JP DeRose goes over the best rod-and-line combination for topwater lures
JP DeRose gives you the low-down on flipping jigs, and why they've been such a classic bass fishing bait for years
How To Spool Up A Spinning Reel
At this time of year, finding walleyes is usually the hardest part of catching them. But if you tailor your search methods to the water color and temperature, you’ll be on the biggest fish of the season in no time.
Spring can be the most rewarding time of year to fish for walleyes, but it’s also the most challenging. On the Great Lakes and across the Upper Midwest, for example, the two biggest problems are stained water from monstrous winds and icy water temperatures—a result of melting snow pouring into lakes from feeder rivers and streams.
Dirty water, typically a few degrees warmer than clean or off-color water, provides baitfish with warmth and visual cover from predatory fish. However, years of guiding experience has taught me that it is very difficult to catch any fish in what often amounts to a muddy mess. Inversely, the gin-clear water that takes on an almost Caribbean blue hue is nearly void of life, due in part to its cooler temperature.
Between the two is chalky water, which is off-color enough to hold a decent population of baitfish yet provides enough visibility to allow walleyes to feed. It’s the key to catching big fish in the springtime.
Chalky water can be hard to find since it doesn’t usually cover a large area, but it’s not as difficult as it used to be. Instead of driving around aimlessly in search of optimal water color, you can use new marine electronics to find critical clues such as temperature breaks. You can also use satellite images available on the internet to narrow down the hunt for the best places to fish (coast watch.glerl.noaa.gov/modis). The satellite images are especially useful given the speed with which water clarity changes—not only day to day, but hour to hour. It is not uncommon to make a trolling pass and then head back for another, only to find that the same area has changed to a completely different color, either cleaner or dirtier. Armed with this water-eliminating information, further pinpointing the fish-holding water becomes a simpler process.
Find the Spot On the Spot
Professional walleye angler Joe Okada of Fitchburg, Wis., has spent his adult life as a walleye guide and tournament angler, fishing more lakes in a year than most of us will fish in a lifetime. This experience has taught him some simple tricks for getting on big spring fish.
Weeds: Emergent weed growth indicates the first sign of new life in many lakes and a tip-off to nutrient-rich areas that attract and provide cover for baitfish. This is also a signal that the water temperature is optimum.
Major Points: Points hold fish virtually year-round, and can actually act as underwater barriers that keep cold water from rushing back into warmer, more sheltered bays. Hydraulically, they behave similarly to the way wing dams force warmer water toward main channels in rivers.
Discharges: Culverts, water discharges, or power plants can provide the warmest water on the lake. These easy-to-spot locations are a great place to fish, especially early in the spring, when general water temperatures are still very cool.
Water Clarity: Water that is extremely dirty makes for a small strike zone. Instead, look for that in-between water—the chalk.
Direction: The north to the northwest side of the lake will always warm fastest because this section has more direct sunlight. It will be several degrees warmer on average.
Wind: A constant flow of water can have a river-like effect on a small lake. It delivers plankton for baitfish to eat, which causes walleyes to follow. Wind-blown points and bays promote food delivery and also provide enough chop to cover your tracks and keep walleyes from spooking in shallow or clear water.
Abu Garcia Revo MGX
With a 7.1:1 retrieve, the MGX blisters baits back to the boat. Carbon composite materials abound, rendering this reel the lightest in the field at 5.4 ounces. The large, offset transmission hangs below the reel seat for a low-rider feel and easy palming. The one-piece magnesium frame is excellent and without torsional flex.
The EVA knobs and deflexed graphite handle provide a “just right” feel. Dual casting controls allow for fine-tuning the cast for bait weight, rod action, and wind conditions on the fly.
Abu Garcia Revo MGX Low Profile Baitcast Reel (12-Pound/115-Yard)
28 new from $263.94
THE NEXT GENERATION OF EXTREME LIGHTWEIGHT DESIGNThe next generation of the REVOlution continues with the Revo MGX. The combination of an enhanced compact design with our ground-breaking X-Mag™ alloy frame and C6 carbon sideplates produce the evolution of ultra-lightweight low profile reel technology.More than mere lightweight design, the Revo MGX features a unique Infinitely Variable Centrifugal Brake (IVCB-IV™) that sets the standard for cast control in all other reels. • 9 stainless steel HPCR bearings + 1 roller bearing provides increased corrosion protection• One piece X-Mag alloy frame provides a super light yet extremely strong frame • Infini II spool design for extended castability and extreme loads• C6 carbon sideplates provide significant weight reduction without sacrificing strength and durability• Carbon Matrix drag system provides smooth, consistent drag pressure across the entire drag range• Aircraft grade aluminum main gear provides weight reduction without sacrificing durability• IVCB-IV Infinitely variable centrifugal brake gives very precise brake adjusents allowing anglers to easily cast a wide variety of baits• Compact bent carbon handle provides a more ergonomic design that is extremely lightweight• Flat EVA knobs provide greater comfort and durability• Ti coated line guide reduces friction and improves durability• Recessed reel foot allows for a more ergonomic reel designIVCB-IV™ BRAKE SYSTEM: The IVCB-IV is externally adjustable so you can quickly fine tune on the water. CARBON FIBER HANDLE: Compact bent carbon handle provides a more ergonomic design that is extremely lightweight.EVA KNOBS: Flat EVA knobs provide greater comfort and durability.X-MAG™ FRAME: The lightweight material provides exceptional corrosion resistance and rigidity for excellent gear alignment.C6 SIDEPLATES: C6 carbon sideplates provide 54% in weight reduction over aluminum without sacrificing strength and durability.
- Abu Garcia Revo MGX Low Profile Baitcast Reel 12lb / 115yd
Quantum EXO PT EX100 SPT
Twelve bearings keep the lightweight EXO’s spool spinning smoothly and its handle cranking effortlessly. An incredible 17 pounds of drag is applied through a series of stainless-steel, carbon, and ceramic discs.
In an effort to keep weight down, the magnetic casting control was removed. While this may seem odd, the friction control is so good you won’t miss it. The single control greatly simplifies the reel’s operation, contributing to its best-of-test rating.
Zebco - Quantum EX100PPT Quantum EXO PT Reel B-Cast 11bb 5.3-1
Sale Price: $239.99
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2 new from $239.99
Ceramic drag system. Polymer-stainless hybrid PT bearings. Lightweight aluminum crank handle. Continuous Anti-Reverse. One-piece aluminum frame. MaxCast skeletal spool. Quick-release side cover. Adjustable centrifugal cast control. Size: 5.3:1.
- Ceramic drag system.
- Polymer-stainless hybrid PT bearings.
- Lightweight aluminum crank handle.
- Continuous Anti-Reverse.
- One-piece aluminum frame.
Sam Heaton, who has been around fishing all his life, spent 25 years as a crappie guide on Alabama’s famed Weiss Lake. In time, he moved along in his fishing career, and now he is one of the primary in-the-field men for MinnKota and Humminbird.
But Heaton still knows crappies, and he catches them across America like few others can. In fact, his instructional Crappie Fishing Techniques remains one of Bass Pro Shops’ best-selling DVDs of all time—more than 25 years after it was introduced.
Although spring is often heralded as the top time for catching spawning fish, Heaton believes that the true key to spring crappie success is understanding the subtle differences in spring spawning phases.
Water temperature sets up the drama. The optimal temperature for spawning varies according to lake size, depth, and water clarity, current (in a river), and other factors. But generally, crappies spawn when water temperature is between 57 and 65 degrees. Here are Heaton’s tips for catching crappies through all three spawning phases.
When fish are staging for the spawn, they’re often at river outlets, major creek mouths, points, or near big coves.
Cold water means that fish will be where the most oxygen is—usually suspended off structure drop-offs. In shallow southern waters, they may be down only 6 to 8 feet. In deeper northern reservoirs, they may be at 15 to 25 feet. Sonar is vital to locating suspended fish in order to present lures correctly.
Heaton long-line trolls for pre-spawn fish, using a wide spread consisting of multiple rods (check your state regulations) measuring 8, 10, and 14 feet to prevent line tangles. Employing 6-pound-test line, he rigs two jigs to each rod—a 1/16-ounce jig at the line end, and a 1/24-ounce jig 18 inches above the heavier lure. He prefers a wide variety of dark and brightly colored tube jigs while trolling to offer crappies variety.
Heaton slow-trolls with an electric motor, using just enough power to keep slack out of the lines, presenting jigs about 2 feet above the crappies he’s located on sonar. Trolling speed is important. He either increases or decreases the pace according to the air temperature. Speed must be increased as the sun warms the water in the afternoon and makes fish more active. This is especially true on off-color lakes, where suspended sediment particles absorb the sun’s rays, increasing water temperature faster than in clear lakes.
Visible cover, in water 3 to 7 feet deep, is a prime location for actively spawning fish. But there are some deep, clear mountain lakes that can have spawning crappies down to 12 to 14 feet. Thus, an angler has to know and understand the lake or river he’s fishing, and how crappies relate to structure and the kind of places they may head to spawn.
Some of the best spots include boat docks, brush piles, weed beds, and bridge pilings.
A few days of a mild warming weather trend are ideal, especially once pre-spawn fish have been holding on the spot. Such weather triggers crappies to move shallow to spawn near cover, where they can be worked over using a 10- or 12-foot rod.
When crappies are spawning in shallows, they’ll be very active and often break the surface with their tails, showing their location. It’s not a jump—just a fin flip at the surface. Watch for it when conditions are right.
With a long rod and the same type of tube jigs he uses for trolling in the pre-spawn, Heaton probes a wide range of shallow cover sites that hold active fish, while moving slowly along with his electric motor.
Once the spawning urge subsides, crappies will move to the first major structure drop-off. Some structure-holding crappies are in only 8 feet of water; other spots may have fish down to 25 feet. Crappies are hungry now and often are positioned near large shad schools, on which they feed. He employs both minnows and jigs, because minnows produce crappies when jigs won’t. But jigs can catch more crappies faster.
Big trout are not necessarily genetic mutants—they’re simply voracious feeders that are constantly on the prowl for an easy meal, which means some of the slabbiest salmonids of the year are highly catchable right now in the tailraces below dams.
Whereas most of the year big fish sulk in deep holes and feed mostly at night, in winter the baddest brownies and most reckless rainbows head to the churning waters of dam outflows. These behemoth trout—particularly browns and rainbows—abandon their usual cautious ways to get in on the food buffet and chow down on churned-up bait pieces spit out by dam turbines.
“It has been my experience that tailwater fish act much different from regular [river] fish,” says big-trout fanatic Kelly Galloup, author of Modern Streamers for Trophy Trout and owner of the Slide Inn on Montana’s Madison River. “First, you have the filter feeders that sit and eat Mysis shrimp all day. Then you have the fish that basically take up residence below the dams, becoming free-foraging meat-eaters. Here on the Madison in Montana, I have that situation. The fish are generally taken with bigger diving crankbaits and mostly at night. They seem to look primarily for really big food sources, such as chubs, crayfish, and medium (6- to 12-inch) trout. Targeting these fish can be difficult simply due to the volume of water that dams can put out. The unique situations are when you get a push of stunned fish. Obviously when that occurs, the forage base is right in your face, so you simply match the food with an appropriate-size fly or lure. I have seen where killed or stunned cisco and shad (not all the fish are killed; many are simply stunned and have trouble regaining equilibrium) can go for miles below the actual dam. In my experience, this is the ultimate in feeding frenzies for truly huge fish.”
Galloup’s obsession is hunting the biggest browns of the year. “I can’t explain the addiction. It’s primal. There’s something savage about the way big browns look—and it’s so rare to catch a 10-pound-plus brown. It’s special. It’s like trophy hunting.”
In expansive tailwaters, where the water is cold and usually holds lots of whole or chewed-up bait, try trolling. One of the top tailwaters in New England, for example, is the Connecticut River below Moore Dam, north of Littleton, N.H. Porker browns in the 10-pound-plus class—with the large spots and custard-color bellies—regularly come from this New Hamphire–Vermont border water. The Moore’s sister dam, the Comerford on the Connecticut River, is also a big-brown place of local lore. The Western tailwaters like the Madison, Yellowstone, and South Fork of the Snake, and the White River in Arkansas, where Dave Whitlock has perfected many of his big-brown fly patterns, are prime sites to find trophy brown banquets each winter.
The tailwater section of the White River runs more than 90 miles from Bull Shoals, thanks to a cold-water infusion, back into the White at the confluence with the Norfork River. This section is brown-trout central. Guide Donald Cranor, of Gassville, Ark. (firstname.lastname@example.org), looks for gravel-bed spawning areas (redds), and drifts egg patterns or salmon-egg sacs off the redds for 7- to 9-plus-pound browns.
“Another very effective method is to back-troll stickbaits like a Smithwick Rogue or Xcalibur XEE4 EEratic Shad. Just hold your boat in the current and cast downstream, letting the current do the work,” says Cranor. “If you don’t get a strike, let the boat drift back a few feet and try again. A 4 ½-inch bait darting around a spawning redd is enough to get the attention of big browns. Of course, this all depends on the amount of water that is in the river at the time. Your bait has to be close to the bottom for this to work.” That’s a good point—remember you’re fishing tailraces, so the water level will fluctuate due to dam releases.
Lake Ontario tributaries such as the Salmon River in mid-northern New York are revitalized for anglers with surging runs of steelhead and salmon each winter. But the big attraction these days are the truly outsize brown trout—the super-slobs—that follow the steelies and Pacific transplants, scarfing down the egg clusters of these spawning fish. Any brown approaching 10 pounds earns a slob nod. But consider that the New York State–record brown of 33 pounds 2 ounces came from Lake Ontario. Or that a former world-record brown of more than 41 pounds came from Michigan’s Manistee River. In the Great Lakes’ dam-area outflows, trolling deep-running crankbaits (that New York record took a Smithwick Rouge) is a primary method, and tailraces are a trophy-worthy place to center your efforts.
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources has introduced a new website to help anglers take the guesswork out of finding a place to go fishing.
The department has posted online guides to Georgia’s waterways that include weather forecasts and information on what fish species can be found in each of the state’s waterways. The guide also includes technique tips and a boat ramp locator.
The guide was produced by fisheries biologists in the department’s Wildlife Resources Division. Officials say they compiled the guide based on knowledge of past fishing trends, fishing experiences and consultations with anglers and marina owners.
Anglers must have a current Georgia fishing license to fish in public waters, and can buy one online to support fish restoration programs in the state.
2011 Freshwater Rod Of The Year
G Loomis GL2 Trout Jig Spinning Rod (6' Ultra Light / Fast) - GL2 720S TJR
Sale Price: $165.00
Eligible for free shipping!
4 new from $165.00
A soft-action spinning rod with a little more length when the streams allow more casting room and the fish have more space to play. The 6-foot length will extend your casting range a bit and provide very forgiving power when the trout are spooky, particular and stubborn.
- ROD TYPE: SpinningMANUFACTURER: G. loomisMADE IN: USAPOWER: Ultra-lightACTION: Fast
- lENGTH: 6'lINE WEIGHT: 1-4lURE WEIGHT: 1/32-1/8NUMBER OF PIECES: 1HANDlE: C
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