Saturday, April 21, 2018

Favorite Fishing Destinations Countdown: No. 8 - Upper Mississippi River, Minnesota

Thank you to Darl Black for use of his photos, including this one of Steve Dezurik and me looking mighty goofy in our matching shirts and hats but displaying the kind of smallmouths that make certain stretches of the Mississippi River so fun to fish, plus the close-up of a another Mississippi River smallie that is inserted below.
I can't think of another fishery that flies under the radar quite like the Mississippi River upstream of Minneapolis for smallmouth bass. Based both on my experience and all I've ever heard from others who have visited my favorite sections, the fishing is simply exceptional. I believe the main reason it gets minimal acclaim is its location. Minnesota is the Land of 10,000 Lakes, after all, and anglers there have a "lakes" mentality. So many lakes in all parts of the state offer great fishing, often with fishing resorts on their banks, that the rivers get overlooked. Closely related, Minnesota is walleye country, and many anglers there simply don't care about smallmouth bass.

I've always likened the character of the fishing to what you can experience on a large Appalachian or Ozarks stream at its absolute best, except instead of catching smallmouths that average 3/4 pound, you catch fish that are mostly between 2 and 4 pounds, and any given fish that bites could be an absolute trophy. We didn't have means to weigh my biggest from the river, but I've caught a lot of big Great Lakes smallmouths, and I'm certain a giant that I caught on a Zell Pop in the Brainerd section about 10 years ago was very close to 6 pounds.

Beyond producing fast numbers, the stretches of the Upper Mississippi that I like best offer a style of fishing that I think is really fun. It's classic river fishing -- staying on the move and targeting eddies, current run-outs, ambush points behind rocks, etc. The fish are mostly shallow and in predictable river spots, and if you pay attention you can really pattern them. They'll also crush topwater during the summer. During one three day-trip, I kept a popper on one rod and a shallow dropshot on the other the entire time and never considered trying anything else.

The Mississippi River has many great smallmouth fishing sections, including a few above dams that can be fished effectively from a bass boat. However, the specific sections that I'm mostly talking about are the Monticello/Elk River section, which I'm guessing is about 30 miles upstream of Minneapolis, and the Brainerd section, quite a bit farther up the river. Both of these sections have to be floated, fished from a jetboat or waded in select spots because of plentiful shoal habitat.

I'm not sure when I'll have opportunity to return to the Upper Mississippi, but I'm constantly looking forward to that next time!

Monday, April 16, 2018

Favorite Fishing Destinations Countdown: No. 9 - Lake Ouachita, Arkansas

Largemouths, spotted bass, stripers, walleyes, crappie, bluegill... Lake Ouachita serves up excellent opportunities for catching a bunch of different kinds of fish, and over the past 20-plus years, I've gotten to enjoy many of Ouachita's bounties. Beyond offering excellent fishing, Ouachita is a beautiful lake, bounded by the Ouachita mountains and with clear water and mostly undeveloped, forested shores.

I've spent dozens of days on Ouachita and had fun doing everything from walking Spooks for largemouths, spots and stripers to jig-fishing for mixed catches of big bluegills and crappie. Arguably my single favorite day on Ouachita, though, was with Gary Roach of Minnesota, better known as Mr. Walleye, and Chris Gulstad. We were officially targeting walleyes, using light spinning tackle and jigs tipped with minnows, but instead found crazily good action from stripers up to about 15 pounds. More than once that day, we were tripled up with 8- or 10-pound stripers on our light tackle. Somehow we landed most fish that day. By day's we were happily exhausted.

Similar to what I mentioned about the Tennessee River, Lake Ouachita has been the site for quite a few media events over the years, which explains why I've spent far more time on a lake that's a dozen hours from home than on lakes Hartwell and Lanier combined (each about a half hour from me at the nearest point.) I've established many friendships on this lake and have spent countless enjoyable hours on the water, around a dinner table and in cabins with friends at Ouachita events.

And while it's not technically part of the lake, a bonus to Lake Ouachita is its convenience to the Ouachita River just upstream of the lake. The river, which is ideally suited for floating in a canoe or kayak or to wade-fishing, offers outstanding opportunities for smallmouths and mixed panfish, so I sometimes slip up to the river for some bonus moving water fun when I visit Lake Ouachita.

Good lodging options for Lake Ouachita include Shangri-La Resort and Mountain Harbor Resort & Spa. For guided fishing, contact Jason Lenderman, Hugh Albright or Ty Whisenhunt (870-490-1399)

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Favorite Fishing Destinations Countdown: No. 10 - Tennessee River, Alabama

Jimmy Mason with a couple of Guntersville chunks during my most recent Tennessee River outing.

I'm not going to narrow it that much, though, because that would exclude some crazily good bass action on Guntersville, watching Nathaniel wrestle a 60-pound blue catfish from Wheeler when he was about 12, hammering schooling bass on Wilson, side-pulling for Pickwick crappie and much more. I've simply had too many great experiences on all four of these impoundments to not include the entire Alabama run of the river on my favorites list.

I suppose I might be cheating a bit with this one. The Tennessee River is a vast and diverse fishery that truly encompasses many destinations. I am at least narrowing it to the Alabama impoundments. That says nothing against classic waters like Kentucky Lake or Chickamauga, which are themselves among the nation's elite fishing destinations. I just have far more time logged on Guntersville, Wheeler, Wilson and Pickwick, and that time includes dozens of legitimately outstanding fishing days.

Pressed to pick an actual top spot, it would have to be the tailwater of either Wheeler or Wilson Dam. I love the diversity and dynamic nature of the waters below the big dams, and I can quickly think of at least 10 species I've caught below both dams. Catches in those tailwaters have included 5-pound-plus smallies, double-digit hybrids, jumbo blue cats and stripers (salts, as they call them locally) up to 20 pounds.

Big-fish potential is certainly part of the Tennessee River's draw. When I'm throwing a swimbait for smallmouths in one of the tailwaters, I have an ongoing awareness the next fish to hit legitimately could be the smallmouth of a lifetime, and any bass that hits on Guntersville could turn out to be a 10-pounder. Of course, the same idea applies anytime catfish baits are down on any of these lakes.

My fondness for the Tennessee River begins with the fishing itself, but it certainly doesn't end there. I've also gotten to spend many days in the boat with great anglers like Jimmy Mason, Tim Horton, Brad Whitehead and Jerry Crook and have first met many longtime friends at media events held on these lakes. I also love the settings, from Guntersville's grass flats to Pickwick's bluffs to the tailwaters themselves, which are always alive with diving birds and baitfish busting on top.

Another excellent thing about the Tennessee river, from my standpoint, is that its story continues to be written. I'll be back at Guntersville to fish with Jimmy Mason in a little more than a week!

Want to Go?

Visit North Alabama
Fish Pickwick & Wilson Lakes
Jimmy Mason, 256-762-0014

Monday, April 9, 2018

Favorite Fishing Destinations Countdown: Honorable Mentions
A 9-2 largemouth from Mexico's Lake El Salto, fishing out of Anglers Inn International
Last week I noted that I would soon start a countdown of favorite fishing destinations. I've been mulling that one, and have my list mostly together, although it continues to shift in my mind, as I suppose it always will. Ten was the target, but I couldn't quite cut it that small, so I had to acknowledge a handful of honorable mentions before beginning the Top 10 listings. I'll hit these quickly in a single post and in no particular order. Top 10 will get individual posts and will count down to No. 1, although as I noted in last week's post, there isn't a lot of separation between any of the honorable mentions and the last ones I'll highlight in the countdown. I'm more than a little bit fond of all of them!

Lake El Salto - Given the spectacular fishing and scenery and the entire experience at Anglers Inn International, El Salto probably couldn't stay out of the Top 10, except that it's more accurately dubbed a place I "have fished" than one I "do fish." I'm thankful to have had the opportunity to fish their twice and of course I hope to return someday, but it's tough to say whether that will ever happen.

Big Pier 60 - Big Pier 60 in Clearwater Beach is similar, but very different. It's very accessible and I've spent dozens of days (and nights) fishing there. Most were more than three decades ago, though. It will forever remain one of my favorite places to fish, especially at night, under the lights, for speckled trout.

Reelfoot Lake - I've often likened Reelfoot to the world's largest farm pond, based on appearance and the way it fishes. I've gotten to spend some crazily fun days catching big bluegills, channel cats, crappie or bass from Tennessee's earthquake lake, and I always enjoy hanging out at Blue Bank Resort.

Buffalo River - Flowing freely for its entire 135 miles through Arkansas' Ozark Mountains, the Buffalo National River is quite simply a spectacular place to explore, whether by wading or floating. Great smallmouth opportunities are truly a bonus. The only downside from my standpoint is that the Buffalo is about a 15-hour drive from my house.

New River - Speaking of spectacular smallmouth rivers, the New is another of my absolute favorites, and I've had opportunities at times to fish sections spread from the relatively gentle upper reaches in Western North Carolina to the famous whitewater section of New River Gorge in West Virginia. Check out New River Outdoor Company in Virginia or Adventures On the Gorge in West Virginia if you want to discover this spectacular River for yourself.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Favorite Fishing Destinations Countdown

An outdoors radio show host recently asked me if I could come up with a Top 10 list of my favorite destinations from fishing travels. I failed completely, not because I couldn't think of enough and not even due to an inability to narrow the list. I failed because I couldn't stop with a place name or even place name and species. Mere mention of the first to come to mind made me eager to expound on why I liked it so much, and soon I'd rambled all the way to the commercial break without getting past the first spot.

Although the list didn't get anywhere that day, it got me thinking more about favorite destinations, and over the next couple of weeks, I'm going to countdown some favorites. For an all-species, all-seasons angler, narrowing the list will be tough. I think I'll keep it at ten, but I'm not sure yet. Counting down will mean ranking, but I can tell you right now that there won't be much difference among the top ten in terms of my fondness for visiting these spots and fishing.

Most places on this list will be ones I've written about on this blog. Some several times and several probably are on my Destinations page. I'm not claiming my picks to be the top nation's top 10 fishing spots. This countdown will be based solely on my actual experience and my personal favorites, and it will take into account the total destination. I won't totally rule out international destinations, but I won't count anywhere I've fished only once and don't think I'll ever have the opportunity to fish again.

I'm not sure quite when I'll start. I'm haven't made the list yet and am laying down ground rules for myself even as I write this. It'll be soon, though!

Friday, March 30, 2018

Video Day

The final day of my most recent trip found me on the opposite side of a camera from what seems most normal for me. Dustin Elder and I fished from kayaks while Fred McClure followed in his boat with video equipment. We fished a small Forest Service lake in Oklahoma that has some big bass in it and was ideally suited for kayak fishing and filming. The bite was a little slow, but we managed a few, and I enjoyed the opportunity to offer a few tips for the camera. The first video to run is about a Cotton Cordell Super Spot, which is one of my absolute favorite lures for early-season bass fishing.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Still No 'Gill

With no late-winter ice trips or spring headstart trips to the coast having occurred through March, my fish species catch list for this year has been slow to develop. With April only a few days away, the tally is seven species.

In my mind, the most noteworthy missing piece a quarter of the way into the year is a bluegill. In fact, I haven't caught a bluegill or any of a bluegill's nearest kin (redear, redbreast, green sunfish, etc.) so far. The closest thing to one, I suppose, would be a white bass, and that really isn't very close.

That'll get fixed. I have zero doubt about that. I might need to be intentional about fixing it very soon, though!