when you pull out the boat may have shifted off center of the trailer. If using powered method, center the boat on the trailer as you enter the bunks. This means approaching upwind or upcurrent in those conditions. Use steady but low power for a constant forward motion if possible and you're not approaching too fast. Shifting out of gear lessens your steering ability, often causing the boat to twist or turn on the approach. Make sure there is enough water for prop clearance, and use as little power as possible to move the boat bow eye up to the winch stand. Too much power can cause damage to the winch stand and boat eye, as well as cause erosion at the end of the ramp.. 

Launching and loading a boat can be a simple chore with a little preparation and practice. It can not only make your fishing day more pleasant, but also more pleasant for those around you as well. 


The Basics of Launching a Boat

By Tim Allard

Preparation is critical for boat launching to be a smooth operation.

Boat launch activity can range from placid to pandemonium -- or anywhere in between.  Line-ups and on-the-ramp mishaps can send impatient individual's stress-levels soaring; conversely a vacant launch on a calm day is a welcome sight to any boater. Boat launches are often busy, but they don't have to be chaotic.  Here are some tips for keeping your boat launch experiences running as smooth as the drag of a new fishing reel.


Do Some Homework


A little digging can go a long way when it comes to using a launch for the first time. If you can, it's a good idea to inquire with local anglers, baitshop owners, or guides about the state of the launch. Questions to ask are: "Is it gravel or concrete launch? How many boats can be launched at a time? Is there a dock? Is the launch in good condition? Is there a fee? And if you have a larger boat, does it have the depth to handle it?


Knowing about a sub-par launch is important so you can be prepared, or simply avoid the shabby one and find a better ramp close by. Lastly, you'll want to make sure you get directions -- driving in circles is a pain on a good day, but it's a lot worse when you're towing a boat and pressed for time!


Have the Right Gear


Just as important as knowing about the launch you'll use, is being prepared with the right gear to get in and out of the water quickly and in a safe manner.  It's essential that your trailer be in proper condition, including working lights, adequately-inflated tires with sufficient treads, as well as a winch, strap, and clip to keep the boat secure. If any of these items fail, you might not make it to the launch.


You will need the following gear when you're ready to launch: A bowline is critical for launching a boat alone or if you plan to secure it to the shore or a dock before departing. If needed, you should also have a spare line attached to the stern. If resting your boat against a dock, fenders and bumpers will protect it from damages caused by rocks. If you regularly beach your boat, consider investing in a KeelGuard to protect your hull. Don't forget to carry a spare plug and keys for your boat. Losing either of these can create a lot of disarray at a launch and quickly end a trip. Lastly, always carry the required safety equipment, especially life jackets, spare paddles, a signaling device, a bailer and a throw rope.


How-to Launch a Boat


Phase One - Preparation 


Preparation is critical for boat launching to be a smooth operation. Most launches have areas designated for pre- and post-launch activities. You should always use these areas and never (even if the launch is empty) do your preparations on the ramp itself. Local anglers living down the street could arrive and be ready to go before you are, and clogging a launch ramp simply equates to bad launch etiquette.


Before preparing your boat for launching, walk to the ramp itself and make sure it's suitable for your towing rig and boat. Steep gravel ramps might be too much for a vehicle with low horsepower and limited torque or bad weather conditions might make the ramp too dangerous to use. 


When you prepare your boat, do the following -- remove the tarp and any securing straps (like transom tie-downs). Load in any gear you haven't already put in the boat so you don't have to carry equipment. Check your boat plug to make sure it's in securely and also make sure the keys to the boat are in the console as well. Double-check the amount of gas you have (you should have already done this before you moved your trailer). Remove the safety strap (or chain) and winch strap connected to the bow eye and connect the bowline.  You should also disconnect the wiring connector to the trailer, as brake light bulbs can burn out if the box leaks when underwater.


By now your boat should be ready for launching.  Before you go any further, take a few minutes and go over the launching process with your boating partner (if you don't have a partner you might want to get help from someone at the launch).  If launching a boat with a first time user handling the bowline, advise them to brace themselves for the weight of the boat - I've seen launch-novices taken off guard and pulled into the water by the force of a recently-launched boat. 


Another option (used during tournaments) is to launch a boat with someone in it, so that once they enter the water they can start the engine and vacate the launch to make room for the next trailer.  This is a great option, but should be done by boaters who know their boat is in good working condition. 


Launches that are void of activity make them prime spots for theft.  Phase Two -- The Ramp and Water Entry


This should be the fastest of all three phases.  Slowly drive your trailer towards the ramp, entering the water with caution.  (Note: a launch ramp is not the place to practice reversing your trailer.  If new to operating trailers, go to an empty parking lot and become proficient and confident at backing up your rig before heading to a launch for the first time). 


When traveling down the ramp, avoid sudden braking, especially if you've removed all securing straps connecting the trailer and boat. If the launch ramp is concrete you may be able to drive with all four tires in the water; however, vehicles can easily get stuck in soft-bottomed (or natural) launches, so aim to keep the front tires on land.


Once the boat enters the water, continue to back-up the trailer, at a steady pace. Launches with sufficient depth will cause the trailer to drop out from underneath the boat, and the boat to float away by the momentum of the backing-up process.  If the launch is shallow, you may need to get out of your vehicle and push your boat off into the water.  (This is also the best option if launching the boat alone.  If doing this make sure your boat is secure before leaving the ramp to park your vehicle).


As the boat floats off the trailer, double check that everything is alright with your partner before driving off.  When accelerating off the ramp do so at a steady pace, but be sure to keep your eyes on your side mirrors.  The reason is simple: mistakes happen.  If you've followed the above suggestions it's likely you'll have an error-free launch, but if you've forgotten to unhook a strap or accidentally snagged the bowline with your trailer, you'll see it in the mirrors.  Keeping your windows down and stereo off will also allow your partner to holler if anything is wrong.  Once you know everything is ok, vacate the ramp so the next boater can use it.


Phase Three -- Vehicle Parking and Leaving the Launch


After launching your boat, quickly park your vehicle and trailer.  This should be a pretty simple operation, but keep a few things in mind.  First, off launches can be busy places filled with families and moving rigs, so always drive with caution and be alert for youngsters.  Second, try and minimize the footprint your vehicle and trailer leave when parked.  I'm often amazed at how much space some people use when parking rigs on an angle, not backing up fully into a spot, or several other creative space-hogging maneuvers that leave other boaters shaking their heads.  Third, keep in mind that as often as launches are busy, they can also be void of activity - making them prime spots for theft.  Don't leave valuables in your vehicle and keep things out of site.  Lastly, when parking your rig, make sure you use the parking brake, especially if on an incline.


Once you've parked the vehicle, pay any fees for using the facility (if needed) and get in your boat.  When driving your boat from the launch, keep your eyes peeled for signs regulating no-wake zones.  Of course, as a general rule, it's best to not blast-off from the launch to ensure you don't make waves for launch users.  Also, most launches are close to shallow water; so don't let your enthusiasm get the best of you.  Take your time and slowly drive to deeper water before getting on plane.  Otherwise you might find yourself returning to the launch sooner than you think with a damaged motor and/or hull.


Extra Features to Make Launching Easier


The trailer that comes with your boat will have all you need for launching, but some extra features will make life easier.  I've already mentioned the importance of a bowline, fenders or bumpers, and proper safety equipment (such as life jackets), as well as duplicate spare parts (like trailer bulbs and a boat plug).  Add-on features for your trailer includes:

  • Guide-ons and rollers will help direct your boat into proper position on your rig
  • Cleats and clips to make securing your boat to docks and throw lines easier
  • Coupler and tire locks to deter thieves
  • Transom tie-down straps will keep your boat secure on the trailer

The above steps are some suggestions and tips on how-to safely launch your boat.  To leave the water, all you need to do is reverse the procedure and remember that taking your time and being thorough will often result in a safer and quick exit than if you rush, which increases your change of making mistakes.  These seasons, try the above tips to make launching a boat a breeze, but don't forget to be patient with new boaters while waiting in a line to use the ramps; we've all been there before. 


Accessories to Keep Your Boat Organized

By Tim Allard

An organized boat is more comfortable and safer than one cluttered with items on the floor and thrown into storage spaces. In this Buyer's Guide, I'll discuss some of the basic boat accessories that will keep your vessel organized.


A bimini top provides protection from sun and light rain while on the water.  Covers


A boat cover is an excellent addition to your rig, and they come in a variety of shapes and sizes for every model available.  While towing, a cover will streamline your boat, reducing the unit's drag on your vehicle. During towing and storage, the top will protect the interior of your boat from rain, dirt, tree sap, bird droppings and UV rays. 


Some boat cover models include a section to cover an outboard motor, although separate motor covers are also available. Covers are secured to the boat itself or to a trailer by straps, but some custom-made models are fastened to the hull with snaps. Extra straps, hooks or suction cups are also available to ensure a snug fit.


To increase the performance and lifespan of your cover consider combining it with a support system. Systems vary from straps with spreaders to wooden bows and sockets, but the goal is the same; they provide an internal frame for your boat's cover to keep water from pooling on it as well as reducing the material from sagging.


Bimini Tops:  Not a full boat cover, a bimini top provides protection from sun and light rain while on the water. These tops are excellent for adding shelter to otherwise wide-open boats. Most rigs have an expandable and collapsible frame. Tie-down straps allow the rig to be safely secured during use.  Additional bimini accessories are available to ensure your top is a perfect fit for your boat, such as adjustable hinges, tube-ends and straps. When not in use, most tops collapse and fold down, or can be removed completely from their hinges for storage.


Cases, Boxes and Bags


Keeping your gear stored in containers is a big part of staying organized while on the water, as well as when loading and unloading your boat. Three storage options are cases, boxes and bags. 


Storage boxes come in a variety of sizes and shapes to fit your individual needs.  Cases:  A waterproof case can be used to safely transport expensive and fragile items, especially in wet conditions. Available in hard or soft plastic models, waterproof cases come in a range of sizes from ones small enough for a cell-phone to extra-large cases with foam padding for bulky items. A step down from a waterproof case is a dry storage box. These boxes will keep items dry in the rain, but may not keep the water out in heavy rains or if submerged.  For expensive items, such as electronics, consider a waterproof case, while for other less costly items a storage box will often suffice. 


Storage Boxes:  Storage boxes are also useful to help organize a boat and can be classified as either portable or permanently installed models, like a hatch liner. Look for storage boxes with a watertight, O-ring seal to keep moisture out. Portable models can be used for carrying first-aid supplies or Coast Guard-required safety equipment. Portables can be better suited for smaller boats without lockable storage spaces, so you can remove them and their valuable contents when the boat is unsupervised. 


Smaller, portable boxes include plastic, or polypropylene, see-through storage boxes that come in a variety of sizes. Known for storing fishing tackle, these boxes can house anything from small hardware components to basic kitchen items. 


Some boat bags like this one are built like a "dry bag" and are waterproof.

For larger boats, permanent storage can be a simple upgrade to your boat by installing a hatch liner and cover. If you're an angler, you may also want to consider installing a hatch liner specifically designed to hold tackle trays (such as a Plano 3600 or 3700) to tuck away tackle boxes. 


Boat Bags:  An alternative to a case or box, a boat bag is specifically designed for on the water use. Like a duffle bag, they may contain removable shoulder straps and side carrying straps, side pockets, mesh pockets, and some come with roller wheels. Additionally, the bag's material is often waterproof, usually made of a PVC-coated material. Most boat bags also feature a heavy-duty reinforced bottom that is also waterproof, letting you store them on the floor of a wet boat.  Note that few boat bags are submersible, but most are designed to stay dry in light to modest rains. If you need a submersible, waterproof container, a case is often your best choice.




Electronics are a standard in most boats today. They assist in navigation and communication, with fish finders, GPS units and VHF radios being the most popular types. Yet, with these gadgets comes a need to store them and keep their wiring tidy. 


Mounting Options:  Permanent electronics come with mounting hardware and accessories for mounting handheld GPS and radios are available.  Handheld mounts keep the units secure during travel as well as house or hold the wiring connections. To increase the viewing range of a fish finder or a GPS, a swivel or swing-arm mount allows you to adjust and rotate the unit for various angles.  The other option is to wire a second fish finder at the bow of your boat and there are a plethora of accessories to help with this task including cables, transducers, mounts, and switches. 


A swivel or swing-arm mount allows you to adjust and rotate the unit for various angles. Wiring:  With a variety of electronics on board, controlling the clutter of the wiring is not as difficult as it seems.  Using a mount for each unit will help keep wires tucked away. Wires can be kept compact using plastic tie-downs, and wiring at the battery-end can be housed in a battery box. Battery boxes secure batteries in place using a mounting hardware and a strap. For those without boxes, a battery tray will serve a similar function when teamed with a tie-down kit. A battery terminal with connections for separate leads is useful to secure several wires to the battery. Another item to help with clutter is an onboard battery charger. If it is permanently installed in your boat, you will not need to carry batteries or chargers to and from your boat.  Chargers also help keep the boat's wiring system tidy and tucked away.  With an onboard charger, all you need is an extension cord.




Boaters spend a lot of time seated while on the water. Outfitting your rig with a supportive seat can increase comfort and reduce backache. When purchasing boat seats, look for quality construction with heavy foam padding for support as well as UV- and mildew-resistant, marine-grade vinyl covering. Folding seats let you minimize their size when unused and a snap strap will ensure they stay folded down during travel. Swivels mounts let you to turn the seats instead of your neck, reducing strain. 


For anglers, pro seats, let you lean while fishing and feature a smaller seat to minimize the space they take up on casting decks.  For the hunter, many seats come in camouflage color patterns, keeping your boat disguised but still comfortable. To help organize frequently used items within reach, consider a small accessory holder that can be mounted to a seat's side or its support post.


Fenders will protect the hull and gunwales from dock's sharp edges. Docking Accessories


Every boat should carry basic docking accessories. Fenders will protect the hull and gunwales from dock's sharp edges. High-quality fenders are made from marine-grade vinyl. PVC models are also available but less effective in rough water and are less durable.  Some fenders also come in inflatable models. Hardware is also available in various mounting options to secure boat fenders.


Cleats are the next item on a docking checklist. Not all boats come equipped with cleats, and you should add some to your rig if you're currently without any. Cleats allow you to secure your boat to a dock while waiting at a launch or getting gas at a marina. They come in high-impact nylon, stainless steel or other weather-resistant materials. 


Your boat should also have enough rope to secure it to a dock properly. The rope's thickness should be strong enough to hold your rig in strong winds and rough water. Most marine-grade rope is made of nylon. The length of rope needed will depend on the size and weight of your rig. 


Rod Storage


For anglers, a fishing rod storage system will significantly help keep your boat clutter free during travel and fishing. A variety of systems are available. Units come in tubes or grooved racks for individual rod and reel storage. Tube units are designed to store rods vertically and may contain other storage holes for additional items, such as fillet knifes or pliers. Grooved racks tend to be for horizontal or overhead rod storage and some feature bungee cords to keep items secure during travel. 


Another system that is effective in smaller fishing boats is a Velcro strap system that mounts to the side or deck of a boat. The bottom of the strap is secured to the boat and rods are then wrapped and secured in the loose ends, creating a snug and customized hold. Individual Velcro wraps can also be used to secure a series of rods together to transport out of the boat.


A first aid kit should accompany you whenever you take to the water.  Safety Accessories


Part of the peace-of-mind from boating is being prepared to deal with an emergency should one arise (whether a large threat or minor risk). Here are some safety items to carry to ensure you're prepared and organized. A first aid kit should accompany you whenever you take to the water.  As a precaution, store kits in a waterproof bag or a case.  Supplement your kit with water, sunscreen and an emergency blanket. 


A ladder that can be mounted on the boat's side is another useful tool. In an event requiring a water rescue, a ladder allows someone to easily climb into a boat. They are extremely helpful in cold weather or rough water conditions.  You should also carry the required US Coast Guard safety equipment, which may include a signaling device (horn or whistle), visual distress signals (such as flares), a fire extinguisher, a throw rope and PFDs.  If you own a boat that does not have navigation lights, consider installing a set or purchasing a pair of portable ones. Lights are required by the Coast Guard from sunset to sunrise and in reduced visibility situations.


General Hardware and Boating Gear


Keeping your boat organized can be aided by several simple accessories, which I've grouped in this category. A tool kit can go a long way to keep your boat organized, housing all the tools, materials and hardware in one storage box. Another great add-on is a paddle keeper. This device is designed to vertically or horizontally hold your paddle, keeping it stored out of the way, but accessible when needed. 


Small organizers, in either screw or suction cup mounts, can be great for storing small, but frequently needed items in one place.  Units are available to hold lures, drinks, hand-held radios or GPS units, binoculars, garbage bags, and general boxes for other personal items. Bungee cords are also useful to keep items strapped down in windy conditions or during travel. Look for plastic hook models if you are concerned with scratching your boat.


The above items are just a sampling of the many accessories you can purchase to upgrade the organization, comfort and safety of your boat.  Many are inexpensive add-ons and it's a satisfying feeling (whether on land or water) when you need a specific item and you know exactly where to find it.


View all Marine Accessories.



Choosing the Right Trolling Motor

By Justin Hoffman

 Trolling Motor
Many professionals believe that the best rule of thumb is to buy the biggest motor you can afford -- within reason, of course.

Fishing has long been known as a game of stealth. Putting yourself in the optimum position for making that next cast (while being extra quiet), can also lead you on your way to a hearty bend in the rod. These two characteristics are what make trolling motors a godsend for the fishing fraternity. Not only can anglers have total control over their craft at all times, they can also move effortlessly from spot to spot, and ultimately put more fish in the boat. Come and jump on the trolling motor bandwagon, and find out which is the right pick for you and your boat. 

The Importance of Thrust


Trolling motors, or electric positioning motors, use battery power in order to propel a boat. The amount of power or strength needed to move through the water is described as "pounds of thrust." This power rating is common to all motors on the market, and is one of the most important aspects to consider when selecting the right unit to match your craft. With insufficient power behind you, working your boat through wind, high waves or weedy conditions can be all but impossible. 


Many factors fall into the equation when deciding on the necessary power needed for optimum performance. Some common questions to ask yourself are:  Is your boat heavy, and what is the length? Do you store a lot of gear, or fish with more than one person? Do you fish in adverse conditions, such as high winds and rough water? The following chart details the minimum amount of thrust required depending on the size of your craft.


Boat Length in Feet

Pounds of
Thrust Required

12 30
13 30
14 32
15 36
16 40
17 50
18 55
19 65
20 74
21 74
22 101

 This chart is meant to convey "normal fishing conditions." If you answered "yes" to any of the previous questions I posed, moving up to the next level of thrust is highly recommended. If your boat, gear, and passengers are extremely heavy, going to a motor with even more thrust would be your best bet.  

Many professionals believe that the best rule of thumb is to buy the biggest motor you can afford, all within reason of course. (A big, overpowering motor can also offer disadvantages if it literally "dwarfs" the size of your boat.)  Choose wisely and weigh all of the variables. Running a motor that is under rated for your craft can only lead to misery and headaches when venturing out on the water.


Voltage and Batteries


Electric trolling motors come in three separate power systems: 12, 24, or 36-volts. To make it easier to understand, a 12-volt trolling motor is run off of one, 12-volt deep cycle marine battery. In order for a 24-volt motor to work, it must be run off of two separate batteries, and a 36-volt version requires three.


A 12-volt trolling motor is the most inexpensive and easiest to run. It does, however, lack the staying power and thrust that the other two provide.  A 24- or 36-volt system will allow the angler to fish longer periods out on the water, as they draw lower amps while providing increased thrust for more power. 


If your boat is 16-foot or smaller, a high-thrust 12-volt model will be adequate for the conditions that you will face. If your boat is any longer, moving up to a 24- or 36-volt system is the only way to go for hassle-free boating.


Be certain not to scrimp and save on the batteries. Buying a high quality, deep-cycle marine battery (some are designed specifically for electric motors) will ensure that you are receiving the maximum power and longevity that is on the market. This will provide piece of mind in case you ever find yourself stranded out on the lake, nursing an overheated or blown outboard motor that just won't fire up!


A bow-mounted motor will provide superior maneuverability and better control.



Bow or Transom?


There are two kinds of trolling motors available -- a bow mount (installed at the front of the boat), and a transom mount (manufactured for the back). In order to install a bow mount, you must have sufficient room up front, as well as a mounting bracket or plate to affix the housing.  You must also have a flat bottom platform to fish from in order to make the set-up feasible.


A transom motor simply clamps onto the stern of the boat and will work with any style of craft.


A bow-mounted motor will provide superior maneuverability and better control, allowing the angler to fish easier and more efficiently. (This increase in maneuvering ability is due to the fact that bow-mounts "pull" your boat through the water, in comparison to a transom "pushing".) If your boat is 14-foot or larger and can accommodate a bow-mount, most certainly go that route.  You won't regret it.


For small boats, dinghies and canoes, a transom mount would be the best choice. These motors work great for general positioning and trolling application -- exactly what they were designed for. Whatever you decide, owning any kind of trolling motor is definitely better than not.


Hand or Foot Control?  


If you decide to purchase a bow mount motor, the next decision to make is whether to operate it by hand or foot. Although both have their merits, trying each version and finding which is most comfortable to use is probably your best bet. The following chart outlines some advantages and disadvantages for both:

  Advantages  Disadvantages
Foot Control 
  • Hands-free usage
  • Easy to use  
  • Can be used anywhere in boat
  • More clutter on deck (pedal)

  • More parts to break or malfunction

  • Slower response time on some models

Hand Control 
  • No clutter on deck
  • Real-time response
  • Hand not always on your rod
  • Can only be used from bow


My personal preference is for the foot-control model, as this allows me to have a completely hands-free fishing experience. Some will argue that the hand control outweighs the merits of the foot. Taking the time to talk to different users of both models will enable you to figure out which is best for you. 

Whatever version of motor you choose, both will require practice on the water in order to become comfortable with them. Once you do, however, the possibilities are endless.  

Shaft Length


Self-directional motors offer anglers more time to fish.



Shaft length is important for optimum control of your boat. If the shaft chosen is too short, the prop may not be sufficiently submerged during rough or adverse conditions. If it is too long, shallow water operation may pose a continuous problem. Finding the appropriate length for the size of craft you own will ensure safe and carefree boating.


The shaft length is dictated by the height of the bow or stern. Deep V boats will require a longer shaft, whereas the shortest length will adequately serve canoes. 


Additional Features


Technology is expanding in the land of the trolling motor, and new features and wrinkles become available anually. Here are a few that are worth checking out:


Built-In Battery Gauge -- Some models of trolling motors have battery gauges built in to the housing or head of the unit. This gauge will allow an angler to quickly and easily check how much power is left in the battery itself, making it a no-brainer for estimating fishing time left or when to clamp the charger on.


Digital Displays -- High-end models are now coming standard with digital screens, complete with readouts of speed and depth. Although these motors come at a price, the technology is certain to put you on more fish.


Self-Directional Motors - An interesting feature, in that it allows total hand and foot-free operation, and will follow shorelines or depth contours on its very own.  It will even steer you in a straight line when the winds are howling!


Here are a few more things to look for when making your final decision:

Composite or stainless steel shaft will endure shock and stand up to abuse much better than weaker metals. Make sure the prop is weedless, and that replacement blades are available for your specific model. Ensure that the mount is heavy duty and strong. The less plastic parts it has, the better. If you plan on using the foot-control pedal from anywhere in the boat, make sure the cable is sufficient in length for the size of your craft. 

Trolling motors add a completely new dimension to fishing.  Perfecting boat control, fishing inaccessible areas and maintaining a silent approach will ensure added enjoyment and more fish for the angler willing to experiment.  Shop around, take each style for a test drive and pay attention to detail - banner days on the lake await you.


Check out the full line of Trolling Motors at Bass Pro Shops.


The Lowdown on Fish Attractants

By Justin Hoffman


Anglers are a conscientious bunch.  We change our fishing line religiously, sharpen hooks frequently and make sure that our tackle boxes are crammed full of all the latest gear and gadgets.  But how many turn their noses up at the bottles of fish attractants that line the tackle store shelves, believing that they are nothing more than a money-grabbing fish gimmick?


Skepticism reigns supreme in the land we call fishing, although the addition of scent to your arsenal can bring about bigger and better fish, and for those tempted enough to try it, the proof is definitely in the pudding.  Read on to find out how applying scent can bring about sure-fire success.


The Rules of Attraction


There are many different kinds of fish attractants on the market.  From aerosal cans to squeeze tubes and jars to jellies, the tackle store shelves are literally soaking with a wide-range of product.  It can be mind-boggling to say the least, but before you buy, you need to uncover the reason for using the stuff in the first place.


Losing The Negativity


Although most people believe that the sole use of scent is to attract fish to their lures, the most useful property scent exhibits is the ability to mask negative smells and tastes.


Never really thought of it that way, did you?  Well, here's how it works.


Much like the strong, pungent smell of a skunk will find us pinching our noses, the same odor threshold can be said for all species of gamefish.  (Mind you, fish may have a hard time detecting a skunk below the water, and they sure haven't adapted to covering their nose with their fins!)


When you think about it, we offer the fish many different reasons not to take a taste test of our lures.  We unknowingly toss baits all day long that have come into contact with such fish-negative smells as sun lotion, bug spray, gasoline, cigarettes and worst of all, our own human scent.  This can cause a fish to turn up their nose and refuse to bite.  Even if you think your hands are clean, L-Serine (a tasteless, odorless chemical found in the skin oils of humans) will always be present on every worm, jig, or crankbait you come into contact with. 


Applying fish scent to a lure will mask or eliminate these undesirable smells, leaving your bait free from repellents and smelling attractive to any fish that happens upon it.


In this case, it's not so much an attractant as it is a cover-up for scents we unknowingly cast to the depths below.


Help With Holding On


Studies have shown that fish can spit out a lure in the blink of an eye. If the bait they are trying to ingest feels unnatural, or has a negative taste or odor, the chances of you driving the hooks home is a very low-percentage game.  This is where fish attractant really shines.


The application of scent will make your offering feel and taste alive, convincing a fish to hold on to the bait for a much longer time, ultimately allowing an angler to "feel" the fish first and then set the hook. 


Much of the game of fishing has to do with feeling a fish strike (the subtle mouthing of a jig or the faint pick-up of a jerk worm), which in turn allows us to strike with a hook set.  Without sensing the take of your bait, you'll never know that a fish was there.

Fishing scent can "trick" a fish into holding your bait for five, 10 or even 30 seconds - this can be downright impossible when throwing a lure that hasn't been juiced up.


If you don't believe the validity of this scenario, try this little test the next time you hit the water.  Tie two identical jigs on, one smothered with fish scent and the other coated with sunscreen.  Find a shallow, clear area of the lake that is holding panfish and take turns casting each of the lures.  You'll soon see for yourself how important the addition of a positive scent can be.


Fish scent is available in many different varieties.  From crayfish to shad and garlic to anise, the combinations are limitless. The Smelling Game


As you can see from the above examples, the use of fishing scent goes far beyond the notion of actually attracting fish to your bait through the use of smell.  This however can very well happen, depending on the specie you are targeting.


For the most part, motion, shape, noise and water displacement are the primary stimuli that cause fish to strike a lure.  In layman's terms, a fish senses and is attracted to your lure long before smell or taste figures in the picture.  Once they get close enough to your bait and commit to striking, taste and smell certainly have an important impact on the final decision.


Fish are a weird bunch.  Some have a finely tuned sense of smell, while others seem to have a bad case of sinus congestion.  The initial scent of a lure can attract a fish in from a distance, but that all depends on what you are targeting.  On a scale of one to 10 (with 10 being the most sensitive sense of smell) here are some examples of common gamefish:


9-10-- Catfish and Shark

7-8  -- Carp

6-7  -- Salmon and Trout

5     -- Bass and Walleye

1-2  -- Pike and Muskie


As you can see, the addition of scent can attract a fish (such as a catfish or carp) to your bait long before they ever see it or sense it's movement.  When dealing with pike or muskie, however, scent is only useful when they have already made visual contact and are just about to strike.


Although bass are in the middle of the pack when it comes to olfactory capabilities, keep this little tidbit in mind:  the freshwater black bass can sense 1/200th of a drop of a substance in 100 gallons of water!  Not bad for a creature that possesses a brain the size of a pea.


The Different Kinds


Fish scent is available in many different varieties.  From crayfish to shad and garlic to anise, the combinations are limitless.


My advice is to select a few different varieties of scent and begin to experiment when out on the water. 

When choosing a scent, my logic is to decide the species that you will be targeting, then figuring out their most-sought after prey.  For example, when chasing after smallies, I will usually apply a crayfish scent to my lures and baits.  If largemouth are the intended target, a switch over to a shad scent can be highly effective.  If choosing natural flavored scents, try to pick those that are made with real ingredients.  Real crayfish or shad parts will be just as convincing as the genuine thing.


Saying that, oddball smells can often be your ace in the hole.  On a recent trip to a smallmouth lake, my partner was applying a garlic scent to his jerk worms.  To make a long story short, he literally cleaned up!  Now, there certainly isn't any garlic growing in the water, but for some reason, these smallies went bonkers over it. 


My advice is to select a few different varieties of scent and begin to experiment when out on the water.  Try to figure out what specie prefers which, while also uncovering the baits they seems to work best on.  Once this information is extrapolated, you will undoubtedly see your success rates rise.


To Squirt or Squeeze - That is the Question?


Fish attractants come in a variety of packaging.  Jars, tubes, spray canisters and squirt bottles - a wide range of options for an angler looking to get into the fray. 


I have found that all work well, but in the case of coverage, the spray canister takes the cake.  The only downside I can see is the wasted scent that is blasted into thin air.  On the plus side, they are quick and easy to use - a definite advantage when the fish are on the bite.


Squirt bottles let you measure the exact amount of scent you wish to apply - a money-saving advantage for the angler.  They can become messy over time (although this is not the case if you give the bottle a quick wipe when done for the day), and have been known to clog up when baking in the hot sun.


Jars are designed for catfish and carp scented baits, and are necessary for keeping the pungent smells in.  (Make sure to tighten these lids down unless you want a horrid surprise left in your tackle bag.)


Tubes seem to be the least of my favorites, as for the most part they don't stand up in the bow of the boat, and the scent seems to be too solid for applying purposes.  Although they may work well for holding stink baits, for traditional scent, they are a poor choice.

Fish attractants are coming into the forefront of the angling world.  With the new advances scientists are making, duplicating attractive smells and tastes equals more fish for the angler that chooses to use them.


Take a look at fish scent next time you troll the tackle aisles - you'll be more than glad you did!


Outfitting your Fishing Canoe

By Tim Allard

Yet like any fishing rig, after tinkering, modifications and add-ons, canoes can be transformed into comfortable fishing machines.

Fishing from a canoe has many advantages over aluminum or fiberglass motorized boats.  Mainly, canoes are quiet and their portability makes them a top choice for anglers interested in remote backwaters.  In comparison to the plush seats of a bass boat, features in canoes are somewhat basic, which can leave anglers stiff and uncomfortable from several hours of fishing.  Yet like any fishing rig, after tinkering, modifications and add-ons, canoes can be transformed into comfortable fishing machines.


Seats and Chairs


A fishing canoe should be outfitted to keep anglers comfortable whether sitting or kneeling since standing in a canoe is not an option.  To outfit a canoe for kneeling, a permanent option is placing adhesive cushioning pads on the floor.  While non-permanent knee pad options include placing a spare piece of carpet, a non-adhesive pad, or perhaps your sleeping cushion (if on a camping trip) on the floor of the canoe.


For sitting, canoe seats in a range of designs (from bench to bucket) and many aftermarket additions are available to increase seat comfort.  A portable foam or padded seat provides extra cushioning when fishing for extended hours.  Carrying a cushion is better than sitting on a lifejacket, an innocent, but dangerous, maneuver many anglers make, transforming life vests into cushions instead of their designed use as personal flotation devices. 


Other great accessories to outfit canoes are seat backs or chairs.  A seat back provides a back rest and most mid- to high-end models fold down when not in use.  Seat backs clip or affix with straps to canoe seats.  Chairs are "L" shaped and usually cushioned, giving you the support of a back rest as well as a padded seat.  Most chairs come with clips and straps to securely fasten to the canoe's original seats.   They come in various designs (from basic plastic mesh ones that clip onto seats to high-end padded ones) in a range of prices.  Durable seats also double as great campsite chairs for when you're sitting by a fire instead of paddling on the water.


Outfitting for Fishing


First and foremost, I like to carry plenty of rope, straps, shock cords, and carabineers to keep my gear in place and secure when canoeing.  I find my mind is slightly more at ease when padding in rough water knowing that if the canoe gets swamped or capsizes, my tackle box is secure and won't end up at the bottom of the lake.  Keeping items secure also helps you properly balance the canoe for the best performance on the water, so you can focus on fishing.


Waterproof bags and cases are handy accessories to use to keep clothes dry and valuables (like cameras) protected.  I also find water bottles with loop-top caps can easily be clipped to the canoe's seat with a carabineer.  This keeps water at my fingertips for when I need it, which is especially important when it's hot.  You can also clip pliers, scissors and other often-used fishing tools to a carabineers or straps to keep them close at hand.  This clip-trick also prevents items from moving around on the floor of the canoe, aiding you in keeping your canoe fishing quiet.


Boat Gear


Once you've taken care of cushioning your body and securing gear, the next step to outfitting a fishing canoe is adding the angling bells and whistles.  If you have an electric trolling motor or small gas motor (such as a 4HP), there are a few mounting options.  Square back canoes are designed to be outfitted with a small motor at the stern, while for other canoes side motor mounts are the best option.  Side mounts fit across the sides of the canoe behind the stern seat.  Having a motor makes canoe fishing a lot easier and less stressful.  I find their biggest advantage is that they allow you to maintain boat control when fighting a fish.  Otherwise in heavy winds or waves you can drift a significant distance off fertile fishing grounds when playing a fish. 


To compliment a motor, a portable fishfinder is another key add-on.  Most of these compact, sonar units come with transducer suction cup mounts, which work well on most canoes.  Outfitted with a motor and fish finder, a canoe can be an excellent fishing machine.  Dozens of other accessories can be added to canoes to increase their fishing functionality, but after the above big ticket items, the simplicity of a rod holder is a must.  I used to rest my fishing rod across the gunwales when paddling, but I found when an aggressive fish hit, I had to quickly reach for my rod; although I never lost a rod, I did miss a few fish.  With a rod holder I can focus on the fishfinder and maintain proper boat position without worrying about losing a rod when a fish strikes.


Once you've found biting fish, you may want to anchor the canoe in position.  When anchoring a canoe use two anchors to minimize the boat from swinging (unless you intentionally want to do so to fish a wider area).  To properly anchor a canoe, put one off the bow and the other directly off the stern.  Do not tie anchors off the sides of a canoe as this can lead the canoe turning over in heavy waves.  Mushroom or river anchors between eight- to 15-pounds coupled with nylon rope will work for most canoes.  When tying off anchors use quick-release knots so slack line can be let out in the event of unexpected waves surprising you to ensure the canoe doesn't become swamped.




It's important to remember the proper safety gear when operating a canoe.  Wear your life jacket at all times.  Also ensure that the bilge pump, a signaling device, and a throw bag/rope are within reach at all times.  Keep a spare paddle in the canoe as well and make sure you can access it quickly when needed.




No matter how great the fishing was, a good day can turn bad if you're not equipped to properly transport the canoe.  Tie-down or cam straps that lock in place are my top choice for securing a canoe to my car top.  If you have a roof rack on your vehicle, using tubular foam that's cut lengthwise and placed on either the rack or on the gunwales of the canoe prevents paint scratching on both the canoe and rack.  Without a roof rack, four foam blocks placed on the canoe's gunwales are a simple but extremely effective way to secure a canoe to a car top for transport.  Secure canoes to cars by strapping it down from the boat's bow, stern and sides.


Canoe fishing can be a good way to target your favorite fish and with the right accessories and add ons, these lightweight boats can be quite comfortable.  Although not always best for big water, canoes are one of my favorite options for accessing small lakes and river - try the above suggestions for outfitting your canoe and you'll find a new appreciation for the fishing functionality of these basic boats.


Outfitting Your Kayak for Fishing

By Tim Allard

Kayak Rod Holder

Rod holders are critical to kayak angling, and multiple holders allow you to bring several outfits. Photo by Tim Allard.

Welcome to the wonderful world of kayak angling, a fun and effective way to catch fish. Whether you own a sit-in or a sit-on-top model, outfitting a kayak for fishing isn't much different than outfitting any other boat. The small size and storage limitations of these vessels usually create the biggest challenges when outfitting a kayak. But don't fret; there's plenty of gear to help turn your kayak into a full-fledged fishing machine.

Rod Holders

Since you can't hold a fishing pole while paddling, rod holders are critical to kayak angling, and multiple holders allow you to bring several outfits on your kayak fishing trips.

It's common practice to have one or two rod holders in front. Use removable holders so that you can take them out when not in use or during transport. Mount holders within reach, but don't mount them so close that they interfere with paddling and landing fish. Adding height extensions to your rod holders is useful so that you don't have to bend too far to grab the rod.

Most anglers will set up at least two rod holders behind the cockpit, placing one holder on each side. Flush mount holders work well for this application. This way, when not storing rods, holders won't clutter the kayak.

Flotation Vest

It's best to buy a personal flotation vest (PFD) made for kayaking. Kayak-specific designs allow for plenty of upper body movement so that you're not constricted when paddling or casting.

Some flotation vests come with storage pockets -- perfect for things like pliers, a tackle box or a portable VHF radio.

A black vest may look cool in the store, but you'll likely find it warm to wear on hot days if it doesn't have adequate ventilation. You're better off buying colors like yellow and red. They don't absorb as much heat as black and are more visible on the water.

Kayak Electronics

Most fishing kayaks have console space for electronics. Photo by Tim Allard.


You can outfit a kayak with plenty of angling electronics. If offshore, a GPS unit is critical to safely navigating low-light or foggy conditions. GPS units are also handy for storing the coordinates of your favorite fishing spots. Get either a watertight portable unit or consider purchasing a GPS/sonar combo unit.

A fish finder is another great option when outfitting your fishing kayak. Either a portable unit or a model that you mount will work. Most fishing kayaks have console space for a small mount. If using a bigger unit, consider purchasing a RAM mount or Johnny Ray mount to create a customized, adjustable set-up for your electronics. The transducer can be mounted to shoot through the hull.

Carry a portable, waterproof VHF radio if offshore fishing. Get a durable model with a good waterproof seal.

Lastly, if you plan to fish at dusk or dawn, carry some portable navigation lights so that you are visible to other boaters.


Storage is a common topic of discussion amongst kayak anglers, and there is no shortage of options to consider. Use dry bags and secure them on top of the kayak with bungee cords to keep items dry. Bungee cords are also great for keeping rain gear secure but accessible when needed.

Packing gear in the bow and stern hatches also works. Use hard-plastic watertight containers to store fragile items.

Kayak storage deck bags are another way to increase storage space, and some are specifically designed for fishing. Deck bags have plenty of pockets and compartments to hold your tackle and gear. They easily mount on top of the kayak with bungee cords.

Other storage options include various kayak utility packs, soft coolers and small fanny packs.

Tackle Boxes and Trays

It's likely you'll purchase a variety of tackle trays to hold fishing tackle. Some kayak cockpits come with spots to hold trays. Measure these spots first to get a snug-fitting tray and maximize storage space.

You can also carry small trays in your vest or in cargo pant pockets. Purchase watertight models to prevent your baits from getting wet, which can lead to rusty hooks.

Bait Bucket

If bait fishing is your game, most fishing kayaks have tank wells with contoured notches to hold a bait bucket. Bungee cords are also standard on most tank wells to keep things secure on the water. A variety of buckets are available with plenty of features. An aerator is a worth while add-on to keep minnows and shrimp lively, and a dip net helps you capture bait easily.

Sit-On-Top Kayak

Whether you own a sit-in or a sit-on-top model, outfitting a kayak for fishing isn't much different than outfitting any other boat. Photo by Ron Brooks.

Fishing Tools

You'll want to bring some fishing tools along with you in your kayak. A lanyard is helpful to keep things like clippers, scissors, forceps and a hook file within reach. Carrying pliers or a multi-tool lets you quickly remove hooks from fish. Store them in a sheath on your belt for quick access.

Fishing nets or other landing devices, such as a boga grip or a grip master, help when landing fish from a kayak.

Anchor System

A small anchor is an important fishing accessory. Use it fishing to stay put when fishing a specific piece of structure. Harmony's Folding Kayak Anchor Kit is a good buy. It comes with a folding anchor and all the hardware you need to outfit your kayak. Consider getting an anchor; they're well worth it on windy, wavy days.

Seat Upgrade

For extra cushioning and a much more comfortable day on the water, buy a high-end kayak seat or seat back, such as Ocean Kayak's Comfort Deluxe Seat Back. Most quality kayaking seats come with lumbar support. Kayak seats also feature adjustable straps, letting you adjust the seat angle for a customized fit.

Safety and First Aid Kit

Carry a safety kit in your kayak. Check on-the-water requirements for your state or province to determine what you're mandated to carry. At a minimum, though, you'll want the following: a whistle, signal mirror, bilge pump, bail or sponge, throw rope and a flash light with working batteries.

A small first-aid kit should be in your boat at all times. Store it in a water tight container and keep it within reach.

Pack a good assortment of products to protect you from the sun and insects. Use a small tote or container to carry the essentials, such as sunscreen, lip balm with an SPF rating, and bug repellant. Make sure you pack plenty of water to stay hydrated. Paddling requires a lot of physical effort and you'll need more water than you normally do when fishing from a motorized boat.

Consider picking up a few of these items when you're rigging your kayak for fishing. They'll help keep you organized on the water, which should help you catch a few more fish this season.


Saltwater Reel Buyer's Guide

By Capt. Joe Richard

Saltwater Reel Buyer 
Thanks to the advent of superlines and high-quality components, modern spin tackle can take on jobs considered impossible only 15 years ago. 

Life is certainly more complicated than it used to be, and fishing reels are no different. Thirty years ago in Texas, my friends and I all used the "red reel" (an Ambassadeur 5000 baitcaster) for almost everything, both fresh and salt. We picked out many a backlash but caught thousands of fish, from reservoir big bass, to coastal redfish and trout, to offshore cobia, mackerel and snapper. Except for a cheap but sturdy Penn "snapper reel" for partyboat trips, that was our sum total of reels. Period.

Being regional kept it simple. After all, back then, any Texan using spin tackle was regarded with suspicion. It was only in far South Texas on the Laguna Madre, where the wind cranked up by 11 a.m. each day (and casting distances are quite long) would you find spin tackle. Folks down there had to use spinning tackle for good reason. Ever try a 40-yard cast into a gusting wind with an older baitcasting reel? It's hard, just hard.

Spinning reels are better than baitcast reels when it comes to long casts that don't require pinpoint accuracy. If you pack the reel correctly with line, you'll rarely experience backlash or a tangle. Spinning gear also maximizes a fight you can savor, if you're hooking fish that won't dash into cover. That would include seatrout on the grassflats near Flamingo, where I started. Years later I was amazed to have a bonefish smoke off more than 100 yards of line on a shallow flat. That's classic spinning tackle action.

On the other hand, we wouldn't use our older spin gear in serious mangrove tree country, where snook grab on and then ducked behind fallen trees and roots. We needed stronger baitcasting reels for that. Today it's changed in that some anglers are using oversize spinning reels for this same job. They load spin reels with 30- or 50-pound braid line and pull hard, which can wear out a smaller reel's drag system. (There's a joke about a new spin reel picked off the shelf in a tackle store, talking silently to the angler/buyer as he cruises over to the fishing line section. The reel says, "Don't pick braid...don't pick braid...Doh!")   

Saltwater Reel Buyer
Sailfish crew using baitcast reels with high line capacity, normally used under fishing kites. Twenty-pound line is the norm here.

You see, lighter monofilament line is easier on a spin reel, probably adding years to its life.

Baitcasters, on the other hand, are precise casters in experienced hands. They're quite accurate at brush-busting or pinpoint casting at shoreline targets. Using topwater plugs in weed-choked reservoirs? No problem. All it takes is casting practice for dropping lures within inches of fishy structure. Mangrove tree shorelines are notorious for stealing lures, but with the right reel you can toss a plug way back under the branches, into the shadows. If a big snook grabs on you can stick him, get seriously mean with him, before he turns and lunges for cover.

Before superlines and braid, it was the baitcaster that horsed fish away from mangrove trees, dock, jetty rocks and production platforms in the Gulf of Mexico. Offshore at the oil rigs, spin reels were pretty much useless, even for catching big blue runners. Those pesky critters would turn-and-burn into the platform, dragging line over razor-sharp marine growth, and you were left with nothing. The same happened with cobia and red snapper. You needed hard-pulling baitcast reels to seriously lean on those fish, to turn them around.

That meant using the aforementioned Ambassadeur 5000 reel, then the improved 5500 model, which is still around, then the wider 6000 and then the bigger 7000 reel. We've won tournaments with all of these reels, ranging from seatrout to cobia to kingfish. Biggest fish was a 66-pound wahoo on my 7000 reel, a fish caught while casting and working a three-ounce jig. (That was a heavy jig -- thus the bigger 7000 reel with a long but stout rod. You would never work a jig of that size with a smaller 5000 reel). 

We were drift-fishing, which was fortunate, because that blue torpedo of a wahoo ran at least 300 yards and probably more. There wasn't that much 30-pound line on the reel, but we cranked up the boat and chased after the fish, finally subduing it.

During a different summer, a 55-pound king mackerel grabbed on and we swiftly unhooked the boat from the oil rig (using an 8-foot rig hook), cranked up the boat's engine and took off after that fish. It was landed on 40-pound line a fairly good distance from the oil rig, using a lever-drag reel that we will get to in a moment. That kingfish won the state championship for that year, which yielded a new boat, motor and trailer.
We will cover more of the heavier reels used for bigger fish, but keep in mind that becoming proficient with both spin and baitcaster reels certainly makes for a better angler. Buy at least one of each and fill it with quality line of the right caliber. Doing so enables one to cover virtually all freshwater, inshore and coastal fishing. Some anglers keep a dozen of each. Look at the bass pros -- they carry perhaps 10 rod outfits on deck and within reach, while they cast from the bow (and drive the electric motor). They're busy people with lots of options, under pressure.

Saltwater Reel Guide
A pair of pompano caught while climbing on a production platform. The baitcast reel was useful for horsing these fish away from barnacle-covered structure.

If you're looking at bigger fish -- from Alaska's halibut to Florida's tarpon -- you'll likely need something more robust. The reel used on my big kingfish was a lever-drag outfit, a Shimano TLD 15 reel. Such a reel will cast, but backlashes were fairly common. Our earlier Ambassadeur 7000 reels had the levelwind feature, which certainly made for better casting. However, for catching true offshore speedsters, you don't want a levelwind reel at all. After all, the poor "worm gear" that controls the levelwind has to rotate and keep up with the fish, and sometimes that's not possible.

So the open-face, lever-drag reels, with their smooth feed compared to star-drag systems, are filled with 20- to 80-pound line, and used for taming speedy marlin and other offshore pelagic fish. (Atlantic sailfish, which average around 50 pounds, are caught on these reels too, but anglers may use 20-pound spin tackle as an option.) Remember: lever drags mean smooth and reliable.

If you don't plan on trolling blue water, but want to tame a variety of heavier fish, then an open face reel with a star drag, with 40- or 50-pound line is a great general-purpose reel system. Take the Penn 4/0 reel; it's been around forever, has a star drag, and you can find dozens of copies on any big offshore partyboat today. This is a workhorse reel (though, admittedly, not as sturdy as the earlier models, which could only be described as bullet-proof). Countless smaller charterboats also use this reel today, as they've proved reliable under daily punishment.     

Buy a four-pack of these reels, mount them on sturdy boat rods, and you're good to go on one slugfest after another, such as inlet fishing. In Texas, we would anchor up at an inlet or jetty and set out four of these rods, baited with a big mullet head or a 6-inch live bait of some sort, including menhaden or croakers.

When a rod bent double and line was ripping off the reel, it meant a big circle hook had bitten into something big down there. We caught countless redfish from 37 to 44 inches, crevalle jacks that were typically 18 to 24 pounds, blacktip sharks that averaged 40 pounds, tarpon from 80 pounds ranging on up into the scary size (over 200 pounds) that fought until hours after dark, and also stingrays that were locally called "barn doors."
Out at the inlet we never caught anything that was really manageable on standard casting or spin tackle. You needed sturdy reels that could survive constant salt and big fish. We wore out the drag systems on several TLD reels out there, by using 40-pound line all the time. These were finesse reels, not meant for brute force and constantly dragging up big fish in fast tides. The cheaper Penns (these were the older models with the purple finish) worked well and survived much longer under harsh conditions.
And, if we wanted to run offshore and bottom fish for snapper, we used the very same gear. We could troll lures, drift-fish while using 2-ounce jigs, or tie up and drop big weights and baits 80 feet to the bottom. If a cobia showed up on the surface, we had him covered. If the crew wanted kingfish, we tied on short wire leaders and simply fed line and baits out behind the boat, into the chum line. That sturdy 4/0 reel did it all, once we left the bays behind.
Before going offshore, check out a variety of saltwater reels. Whatever style and size you choose, make sure it's appropriate for your intended application.   

View all Saltwater Reels.

Joe Richard is a Gainesville, Florida writer and photographer who manages his own stock photo website of outdoor images: Seafavorites.com.


Jon Boats in Saltwater? You Bet!

By Capt. Joe Richard

Jon boat outfitted for saltwater fishing
This Jon boat is rigged with four rod holders, evenly spaced on the starboard side. Point the boat in the right direction, and you can set out a broadside of four baits.

Many saltwater anglers have recently made the switch to aluminum Jon boats after "having a go" with bigger fiberglass boats for many years. Aluminum boats cost very little to operate and can go almost anywhere given the right weather conditions. Jon boats have always been popular, but with today's leaner times, they're even more so. Boat sales may be slow, but in some parts of the country, aluminum is now neck-and-neck with fiberglass boat sales. Why? Fiberglass can't compete with aluminum in the expense column.

Say you've got your eye on one of the all-welded Jon boats or riveted Jon boats over at Trackerboats.com. You're interested in fishing all day on 2 or 3 gallons of gas, and your tow vehicle is small. That Jon boat looks perfect, right? Trailer, tow vehicle and motor issues aside (you could rate them all as small), what sort of boat are we looking at, and can it be rigged to fish saltwater?

Standard length for Jon boats is 14 feet -- at least it was for about 50 years. Today many are built much bigger. You will also see a few small 10- and 12-footers around. Unless you're motoring around on a quiet salt marsh bayou, anything under 14 feet on saltwater is probably too small. Stick with at least 14 feet. If possible, grab a 15-footer. That extra foot is nice; the 15 is normally five feet wide at the top, wide enough to lie down and take a nap. But as three generations of fishermen will attest, even the 14-footers carry a lot of fishing and camping gear.

After owning many fiberglass boats, I've scaled back to a wide, 15-foot long, flat bottom Jon boat. The price was right. (It was given to me by a friend.) It has 20 years on it and will someday be replaced with a heavier-gauge, welded model of 16 feet. It's powered with a brand new 25-horse outboard with a push-button starter, which is nice if you have a stiff lower back. I launch it and run off across the bay for a day of fishing, amazed at the new fiberglass rigs at the boat ramp, whose price tags may flirt or exceed six figures.

Saltwater Jon Boat
Pulling anchor and moving a Jon boat to the next spot. The presence of sharp oyster shell or even jetty rocks is no obstacle to an aluminum boat on a calm day.

If the weather turns rough, I switch to sheltered freshwater lakes with a minimal boat ramp, since light aluminum can be launched almost anywhere. We used to back our rigs into the surf itself in calm summer weather, cruising miles of beach while looking for tarpon. We were too far from any inlet to have competition from other boats. I've even guided people on crappie trips during spring in this Jon boat, tying up to shoreline trees next to flooded forest, with the wind howling, and filled the box with those fine fish. It's all about where and when you go when fishing with aluminum.    

Considerations for Rigging a Jon Boat

Electric motors
Electric motors bolt on at the stern where the driver spends most of his time, moving the boat short distances if the wind and current isn't strong. If you have a big, heavy Jon boat, you'll need a bigger electric placed at the bow instead of the stern.  

Push Pole
A wood or aluminum push pole, about 10 feet long, will shove your boat along past rocks, oysters and sand, without risking a propeller. If using a wood pole, bolt a couple of wood scraps on the pole's end for more gripping power on the bottom -- especially mushy bottom. In areas with a seriously muddy bottom, a paddle in practiced hands, worked at the bow, will ease a Jon boat along for 20 or 30 yards into that honey hole. You have to take wind and tide direction into account, however.  

If you're 40 and over, that lower back can stiffen up by day's end. Attach boat seats where they balance the boat during running speed, and the driver has a clear view of the water ahead. In a pinch, we've used canvas camp chairs for guests, though they tend to sag in the middle (the chairs, I mean), making it difficult to climb out and move around. A throwable flotation cushion is required on every boat, and I always carry one or two for our guests to sit on.

Drum from a Saltwater Jonboat
Happy anglers with a 25-pound drum caught from a Jon boat rigged for saltwater.

Bimini Top
A fold-down Bimini cavas top is nice when you need it, keeping out rain and sun. However, it's often in the way when folded down on the gunnel and hard to fish around. I've been experimenting with a beach umbrella that the wife can stay under during mid-day. Since our PVC rod holders point out towards the water, I drilled a small holder in the center seat, sticking straight up, where the umbrella throws maximum shade. The back of the boat is still out in the weather, where someone can sit and fish four rods if they want to. The umbrella has a low setting for windy rain, and an extender for tall shade. It fits in a clear plastic sleeve that stows away nicely.

Multiple Rod Holders
You can anticipate where you'll anchor and set out rods, but can't foresee how the day will unfold. Set up all your rod holders on one side of the boat, and another boat will block your casts, the wind will shift or the tide change. My boat now has four primary rod holders on one side, and two on the other. To prevent drilling so many holes in the boat, I rigged a 1x8 inch plank down the side of the boat, drilling in new rod holders wherever desired. And it works: if conditions are right and I'm first to reach the honeyhole, I'll anchor and fire off a broadside of four rods, exactly where I want those baits. If you use circle hooks, you can take your sweet time grabbing a bent rod; the fish will already be hooked.

Deck Boards
Since my buddies and I have always used riveted aluminum boats, we protected each boat with 1/2 inch plywood deck boards. Cut them to fit, and double coat with a light beige paint that won't soak up the sun and burn your feet. If a 300-pound guy walks around in your boat, maybe it won't spring the rivets -- or welding, for that matter. Be sure not to use pressure-treated plywood, which contains copper. Why? Copper and aluminum combined have an electrolysis effect, which eats away at aluminum.

If you can find a Jon boat with storage, that's a big plus. There's nothing like clutter in the boat to complicate the day. I prefer lots of gear, which allows for more comfort and fishing options. I'm fortunate to have a hollow seat that holds life jackets, gas tank, paddle, rope and anchor, motor oil, a few small tools and a small fire extinguisher, which is required when your gas tank is enclosed. That storage seat has even held a scuba tank from time to time.

Jon Boat in the Gulf of Mexico
Author Joe Richards running his Jon boat in the Gulf of Mexico.

Portable Navigation Lights easily attach to the boat's bow and stern and can be removed for simple day trips. They run on flashlight batteries, of course. You'll need them for night missions, such as returning from that sunset tarpon trip. If you have storage room, keep a spotlight on the boat; you never know for sure if you'll be kept out there after dark by a big fish.

If stealth is required, such as in shallow-water situations on saltwater flats, keep a small anchor at the stern. Why the stern? The driver can ease it overboard without getting up and making noise. You won't need a noisy anchor chain for this in very shallow water, though you should keep 3 to 4 feet of chain in the storage seat for deeper water. A Jon boat anchored by the stern is far quieter, since even tiny wavelets tend to slap-slap under the bow, spooking fish.

In waves of six inches or higher, it's hazardous to anchor by the stern however; water splashes up and soaks the motor, and winds up inside the boat.   

Bilge Pump
Most water in a Jon boat builds up at the stern. You can pop the drain plug while running, scoop water with a coffee can, or install a small bilge pump. You'll need access to a battery at the stern for power, however. Push-button start motors often have a battery right there, as does mine.

Depth Finder
It certainly helps to know your water depth and to be able to mark fish below the boat. In a Jon boat without a center console, mounting anything requires careful consideration, especially a sonar unit. Here's how Mike Meisenburg, a fishing buddy, rigged a sonar unit on his 15-foot open Jon boat:

"I went by a countertop store that had sink cutouts," Mike said. "They give away the scrap. I got some free pieces, and then had a friend trim them on a table saw and round the edges with a router. Then I got some aluminum, bent it in a 90-degree angle, and riveted it to the boat. That gave me both a horizontal and a vertical surface to mount the depth finder. I can read the depth finder real easy -- it's near my right knee -- while driving the boat with a tiller motor.

"I thought about mounting the depth finder to my ice cooler," Meisenburg continues "but you don't want that thing bouncing around. I don't have one, but a center console on these boats adds so many options for mounting electronics. With an open Jon boat, you have to be creative. Of course you run the transducer wire over the transom, and secure it like any other boat. And you need a battery close by, to supply power. I ran the wires through the chines on the side of the boat to keep them out of the way."

If your Jon boat develops a crack, have it heli-arc welded. If you have a small leak or two, put an inch of water in the boat with a garden hose, climb underneath the trailer and watch for a telltale drip. Mark it with a red Magic Marker. Let the boat dry, and then seal the hole with J-B Weld. It's good stuff.
There are tons of shabby-looking Jon boats out there for no other reason than the owners won't put a $15 quart of paint on them every five to 10 years. That's what it took to paint the inside of my 15-footer, though I didn't go below the plywood deck plates. The finished job with two coats looks great. (I used Rust Scat paint and their color code for olive drab is 8405). After that, a half-quart put two coats on the outer hull. Next step is beneath the plywood, to cut down on long-term corrosion, which is admittedly slow with aluminum. I prefer olive drab (OD) on my Jon boat, probably because we hunted ducks for 20 years from these same boats, and that was the standard color. Today you see fancier camo paint jobs on new Jon boats, complete with simulated marsh vegetation.

When you've gotten full use out of that Jon boat, and it just can't be sold to another boat owner, consider recycling. A recycle center will hand you American greenback dollars and convert that worn out aluminum into another shiny new Jon boat...or beer cans. Either way, you've made somebody happy. Discarded Jon boats, especially those crushed or stove in from fallen trees, should be hauled to the scrap yard and reborn.

Joe Richard runs several charter fishing vessels and manages Seafavorites.com, a collection of several thousand fishing images taken during his 40 years of exploring the Gulf of Mexico.


Crankin' Clearly

By Don Wirth

clearwater cranking
Long casts close to cover are essential when working crankbaits in clear, shallow water.

Examine the lure selection of most clearwater bass fishermen, and you'll find a good assortment of leadhead grubs, small jigs, finesse worms, suspending jerkbaits, spoons, blade baits and a topwater or two. But chances are the crankbait selection will be minimal, especially when compared to that of anglers who fish murkier water.

There's a reason for that. Most bassers feel crankbaits are at their best in water with some color to it. Where visibility is limited, bass respond eagerly to the exaggerated action, pulsing vibrations, bulky profile and noisemaking rattles of these popular lures. But the very attributes that make crankbaits so deadly in stained water seem to work against them in clear water. Here, bass tend to feed by sight rather than sound. They have the luxury of carefully scrutinizing a prospective meal before striking, and unless it looks real, they'll often ignore it. The exaggerated wobble, chunky profile and excessive noise of most crankbaits can appear unnatural to bass under clear conditions.

But when the right approach is used, crankbaits can be absolutely deadly in clear water. Knowing which crankbait to use and where to chunk it can spell the difference between hauling water and toting a limit to the scales.

Starting Shallow

In clear water, deeper isn't necessarily better. True, many clear lakes are rocky, and have little shallow wood or weed cover. Bass therefore have little reason to be shallow, and tend to move out deeper. But if cover is present in the shallow margins of the clear lakes you fish, don't automatically head for the depths before trying a shallow-running crankbait.

clearwater cranking2
Bass in clear water feed mainly by sight. If your crankbait looks like real food, it'll be harder for the fish to turn down.

Shallow runners like Mann's 1-Minus and Worden's TimberTiger series remain popular among pro bassers. Unlike long-billed crankbaits, these squat plugs have the barest nubbins of diving lips. They're designed to run extremely shallow -- some less than a foot deep. It's amazing to watch 'em bump and grind their way across logs, through brushpiles and over the top of subsurface weedbeds. They're truly 4-wheel-drive crankbaits!

Regardless of how clear or how skinny the water may be, bass will hang tight to cover if it's available, and few lures are more effective for fishing shallow wood and grass than these toadlike cranks. In this scenario, think of your crankbait as a substitute for a spinnerbait -- if you fish it in the same places you'd slow-roll a spinnerbait, and at about the same speed, you'll catch bass. Actually, a shallow crankbait is often preferable to a spinnerbait in clear water, because it has plenty of visual appeal, while the spinnerbait does better in low-visibility water where bass feed via vibrations rather than sight. If you pick the right color pattern and present the lure properly, it will mimic a live crawfish rooting along the bottom, or an errant baitfish that accidentally strayed into the wrong neck of the woods.

Long casts close to cover are essential when working crankbaits in clear, shallow water. Shallow bays and tributary arms are the perfect places to start. Wearing Polarized sunglasses and standing at the bow of your boat, it should be easy to spot submerged weed patches, laydown logs, brushpiles and the like. Using a 6 1/2- to 7-foot medium-action baitcasting rod (a soft-action cranking rod may be too light for this application) and a reel spooled with 14- to 20-pound mono, chunk the lure past the cover and retrieve it so it a) bumps into the wood/grass and glances off it; b)bulldozes through the cover;  or c) barely ticks the top of the object. Here, a miss is as good as a mile -- in clear, shallow water, bass sense their vulnerability to predators, and may not venture far from a stump or grass patch to attack their prey. Obviously this high-contact approach is rough on monofilament lines. The perfect line choice for this application is Bass Pro Shops' Excel monofilament; it has the right combination of abrasion resistance and low visibility to get the job done.

In clear lakes, shallow crankbaits are especially deadly when fished over and around patches of milfoil, hydrilla and other junk weeds. A favorite tactic of pro anglers is to swim the lure s-l-o-w-l-y over the top of the grass so it creates a telltale wake, like that of a fleeing shad. Don't be surprised if a lunker largemouth blows a hole in the grass as big as a tabletop in an effort to grab the bait!

Shallow runners come in a variety of sizes. I'd recommend starting off with a fairly large plug, one that can be cast a country mile; if that doesn't evoke a stroke, scale down to the smaller sizes (they make 'em as tiny as 1/8 ounce -- fish these on spinning gear). Even the teeniest of these cranks will catch big bass from heavy cover.

Gravy Spots

When bass are deep in clear reservoirs, they're often stationed on what pro anglers call "gravy spots." These are primary structural elements such as points, ledges, humps and drop-offs that have been sweetened by the addition of a choice piece of cover, such as a solitary stump, standing tree, weed patch or boulder. This added element of attraction provides the "gravy" that enhances the spot, making it a major draw to big bass.

There's no telling how many national tournaments have been won on gravy spots in clear reservoirs, especially during the summer months. Big bass will stack up on these places like cordwood, and the angler skilled (or lucky) enough to find 'em can load the boat in short order.

Mann's 1-Minus Crankbaits
Short-billed crankbaits like the Mann's 1-Minus are designed to run extremely shallow. It's amazing to watch 'em bump and grind their way across logs, through brushpiles and over the top of subsurface weedbeds.

A deep-diving crankbait is the best lure choice for doing some serious damage to the bass population on a gravy spot, especially if you're fishing against the clock (or simply lack the patience to crawl a worm or jig through the area). Many of these places are 12 to 20 feet deep, well within range of a long-billed diver like a Fat Free Shad, Wiggle Wart or similar plug. This is mainly open-water fishing, so go with a 7-foot cranking rod, a high-speed reel and low-diameter 10 to 14 pound line.

Locate the gravy spot with your depthfinder, then delineate it with a marker buoy. Pull off the structure and make repeated long casts around the buoy with a deep-diving crankbait. Most strikes will occur the instant the lure bumps the rock or stump. Typically bass hold  tight to or suspend around this cover.

In summer, deep weed patches can hold the biggest concentrations of bass in the area, but small grassbeds are sometimes difficult to detect with electronics. Use the deepest diver in your tacklebox as a weed detector. Make a super-long cast and root the lure across the bottom of the point, ledge or hump. If it picks up grass, immediately switch to a crankbait that doesn't dive quite so deep and recrank the area.

A plug knocker is essential for this brand of deep crankin'. Many serious crankers carry a "pocket rock," a 3/4- to 1-ounce catfish sinker with an eye at one end.  After attaching one end of a wire snap to the eye and the other end around their line, they slide the sinker down to the lure, jiggle the rod tip and the bait usually pops free, thereby saving a ton of money on crankbaits.

Crank the Middle

In hot weather, bass in clear lakes often suspend, and can be a bear to catch. Currently one of the hottest summer strategies on the pro tournament trail involves cranking these fish with a realistic suspending crankbait like a Suspending Fat Free Shad Junior.

The kicker with this "pattern" is that it's not really a pattern at all. Suspending bass are often relating solely to each other, not structure. This can make searching for them like looking for a needle in a haystack. A good place to start is between two main-lake points. Bass often gang up on the ends of points early and late in the day to ambush passing schools of baitfish, but when the sun is high, they may go into a neutral mode and gravitate into open water. Locate two opposing points, then idle around until you spot hooks indicating bass on your graph. Note their depth, then crank 'em with a suspending bait. The beauty of this crankbait style is that once it's reached its maximum depth, it'll stay there. Once you've cranked down to the level of the bass, stop reeling for a beat or two, then resume the retrieve. This erratic approach will often trigger a strike from a suspending fish.

The same 7-foot cranking outfit you used for probing gravy spots will work great here, but I'd drop back a notch in line size and loosen up your reel drag a bit -- this is strictly open-water bassin'.

Smallmouth Strategies

Veteran smallmouth hunters accept gin-clear water as the norm. They know that big smallies tend to favor deep water, but they also know that it's possible to entice even the deepest fish up to the level of a small crankbait.

While smallies will slam the biggest crankbaits in murky waters, you'll get far more strikes in a clear venue by sticking to 1/8 to 3/8-ounce lures. Some favorites among the smallmouth fraternity include the Bomber Model A 600-series, Rebel Crawdad and Rapala Shad Rap. Many of these baits have a maximum depth range of 8 to 10 feet, but don't let that deter you from fishing them in deeper areas. In clear water, smallmouths are attuned to swimming long distances to grab a meal. It's entirely possible to pull big smallmouths out of 25 feet of water with a compact crankbait that runs no deeper than 10 feet. And notice I said "smallmouths" -- don't be surprised if you see a whole school of bass chasing after your lure!

Rocky points, gravel banks and shale ledges can hold large numbers of smallmouths. Secondary objects such as isolated stumps and boulders will concentrate them, so by all means seek these out with your electronics, then crank away.

Parallel cranking is a great way to stir up some smallmouth action on a rocky lake. Position your boat close to a limestone bluff or 45-degree chunk-rock bank, than cast parallel to the structure, working progressively deeper until you contact fish. Don't be dismayed if your boat is sitting in 100 feet of water next to a bluff bank -- smallies will suspend here at their comfort zone and won't be hesitant to snatch a fast-moving crankbait.

Which rod/reel/line to use with small crankbaits depends on your personal preference. Many bassers prefer a 6 1/2- to 7-foot medium-light spinning rod, especially for the lightest baits in this genre. Spool up with 6- to 8-pound line and fan-cast the area, using a stop-and-go retrieve. And make sure your hooks are super-sharp -- a big smallmouth will take to the air as soon as you stick it, and you'll lose it if the barb isn't buried

Colors for Clearwater Crankin'

Choose colors carefully when cranking clear water, but don't be afraid to get creative if need be.

Natural color patterns including popular shad and crawfish patterns are reliable choices. Remember, bass in clear water feed mainly by sight. If your crankbait looks like real food, it'll be harder for the fish to turn down.

On sunny days, crankbaits with a reflective finish are a real advantage. They catch the sun's rays as they wobble, creating a flash that bass can see from great distances. Most open-water baitfish are silvery in color, so the crankbait's flash signals a potential meal to bass.

But reflective crankbaits lose their potency on cloudy or rainy days. With the sun hidden behind clouds, the lure reflects only the grayness around it, thereby rendering it virtually invisible to bass. Now is a good time to use a flat-finish lure (bone white, pearl, perch), or a hot color such as fire tiger, red or orange. And some built-in rattles can't hurt, either. -- Don Wirth


Live-Bait Secrets for Giant Stripers

By Don Wirth

giant river striper 2
Get your hands on the striper of a lifetime with the live-bait tips in this story!

No question, lures can produce amazing results. Unquestionably one of the biggest thrills in freshwater fishing is the moment a big striper smacks a topwater lure -- the impact has been likened to that of a Buick falling off a bridge. And don't sell crankbaits and jigs short when it comes to catching these silvery fighters.

But day in and day out, the best "lure" for a real wall-hanger of a striper is live bait. Most of the giant stripers taken every year succumb to some form of bait, and if you're serious about tangling with a trophy, you'd be wise to have something stinky and squirmy on the end of your line.

Here's what you know to score big on bait. Put the following tips into practice on your home striper waters and watch the quantity and quality of the fish you catch escalate.

Baiting Up

The experienced striper fisherman spends a great deal of time searching for, gathering, holding and caring for his live bait. He knows that on many fishing days, if there's no good bait, his chances of a bite are minimal. Thus productive striper fishing demands some general knowledge of where to hunt the bait the fish want, and some specialized gear to catch and maintain it.  

Landlocked stripers are often typecast as indiscriminate eaters; many anglers even hold them responsible for declining populations of bass and crappie in some reservoirs. But biologists know such is not the case. Stripers feed mainly on pelagic forage fish including threadfin and gizzard shad and blueback and skipjack herring. They'll also eat trout, bluegill, eels, drum and an occasional carp. At times, stripers will even dine on crappie minnows!


striper bait castnetting
A cast net is essential for gathering live bait.

Of the above, the most popular landlocked striper baits include shad, herring, trout and bluegills (the latter two where legal). Shad and blueback herring are best gathered in a cast net; trout, skipjacks and bluegills can be caught on rod and reel.

Throwing a cast net is an ancient art that's well worth mastering. If you can't find these nets in your local tackle outlets, Bass Pro Shops (1-800) BASS PRO) sells them, along with instructional videos. Net size is indicated by radius (example, a 10-foot net spans 20 feet across when thrown properly). A good starter size is 6 feet; once you get comfortable with this, you may find a larger net more desirable. If you're after big baits like gizzard shad, choose a heavy net with a fairly large mesh size; this will sink faster, especially in current.

Shad and blueback herring can usually be netted in large quantities below dams, however extreme caution must be exercised -- stay out of posted areas and wear your pfd! In the Tennessee striper reservoirs near my home, I also find gizzard shad in the back-ends of tributaries as well as around river eddies and shoals.

Skipjack herring are a tremendous live bait; they can occasionally weigh over 2 pounds, but that's not too big for a monster striper. Skipjacks thrive in the fast water below dams. The best way to catch them is to use a spinning outfit with two or three tube jigs tied 6 to 12 inches apart up the line. These buggers really put up a fight when hooked; catching them is a blast.

A shad tank is a necessity for keeping shad and herring frisky. These aerated tanks are rounded inside so the bait doesn't swim into the corners and get "red-nosed." The best ones have a filter to trap scales and crud. Get the largest shad tank you can deal


giant river striper
Monster stripers like this 47-pounder are usually caught on live bait, as legendary Tennessee guide Ralph Dallas knows.

Skipjack herring are much harder to maintain in a tank than are shad and bluebacks. Many anglers catch them in a likely fishing area and immediately bait them up and fish with them rather than risk killing them in their tank. Some highly sophisticated skipjack tanks are in development as this goes to press; they include a remote tank to hyper-oxygenate the water and a much more powerful aerator pump than is commonly used in a shad tank.

Your bait tank's water must be kept cool (preferably 60-70 degrees) and treated with a livewell chemical. I treat the water in my shad tank with Shad-Keeper and Foam-Off. I also add ice in hot weather.

Proven Bait Rigs & Presentations

Like catfishermen, striper anglers have a variety of bait rigs they rely on under various conditions.

When tying these rigs, keep in mind that factors such as line test, sinker weight and hook size are relative. In deep water, and in heavy current, you may need a much heavier sinker than in shallow, slack water (where you may need no sinker at all). Likewise, your hook size will vary according to bait size.


striper bait
A bait tank with rounded corners helps keep live shad frisky.

When stripers are below 15 feet deep, a down line comes in handy. This bread-and-butter reservoir rig presents the bait directly beneath the boat and is especially recommended when stripers are suspending off the bottom and around offshore structures such as humps and channel drop-offs.

As shown, the down line should be fished with a heavy sinker so your bait doesn't drift back too far, which would alter its depth. A sturdy swivel is necessary to prevent the baitfish from twisting your line during its struggles.

Long baitcasting or spinning rods with a fairly soft action are perfect for downline use. I like to keep my downline rods in holders until a fish strikes.

Once suspended stripers are located on your graph, note the depth of the highest fish and measure out enough line off your reel so your bait is presented just above their level. For some reason, a suspended striper will usually swim up to grab a meal, but will seldom swim down.

types of bait can be fished on a downline. In hot weather, a live bluegill can be surprisingly effective.

Flatlines are used when a shallower presentation is required, and are often employed by reservoir anglers in conjunction with downlines. Here, a baitfish is hooked and a cast length or so of line peeled off the reel. Every time the boat speeds up or slows down, the bait will rise and fall in a most enticing manner. Adding a split shot above the bait will put it a little deeper if desired. Besides stripers, a flatline will often take a bonus bass or walleye.

When fishing downlines and flatlines in combination, try to present a Duke's mixture of bait sizes. On some days the fish want only the biggest baits in your tank; at other times they prefer a much smaller bite.

Planer boards are currently in vogue with reservoir and river striper hunters. These wedge-shaped devices attach to the baited line and cause it to swing out to either the left or right of your boat. Reservoir anglers find this gives their presentation more coverage; river anglers like the fact that the board can present the bait tight to shoreline cover. Depending on how aggressive the fish are, run your bait anywhere from 3 to 20 feet behind your boards.

Floats and balloons are arguably the most exciting method of presenting a live bait. They're recommended when stripers are using shallow river bars and shoals or reservoir coves and points; they're super-deadly when fish are holding tight to submerged trees or snaggy undercut banks, such as is often the case in rivers. In the tailraces I fish, I may get a follow from a big striper early in the morning when casting a topwater lure or crankbait past a sunken tree, and will return to the spot later and chunk a big shad on a float to this spot. Often the bait gets creamed the instant it hits the water.

Stinger rigs may be required for large baitfish, especially skipjacks and trout. Here, the bait is hooked both through the lips or nose as well as through the tail. Wire leader material works great for attaching the stinger hook to the main hook; its stiffness helps prevent the tangles you'd get from using mono or braided line.

Bottom rigs are best used on gravel bars and flats, and are deadly in river current. Either live or "cut" bait (sections or filets of baitfish) will work on the bottom. Some of the biggest stripers ever recorded were taken on cut bait fished on a bottom rig.

Tackle Recommendations

The type tackle you use will depend on the kind of bait rig being fished and the size of the striper you're likely to encounter.

Where stripers run up to 10 pounds, bass-sized baitcasting and spinning gear can be used. In open reservoirs where stripers may range from 10 to 30 pounds and a combination of downlines and flatlines is used, 6 1/2- to 7 1/2-foot medium-action baitcasting rods and wide-spool reels such as Ambassadeur 6500s with 15- to 20-pound mono are recommended. And in snaggy rivers, where giant fish are a possibility, use 7- to 8-foot medium-heavy to heavy baitcasting rods, Ambassadeur 6500 and 7000 reels and 30- to 50-pound mono. Some river anglers I know are using braided lines to 130-pound test; these work better in murky water than clear water. If you do use braided products for stripers, keep in mind that these superlines have almost zero stretch; you'll need to compensate by using softer-action rods than you'd normally use with mono.

More Bait Tips

  •  When drifting bait, a bow-mounted graph with its transducer attached to your trolling motor is a great help in pinpointing striper location and bottom structure.
  • Stripers sometimes hit a bait so hard, the impact can break the line. Keep your reel drag fairly loose. Then when a fish runs off with your bait, tighten down the drag gradually to control the fish.
  • Use an unmounted bilge pump and hose to drain the water from your bait tank and replace it with fresh water as needed. Clean the tank's filter regularly during the fishing day.
  • If you don't see stripers on your graph, don't panic -- look for big schools of baitfish instead. The stripers won't be far behind.
  • When you detect a strike, set the hook immediately rather than allowing the striper to swallow the bait. If the water is cool, the fish can be released alive. --  Don Wirth 

The Price of Quality

By Ron Brooks


Considered to be one of the most important differences between casting reels is the number of bearings inside the reel. 

We were fishing together, yet fishing in two different boats.  Neither of us wants to fish from the back of another angler's boat; both of us want to fish from the bow.  Our solution has always been to take two boats.  Someone asked me one time why we took two boats.  My answer was - because we can!


As we sat literally on top of a school of fish and cast our lures, my buddy Don seemed to cast with an easy flow, never backlashing, and effortlessly casting longer distances than I did, even into the stiff breeze that was blowing.


My casts, on the other hand were shorter, required more effort, and ended up in some minor backlashes about half the time.   I consider myself to be quite proficient with a baitcasting outfit, and while I blamed the backlashes on the wind, it frustrated me to watch Don out-cast and out-catch me that day.  He had a definite advantage.


Answering my frustration, Don's advice was to buy "better gear."  His equipment was top of the line -- my tackle was pretty mid-range.  The difference in price and quality was why his equipment outperformed mine, according to Don.


Can your choice of reel and rod really make a difference in your casting ability?  Is there a reason to buy the more expensive ones?  To the average angler, the answer to those questions may be no, but to the serious fisherman, the guides and the professionals, the answer is a resounding "Yes!"


Reels for the casting angler can range in price from ridiculously low to ridiculously high.  Some of the price difference is determined as much by the brand name as anything, but there are some very important mechanical issues that separate premium priced reels.


Considered to be one of the most important differences between casting reels is the number of bearings inside the reel.  The least expensive reels have no bearings and use brass sleeves and shims.  As a rule of thumb, the most expensive reels can have as many as 10 or more ball bearings, each serving a particular friction point on the reel. 



Fast and super-fast tapered rods cost more to manufacture, and therefore cost the angler more. 

On a given cast, line needs to leave the reel in a smooth, even flow.  Ball bearings in the reel ensure these qualities.  A cheaper reel that is still new will have these qualities, but it will deteriorate with usage over a period of time.  Of course, don't depend on the number bearings to determine the quality of the reel.  Some great reels may have less bearings but a better system for using them. 


The interesting part in all this is that the cheaper reels can and will be as smooth and quiet as the most expensive ones when purchased.  The milling of the sleeves and shims is such that little or no difference can be felt.  But with usage over a period of time, the soft brass wears, and a reel that was once tight and quiet, is now loose and noisy.


Reels with significant bearing construction will last a lifetime with proper care, and they can remain tight and quiet.  Don chose to invest in the more expensive tackle while I labored with more midrange equipment.  The difference was telling on me this day.


The second advantage that Don had over me was his rod choice.  My rods are okay; they come from a well-known brand; and they have served me well over the years.  Don's rods are significantly different than mine.  As I watched him set the hook and reel a fish to the boat, the top twenty percent of his rod tip was about all that was bending.  His seven-foot rod has a super fast taper.  That is, the tip is extremely flexible, while the remainder of the rod has a good backbone, and bends only slightly.


My rods have a medium, or at best a semi-fast taper.  One or two of them have a slow taper.  I have one with little or no taper that actually reacts like a broomstick!


The rod tip acts as a slingshot of sorts adding a whip like action to the cast.  The fast taper loads the rod on the back swing so that the cast will pull line from the reel in a controlled fashion.


Fast and super-fast tapered rods cost more to manufacture, and therefore cost the angler more.  Many anglers shy from these more expensive rods, only to have casting issues down the road.


Why is all this important?  It's simple.  Don chose the right combination of reel and rod and his casting woes have been for the most part completely solved.


Does that mean that every fisherman needs to run out and mortgage his home for better tackle?  No, but it does mean that an initial investment can serve well over the years.


If you fish a lot, a whole lot, I believe it is a mistake to buy cheap tackle.  It will work well for a short while and then begin to cause problems.


On the other hand, if you fish only occasionally, the less expensive tackle can and will serve you well over the years.  The cost/benefit analysis says go with the cheaper stuff!


Will the more expensive reels and rods help me to cast better?  Absolutely!  Are they necessary?  Perhaps not; there has to be a break point at which the cost of the tackle is more than your usage demands.  You need to analyze your own situation, and decide how much money to invest in your tackle.  The right investment can last for years.  The wrong one can have you back in short order looking for more tackle.

Lazy Days, Small Streams and Southern Catfish

By Wade Bourne

Biologists in state fisheries agencies confirm that underutilized catfish populations exist in smaller creeks and rivers from Virginia to Texas.

"No business; no plans; no worries; no money; no future.  Too healthy to beg; too lazy to work; too old to steal.  Ain't got much; don't want anything.  Ain't mad at nobody.  Ain't running for nothing.  Waiting for the 3rd of the month." 


Joe B. Sweeney, Retired.  Lobelville, Tennessee.


Actually, Joe Sweeney's "business card" lacks one additional, important inscription:  "River rat, specializing on catching catfish."


And so he does!  This laid-back angler took early retirement a few years ago to fish and enjoy life.  This morning he's on the Buffalo River, across the highway from his house, doing what he does three to four times a week from late spring through mid-fall:  Rod-and-reel fishing for cats.  Shafts of sunlight are shining through sycamore and maple trees along the east bank.  In a few hours the morning will turn hot, but for now the air is fresh and cool.  A light breeze and a swaying current soothe Sweeney's soul as he watches his rods and waits for a bite.


"Isn't this the life?" he muses.  "This is what fishing ought to be, quiet and peaceful.  And I can pretty near always catch a mess of fish.  Just give me three fiddlers, some french fries and hushpuppies, and I'm in hog heaven!"


Suddenly, the tip of one of Sweeney's rods begins jerking.  The angler picks up the rod and waits.  Now his mood has changed from relaxed to ready.  He's like a cat about to pounce on a mouse.  "Gotta let'im take it," he coaches himself.  "Gotta let'im nibble 'til he pulls the rod down.  Go on, big boy, take it all..."


As though following Sweeney's command, the fish pulls the rod tip down with a decisive thump, and the angler quickly sets the hook.  Then a brief fight ensues, the fish wallowing in the current, then burrowing under the boat as Sweeney takes line.  However, the catfish's evasions are fruitless, and soon this squirming one-pounder is airlifted over the gunnels.  After a brief moment of admiration, the angler deposits the fish into a bucket holding two similar-sized members of its kind.  "Get the grease hot, mama!" he laughs.


Joe Sweeney has had plenty such chuckles on the Buffalo River over the years, because he's done this so many times before.  He's lived - and fished - here all his life.  When he was little, his father and grandfather taught him where to find smallmouth bass; how to gig for suckers, buffalo and carp; and how to catch catfish as a matter of routine.  "I used to specialize on fly fishing for smallmouth," Sweeney explains.  "But as I've gotten older, I've turned more to catfishing.  It doesn't take as much effort, and I can just about always count on getting a few."


And so can other southern fishermen who apply Sweeney's simple methods in creeks and rivers near their homes.  Channel, flathead and blue catfish abound in many of this region's small running waters, and they are vastly overlooked by anglers more attuned to big lakes and such "glory species" as bass and crappie.  Fishermen armed with minimal tackle, bait and knowledge can enjoy this almost-untapped resource with pleasing consistency.  The fish are abundant, and bites are frequent.  As Sweeney says, this truly is fishing like it should be.


Small Stream Catfishing:  An Overview


The Buffalo River in central Tennessee is typical of many streams in the mid-South:  Moderate in size, depth and current.  It meanders through quiet fields lined by rolling hardwood ridges.  The river course is a continuous series of shallow, swift riffles, deep pools below the riffles, then runs of medium depth and speed.  The Buffalo's water quality is good enough to support ample populations of smallmouth and rock bass, a variety of other sunfish, several species of rough fish, a hodgepodge of creek minnows, and catfish, which grow in surprising number and size.


"My biggest catfish from the Buffalo weighed 38 pounds, but I've hooked fish I know were bigger," Sweeney narrates.  "Also, I've heard stories about yellow cats (flatheads) up to 80 pounds.  Most of these bigger fish were taken on trotlines or limb lines.


"I catch mostly smaller fish -- 1/2-3 pounds.  There are a lot more of these, plus they're better to eat.  In fact, if I catch a catfish much bigger than this, I pitch him back in the river.  He won't be nearly as good as the little ones."


Biologists in state fisheries agencies confirm that underutilized catfish populations exist in smaller creeks and rivers from Virginia to Texas.  Catfish can live in any but cold streams at high elevations.  These fish are adaptable to a broad range of current and turbidity conditions, thus their abundance.  Also, they are extremely hardy, and they will eat virtually anything organic.   


Sweeney begins fishing for stream cats in late April, and action picks up as the weather warms.  "My favorite months are June, July and August," he notes.  "This is when the fish bite the best."


Though catfish are known as night feeders, Sweeney goes after them only during the daytime.  "I catch all I want in early morning and late afternoon," he continues. 

"However, when the sun starts shining in over the trees, the action slacks off.  I think the bright light drives the fish back under logs and into holes, and they quit feeding until the shadows reappear."


For this reason, Sweeney prefers an overcast sky to a clear one.  When clouds block the sunlight, catfish may feed right through the day.  "I especially like a still, humid morning following a night of lightning and thunder.  I don't know why such a morning is better, but it is."


A crucial element in Sweeney's stream-fishing pattern is location of the fish.  "Most people think catfish hang in deep, quiet holes.  This may be true of the bigger ones, but smaller cats feed in shallow, swift areas.  I'm talking about runs that are 2-3 feet deep and exposed to direct current.  Also, a spot is better if it has a clean gravel or clay bottom instead of a mud bottom.  Catfish hold around cover (logs, treetops, rocks, etc.) in these areas and move out into the current to find food.  In fact, they feed a lot like a bass."


Tackle, Rigging, Baits, Boat


Joe Sweeney's tackle for stream catfish is both elementary and inexpensive.  He uses two 6-foot medium action fiberglass casting rods fitted with spincast reels.  (He notes, "It's hard to beat the old Zebco 33 for what I do.")  He spools 8-12 lb. test line onto these reels.


To rig up, Sweeney ties on two hooks and a combination of sinkers matched to the depth and current.  "I prefer smaller hooks than most catfishermen do," he remarks.  "I use #4 Eagle Claw wire hooks.  I'll tie the first hook directly into my line with a granny knot some 18 inches above the end.  Then I'll tie on my second hook 8-10 inches below this.


To rig up, Sweeney ties on two hooks and a combination of sinkers matched to the depth and current.

"Last, I add my weights.  I'll run two or three egg sinkers up the line, then clamp a small split shot on the end to keep the egg sinkers from sliding off.  For fishing the Buffalo in the summer, I like about an ounce of lead.  This is plenty weight to hold the bait on bottom in swift current.  Fishermen on other streams may add more or less weight as differences in depth and current require."


Sweeney says catfishermen can bait with any of a range of cut-up fish pieces, crawfish tails, stink baits, worms, insects, etc.  However, he has narrowed his bait choice to three top performers:  Red worms, chicken livers and catalpa worms.


"I raise my own red worms; they're always good for catfish.  Fresh chicken liver is also a standard, and it's one of the cheapest baits you can use.  A box costs around 75 cents.  Chicken livers are messy to handle and hard to keep on the hook, but that blood and liver smell sure attract catfish.  When I use liver, I'll cut off a thumb-sized piece and run the hook through it two or three times."


However, Sweeney says his favorite bait for stream catfish is a live catalpa worm.  "I planted three catalpa trees in my yard in 1956 just so I'd have a supply of these worms.  I get two crops a year, one in June and the other in August.  When I notice the leaves starting to disappear off my trees, I can collect catalpa worms by the dozens.  They're big and tough, and they stay on the hook well.  Catfish absolutely love'em."


Sweeney routinely fishes different baits on his two rods to see if the catfish have a preference.  "One day they might want worms, the next day livers.  But they'll eat just about anything. 


"For instance, one of my neighbors lives on a bluff overlooking the Buffalo, and a couple of years back he cooked a country ham and trimmed off some fat and skin and threw it in the river.  The next morning I was fishing under the bluff, and I caught a cat that weighed about 3 pounds.  When I cleaned it, there was that ham fat and skin rolled up in a ball in its belly."


Sweeney's boat/motor combo is as simple as his taste in fishing.  He runs a 14-foot aluminum johnboat powered by a 15-horse outboard.  He outfits his boat with a bucket or cooler to hold his fish, seat cushions, paddle, and two anchors - one attached to the bow of the boat, the other to the stern.


Streamfishing Methods


Thus rigged, baited and boated, Joe Sweeney is ready to begin his quest.


"Again, most people fish the deep holes, but in summer I catch a lot more in the shallow, fast runs," he reiterates.  "I look for logs, rocks or undercut banks in direct, moderately strong current.  Then I anchor just upstream from this cover and cast downstream beside it.  When the weight hits bottom, I reel up slack line and set the rod in the boat with the tip sticking over the gunnels.  Then I just sit back and watch for a bite."


When fishing alone, Sweeney anchors only one end of his johnboat.  The other end swings downcurrent, and his lines extend beyond into his target area.  However, when accompanied by a partner, Sweeney anchors his boat across the current with anchors on the bow and stern, then both anglers fish the downcurrent side.


Sweeney likes to anchor approximately 20 yards upcurrent from his target area, and he casts as close to his target cover as possible.  Then, with his first rod propped up, he casts his second line a few feet out from the first, and he sets this rod up in a like manner.  Then the waiting game begins.


When a catfish starts nibbling, the line pulses, and the rod tip jumps.  Sweeney picks up the rod, slowly reels his line tight and waits until the fish takes a big bite.  When the rod tip dips convincingly, he sets back and plays the hooked fish to the boat.


In the course of a morning, Sweeney will fish several different spots.  "I don't stay at one place more than 15-20 minutes," he says.  "If catfish are there, they'll usually bite right away.  The normal routine is to catch two or three fish from a spot, then the bites quit coming.  So this is sort of a hit and run method.  I don't wait in one place for very long hoping to get a bite."


One nemesis to Sweeney's technique is hangups.  "It's very common to hang and break your rig off, but that's just a drawback that goes with the fun.  I keep the hook and sinker people in business," he notes.


Philosophy of Stream Catfishing


Joe Sweeney and his methods typify the casual approach that goes along with small streams, catfishing, and lazy summer mornings.  There is none of the hustle of the big lakes, no fast boats, crowded ramps, expensive gadgetry or sophisticated techniques.  Rather, this is old-fashioned fishing-for-dinner and a chance to shift into low gear......


"See how the current's eating this field away?" Sweeney observes at one particular turn where a high bank shows five feet of topsoil.  "The river's always changing.  There's something different every year, new trees in the water, old ones gone, a fresh cut, an island washed away."


In a way, the river resembles the lives of those who fish it.  They, too, are always changing.  "A lot of people just don't go fishing anymore," Sweeney muses.  "My grandsons used to go with me, but now they're into the two G's:  Girls and golf.  So mostly I fish alone, or sometimes I'll take a neighbor."  He threads a fresh worm on his hook.


"There are a lot of canoeists on the river in the summer, and sometimes all the boat traffic interferes with fishermen.  I usually fish early and late and leave the water to the paddlers during the mid-day hours.


"And while I'm talking about canoeists, I don't think some of them have as much respect for the river as they should.  They throw cans and Styrofoam cups and other trash in the water.  I hate that."  Sweeney casts his freshly baited rig downstream, waits for the weight to hit bottom, then sets his rod against the gunnels.


"I used to raise red worms to sell.  Whenever I'd be away from the house, I'd leave several boxes of worms out where people could find them, and they'd drop their money in a cigar box.  This business ran on the honor system, and I never knew it if anybody beat me out of a cent."


In a few minutes Sweeney gets a bite, and he quickly lands a channel catfish the size of a large corncob.  "Big enough to bite, big enough to keep," he judges, dropping the fish into the bucket. 


In the next hour, Sweeney talks about whatever enters his mind.  He explains how his father and grandfather built flat-bottomed boats out of poplar planks, then sunk them in the river so they would swell and seal.  He talks about old friends and favorite fishing spots.  He laments the fast pace of life and the fact that modern parents spend so little time with their children.  He says, "My motto is, 'Don't send'em.  Go with'em.'  In this age you've gotta spend time with kids to keep'em out of trouble."


That's the way it is with small rivers and catfishing; there's plenty time to think.  You can ponder whatever is important in your life.  You can remember yesterday, reflect on tomorrow, share an opinion or tell a tale. 


The only trouble is, all too often a sneaky fish will snatch your bait and steal you away from your meditations.  You have to stop and reel the vagrant in, but putting up with such a "nuisance" is a fair price to pay for the pleasures of this summer sport and setting.


Seasonal Sauger Strategies

By Don Wirth

By Jim Duckworth as told to Don Wirth
Jim Duckworth is a veteran multi-species fishing guide based in Lebanon, Tennessee. His broad experience as a professional diver for the Army Corps of Engineers and the U. S. Fish & Wildlife Service gives him a unique perspective on the haunts and habits of a variety of gamefish, including the elusive sauger. Reach him at (615) 444-2283, or visit his website, www.fishingtennessee.com. Don Wirth, Nashville, Tennessee, has been writing about fishing topics for 35 years. When he's not on the water, he plays bass (guitar, not fish) in a rock band.

Seasonal SaugerThe sauger is arguably our most misunderstood gamefish. Most fishermen know (a) it looks like a walleye, and (b) it tastes great, but historically, very little exploration has been done by anglers on new tactics for catching these fish. Even the most sophisticated anglers, including many NAFC members, view only the coldest periods prior to ice-over as sauger season.

Here's a news flash: sauger are highly catchable in large numbers over a surprisingly wide time line -- nearly five months of the year in the Southeast, where I fish for them!

Most anglers target only traditional sauger hotspots, especially the mouths of river tributaries and warm-water discharges, and tend to do very little exploration of new areas that may hold more and bigger fish. This typically results in large numbers of boats crowded together in confined areas, never a pleasant -- or productive -- angling scenario.

Even worse, most sauger fishermen employ a shockingly narrow range of methods to catch these fish. Vertical-fishing a heavy jig tipped with a small minnow is the preferred tactic of 99.9% of the sauger crowd in my area. Believe me, there are more ways to connect with these critters than by bumping lead on the bottom!

Sauger are mysterious and wonderful fish, deserving of a lot more attention from creative anglers. As your area fisheries cool down, try my three-phase approach. I'm positive it'll greatly extend your sauger season.


I start catching sauger fever in early November, much earlier than most anglers bother fishing for this species. Sauger begin to bunch up in large numbers when the temperature in our area rivers, including the Cumberland and Tennessee, drops below 60 degrees. Last November I got on sauger big-time in 58 degree water.

Sauger stack up directly below dams in late fall. This is perhaps the easiest time of year to locate these fish, yet it's amazing how few fishermen are onto this pattern. Once the temperature in the tailrace has hit 55 degrees, I seldom have to move more than a half-mile below the dam to get on quality fish.
Crankbaits Rule
Trolling crankbaits is by far the most productive way to catch sauger during the fall phase. I've had my best results trolling medium-sized bass crankbaits in fairly shallow water -- no deeper than 20 feet. Many of the tailraces I troll have a solid rock bottom with occasional humps and depressions. Invariably, tailrace sauger are dead on the bottom, not suspended in the water column. If your crankbait hammers bottom, your chances of scoring a sauger strike are high. If not, you'll probably haul water.

My favorite cranks for this application are Bandit Crankbaits in the 300 and 400 series. These are exceptionally well-made plugs that run true, have strong, sharp hooks and are an excellent value.  Whatever crankbait you select should run 9 to 12 feet deep on a long cast; slow-trolled on 35 yards of line (I use 14 pound abrasion-resistant mono), it should dive 14 to 16 feet. Whatever crankbait you use, make sure it matches the size and profile of the baitfish that tailrace sauger commonly feed upon.

Sauger are surprisingly finicky about crankbait color. On any given day, it's common for one color to outfish another 10 to 1! Change colors often -- sometimes they'll turn off a color after only one trolling pass. In my area, green/white and red/white are especially good in clear to moderately-stained water. On overcast days and in murky-to-muddy water, I'll often score higher on fire tiger, perch, chartreuse or hot orange. If the water is super-dark, I may switch to a bigger crankbait like the Bandit 600 to increase the visibility of my presentation; a big bait also stands a good chance of catching a trophy walleye. Again, this is what works for me; be sure to experiment with crankbait color and size on your area waters.

Your crankbaits must run straight or they'll not only miss your target, they'll foul your lines and create monumental tangles. Always test-troll your lure close to the boat to make sure it behaves properly before letting out a lot of line.
The Sauger Shuffle
I fish from a 21-foot aluminum boat which I built myself. It's powered by an Evinrude FICHT outboard, which trolls beautifully without loading up. A 4-stroke is a good alternative to a DFI engine for trolling.

I troll both upstream and downstream until I determine which direction produces the most fish. On some days it doesn't matter; on other days, sauger want the lure coming from only one direction. (Yeah, these dudes can be finicky!)

Doing the "sauger shuffle" will usually put you on fish in a hurry. Start on one side of the river with the nose of the boat pointing upstream, adjust the engine rpm to the current flow so the boat is barely moving ahead of the current, then head diagonally for the opposite bank, trolling crankbaits behind you. Then turn the nose of the boat downstream and reverse the procedure. When trolling with the current, it's possible to move too fast; I take my outboard out of gear frequently to slow down.

When flatline trolling, I usually run two rods, Berkley 6 1/2-foot medium-heavy-action baitcasters with Ambassadeur 5500Cs. Again, 14 pound low-diameter, abrasion-resistant mono is ideal. Heavier lines won't get your lure to the bottom, and you'll lose too many lures with lighter lines.

In snaggy rivers, either a lure retriever or a friend at the lure company is essential -- you can easily go through two dozen crankbaits a day if you aren't careful. If your graph reveals a big snag on the bottom, immediately stand up and stick the rod as high in the air as you can; this will help elevate your lure enough to clear the obstruction. Before trolling unfamiliar territory (or your usual spots when you first start sauger fishing in fall), make several initial passes with a stout baitcasting outfit spooled 25-pound line to snag and bust off branches and snatch tangles of fishing line. Then once you've cleaned out the area, start sauger trolling.

I keep my rods in a rod holder and troll with the rod tip horizontal to the water or pointed slightly downward rather than up for maximum depth potential. I'll remove the rod from its holder and point the tip skyward when trolling across a shallow bar or hump. Take special care to adjust the reels so the drag will slip some. In cold weather, the drag may lock up; if the lure hangs, the rod could break in the holder before the line parts. Try to maintain about seven pounds of drag pressure -- this will save your equipment, and enable you to fight a good fish in fast current without ripping its face off. When a sauger strikes while trolling, never rear back and jerk -- just reel down tight and maintain steady pressure as you work the fish to the boat.

When trolling rivers, I skip over areas with long stretches of constant depth and instead, hammer holes and high spots. You need a good depth finder to differentiate sauger from bottom trash (I like my Lowrance X75). I also look for big schools of baitfish, either on the bottom or suspended in areas of heavy flow; sauger will sit on the bottom and pick off injured minnows that drift down to them. Typically sauger stack up in large schools, which may shift upstream or downstream throughout the day. Current is always beneficial when trolling, but obviously a huge flow can make your presentation more difficult.

Many fishermen say sauger fishing is boring, but action can be fast and furious when trolling tailraces. Besides sauger, you may pick up walleye, bass, hybrids, drum and catfish. Last year I caught a 10 pound walleye, a 38-pound striper and a 25-pound paddlefish on sauger trolling trips.


As the water temp drops to around 48 degrees, typical of late December/early January in my area, sauger go much deeper, and vertical-jigging is more efficient than trolling.

The key to quality catches now is to fish in and adjacent to super-deep river holes -- 80 feet isn't too deep if it's available! (This is probably three times deeper than you've ever fished for sauger before.) Don't panic if you can't find 80-foot water; just target the deepest holes you can locate. On the Cumberland River just north of Nashville, big sauger often stack up 70-80 feet deep. On the Tennessee River below Pickwick Dam, you won't find anywhere near that depth of water; 30-foot holes are considered deep.

Sauger will be in these holes whenever fishing conditions get a little tough, such as on frigid bluebird days following a frontal passage, when the flow is super-heavy, or when the river jumps up overnight following a heavy rain. These fish can be in either a pre- or post-spawn mode, depending on how severe the winter has been. The spawning habits of sauger have always been a topic of considerable debate, but I'm convinced they'll spawn far earlier than many fishermen realize if the winter is mild and conditions are favorable. Last December we caught sauger from 60 feet of water with mature eggs squirting out of them.

Now is prime time for a huge sauger. I average a half-dozen over 5 pounds every year during this phase; a couple may top 6.
Jig Setup
I use locally-made jigs weighing 1 to 1-1/4 ounces. These have a light wire 2/0 or 3/0 hook, and a #5 treble hook as a stinger. Instead of connecting the stinger to the jig hook with monofiliment as most sauger fishermen do, I link two brass swivels together, attaching the lead swivel to the eye of the jig hook and the trailing swivel to the eye of the treble. This gives the presentation a little fish-attracting flash, and sauger can't bite through the swivels as they can mono. Eighty per cent of my fish are hooked on the stinger.

I tip my jigs with either live minnows or soft plastic baitfish imitators. The key to a bigger jig bite is to use bigger bait on your jigs. Instead of the 2-inch minnows most sauger fishermen rely on, I'll routinely use 3- to 5-inchers. Creek minnows are great; shad and shiners will work, too. Soft plastic jerk baits are surprisingly good substitutes for livebait -- my favorite is the Gene Larew Long John minnow.

The right rod is essential for super-deep jigging. I use a medium-heavy 6-foot spinning rod with a reel spooled with 20 to 30 pound Berkeley Fireline. Braided lines are excellent for this application; they have zero stretch, enabling you to feel a deep, lethargic fish bump your bait in heavy current. They're also far more resistant to twisting than mono lines -- even heavy jigs will spin like crazy in current. Attach the jig to the line with a snap; if you get hung up, this will open under pressure and help prevent littering our rivers with non-biodegradable braided line.
Vertical Approach
I don't anchor when jigging. Instead, I'll point the bow of my boat upstream and use my 24-volt trolling motor to hold my position while I saturate the bottom with repeated jig presentations. When I'm done working a small area, I'll back off the power so the boat slips downstream a ways, then power back up to hold the boat in place again. The key is to keep your line vertical in the water column. You never want your line to be more than 10 to 15 degrees off vertical when jigging; this will increase your odds of hanging up and decrease sensitivity to light bites.

Current flow is essential now. Put simply, if they're not running water at the dam, stay home -- your chances of success go way down. Last winter we had very little flow in our Middle Tennessee sauger rivers, so I took guide parties south to Pickwick Dam where there was more current. If you have a choice, go for the most flow.

After dropping the jig straight down, trip your reel the instant it hits bottom, lift the rod tip about 8 inches (less in frigid water), then lower the rod just ahead of the jig as it drops. Don't pop the jig -- you'll knock off your minnow. Dropping your rod tip quickly will cause your line to tangle in the jig -- all you want is the slightest bag in your line. Sometimes the bite will be surprisingly aggressive during this phase; sometimes it'll be mushy, like you've hooked a leaf. Sauger often suck in the jig as it's falling back to bottom and swim 4 or 5 feet with it; if you lose touch with the lure at any time, quickly reel up slack and set the hook.

The holes where I catch the most sauger now have a clean gravel bottom with a few big logs. I don't like a mud or boulder bottom. There are lots of sauger in snaggy holes, too, but they're too hard to fish -- you'll hang up constantly, and retying is a pain when you hands are stiff from the cold. Avoid jigging around trees that have recently drifted into a hole; key on older trees whose branches have been broken off by current over time.

Ledges adjacent to deep holes can hold a lot of fish -- sauger will slide on and off these during the day. Watch your graph and saturate each step of the ledge with your jigs. You'll feel the jig tap rock and then tumble down -- that's usually when a sauger whacks it.


When the water drops to around 46 degrees, I switch to an approach more often associated with bass than sauger: Carolina rigging. It's absolutely the best presentation for frigid water conditions.
The Carolina Crawl
Carolina-rigging for sauger is an anchoring approach. I again target the deepest river holes I can find, but will pay more attention to the upstream and downstream tapers of the hole than when vertical-jigging. Bluff holes are especially good now -- sauger will stage in these waiting for the water to warm up for spawning. The sweet spot is often where the hole starts tapering shallower on the downstream side. Concentrations of sauger will be on the bottom here, holding around chunk rock, wood or gravel.

Anchoring is essential for an effective Carolina presentation. Drop anchor a good distance ahead of the hole, then when the anchor bites, let out enough rope to allow you to reach the structure with a long cast. In heavy current, it may take an anchor weighing 30 pounds or more to grab bottom.

I use pretty much the same Carolina setup for sauger as I do for bass -- a 1/2 to 1 ounce egg or bullet sinker on 20 to 30 pound braided line, a brass swivel, and a leader of 17 pound mono. But my leader is much shorter for sauger than bass (often only 16 inches) 'cause I don't want my bait floating too high off the bottom. On the business end, I'll rig a creek minnow or a soft plastic baitfish like a Sassy Shad up to 5 inches long on a 1/0 to 3/0 hook. I'll fish this on a 6 1/2-foot medium-heavy baitcaster with a slow-retrieve reel.

Cast downstream into the hole -- the Carolina rig will lay out nicely in current. Then use the reel, not the rod, to slowly c-r-a-w-l the rig back upstream while keeping the rod rock-steady at 10 o'clock. Using the reel to move the rig will let you feel every pebble on the bottom, as well as the lightest bites. When you feel a fish, immediately set the hook.

Holes containing mussel beds are awesome sauger spots. Sauger are a primary carrier of the larvae of the washboard mussel; they attach to the fish like ticks and then drop off when they mature to around 6 weeks. Wherever they settle is where the mussel spends the rest of its life. As a diver, I've spent hundreds of hours doing mussel surveys, and have seen tons of sauger in areas thick with these mollusks.

Your bait must appear lively when Carolina rigging. I like a Sassy Shad over a plastic jerk bait for this application -- current activates the Shad's tail and makes the lure throb and wiggle. Likewise, a creek minnow is livelier in the coldest water than either a shad or a shiner.

The older I get, the less I enjoy suffering. I keep myself and my clients comfortable in bitterly cold weather with a propane heater. I lash a 20-pound bottle of propane with an infrared heating element to the side of my boat's rod locker with a heavy nylon strap; it puts out 12,000 btu's and runs for 30 hours. I also keep a complete change of clothes in a big plastic bag for emergencies, plus several pairs of gloves.


Hybrid Bass One-Two Punch

By Don Wirth

Some fishermen like the finesse approach -- you know, the "gentle art" of angling?

I'm not among them.

Finicky trout? Moody bass? Gimme a fish with attitude on the end of my line -- something like a big, fat hybrid striper.

Hybrid Bass

Contrary to popular belief, your bait doesn't need to be alive and kickin' to catch hybrids. These bruisers can be caught on the bottom with a variety of dead baits as well.

Hybrids, wipers, hybrid stripers, sunshine bass -- whatever you call 'em, these bad boys will put a serious bend in your rod. A laboratory cross between the landlocked striper and the white bass, they're the meanest, hardest-pullin' freshwater gamefish that swims.

By angling standards, hybrid fishing is a brand new sport. These fish are the result of fisheries management, not Mother Nature. Most states didn't even begin their hybrid stocking programs until the Seventies. Little wonder most anglers are just now beginning to figure out how to catch them.

The vast majority of hybrid fishermen use bait, but a growing number love to tempt 'em with artificials. But why be satisfied with just one approach? If you've fished for wipers with live bait in the past, what I'm about to tell you may shock you, and hopefully tempt you to try some revolutionary bait approaches. If you prefer artificials, you're about to learn some exciting topwater techniques that'll have your heart pounding and your adrenaline pumping.
Bottom-Fishing Bonanza
Popular bait techniques for hybrids are much like those used for reservoir stripers. The most common presentation involves slow-drifting live shad on weighted "down lines" for suspended fish. A good approach, true, but the catch rate falls off dramatically during frontal passages. Another popular method is to use a bow-mounted trolling motor to pull live baitfish on long lines behind the boat, alternately stopping and speeding up so the bait falls and rises enticingly -- not a bad way to catch a 'brid, but again, it's best in stable weather.

Here's a news flash: contrary to popular belief, your bait doesn't need to be alive and kickin' to catch hybrids -- or even on life support, for that matter! Like northern pike, these bruisers can be caught on the bottom with a variety of dead baits as well.

Expert Birmingham, Ala. angler Chris Stephenson was the first to clue me in on bottom-fishing for wipers. An avid hybrid and striper hunter with a degree in fisheries biology, Stephenson has three National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame catch-and-release hybrid line class world records to his credit, including a 31-incher from Pickwick Lake, Ala. on 14 lb. line.

Stephenson stumbled onto what has to be the strangest hybrid pattern of all one morning while drifting live shad for white bass in the swift Tennessee River current below Wilson Dam, Ala. "I noticed another fisherman's boat was anchored on a nearby hump, and every time I'd drift past him, he'd be fighting a big fish and cussing his brains out," Chris told North American Fisherman.  "I finally asked him what was up; he said he was catfishing on the bottom with chicken livers, but big hybrids kept taking his bait -- I saw him boat one that had to be 15 pounds."

Stephenson was back at the Wilson Dam launch ramp before daylight the following morning, but this time, he wasn't gunning for white bass. Motoring to a series of shallow humps washed by fast current, and armed with a box of hooks and sinkers, he dropped anchor and set out two lines baited with chicken livers. Within minutes he was fast into two big hybrids at the same time. "I went through a bucket of livers in less than an hour, and had to run to town and get more," he recalled. "I couldn't believe it -- the hybrids were eating it off the bottom like candy!"

Stephenson began experimenting with his bait menu. He tried beef liver, cut pieces of gizzard shad and skipjack herring, whole dead threadfin shad -- it seemed whatever offering he set out, hybrids gobbled it up eagerly. He caught wipers up to a whopping 17 pounds using dead bait on the bottom, as well as big stripers and chunky catfish.

Citing fisheries studies, Stephenson said, "Hybrids have a huge appetite for their size. When not busting shad on the surface or chasing suspended baitfish schools, they'll often roam close to bottom and gorge themselves on dead fish. This feeding behavior is especially prevalent below dams, where turbines act like a Cuisinart to slice and dice baitfish. Taking advantage of this little-known fact can greatly extend your angling opportunities when hybrids aren't feeding in the upper section of the water column, such as during temperature extremes and frontal passages."
Where to Bottom-Fish
"Most anglers think of bottom fishing as being best in deep holes and on dropoffs, but where current is present, hybrids are likely to be surprisingly shallow," Stephenson indicated. "In April and May, for example, I often find them in 10 feet of water. In slack-water lakes, or in tailraces when current is not present, they'll be deeper -- 15 to 25 feet is typical."
Here are some bottom-fishing hotspots Stephenson recommends: 

Big flats  -- "Think of bottom-feeding hybrids like grazing cattle -- they roam big, flat, obstruction-free expanses of bottom with little slope. In a river-run reservoir, look for flats in the 10- to 18-foot zone swept by moderate to strong current. In slack-water fisheries, look for big main-lake flats with 15 to 25 feet of water on their outer edges."

Submerged humps -- "The most productive humps are moderately shallow -- 10 to 12 feet on top is perfect. Look for humps close to a deep creek or river channel; these will pull in hybrids that were suspending in open water."

Slow-tapering points -- "Points are universally appealing to hybrids because wandering baitfish schools often gather there. The points most conducive to bottom-foraging are long, with an extremely slow taper into a deep channel. Flat points at the mouths of inflowing tributaries are especially productive."

Shell mounds -- "I became aware that hybrids forage on areas where shellfish congregate when commercial mussel divers told me of seeing huge concentrations of these fish. Shell mounds are common in river-run reservoirs."

Warm-water discharge areas -- "Excellent cold-water hybrid spots -- often you'll find 65-degree water directly below a 'stream plant' even when the rest of the lake is in the low 50's. The water here is like chowder -- there are zillions of baitfish, and hybrids can get a grand slam breakfast merely by swimming along bottom and sucking in dead shad. Good place to hang a giant striper, too."

Stephenson's bottom rig uses a #4 Gamakatsu Octopus hook at the business end -- perfect for baiting chicken livers, cut skipjack herring or whole dead threadfin shad. Bottom-Fishing Savvy
Stephenson highly recommends tackle with maximum shock absorption built in to handle scrappy hybrids. "Never use a stiff-action rod like a bass flipping stick!" he cautioned. "These fish pull so hard, with a stiff rod, they'll either break your line or straighten the hook when they make their famous powerhouse run. For bottom fishing, I like medium-action 7-foot baitcasting rods, coupled with wide-spool reels spooled with abrasion-resistant 14-pound mono. Don't use braided line; it lacks the stretch needed for these powerful fish. And although I may use lines up to 50 pounds for river stripers, I find my hybrid catch rate decreases when I use heavier line."

Stephenson's bottom rig is much like the bass angler's Carolina rig. He slides a 1 to 3 ounce egg sinker, depending on the amount of current, over his line, adds a plastic bead for knot protection, then ties a stout swivel to the tag end. He then attaches two feet of 14 pound mono to the opposite end of the swivel as a leader, and ties a stout live bait hook like a #4 Gamakatsu Octopus to the tag end.  After positioning his boat above the structure he wishes to fish and anchoring both ends, he baits up with chicken livers, cut pieces of skipjack herring or whole dead threadfin shad, and casts his offering onto the structure. "I try to engage the reel spool right before the bait hits the water, to prevent it from being swept too far off the structure as it's sinking," he added. "Once it's on bottom, I adjust the reel drag so it slips under pressure and place the rod in a holder. I don't like to use clicker reels with the spool open; these result in too many hybrids swallowing the hook before you can get the rod out of the holder."

As spring transitions into summer, bottom-fishing becomes more productive -- and tolerable -- at night. "It's just too darn hot where I live to anchor down on a hole on an August day, but it's very comfortable at night. Hybrids are more active after dark in hot weather anyway, and you're liable to hang into a big flathead catfish now as well."
Topwater Time
Ready to switch gears and for a bruiser 'brid on top? Veteran Goodlettsville, Tenn. angler Jack Christian's the man with the plan. "I've yet to meet a fishermen who didn't get a rush out of catching schooling hybrids on topwater lures," the former Priest Lake guide insisted. "These fish can feed so ferociously, it can be downright scary. I've seen acres of them boiling the surface to a froth, with shad jumping clear onto the bank trying to escape!"

Topwater action typically begins when the surface temp hits 70 degrees, usually late April or early May in Jack's region. "Hybrids often school by size, and usually the first fish to get 'in the jumps' are smaller, maybe up to 8 pounds," he noted. "The bigger fish are often on a later schedule; you'll start picking up the 10+ pounders a week or two after the smaller ones. The bigger fish are lazier. They instinctively know they can find more abundant forage when the water warms sufficiently for the lake's shad population to complete its spring spawning activity, gang up in massive schools and head out to the main lake. When the surface temp reaches 75 degrees, you'd better make sure the drag on your reel is loose, 'cause you're about to do battle with some major-league fish on the surface!" Jack should know -- he's caught hybrids pushing 18 pounds on surface plugs.
Hotspots for Surfacing Hybrids
Surface schooling is often a main-lake phenomenon, Christian emphasized. Wolfpacks of hybrids typically swim under big schools of shad, gradually pushing them toward the surface. Exactly where the feeding frenzy will take place can never be predicted with certainty, but Jack suggests that anglers position themselves near the following areas:

Points at the mouths of tributaries -- "Baitfish schools moving from their spawning grounds in tributaries will eventually gravitate to points at the mouths of creek arms, only to be ambushed by schools of hybrids. Watch for surfacing fish in open water between two opposing points, as well as over the points themselves."

Underwater roadbeds -- "These are major structures in many reservoirs. Hybrids suspend over them, and when a school of shad happens by, they'll force 'em to the surface and put on the feed bag. I like to fish roads because they receive less angling pressure, being less obvious than points."

Submerged humps -- "The best hybrid humps are close to the mouths of feeder creeks. Hybrids hold there when inactive, then force passing shad schools to the surface when feeding. I've seen 'em school on top of humps as shallow as 5 feet."

Smithwick Devil

Anything that pops, spits or sputters will do the trick with schooling hybrids. Smithwick's Devil's Horse is a long-time favorite prop bait among anglers.

Surface feeding can take place in early morning, late evening, or all day long, depending on weather and water conditions. "Generally on calm, sunny days, I do best with topwaters early and late, but on cloudy days with a light chop on the water, I've caught hybrids surfacing throughout the day," Christian said. "Often you'll spot breaking fish just by cruising the lake or watching for schools of birds circling above the water -- they're picking up the scraps from a recent hybrid feeding frenzy. If you don't see fish schooling on top, park around one of the structures mentioned above and hang out for awhile -- you usually won't have to wait long for the action to begin."
Topwater Tackle, Lures and Tactics
Christian favors long, shock-absorbing baitcasting rods for topwater fishing; like Chris Stephenson, he's respectful of this species' awesome pulling power. His favorite is a 7-foot fiberglass bass cranking stick; it enables him to make extra-long casts to reach surfacing fish and is very forgiving. He couples this with a slow-retrieve bass baitcasting reel (slow = more winching power) and 12 pound mono.

Jack uses a varied menu of surface offerings, most of which are bass lures: "Hybrids don't have a big mouth, so I avoid large striper plugs like Red Fins and stick to medium-sized bass topwater plugs instead." Poppers, stick baits and prop baits rule. Among his favorites: the Zara Spook, Pop-R, Rattlin' Chug Bug and Devil's Horse. "Hybrids aren't nearly as picky about what you throw at 'em as bass are. Anything that pops, spits or sputters should catch 'em."

Presentation is basic -- remember, surfacing hybrids are out for blood. "Cast a little beyond the fish, then start the retrieve. I like to keep the lure moving pretty aggressively, like a fleeing baitfish. The fish will tell you what to do -- if you aren't getting strikes, try speeding up, slowing down or using a stop-and-go retrieve. Keep your drag loose; it's not uncommon to have two hybrids strike a lure at once."

Christian always keeps a rod rigged with a 3/4-ounce metal jigging spoon handy when chasing after schooling wipers. "When they're surfacing out of topwater plug casting range, you can often reach 'em with a heavy spoon. Cast beyond surfacing fish and immediately start reeling quickly with the rod held high so the spoon skips and tumble over the surface. And once the feeding frenzy stops, let the spoon sink on a tight line -- often a big hybrid will nail it while it's fluttering down like a dying shad."


Mystifying Muskie

By James O. Fraioli


Minnesota's avid muskie hunters spend an average of 30 hours of angling time for each muskie caught.

There are few experiences in life that can rival having a big muskie engulf your lure. The slam on the other end of the line isn't for the faint of heart and the bigger the fish, the bigger the thrill. According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, tens of thousands of avid muskie hunters target the toothy predator every year and spend a statewide average of 30 hours of angling time for each muskie caught. It's no wonder they call muskie "the fish of 10,000 casts."

Aware that over two million Minnesotans fish (only Alaska has a higher angler participation rate) and Minnesota ranked as one of America's top four angling destinations -- due to the quality, abundance and variety of game fish -- I couldn't wait to visit Minnesota's Lake of the Woods.

Electing to fish the north end of the lake, known as the Northwest Angle & Islands, named for its triangular shape and from its position on the Canada-American border, I ask myself how many casts it will take me to land my first muskie?

From the Winnipeg International Airport, I embark on a two-hour drive along a pine-forest highway en route to Lake of the Woods. I have arranged a two-day muskie trip with the Angle Inn Lodge (800-879-4986/www.angleinnlodge.com), located on Oak Island, one of the 15,000 islands on the sprawling lake. Three miles long and one mile wide, Oak Island is home to only a dozen full-time residents.  

Driving through Canada and into Minnesota, I phone the Island Passenger Service that will transport me to Oak Island. During the wait, I take time to learn about the fascinating and historical region.

Muskie Cranks and Minnow Baits

Large wooden jerkbaits and inline spinners are probably the most commonly accepted approaches when fishing for muskie.

Except for Alaska, the Northwest Angle & Islands is the northernmost point of the United States. It is separated from the rest of Minnesota by Lake of the Woods. Surrounded by Canada on three sides, the history of why the Northwest Angle & Islands is part of Minnesota is quite interesting. The Angle was created because our founding fathers -- Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and John Jay -- had not drawn a correct boundary at the close of the Revolutionary War. In defining the boundary between American and British possession (to become Canada) the men relied on an inaccurate map which led to severe miscalculations. During the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1763, the mistakes went undetected and with the deal sealed, the Northwest Angle & Islands -- including one-third of Lake of the Woods -- became U.S. property by accident.

Stepping aboard the Island Passenger Service, the 15-minute boat ride along Lake of the Woods is dreamlike. American white pelicans and mallard ducks soar overhead while cozy cabins and magnificent waterfront homes keep an eye on me from the timber-laden overhangs. 70 miles long, 55 miles wide and 65,000 miles of shoreline, Lake of the Woods is a haven for an eclectic blend of wildlife such as timber wolf, moose, deer, black bear, bald eagles, a host of waterfowl and a variety of game fish, including walleye and muskie.

Passing an enormous custom-built houseboat, the skipper points out that local legend Ray Ostrum, who introduced Rapala fishing lures to the U.S., and who was inducted into the Minnesota Fishing Hall of Fame in 2000, is the proud owner of the lofty oddity. "Just don't ask him for a ride," adds the skipper. "Being so top-heavy and considered un-seaworthy, insurance companies refuse to insure it, making the $1.4 million creation permanently restricted to the dock."

Muskie Inline Spinner

Pulling large in-line spinners back to the boat, finished with a figure-eight pattern at boat side, accounts for a large percentage of muskies.

Cruising into a soothing cove, the secluded and rustic Angle Inn Lodge twinkles in the sun. Owners Tony Wandersee and Deb Kellerman greet me dockside and welcome me inside where I stow my gear, unwind with a cool beverage and talk about the illusive muskie, which has made more enemies than friends. Without question, the far tip of Minnesota offers a surprise and a treat to both the professional angler and the vacationing fisherman who ventures into this neck of the woods. Fed by Rainer River and draining into the Winnipeg River, Lake of the Woods is synonymous with innumerable islands depicted by pine trees rising out of the pre-Cambrian rock. The remnant of former glacial Lake Agassiz, Lake of the Woods with its irregular shoreline, breathtaking scenery and endless fishing, has lured visitors here for centuries, beginning as early as the Cherokee Indians.

"The Northwest Angle & Islands is out of touch with civilization," says Tony, who took over the Angle Inn Lodge in 1995. "Years ago, only boats and planes provided communication along the lake. Sometimes, planes would buzz the area and someone would scramble to turn on the radio for messages. It wasn't until 1987 that a 'modern' telephone unit was introduced." Seven years later, land-based telephone lines connected the Northwest Angle & Islands to the mainland and in 1998 the region received modern telephone technology -- Internet, faxes and cellular telephone systems -- connecting them to the rest of the world.

The next morning, after a long, uninterrupted sleep, I awake to the familiar calls of loons on the forested lake which has 317,000 pristine acres in Minnesota alone.


Structures that bode well for muskie include tall grasses and reeds that hug the shoreline, submerged boulders, rocky ledges and points.

Fueling myself with a hearty home-cooked breakfast, I saunter down to the dock to meet my guide for the next two days. Idling in the green-stained water is an 18-foot Tuffy -- Muskie Series -- equipped with a 150 hp Yamaha outboard. At the helm, 26 year-old Aaron Kleven steps out and tells me "a 38-inch muskie was caught right off this dock." The husky guide, fit as a fiddle, lashes the bow and stern lines to the galvanized cleats and gives me a welcoming smile. "What do you think about a walleye lunch today?" 

"Sounds wonderful," I reply, having never tried walleye.

Kleven, born and raised on Lake of the Woods, has been guiding since the remarkable age of 11.

After a brief stop to grab a bag of walleye minnows, we check in with Canadian Customs to report that we will be fishing in international waters, as many of Kleven's hotspots are on the Canadian side.

Throttling to the first of a dozen islands that we will fish, Kleven goes to work tying large bucktails and wooden jerk baits to wire leaders. Probably the most commonly accepted approaches when fishing for muskie are twitching minnow-type crankbaits and pulling large in-line spinners or bucktails back to the boat. Both work well, but so can a sputtering surface bait or the biggest crankbait or jerkbait in your box.


Northern pike and Muskie are often confused. Pike (pictured above) have light markings on a dark body. Muskies are light colored and generally have dark bars running up and down their elongated bodies. 

"Muskie are one of the largest and most elusive fish that swims," says Kleven as he lowers his Minn Kota electric motor for our stealthy arrival. "A muskie will eat fish and sometimes ducklings and even small muskrats. It waits in weed beds and then lunges forward, clamping its large, tooth-lined jaws onto the prey. The muskie then gulps down the stunned or dead victim head first." Kleven's dramatic dialogue sounds like something from the classic Jaws film, but I know he isn't pulling my leg. The trophy mounts adorning the wood grain walls inside the Angle Inn Lodge are proof that muskie are enormous, vicious, and will eat just about anything given their cavernous mouths.

Positioning the boat, Kleven suggests we cast along the bank where the giant predators should be lying in ambush waiting for unwary prey. Optimum structure that bodes well for muskie are tall grasses and reeds that hug the shoreline, submerged boulders, rocky ledges and points -- virtually anything that might give a muskie the hunting advantage.

On my third cast, the lake water explodes and my bait disappears beneath the spray. "Set the hook!" hollers Kleven. I slam the rod back and I can feel the fish below the surface, shaking its head. I've lost fish to this head shake before and let me tell you, it's a sickening feeling. "Set it again!" shouts Kleven, and so I do. That is enough to bring her in. Unfortunately, after an electrifying battle, she isn't a muskie but a northern pike -- close but no cigar.

Kleven quickly explains that the difference between the two fish is that muskies are light colored (silver to light green or brown) and generally have dark bars running up and down their elongated bodies. That is the opposite of northern pike, which have light markings on a dark body.

Releasing the pike, we continue to work the shorelines around the lake islands. "Fish of 10,000 casts," echoes in my head as I continue to launch my bucktail over and over until my arms beg for a rest. The rugged scenery is a pleasant distraction, and at one point during our marathon casting session we take a moment to watch a black bear cub swim from one island to another in search of new food.

Shore Lunch

A shore lunch of fresh walleye, baked beans and country potatoes can revitalize the arm of cast-weary muskie hunters.

Hungry ourselves, we retrieve our lines and re-rig for walleye. Unlike muskie, walleyes don't require nearly as much work. A fresh minnow hooked to a lead jig and dropped to the bottom is all that's required. Find a school, and you should find plenty of walleye to fill your cooler. Drifting off the bottom a few feet from a steep cliff, we boat a dozen walleye in the 1 to 2 pound range. Chunky perch, crappie, and smallmouth bass can also be taken in this fashion. Meeting up with Tony and Deb a short time later, we enjoy a scrumptious shore lunch.  

Filling ourselves with a bountiful spread of walleye, baked beans and country potatoes, we return to the lake to resume our casting. Fishing does pick up as we spot four different muskie, about 40-inches in size. Several of the fish follow our baits multiple times. We even have one, around 45-inches, trail our bait six times to the boat. But, alas, none of them will strike. Seeing a trophy muskie inches from your lure, let alone beside the boat, is a spellbinding image.

One trick Kleven implements if an engaged muskie won't take the bait, is to slowly lower the rod tip into the water and sweep the rod in a figure-8 pattern. This gives the lure an erratic motion and often a lethargic muskie will become engrossed by the irregular action, inducing a strike. Unfortunately, today isn't our day. A nearby angler, however, does find success in locating a hungry muskie that is finally ready to oblige. It is a beautiful fish, big, bright and bold. Asked how many casts the fisherman had to make before landing his trophy, the angler releases the fish, wipes his slimy hands on a towel, and says to me with an exasperating smile, "way too many."  

Indeed, muskie fishing is a patient sport where payoffs aren't handed out every day on the lake. But it is the possibility of one day landing that trophy that keeps serious muskie hunters coming back to Lake of the Woods year after year. The illusive muskie may have beaten me this time, but there's no question I will be back with Kleven to claim our vengeance.