Why Fishing Rods Break

Anyone who spends a lot of time on the water is eventually going to utter words that we’ve heard many times over while working in the fishing industry.  “I don’t know what happened, the rod just broke while I was casting it like I’ve done a thousand times before.”  For the most part, people don’t really know what actually caused the break and are quite likely to want to put the blame on the manufacturer rather than just chalking it up to “Things happen.”  But let’s be honest here for a second, the rods are pretty well made and breakages are rarely due to a manufacturing defect or something the companies are responsible for, but rather we do it to ourselves most of the time.  I’ve broken three rods while fishing and every one was my fault, while at the same time I’ve seen numerous rods broken by customers while “demonstrating” a rods capabilities.  All of these were avoidable if we follow a few simple rules.

Rule #1.  Do not “demonstrate” how much a rod can flex by bending the tip over by hand.  Rods are only meant to bend in a curve determined by the placement of the rod guides and the tension of the line running through them (from the reel all the way to the tip of the rod).  Few rods on the market today can do the “Ugly Stik Bend.”

Rule #2.  Never high stick a fish.  This means don’t lift the rod tip too high when the fish is close at hand because it creates too sharp a bend in the top quarter of the rod.  Remember that power is generated through the butt section of the rod rather than the tip.

Rule #3.  Don’t assemble rods in rooms with ceiling fans.  Seems pretty self-explanatory but everyone does it at some point.  Eventually the fan is going to have your rod for lunch.

Rule #4.  Avoid hitting the rod tip with weighted objects during a casting stroke.  Clouser Minnows and the like will score and gouge the rod blank creating minute cuts in the material.  Eventually the rod will snap right at that score mark, kind of like cutting glass pipettes in high school chemistry class.

Rule #5.  Don’t swing fish into the boat or onto shore with a fly rod.  This type of rod was not designed nor intended to carry the free-hanging weight of a fish.  Try doing it too many times and you’re bound to have a snapped off tip.

Rule #6.  Set up your system to sacrifice a fly or lure before breaking the rod.  Leaders and tippets are there to protect your investment as well as provide an element of challenge so don’t set them up so strong that they won’t break when the need arises.

Rule #7.  Never set a rod on the ground or anyplace where it may be crushed.  I try to listen when my inner voice screams “That’s a bad idea!”

Rule #8.  Store conventional rods in a rack that adequately supports them, store fly rods in a rack or in tubes designed for the purpose.

Rule #9.  Avoid jamming the guides against hard objects because either an insert will pop out or the guide frame itself will break.

I could go on and on about a thousand and one ways that rods get broken but in the end they’re tools made of millions of graphite/glass fibers, stainless steel, aluminum, and cork; that are subjected to a great deal of stress and abuse.  And then we wonder why they break occasionally?  Use the rods for as intended and protect them while not in use and they’ll provide years and years of service.   They’re well-made but not indestructible.

Brian “Beastman”

White River Fly Shop

Outdoor World Orlando


Fishing Like A Grown Up


Your kids are beyond the Toy Story Fishing Pole, and you know you have a future tournament winner on your hands.  The question now is  where do you start?  You want the right pole, but they are not ready for a too advanced one.  The Ugly Stik GX2 Youth Spincast is a rod and reel combo.  Metal gears and already pre-spooled this is one reel combo you should look at.  The name Ugly Stick means it is rugged and tough.  Make of a fiberglass construction  means it will hold up.





















How about a new tackle box?  This box is easy to carry but more grown up.  The Plano "take me fishing" Tackle Box has 10 compartments,  and is a full size tackle box.  This Plano comes with a small assortment of starter tackle.  Perfect for the beginner and a great value.





















While you can use a life jacket one would use in a boat, perhaps your young one is ready for a Bass Pro Shop Mesh Fishing Vest.  Breathable and lightweight this vest comes with two roomy pockets and is USCG approved.  Perfect for their first fishing vest.







Now they are ready for a great day fishing.  What a perfect time to bond.


Robin Piedmonte - Events Coordinator



Ice Fishing 2013 - Rods

We continue to take a look at what's new in ice fishing this year. Our Bass Pro Shops Altoona Fishing Leads, both avid ice fishermen, say there are a number of new reels and combos in the store for the ice angler.

Jason Mitchell Meat Stick

Clam's Jason Mitchell Elite Series Meat Sticks - New in stock at our store, the Jason Mitchell Meat Stick is Jamie Renshaw's rod of choice.

"The sanded tip is soft, making it a very sensitive bite sensor. It bends right into the backbone."

Our other Fishing Lead Chris Grocholski says they are excellent for walleyes, too!

"They have a super sensitive tip, with an extra fast action, but also have a strong backbone to fight larger fish like walleyes or bass.  The rod comes in two models - a 24” great for fishing inside your shack or, my personal choice, the 28”, which I feel gives you better leverage when fighting fish." 

Also new to the mix are the Ugly Stik GX2 Ice Fishing Rods. The reliability of the #1 rod in the U.S. now comes made for ice fishing!  The graphite/fiberglass rod , features Ugly Tuff guides, a 1-piece stainless steel hood, and Ugly Stik's famous clear tip.

There are a number of new combos, too, including the Abu Garcia Veritas and the Ugly Stick GX2 Ice Fishing Combo.

“I really like the Frabill quick tip combos - with the combination of a sensitive rod and smooth reel they are a perfect match,”  says Grocholski.

Clam Lady Ice Buster

Ice fishing combos - Bass Pro Shops AltoonaLadies, listen up! More prevalent this year are the items to appeal to you! The Clam Lady Ice Buster Series Spinning Rod and Reel combos feature a pink rod and is pre-spooled with 4 lb. Ice Line. The lower-end Apache combo comes in a multitude of bright colors. 

For beginners, the Panfish Popper is a good starting combo. It comes with line on it, a couple of jigs, and a spin bobber. Renshaw still uses a couple of these, too.



Like us @  Bass Pro Shops Altoona or Tracker Marine Center
Tweet us @bassproaltoona
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Watch for our upcoming Ice Fishing Q and A on Facebook!


Fishing With Kids

The toddler days with pretend fishing sets are over and your child is ready for the next phase.  You can't wait to take him/her out for the first time.  Stop on over to Bass Pro Shops with your special little one and we will be happy to show you just what you need.

The 5 or 6 year old does not need much.  Try the Zebco SpongeBob Squarepants rod and reel combo or the Shakkespeare Disney Fairies lighted fish rod and reel kit.   Great to practice casting and to take that first lesson on the water.


Your child learned on a small kid pole.  Now that is too small for them, but they are not ready for the adult range yet.  Try the Ugly Stick Ultra Light rod and reel combo.  This reel is light and a few inches shorter so the jump to a adult pole is not overwhelming to them. Once your child is about 10 the Bass Pro Shops Stampede Spinning combo is great!


Just a few more things to think about.  Perhaps a small tackle box to start them out.  Our associates will be happy to show you where the bobbers, bait hooks, and weights are.  Why we even have the worms to go with you.  So stop on by to Bass Pro Shops and give us a chance to help you get out on the water with your kids.

Robin Piedmonte

Events Coordinator

 take me fishingplano







Packing up my Hunting Gear

Packing up for the Winter as told by JasperCB

"As we start seeing the warmer weather in the forecast and less chances of freezing temperatures to come, we are faced with the bitter-sweet realization that the deer season has actually, once again, come to an end.  This happens once a year, but I have yet been able to look forward to this time.  I know that as with most things, it all seems to work out in the long run - but as for Right now, the packing up part is not something that I can get used to. 

Last week, I decided to take a relaxing day off of work - and woke up to a "honey-do" list that my wife had left behind for me.  It is also around this time of the year that she plans something that she calls "Spring Cleaning"?  During this torturous time of said, Spring cleaning - my duties always seem to consist of moving her jackets to the top of the closet and pulling her warm weather clothes towards the bottom where they are more easily accessible to her.  I also get the directives to move my loyal hunting boots and waders from the doorway entrance in the garage; where I find them to be most convenient spot for a last minute hunting trip call.  The lovely wife also insists that I actually cram all of my Hunting Gear, including my RedHead Silent Hide 3 Part Camo Jacket and Bibs into a tote box that she pulled just for "my stuff".  With a big long sigh, I look around and grab my beloved Insulated Gloves, my RedHead Camo Skull cap that has kept my head warm for so many glorious hunts, and even my "Lucky" Lifetime All Purpose Socks that I swear, have actually assisted in luring the deer in my direction for several years.  I grab them all - along with some other great misc. "stuff" and gently place them into the "my stuff" tote and watch her scurry around the house dusting tables that aren't even dirty.  After I am almost certain that I have everything used for hunting gathered into the much too small tote, I grab the lid and proceed with the duties of making them go away for an entire year. 

I begin my journey into the attic where I plan to store "My Tote", I pause for a minute to watch her has she tugs on a window sill latch with the intent to "let the nice weather in" - I contemplate allowing her to use my WD-40 to make the job easier, but am reminded of all my hunting gear that i am holding, being banned to the attic and decide that I will keep the WD-40 secret to myself.  As my head pops through the attic floor, a huge smile is somehow formed on my face and Harps are heard in the background at the site that I see before me.   I spot the Stackable Wire Fishing Rod and Tackle Organizer that she banned to the attic last year - containing my Best Rods and Reels; My attention is drawn to the corner of the room where there, standing tall and proud is my Ugly Stick with my KVD Ultra High Speed Bait cast Reel that brought in my Biggest Bass to Date just last year.  I drift off for a moment and place myself back on the front of my Tracker Boat with all of this glorious gear surrounding me - Back in Summer Heaven.  I am reminded of the Great times to come on the water, and am now anxious to take my boat on its first of the year test run, the wind blowing my hair and my Costa Sunglasses reflecting the glare of the water.  Suddenly, I shutter myself back to reality for the moment and slide the ole hunting gear off to the side.  I take one more proud glance around at all of the shining Fishing Getaway stock pile that I have accumulated.  I take a big long deep breath and make my way back down the steps - now consciously trying to hide my new found excitement - as I go retrieve the WD-40 for the window sills. 



Bass Pro Shops' Spring Classic is Here

To say this is one of my favorite times of year, would be an understatement!  Bass Pro shops' Spring Classic starts this weekend.  All the Bass Pro stores including my home store here in Bolingbrook, Illinois will be loaded with sales and awesome seminars.  I am very excited this year because my new seminar, WEAPONS OF BASS DESTRUCTION is this weekend at the store.  Saturday February 25 and 26 at 12:00 noon  is the start time and if you have been to my seminars before, you ain't seen nothing yet!  if you have not, please plan on coming, I promise you will be informed as well as entertained!

You can also check out all the new Bass Pro items including new rods and reels like Johnny Morris signature series as well as one of the hottest rods on the market, the Abu Garcia Veritas.  Plenty of awesome fishing reels including my favorite, Doug hannon's waveSpin as well as some awesome baitcasting reels by Pflueger and  Abu Garcia.  From crank baits to swim baits and from plastic craws to lizards and every creature bait in between, bass Pro shops has more lures than you can shake an Ugly Stick at!

Check out all the new Tracker boats as well as Kayaks by Ascend and if that is not enough for you, the camping section is loaded up and wait till you see all the new clothing items from World Wide Sportsman.  After all of that, take the kids to the Islamorada Fish Company to see the salt water take and all the big tuna, marlin and sailfish mounts.  Its awesome!   Hope to see you at the Bolingbrook store this weekend.  remember that with Bass Pro Shops, your adventure starts here!


Winter Cod Fishing

By Joel Lucks

Winter Cod Fishing
Cod fishing around Long Island is the best it's been in years. Five to 7-pound codfish like those pictured above are not uncommon.

Throwing caution to the wind during the unpredictable winter weather that we get off Montauk, Long Island, combined with the impulsive nature that accompanies a bad case of cabin fever isn't always a good thing. Then there's the need to get up in the middle of the night to drive two hours to sail 25 miles out into the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, greeting 3 foot ocean swells in pitch black darkness, with the wind and cold to steal your energy -- this isn't the most appealing thing, either. Unless, of course, it all adds up to a winter cod fish trip!

With one of the best seasons in a while for cod fishing here on Long Island, I was given an opportunity -- a short one-day window of an opportunity -- between two storm fronts, to get on a charter out of Montauk. I might be crazy, but not stupid! I jumped at the opportunity and also at the opportunity to sail with one of the best charter boat captains out in Montauk, Capt. Mark, of the charter Captain Mark. Capt. Mark has been running charters out of Montauk since 1969. He knows all the best spots, has an uncanny sense of how and where the fish are, how they're moving, what they're feeding on, and how to fish for them. It's more experience, though, than an uncanny sense. But as long as the winter winds don't blow you sideways, Capt. Mark keeps his charter boat running all winter long. That's a claim not too many charter boat captains can make. But if you want great action, spiced up with a pinch of adventure, winter cod fishing in Montauk can't be beat!

Winter Cod Fishing
Jimmy Houston would be proud of "Minnesota" Mary. This cod was over 10 pounds!

The trip started for me at 2 in the morning. I didn't sleep much that night. When I know I'm going fishing or hunting in the morning, I get very little sleep the night before. Because I didn't stay out in Montauk overnight, and in order to catch a 5a.m. departure from the dock, I had to leave my house no later than 3 a.m. I live in western Suffolk County, not too far as the crow might fly to Montauk. But factor in the slow speed limits going through those sleepy villages and hamlets on the way out to Montauk, plus a stop for coffee or gasoline, and it takes close to 2 hours to get out there. Stop much longer and it would be easy to miss the boat. Not a chance I was going to do that.

I was the first to arrive, but the rest of the gang seemed to arrive right on my heels. And what a great group of people, too! The charter included Chef Nader and his wife, "Minnesota" Mary, owners of one of the finest Italian restaurants in Huntington Village, Long Island, the Bravo Nader, and their friends, Lucian and Geno. With Capt. Mark, his mate, Doug, and myself, we were seven people. Chef Nader is a robust fellow, a very cordial man and a lot of fun, and when all the gear was stowed away and our makeshift beds were set up to sleep on for our trip out, he announced that our lunch for the day would be wild rice, beans and goat! It was a fabulous dish and a nice change to all those ham and Swiss cheese sandwiches I'm accustomed to on these trips.

Winter Cod Fishing
Nadar shows how he does it! Another great cod caught that day.

With twin-screw diesels on the Captain Mark, and a top speed of roughly 18 knots, it took us two hours to get to our first drop of the morning in approximately 125 feet of water. Our first destination was 23 miles out into the Atlantic Ocean southeast of Block Island. Our fishing rigs included Shakespeare Ugly Sticks, medium action, in 6'6" and 7'2" lengths, with either Penn's Jig Master or Diawa's Sealine 350H reels, rigged with Fireline braid, between 25 and 50-pound test. Braid is preferred in these depths because mono stretches too much and you can't feel the strikes to set the hook. We also used 12 to 16 ounces of lead to hold the bottom better.

Capt. Mark's personal favorite rod for diamond jigging is the G. Loomis Bucara or Muskie models, at 7'2". And when jigging, he prefers the 8-ounce S & G chrome jig, used with 2 jelly worms in fluorescent orange, yellow or chartreuse, positioned 15 inches apart with 6-inch dropper loops with 60-pound test mono. The combination of fresh clams wrapped around our 4/0 and 6/0 Gamakatsu Octopus hooks, garnished with jelly worms to add some color, turned out to be deadly!

Winter Cod Fishing
Atlantic ling are a favored table fare. Some have said it's as soft as filet mignon if prepared correctly. This big 4-plus pounder is considered a large ling and will put a lot of meat on the table.

As soon we set up on our first drop, Nader got the first hit. As soon as he set the hook, rods started bending all around the boat. Capt. Mark got us right on that sweet spot. For what seemed like at least an hour, if not longer, cod after cod came over the rails, plus a variety of other winter species to include ling, saltwater perch (in the wrasse family and more commonly called cunners), ocean pout (in the eel family and sometimes confused with conger eels, and excellent eating), and some pesky spiny dog fish, what some local fishermen call sand sharks. Sand sharks are edible, but not a favored fish for the table. I also have to add that "Minnesota" Mary, Nader's wife, put us all to shame with the amount of fish she caught. She never missed a hit. Her touch was amazing despite her just having had shoulder surgery.

We moved around to some of Capt. Mark's favorite spots throughout the day and marked lots of fish. Sometimes the action was slow, but there was always action. And if we didn't have enough action in one spot, Capt. Mark pulled anchor and we moved on. Our final drop of the day put us on a really hot spot that Capt. Mark had to pry us away from. But a storm front had set up off in the horizon, the temperature dropped, the winds picked up, too, and we had at least a 2-hour sail before getting back to port. It was time to go home.

The 4 to 5-foot waves at that point didn't allow us much sleep on the way back. But we did feel that tremendous sense of accomplishment, adventure and good fortune from our harvest. With over 50 cod fish, averaging between 6 to 8 pounds, some in the teens, a load of ling, perch and ocean pout, as exhausted as we were, we were satisfied. We were lucky that day with the wind and rain. Unpredictable weather and winds do not always allow you to get out, especially during the winter, and not all trips end with nearly 100 fish and a couple hundred pounds of filets. But winter fishing is fun, full of adventure and should be tried at least once as it can satisfy that feeling of cabin fever every time.


For those in the New York area that want to rise to the challenge, give Capt. Mark Marose of Captain Mark Charters a call at 631-668-6773, or on his cell at 516-885-1932, to set up your next winter cod trip. And if you're ever visiting Long Island and can make it to the north shore Village of Huntington, make reservations at Bravo Nader, one of the finest Italian cuisines in the area. They're located at 9 Union Place, in Huntington, Long Island, and can be reached by calling 631-351-1200.

The services and establishments mentioned by the writer are based on the writer's personal experience alone. Bass Pro Shops is not affiliated with these establishments, nor can we recommend their services to our patrons.


Spring Stripers on Light Tackle

By Joel Lucks

Spring Striper
Suzanne Collins of Captain Kayak Rentals in Hampton Bay, Long Island, holds up an early spring striped bass, caught on light tackle.

Around this time of year, the buzz is all about spring striped bass fishing. Visit your local bait and tackle shop and the first question out of everyone's mouth is, "Any action on the beaches, yet?"

With ocean temperatures still in the high 40s, the beaches are where Long Island's spring stripers show up first. Flounder season, much like trout in freshwater, marks the opener for coastal marine fishing on Long Island. But the flounder season is short lived and simply helps people shake off their winter cabin fever before the best part of spring fishing starts. It's striped bass that everyone is really waiting for and size doesn't matter. People wait all winter long for bass, and those first fish bring the greatest thrills. On light 7.5 to 9-foot sticks, striped bass offer the greatest action and greatest fun. And nothing is more exciting than fishing for them with poppers or plastic baits!

Spring striper fishing is anticipated all winter long, so when the word gets around that they're here, fishermen are ready for them, even if the season's arrivals are small. Often referred to as "schoolie" bass, these young fish will range in size from 4 to 7 pounds -- sometimes bigger. But a good show of schoolies is a sign of good things to come.

Here on Long Island we actually have two fisheries hitting our waters: one from the north, in western Long Island Sound, and the other from our south, on our western south shore beaches starting in Far Rockaway and nearby points. From the north, we have the Hudson River striped bass fishery that hit our waters first. Little Neck and Manhasset Bays are the first stopover for stripers as they head east. From the south, the Chesapeake Bay fishery comes north and hits the western south shores of Long Island next. Then, in a burst of energy that every fisherman feels, the waters around Long Island start pulsating with stripers, bluefish, weakfish and other migratory fish.

Spring Striper
Guide Steve McDonald proves that many freshwater lures are attractive to saltwater species too. Steve used a Rattle Trap lure to land this schoolie bass in the backwaters of the Peconic Bay.

Like a fortune teller reading tea leaves, Long Island fishermen have their own tarot cards for reading each new season. Dead bunker, a major bait fishery here on Long Island, are the first signs that fish are in. Bunker first show up on the shorelines of our backwaters, small bays, and in our inlets where the water is warmer. Those big knife-like bites of flesh missing are telling you that bluefish are here! And right behind them will be the striped bass. 

Although it's hard to know in advance where striped bass will be from day to day, staying prepared with the right gear will keep you on the edge of your seat until your friend calls or the local tackle shop puts out the word that the fish are hitting the beaches in one location or another. Fish can be finicky this time of year, too, and they follow the bait from bay to bay. One day they'll be in one location, the next day someplace else, so you have to be prepared to follow them and anticipate their next stop.

For this kind of action, with these small fish, light tackle can make early spring fishing a blast. I recommend 7.5 to 9-foot rods. I personally favor medium action rods with lots of whip. Daiwa and Shakespeare Ugly sticks are all-around great beach rods, and, of course, there's G. Loomis and St. Croix for a few bucks more.

As far as baitcasting reels, you have a wide range of medium reels to choose from, to include Ocean Master, Daiwa and Quantum. On the spinning reel lineup, you have all the same manufacturers, plus Penn, and others, as well. If I'm fishing from a small boat, I like having both a baitcast and spinning setup.

With the exception of deepwater bottom fishing, poppers and plastics are definitely the ticket for exciting shallow-water fishing. At this time of the year, there are essentially two places where you want to be in the water column: either on top of the water, splashing your lure and making lots of noise, or on the bottom, bouncing lead heads with plastic baits. On top, you'll find your early season bluefish.

One of the most exciting experiences with early spring fishing is coming across a surface blitz, with fish splashing, chasing baits, and churning the surface water up. Just below the blitz, though, will be striped bass. And it's there, on the bottom, bouncing lead head jigs and using plastic baits, is where you'll catch most of your bass and early spring weakfish. Sometimes you'll find fish smack in the middle of the column, but not necessarily this early in the season and not often.

Suzanne Collins shows off another beautiful spring schoolie bass taken on a Rapala diver. Kayak fishing can't be surpassed in excitement and action.Tackle to Consider

Creek Chub poppers are my absolute favorite. They make lots of slurping sounds on the water, and if the fish are not already on the surface, these lures will really draw them to the top. Bluefish attack lures with such voracity that you can often see them coming right out of the water to hit your bait. For this kind of action, Rapala hard baits are fine, but not the deep-water divers. It's okay to be 2 to 3 feet below the surface, but not in the middle of the column. Cotton Cordells are another favorite of mine. Offshore Angler Laser Eyes are also very productive. Anything that's jointed, too, works well. Basically, any lure that imitates an injured baitfish will attract attention.

On the bottom, consider leadhead jigs with one of the many Berkley PowerBaits as a trailer; even Crappie Grub baits work, particularly in yellow. Bass Assassin plastics work very well, too. Consider also Mustad's e-Chip Hoochie skirt baits as a teaser when you're on the bottom. The e-Chip emits a sound wave that drives fish wild. And for all your baits, top or bottom, consider white, red and yellow for your colors.

As far as lines are concerned, I prefer braid for my baitcasting reels and fluorocarbon for my spinning reels.

There are many good rods, reels and baits to choose from. These types and styles happen to be my favorites and have yielded the best results for me. You may like them, too. Experimenting with different baits and rigs is also part of the hunt, so mix it up.


Wade Fishing Dauphin Island

By Bill Cooper

Dauphin Island
Speckled trout and flounder are the two prominent species an angler can expect to catch while wade fishing on Dauphin Island out of Mobile Bay, Alabama.

Dauphin Island lies 28 miles south of Mobile, Alabama. The 14-mile-long by 1-3/4-mile wide barrier island is three miles south of the mouth of Mobile Bay. The lovely island of sugar white beaches is reached by traveling over the three-mile high-rise bridge connecting the island to the mainland. Dauphin Island received its name from King Louis XIV's great grandson and heir.

The Gulf of Mexico is south of Dauphin Island and the Mississippi River Sound and Mobile Bay are to the north. The island's eastern end defines the mouth of Mobile Bay.

At the invitation of a friend who owns a summer home on Dauphin Island, I traveled south to enjoy the island's fantastic wade fishing.

The Gulf of Mexico stretched out to the horizon. I quick stepped down the last sand dune separating me from the salty waters of Mobile Bay. My partner and I waded right into the choppy waves crashing on the white, sandy shores.

My buddy carried a 5-1/2-foot baitcasting rod tipped with a Yo-Zuri stickbait. "I have caught speckled trout on this rig many times," he quipped as we strode into waist deep water.

I elected to use a 9-foot, 9-weight fly rod. My fly box contained an assortment of shrimp and minnow patterns, which I hoped would entice a few strikes.  I anxiously began casting. We only had three hours of daylight left.

My fishing partner quickly connected with his stickbait. He yelled like a tickled teenager and pouted like the same when the trout jumped and made its escape. I chuckled aloud.

My pal enjoyed steady hits. I struggled. Yet, I stuck with the enjoyable enterprise of the double haul, cast 40-feet and fast strip the fly back to me. At long last a fish struck. I missed.

My counterpart giggled again as he slid a beautifully colored 15-inch speckled trout to hand. A quick inspection of the fish revealed two dagger like fangs positioned in the fish's top lip. "Don't stick your fingers in the mouth of anything you catch down here," my pal instructed. "Everything has teeth!"

The bony upper palate of the speckled trout explained the difficulty we were experiencing getting fish hooked. A tiny circle hook may have been more effective. Circle hooks stick fish in the corner of the mouth as they turn to leave with a bait.

The evening sun blazed orange on the western horizon sky firing the horizon with pink, orange and various shades of red. The foreground of sand beaches and palm trees etched a perfect picture on our watery world.

Dauphin Island Trout
Speckled trout are a much sought after game fish in the gulf. They can be caught wade fishing around Dauphin Island on jerkbaits or shrimp imitating soft plastics.

My partner continued to hook and lose fish; he landed one more beauty before darkness settled around us. I did not bring one fish to hand, but vowed to do some serious research before returning to the water.

Early the next day I visited with CJ at Southern Bama Bait & Tackle in Mobile. CJ suggested that I try a 3-inch rootbeer colored plastic minnow. That ugly bait would have been my last choice of lures that hung on the tackle store racks.

The following afternoon we returned to the beach for more fishing. I impaled one of the rootbeer baits on a 1/16-ounce jighead. It took me three false casts to get the heavy lure 40-feet out. I allowed the bait to settle to the bottom and then began a strip and pause routine which brought the lure 18-inches up from the bottom. The pause in my retrieve allowed the lure to flutter to the bottom

Upon completing my third cast of the day, I executed my first strip. As the bait drifted to the bottom, my first trout of the day clobbered the bait, almost jerking the rod from my hands. I set the hook hard and yelled in jubilation at my first hook up. My celebration lasted a brief three seconds when the hard mouthed trout spit the bait and fired it back at me.

Two casts later I felt another solid thump. I leaned on the heavy rod, "Yeah-haw, I got one," I yelled. The fish felt powerful at the end of my fly line. I reveled in the moment as I put my first speck on the stringer.

I paused to stare across the vastness of the water in front of me before making my next cast. The watery world of the Gulf of Mexico stood radically different from the hardwood forests of my Missouri home. I love the closeness of the wooded hills. The Gulf appeared so eternally open, so threatening, yet so peaceful. I was content to be there.

My ugly, rootbeer bait settled towards the bottom after a short strip. The fly line burned through my fingers. "Fish on," I yelled with jubilation. 'Fish off!" I muttered as the hefty trout made its escape.

Less than a minute later, my line zinged through the water again. I consciously set the hook harder. The fish felt larger than the last one as it quartered through the eater away from me. Visions of a fat, four pound trout diminished when I spotted the creamy-white, flat underside of a flounder -- my first.

My fishing partner held his own as he caught and released trout after trout, all of which he caught on a dark, straight worm. I would have loaned him some of my rootbeer baits, but I had brought only one, and he wasn't getting it -- buddy or not.

My rod arched again. A minute later I raised my rod to slide my third flounder to hand, only to see it flip my only rootbeer bait out of reach. I tried others, but to no avail. At long last, my buddy found one rootbeer bait and brought it over to me. Man, did I feel like a heel.

Immediately I began catching fish again, thanks to my buddy and that ugly rootbeer minnow imitator.

Sunsets are dramatic at Dauphin Island. And so are the endings of fishing trips. My fishing pal had forgotten his stringer. "Too bad, buddy," I yelled.  "Naw," he replied. "Remember the bear hunting story you told me about wearing tennis shoes so you could out run your buddy. Well, there are sharks in these waters and I don't like a stringer of fish hanging around MY waist!"

For more information about fishing and other activities on Dauphin Island go to: www.dauphinislandcoc.com.

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Heavy-Metal Jigs

By Capt. Joe Richard

Heavy Metal Jig Amberjack
A long, silver jig with a single assist hook caught this amberjack. Notice how well this fish is hooked.

Many offshore anglers are heavy metal fans, whether they realize it or not. Not your typical fans of the musical variety. No, these are somewhat more normal people, whose tackle boxes carry sticks of lead or perhaps tungsten, dressed up in glitter and flash, designed to imitate baitfish as they plunge into the depths. Drop that metal deep, do the old crank-and-yank (some call it "ripping") and watch what happens.

It's vigorous work, which is why there's specialized tackle built for this very tactic, and it's a treat to watch those hefty amberjack, grouper, snapper, wahoo and tuna latch onto solid, metal baits. When they do, look out! Keep a smooth drag on that reel, and an experienced gaff man at your elbow, because you'll need him.
This newest chapter in jigging carries several names -- "butterfly," "freestyle" and "heavy metal" jigging -- and actually isn't that new, originating in other parts of the world. Now, however, we suddenly have many new fans probing the depths off the southeastern U.S. and the Gulf of Mexico. 
Heavy-metal jigs are basically sticks of lead dressed in shiny attire, designed to flutter and wiggle through the depths. Lead stick lures have been around for many years, but lately they've gained great eye appeal by several companies. Eye appeal to fishermen translates into more jigs on the water and more success stories. Let's face it: Fish will hit an ugly home-made jig, often repeatedly, but marketability gets more jigs offshore in eager hands.
The first examples of lead jig sticks I ever encountered were back in 1990 while living on the Texas coast. I'd been jigging for a long time, but these were oddities -- home-made metal jigs made by a neighbor just relocated from the Pacific Northwest. They were dull, 10-inch, gray sticks of lead that were uglier than a hat-full of catfish heads. After pouring the lead, he hadn't sealed them from the air, and since lead rapidly oxidizes, they had zero eye appeal. Brand new lead is shiny as mercury but left to sit up, rapidly fades.

Heavy Metal Jigs
An assortment of metal jigs. The simple treble hook jig at top caught a nice almaco jack.

Such lead sticks were meant to fight tremendous current and tides in the Pacific, easily 20 feet and more, like we never have on the Texas coast. I couldn't see a use for them. Not in less than a hundred feet of water with gentle Gulf currents.
That was yesterday, and times have changed. Anglers fish farther and deeper, pushing new frontiers -- plumbing the depths down to 800 feet or more where the big ones bite. To reach these depths, you need specialized gear for jigging, beginning with that shiny stick of lead attached to a few feet of flurocarbon leader. Add powerful but light rods with high-ratio reels filled with thin braid line (which we didn't have back then) that cuts through water with minimal drag.    
Anglers are left with a variety of methods for attaching hooks to these new metal jigs, which are mostly rear-weighted. These aren't your simple treble-hook rigs meant to stay in one spot. No, these "assist hooks" are single, wide-gap hooks mounted on four-inch tethers made of Dacron, Kevlar or Technora fiber cord. That's a lot of play with a single hook, but once a fish grabs on, the hook digs deep. The metal lure hangs off to the side, out of the way, often avoiding a scratch during the fight. These single hooks are quickly re-rigged to ride on top, at the rear or occasionally amidships on the jigs.  
These rigs work, too. Anglers have been dragging up snowy grouper from 800 feet down, jigging away like they're in only 50 feet. That's pretty amazing, but refinements in all aspects of this tackle make it doable. Of course, you've got to jig with authority, set the hook, and crank up the fish, and that requires energy. Pulling a fish up from such depths sounds difficult, but they do become buoyant as they rise. After all, the gas inside a fish doubles every 33 feet as it ascends to the surface. 

Heavy-Metal Jigging
Jigging aboard party boat caught this amberjack.

After running around offshore for 30 years, I don't have quite the energy of these younger guys, who can jig with gusto for hours on end. (Been there, done that on many trips). So, this heavy-metal jigging seems a little demanding for older anglers. I did try it aboard a Florida party boat last year, after watching the deckhand, a young fellow with boundless energy, repeatedly sweeping the rod tip up and down at least eight feet, while hooking sizeable amberjacks for the boat's customers. He would hand the bent rod off and find another client who needed a hookup. Lots of motion with the jig is required; many anglers don't realize that a slow-moving jig just won't draw the strikes that an erratic, fast-mover does. Offshore fish are quick, and I tell people on board these fish can read the label on a slow-moving jig, while declining to grab it.
Anyway, I tried the metal jigging trick while aboard the party boat. Using my older 4/0 reel with 50-pound mono line, and a six-foot grouper rod, I tried it for a little while and caught a 15-pound almaco jack, which is a tastier cousin of the amberjack. My fish was caught using a metal jig with a treble hook (the broad white jig pictured in the collection of metal on my red bait-cutting board). That fish put up a good fight, hooked 180 feet below the boat. We later had a nice little fish fry on the back porch, serving up white fish fingers coated with yellow corn meal, a real treat.
On the party boat, others were dragging up the standard 30- and 40-pound amberjacks commonly caught off the deeper wrecks found in the Gulf off Florida. Many of these fish hit the deck, and our crew soon limited out. It was so much more efficient than lowering live baits far to the bottom and waiting for a bite.
These same metal baits will draw hits from tuna and wahoo, but you have to work them with energy. Last week I fished oil rigs off Louisiana that were 180 miles offshore in waters deeper than a mile. Yellowfin tuna blasted the surface around the rigs at night, and I wished mightily for a handful of metal jigs. I was unable to jump on the boat with my own tackle, and so we were stuck with using conventional heavy trolling outfits. We still managed 12 tuna on the heavy gear by slow-trolling, but a couple of jiggers on the back deck could have way-laid the tuna on lighter gear. We'd have had a merry time with that. The tuna were chasing small squid and flying fish that night, anything small, and they would have crushed those jigs -- or tried to.  

If you travel and visit these offshore spots with your own tackle, check out the lineup of freestyle jigging gear now available for heavy-metal fans. Just be sure to wrap your lead stick jigs tight against the rod when moving. After all, you don't want that metal slapping around and breaking something when the boat is rocking and rolling!  

View all Heavy Metal Jigs.

Joe Richard is a writer and photographer from Gainesville, Florida, who owns Seafavorites.com, a stock photo website of outdoor photography.