Thursday, December 7, 2017

Guntersville Calling

When Jimmy Mason sends word that the bass are biting at Guntersville and suggests we get together to do some story and photo work, I don't need any convincing. Not long ago, Jimmy sent such a report, and plans are now set for us to fish together next Monday and Tuesday.

A 69,100-acre impoundment of the Tennessee River, Lake Guntersville is one of the nation's most renowned fishing destinations and somewhere most bass fishermen like to visit anytime they get the opportunity. Bluff lined and famous for expansive grass flats, Guntersville is a fish factory, and one of those places that holds and extra charm because as you fish there, you know that any bass that takes your lure could turn out to be a genuine giant.

Early winter tends to be a good time at Guntersville because the fish get congregated, and you can catch them quite a few different ways. I suspect we'll spend some time slinging YUMbrella Rigs, which means it's possible that I'll get to catch more than one bass in a cast, which is always fun. Jimmy also mentioned that the jerkbait bite has been good. By my way of thinking, few things in bass fishing that are more exciting than pausing a Rogue presentation and having a bass suddenly knock the slack from the line and nearly take away the rod.

The forecast calls for stable weather early next week, and we should be fishing just ahead of a winter system. There's not saying for certain what will really happen, but those definitely are promising conditions. I'll find out in a little less than 100 hours (not that I'm counting it down, or anything like that!)

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Daydreams about Ice Things

It happens every year. Usually about this time. Sometimes sooner. I see posts from friends about days spent on ice-covered lakes or read about ice fishing events, and my mind strays north. Way north. One minute I'm focused on a task at my computer, working from my home in Georgia. Then my mind strays to a small nameless lake in Northern Minnesota, a reservoir in the Black Hills or the edge of Presque Isle Bay in Pennsylvania, where I'm on bundled in winter gear, kneeling on ice, holding a tiny rod and starting intently at a my graph.

Soon I snap out of it and get back to whatever I had been doing, but it doesn't take much to send me back to wherever I just was or to jump to somewhere else. Sometimes I can look at a few of a buddy's posts or visit Jeff Sundin's fishing reports to do a bit of vicarious fishing and get it out of my system. At least that's what I tell myself. It probably actually makes things worse.

It really hit me this week when I realized the St. Paul Ice Fishing and Winter Sport Show is this weekend (starts tomorrow afternoon). It's a giant show that sort of kicks off the season (although folks way to the north and at high elevations in the West have been ice fishing for a couple of weeks now) and is show I've always wanted to attend. I'm hopeful that some year it will be a good fit for me.

The ice dreaming has been worse for the past couple of years because I haven't done any of the real stuff. I made a few multi-day trips north per winter for several years to fish, take photos and gather story material, but ice fishing hasn't fit with work needs for the past couple of winters. I've mostly gone south instead of north to fish during the winter, which most folks would say is the sensible thing to do anyway.

I enjoy ice fishing way to much for a guy who lives in Georgia. I even bought an auger, ice scoop and sled a couple of years ago, and I already had the clothes, rods, electronics and lure. So I could drive north and be self sufficient if need be. For the moment, I guess I'll just keep dreaming and hopefully will find good reason pack up the ice stuff and head toward ice country some time this winter!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Bread Balls & Bluegills

Crickets, wigglers and waxworms all have a place in the bluegill fishing world, as do popping bugs, nymphs and various micro-sized lures -- and I favor each of those offerings at certain times. However, when I just want to connect a child with a few quick bluegills, it's tough to top putting a little bitty ball of bread on the tip of a No. 8 or 10 hook and dangling it beneath a pencil-style float.

There's always at least one loaf of bread or package of buns at home, so there's no need to dig for worms or visit a bait shop. Plus, baiting a hook and fishing this rig are simple, so youngsters can do everything themselves and enjoy the rewards. Most importantly, bluegills can't resist bread.

My son Eli turned 9 last weekend, and around our house, birthdays and fishing often go together. I wasn't sure if the bluegills would still be shallow by the boardwalk at Tallulah Gorge State Park in November, but it's an easy access sort of place, and it's pretty close to home, and he wanted to do a bit of birthday fishing.

The bluegills weren't plentiful like they are from mid-spring through the end of summer.  However, a few were home, and the bread/bobber combination did its job. Eli also did his job, and he ended up catching a couple of very nice 'gills.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Kayak's First Rides

I can't imagine a finer place for any boat's inaugural ride than on the storied waters of the Santee Cooper lakes, and that's exactly where my new Old Town Vapor Angler 10 first found water. Trip logistics really only allowed my 13-year-old son Asher and I to do test rides during last week's trip to Black's Camp. However, we both spent enough time paddling and casting to get a solid feel for the ride, and we loaded and unloaded it a few different times and hauled it 250 miles each way, mostly at interstate speeds.

I gave the Vapor the first trial, going directly out of Blacks in backwaters along the edge of Lake Moultrie on the day we got to town while Asher fished from a boat we borrowed on site. That was a brief arrival day window, though, and our plan was to spend much more time doing similarly the final morning we were in town. Unfortunately, that morning a harsh wind swept directly into those backwaters, and we decided to steer toward home. We did opt to stop at Santee State Park, where Big Poplar Creek feeds Lake Marion, on the way home. The creek was protected from the wind, so we slipped the boat in the creek for Asher to give the kayak a brief try while I watched and took photos.

So far I'm delighted with this boat, and I suspect it will accompany me on a lot of my trips. I can load, unload and launch it alone easily enough, when needed, so it will open fishing access to many new areas, along with providing many new photo vantages.

Once Asher and I figured out the best set-up, the two of us could load the boat and strap it down for a secure ride in about five minutes. On the water. it glides nicely and is simple to control and quite stable and dry, despite its small size. The paddle rest works nicely putting the paddle right where it's needed, and the rod-holders get rods out of the way but in very easy reach.

Having given the new kayak a couple of very brief tests, I'm more eager than ever to get it out on a more significant fishing outing. Soon!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Sharing Santee Cooper Country

My first Santee Cooper Country adventure was nearly three decades ago with a college buddy, and I remember well my first Santee fish, a bass I caught from near the boat ramp at Santee State Park. That's another story for another time, but it was the start of a major fishing chapter, and one that thankfully continues to be written!

I wouldn't try to guess the number of days I've spent on Lake Marion and Moultrie, which together make up the 170,000-acre Santee Cooper system, but it has been a bunch. I've fished from swampy upper end of Lake Marion to the deep water near the spillway at Lake Moultrie and have spent days catching slab crappie from brushpiles, wrestling flatheads out of submerged timber, drifting for heavyweight blues, pulling bass from cypress knees, slip bobber fishing for giant bluegills and shellcrackers, chasing striper schools and more.

I've also gotten to share Santee Cooper's wonders with my son, Nathaniel (now 19) and a few other friends, and this week I get to do likewise with my 13-year-old son, Asher. We leave dark and early tomorrow for Black's Camp, which is the basecamp where I have spent the most time at Santee Cooper over the years and is one of my favorite destinations anywhere because of the fishing, the food, the fish camp atmosphere and especially the people.

The event officially starts tomorrow at dinnertime, but Asher and I will leave way early so we can have part of the day free to explore fabulous backwater areas in kayaks before kickoff. On Wednesday and Thursday we'll fish with guides, and both weather and the recent bite will dictate species targeted and approaches. I attended the same event a couple of years ago, and schooling stripers and blue catfish served up fabulous action. On Friday morning, we'll venture out in the kayaks one more time before starting toward home.

Of course, between time on the water, we'll enjoy great meals with many fishing industry friends and simply enjoy getting to spend time in Santee Cooper Country.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Week of Bass Fun

Last week's travels landed me in Fort Smith, Arkansas, which was the jumping off point for fishing trips to Arkansas' Lake Ouachita, an Oklahoma stretch of the Arkansas River and Lake Tenkiller. My company's office is also in Fort Smith, so I slipped in an office visit between fishing days.

At Ouachita we spent a bit of time crappie fishing because of some photos I'd hoped to get. The crappie bite wasn't really happening, though. So we mostly fished for bass, and that was fun. I hadn't done a lot of dedicated bass fishing for a while.

At Ouachita, the fish were looking up, so we caught quite a few spots and largemouths on Spooks and other surface lures. When they wouldn't come up, we went down after them with dropshots, C.C. Spoons and live crawfish, with the of those being a locally popular and extremely effective approach during the fall.

The Arkansas River fishing was all up tributaries and all about cranking. We tried a bit of spinnerbait fishing and a little topwater, but crankbaits were the ticket. Our top producer was a Bandit prototype that I can't show a photo of... Yet!

Tenkiller, which is deep, clear and rocky, offered a nice blend of topwater fishing and cranking opportunities with Bandits and Normans, with a nice mix of smallmouths adding to the fun. I had a big time for a while throwing a small BOOYAH Boss Pop, which is probably my single favorite topwater lure.

Next stop is Santee Cooper, where it'll be back to mixed-species fun!

Monday, November 6, 2017

New Travel Companion

If you happen to see me during upcoming fishing travels, chances are good that I'll be toting extra equipment. My new Old Town Vapor 10 Angler fishing kayak is apt to top my Outback during a lot of future adventures because it will open so many opportunities for fishing and photos.

Weighing in at less than 50 pounds, this boat is easy to tote, and I can comfortably load it solo atop my little wagon. It's also only 10 feet long, which makes it a nice fit on the car and will make it easy to maneuver in tight places.

The new boat will accompany me on the road officially for the first time next week, when I'm Santee Cooper bound to spend a couple of days at Black's Camp. Beyond exploring the margins of Lake Moultrie or Marion, I might spend a little time in the Congaree Swamp. Seeing it atop the car, though (I tied it up there just to see how it would ride) I might not be able to stand waiting till next week! I might have to slide it into some local waters this week. Either way, I'll report back on the inaugural run.