Archive for March 2012


Tim Huffman is probably the most knowledgeable crappie angler in the Midwest.  Author and crappie angler, Tim excels at both.  He has these tips for those wanting to take trophy size crappie this year. 

Use light line and have the drag set so the fish is not going to break it.  Use new line that has not been sitting in the sun or over the winter on the reel.  Check line frequently for nicks while fishing.  Feel for rough spots. If rough spots appear, cut off two or three feet of the line and re-tie. 

For bait, he recommends crappie nibbles.  They are readily available.  You get more bites.  Just ask people who use them.  Will you catch crappie without them, sure.  Will you catch more crappie with them, absolutely.  If it smells good and tastes good crappie are not as quick to spit them out.  That gives more time to set the hook. 

They can work in conjunction with a minnow.  You put the minnow on and then the crappie nibbles.  The nibbles help to keep the minnow on the hook.   

Tim maintains that it is important to try staying calm and using a net to land the big fish.  Keep the net close and free of other objects at all times.  You need to concentrate on getting that big fish in the boat and then celebrate. 

There are two causes of lost fish.  One is reaching around to holler at someone for help or for the net.  The tip of your pole goes down and you lose the fish.  Some people fishing deep will drop the rod tip and lose a fish.  Do not give a crappie slack line. 

The other problem comes when you see how large the fish is you apply more pressure.  That is when the hook comes out.  Never try to lift a big crappie into the boat by grabbing the line.  Fish over two pounds will be gone about 90 percent of the time if you try to lift them from the water.  Use a net. 

Big crappie break lines, bend hooks, or tear them out.  That is a lot of weight on their thin mouth.  Use a net. 

“Being quiet at all times is vital,” reports Tim.  “I mean real quiet.”  If not, you will still catch fish but not big ones.  If you slam rod boxes or pick up a minnow bucket and slam it down while moving around in the boat, the fish will know.  The big ones have been around a while and they move away from noise. 

When you are going into the planned fishing area, shut your big motor off before you arrive.  Use your trolling motor to move into your fishing location.  In using your trolling motor, do not hit it off and on.  “I think if you leave it on a while,” says Tim, “the noise probably does not bother them.”  Kicking it on and off will scare fish.  “You have to do it some,” concedes Huffman, “but do so as little as possible.” 

When you hit your trolling motor, do you hear a clink and then the hum?  You should not.  Tighten everything up and do not have your motor making noise every time you hit it.  Stop all your noises. 

What is the right bait for big fish?  The color depends upon the situation and the time.  Bigger crappie have bigger appetites, bigger mouths.  Yes you will catch them on smaller baits but your chance of getting a big crappie are better when you up size you bait.  

An example is a 1/8th ounce jig with a big skirt tipped with a minnow.  It gives natural scent, flash and natural look.  The skirt and minnow adds more bulk to the jig.  If you are just using a minnow by itself, use a bigger minnow.  A larger minnows give more vibration.  This is critical in stained water where the crappie cannot see as well.  They can see a bigger minnow.  However, if on a real clear lake be careful not to use too large a minnow.  

Fish the right depth.  As water temperatures change crappie move.  You have to fish whatever depth is the strike zone of the fish.  That is not just for big fish it is for any fish.  When you get a bite pay attention to how deep you were fishing.  What action did you have on the bait?  What is the bottom depth?  Was it near a stump?  If near a stump, was it on the shade side or the bright side of that stump?  

Why do that?  It is because fish form a pattern.  By knowing where the fish are, you can target high percentage areas.  

If you catch a big crappie today, mark that on your GPS.  If you catch a big crappie, crappie have a habit of going to that spot to replace the one caught.  A spot might be good for 10 or 15 years.  

Crappie mouths are thin around the outside.  A 2 to 3 pound crappie has a heavy tough upper lip that is hard to get a hook through it.  When you get a bite, do not just lift up the hook in a wimpy manner.  Nevertheless, do not rip away like a bass angler.  Use your wrist and go up to about 11 o’clock.  Snap the rod with your wrist.  That snap will get enough speed generated on the hook to put it through the upper lip of a big crappie. 

If it rips out, then it was a small crappie.  You do not want to injure fish, but you want to get that good hook set on big fish.  Give a hard snap.  Do not keep yanking.  If the hook is in and you keep going with too much pressure something will give.  It will be the fish, the hook or the line. 

Keep constant pressure, get the fish started up, and then work on him and keep him coming.


Considering the multitude of changes in fishing tackle during the past 10 years, it is difficult to single out the top one.  Think about all the changes in rods, reels, spider-rigs, fish locators, hooks, artificial lures, plastic baits, jigs that have come into the sport.  We have come a long way since the advent of the “crappie rig” and the “jigging pole.” 

Last week while fishing with the Phil and Eve Rambo at the Alabama State Championship on theAlabama River, I posed the question to them.  Without hesitation, Phil came back with “the Hummingbird Fish Finder.” 

“You can see the bottom structure and the fish just like a photo,” he exclaimed.  The unit has the side scan ability giving on a picture of not only the bottom but also an almost 3-Dimensional view beneath the boat. 

Phil explained this ability to view the bottom helps to eliminate many promising locations that do not have fish on them.  He also is able to find fish and make sure he is concentrating his efforts in the strike zone. 

The image is not an actual photo but the down and side-scan sonar interprets the direction and speed at which sound goes out and returns.  The unit to give a similar image picture processes it.  Fish appear as dots or small circles as opposed to the arches displayed on traditional sonar units.  

The unit processes the sound waves like a MRI and then analyzes the data to produce a 3-D image.  The image gives a view up to 480 feet out from the boat.  It allows one to cover more water in less time by not wasting time on unproductive locations.

The Hummingbird Fish Locator is Phil’s choice.  What is yours?


Out foxing the wild turkey can also mean conquering the weather.  Some springs in Illinoishave been rainy ones.  But, turkeys stay out in the rain and if a hunter wants one he has to do the same. 

Rob Keck, former Executive Director of the National Wild Turkey Federation, finds some springs it rains on his parade too.  “Everywhere I go,” says Keck, “It seems like it rains.  I hunt more times in the rain than I can remember.” 

Keck has to find way to get around the weather.  He spends a lot of time just trying to find a dry place where he can still hunt.  Out buildings and rock outcropping are just two of the places he uses. 

Always on the alert for ways to beat the weather, Keck takes his slate call, turns it upside down and uses it that way.  When not using it, he keeps the call and striker inside his coat.  By using these two maneuvers, he is able to keep it out of the elements. 

Keck, who uses slate calls quite a bit, always carries his strikers in Ziploc bags.  He just pops the bags into his vest.  He usually has his vest on the outside of his rain gear so that the calls and strikers are accessible.  In the bags they remain dry. 

He stresses the need to keep a striker dry.  Because once that tip gets wet, you are out of business. 

Speaking of strikers, Keck finds that a real ticket to successful calling relates to the fact that some birds want you to start with one call and finish with another.  He has to carry a variety of strikers.  But he likes to do that anyway. 

When in the woods, Keck carries a variety of calls from box calls, mouth calls, slates of different compositions, even wingbone calls.  When asked how many calls he carries, his response is, “I usually put a 50-pound limit on it.” 

Keck finds it amazing that he can get one turkey to gobble on one particular striker and the next bird will not even listen to it.  He just keeps switching around to find what is really going to work.  Some birds appear to not work a slate call, but it may be that he will not work a slate call with that particular striker. 

Keck points out that often a commercial call has a striker that has not actually been matched to the slate.  He works at matching strikers to the slate.  Each combination sounds different even though they can be made out of the same types of woods.  Keck carries a variety of wooden strikers, usually made out of very dense and heavy woods.  He uses everything from tiger wood, rosewood, ebony to a whole variety of woods.  This enables him to find what works best with a particular call.  He explains that, “everyone is going to have a different sound when you combine two surfaces.” 

That includes box calls as well.  Keck finds that changing the angle of the lid on a box call can make a different pitch.  To do this Rob either backs out the Phillips head screw or tightens it.  “What this does,” explains Keck “is change where the paddle is actually striking on the lip of the box.”  As you get out closer to the edges, a higher pitch is produced.  Moving more to the center you are going to get a deeper pitched sound. 

Every turkey wants something different.  Changing calls is one way to change the sound of the box call.  Another is how you hold the call.  You change the sound by changing the location of where you hold it.  Holding it into your body and reversing where the hinge is located will change it as well. 

Keeping your calls dry, experimenting with them and their use, and using different calls and strikers, can make all the difference in sound.  It can spell the difference between bringing home a big old tom and just getting wet and frustrated.

CRAPPIE IN THE MIST   8 comments

Peering through the fog, I cannot see anything but gray.  Then shadows began to appear and off in the “distance” there appears to be a point populated by trees sticking out into the water.  Gradually the shadows become boats with other anglers.  Despite rules that keep us all in the bay, there is never more than three boats visible at one time.  

We are here for a media competition sponsored by the Bass Pro Shops Crappie Masters Team Tournament Trail.  Basic rules include only one media members per boat and each boat is courtesy of the crappie fishing pros of the circuit.  My hosts are Phil and Eve Rambo of Bloomington, IN. 

Retired professional educators, the Rambos enjoy travel and crappie fishing which makes this tournament trail ideal.  They just hook up their boat to the back of the camper and head out on the road.  They do take some time off to take their children and grandchildren to Canada for a fishing vacation. 

Once the rods are in place on the spider rigs, Phil slowly moves through the dense fog slow jigging.  The few small crappies caught are less than 9 inches, the legal minimum in these waters.  Even one small bass takes hold of one of the minnow we are using for bait. 

The basic tackle includes 12-foot Ozark crappie poles and terminal tackle of Capps & Coleman pre-rigged minnow rigs with minnows on the end and on the drop line.  The yellow line and fluorescent tips of the rods are visible in the poor light of the morning. 

From time to time, we see other boats in the area and all report poor fishing.  The normal procedure of fishing the Alabama River is superseded this morning due to the conditions.  Instead, we all have to remain in the bay close to the boat ramp.  To go out on the river in  this low visibility could endanger others and ourselves. 

Still this kind of fishing is peaceful as we drift along discussiing various subjects from family to photography and beyond.  About a half hour before deadline for the contest, the sun appears and burns off the fog.  The bay is beautiful and contains some private homes perched along the shore.  I say perched because they are on support pilings that keep them out of the water during flooding.  Much of the shoreline is wooded and public property. 

As 10:30 a.m. arrives, it is time to head for the ramp and the weigh-in.  Phil and Eve begin to take in the lines when one of the rods dives into the water.  Reacting quickly, Phil retrieves it with a nice large crappie on the end.  It is our one keeper fish for the tournament.  It is a nice white crappie and a picture fish.  

After some quick photos, we crank up the motor and head back.  Later at the weigh-in, the fish is weighed at 1.94 pounds.  Although we only have one fish, we still finish in third place for the tournament.  It is not a bad day for crappie in the mist.


The life of professional anglers can really be tough.  Take for instance the last few days in the life of southern Illinois crappie anglers Kyle Schoenherr of Oakdale and Rodney Neuhaus of Waltonville.

Although I traveled to Alabama to cover the Crappie Masters Team Tournament Trail there was an interest in how the local boys might come out.  Although the event was great fun and I will write more about it later in the week, the real story came to be how Kyle and Rodney battled monumental bad luck.

The Road Runner Lure team drove a long way to Millbrook, Al to compete in the Alabama River-Alabama State Championship.  The contest is one stop on the trail for Crappie Masters Team Tournament Trail sponsored by Bass Pro Shops. 

Kyle knew in advance that part of the trip would be bad since he would have to be away from his wife and children on this 30th birthday.  That is only the beginning of the frustration he would feel. 

On Wednesday while he practice fished, someone ran into his trailer in the boat ramp parking lot.  The wench in the front of the trailer was broken off.  It made getting the boat properly on the trailer a bit of a difficulet task.  After fishing all day, Kyle had to take it to a repair shop and have it welded back in place.  More expense for an already expensive trip. 

The next day after the Media fishing contest, Kyle and Rodney practiced in the afternoon only to have the hub on the motor go out.  They were a long way from the boat ramp without a motor.  Some passing local anglers towed them back to ramp and it was another repair.  At least this time they had a spare hub and could do the repairs themselves. 

Friday in the first day of actual competition the southern Illinois anglers had a little better luck.  They did not get big fish money but had enough weight to come in second place at the weigh-in.

I had to leave before the final day of competition but did receive a call from TJ Stallings of TTI-Blakemore, the sponsors of Team Road Runner.  He informed me that Kyle and Rodney broke the jinx.  Their two-day total moved them into  a first place finish, and a check for $4,000 check.  Perhaps being a tournament pro angler is not so bad after all.


Public land Illinois gobbler

The wild turkey disappeared from Illinois about 1910.  In 1958, state biologist Jarad Garver began a restoration effort in five locations.  All the locations were in the expansive Shawnee National Forest.  The forest, located in southern Illinois, contained good turkey habitat and plenty of space away from man.

With the growth of the turkey population came hunting seasons. 

I once asked nationally known turkey hunting expert, Ray Eye, what he thought was the greatest development in turkey hunting during the past 10 years that has led to successful hunting in Illinois.  His reply was the amount of educational material available. 

“Turkey hunters are more knowledgeable,” explains Eye. “They attend seminars, view outdoor television shows, listen to outdoor radio shows, read magazines and read all the books available.  What use to take years in the field to learn, they now learn from other people.” 

He also mentioned that there are more turkeys available which leads them to situations where hunters in the field learn more. 

That Illinois project began with 65 birds wild-trapped in Mississippi, Arkansas, and West Virginia.  The birds thrived inIllinois in the forest until there were sufficient numbers to transfer to other parts of the state. 

In 1970, the IDNR began to live trap and transplant wild birds.  They have since transplanted 4,768 birds to 279 sites in 99 of the 102 counties inIllinois.

 The first modern day turkey hunting season was in 1970 and a total of 25 birds were taken.  Since then record numbers of bird are taken each year. 

There are 96 counties open to turkey hunting. 

Turkey hunting is on a high level. Turkeys are on a high level.  People have more experience turkey hunting and there is more availability of turkey hunting.  With more encounters with wild birds, hunters are able to learn more in a shorter period of time than was the case a few years ago. 

In Illinois, not only are the turkeys doing well but so are the turkey hunters.  Hunter success can vary with weather conditions.  Rain will reduce hunter success numbers in part due to fewer hunters in the field.  Still there is an ever increasing harvest each year.

Posted 03/13/2012 by Donald Gasaway in Game Management, Hunting Small Game

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Texas Cold Canyon Lake   Leave a comment

Headed north out of New Braunfels, TX, my head is full of ideas and warm feelings about the past four days.  I carry with me some great story ideas gleaned from meetings of the Texas Outdoor Writers Association annual conference.  The warmth of the people of New Braunfels area inspires me to take a closer look at the recreational opportunities of the area.   The local website is

The Cold Canyon Lake and the tailwaters below the dam are my chief interests in this trip.  I am not prepared for what I find. 

The road seems to rise as I head out of New Braunfels.  Suddenly I drop down into canyon country as the blacktop road falls away.  I am in the lowland below the dam.  My first stop is the tailwaters below it where trout live in the farthest south location for natural reproduction of rainbow trout.  In addition, the location from which a ten-pound plus trout came holds the state record. 

It is intimidating fishing so far below the surface of the lake.  That is one high dam from this position.  A couple of hours fishing produces no bites and I decide to explore the area. 

Headed east along the dam I find the Overlook Park operated by the U.S. Corps of Engineers and head up hill again.  I am not expecting for the sweeping vista that is presented from the lookout points in the park.  On a sunny day such as this, the lake is an emerald green with the white sandstone bluffs and beaches providing a setting for this jewel.  

A bit of a surprise is the number of people using the facilities for hiking, running, biking, fishing, photography and picnicking.  This is after all a weekday.  There is another park at the opposite end of the dam and a steady stream of people moving back and forth across the dam on a paved path. 

With a few hours left before I have to set off for my appointments in Kerrville tomorrow, it seems like a good idea to check out the parks to the west on the lake.  First among them is Joint Base San Antonio Canyon Lake Recreation Park.  Driving into the park the first thing encountered is The Challenge Course.  It is an obstacle course.  A stop at the park office and I discover that this park is the property of the Department of Defense for the use of military and DOD personnel.  It is not open to the general public unless accompanied by military (active or retired) or DOD personnel.  Information is available at

The park is well located for use of military stationed at any of the military reservations in either the San Antonio or Austin areas.  It is about half way between the two communities.  Although I cannot go beyond the office location, a pamphlet they have shows a variety of recreational activities available.  A marina provides both fishing and recreational craft.  A number of cabins provide housing for guests.  All  services are available at a very nominal cost when compared with other location on recreational properties. 

Just down the road from Canyon Lake Recreational Park is the Jacobs Creek Park, a Corps of Engineers park that provides the usual recreational amenities including horseback riding, swimming beaches, hiking and biking trails as well as a full service marina, launch ramps and restaurant. 

The drought that this area has endured the past year is obvious in the park.  Vegetation is dry and faded.  Beaches are much wider than intended.  One has to walk long distances from parking lots that were once closer to the water.  Some of the boat ramps are high and dry. 

Still is it nice and peaceful in this park.  Too soon I have to move on.  I will be back.


Turkey hunters may only be surpassed by bass anglers when it comes to gadgets.  For a hunters who goes out and maybe shoots two or three shells per year at game, they are really into it.   There are considerations in picking the right gun for turkey hunting.

Modern day turkey guns all tend to be a little shorter in barrel length for ease of use in the woods.  They have screw-in chokes so the hunter can use whatever choke he desires.  If it is an after market choke he can screw it in as well. 

Of course the gun is camouflaged and it needs to have some sort of sight on it.  That can be either rifle type sights (with a front bead and a back notch).  More hunters are going to a red dot or even scopes. 

With the chokes and the loads available, you are shooting such a tight pattern you have to aim instead of just pointing.  “Shotgun shooting is all a pointing game in terms of shooting clay targets or live birds,” says Kevin Howard of Browning firearms.  “The shooter has both eyes open and shoots.  Turkey hunting is a rifle game when you really look.” 

Hunters have to be able to aim and be able to adjust the sights if the pattern is not hitting the desired area.  “When Winchester first came out with turkey loads in #4, 5 or 6 shot a few years ago,” explains Howard, “they had a package that you could buy at the dealer.”  The hunter could purchase targets with two shells of each size shot.  Then you went to the range to see what your gun shot best.  That would be the load to use for hunting. 

What many people discovered with a sight as they look down the barrel  the gun is not hitting where they expected.  One of the biggest surprises to a lot of people is that they thought their gun was hitting where they were pointing.  They find out it is not. 

Turkey hunters need sights because the pattern today is so tight.  Adjustable sights put the pattern where you are aiming. 

Some scope companies have a circle reticle with a crosshair.  That circle represents the size of a turkey at thirty yards.  It helps to estimate distance.  These are special scopes designed for turkey hunting.  Red dot sights are used for turkeys because they are good in low light conditions. Turkey hunters frequently hunt in the early morning hours. 

Modern turkey hunters shop for their gun just like a rifle hunter.  They buy a gun to go turkey hunting as a single purpose.  Most turkey guns have a sling.  The sling helps in carrying the shotgun to the field while also carrying a seat cushion and decoys.  Good recoil pads are a must.  You can get turkey guns in single shots, over and unders, semiautomatics, pumps or about whatever you desire. 

All of the camo companies are getting on the turkey gun band wagon with their own patterns.  About anyone selling a turkey gun can provide it in a camo pattern of some kind.


State parks are a “gateway to the outdoors” for the public, says Brent Leisure,Texas Parks and Wildlife State Parks Director.  Despite 21% cut in the TPWSP seventy million dollar budget, they are ahead of my native state of Illinois and many others. 

Sitting in a round table meeting at the Texas Outdoor Writers Association Annual Conference in New Braunfels,TX, reminds one of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources economic crises back home in Illinois.  The reduction in the budget for Illinois is 13.5% on top of the catastrophic budgets cuts of the past 10 years.  The slicing of the Illinois budget by over 50% during the past 10 years has caused significant problems in the operation of the IDNR.  

The problems Leisure faces with operating his agency with are not unprecedented.  I suspect it is time to get creative in funding of state agencies like Illinois and Texas. 

Texas Parks and Wildlife State Parks receives 55% of its budget allocation from user fees. Illinois on the other hand appears to have virtually no income from such fees. Texas does have a trade off for user and other fees.  Fishing within the parks does not require a state fishing license. 

Texas still faces many economic problems for the TPWSP beyond the budget.  The past year saw a drought followed by the worst fires in recorded history.  A public plea for donations and some federal disaster funds help defray the costs. 

Leisure describes user fees as the single most effective source of revenue for their department even in this time of economic problems.  They see a reduction in traffic at the state parks and in state park programs.  The other more significant problem facing them is the vast drought and forest fire damage of the past year.  As a result millions of dollars have to be dedicated to mitigating the problems cause in terms of vegetation destruction and soil erosion. 

Leisure maintains that they continue to see the state park as a refuge from life’s stresses in the troublesome economic times.  A sympathy that shared by many outdoorsmen and women nationwide.

Posted 03/07/2012 by Donald Gasaway in Conservation

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Attendee at Trout Fest tries her luck in the Gaudalupe River

Chris Wood, President of Trout Unlimited, speaking to the gathering of Texas Outdoor Writers in New Braunfels,Texas struck a positive note with a statement.  “Take care of the fish and the fishing will take care of itself,” exclaims Wood.

His comment is in response to a comment made by an attendee.  What he is trying to promote is the concern for habitat preservation and enhancement that is so important to trout and Trout Unlimited.  Wood adds that a concern for habitat is also due to a need to know what to use as a lure on any given day.  The appetite of a trout seems to be somewhat finicky.  

My interest in this area centers on the Guadalupe River where I will be fishing tomorrow for rainbow trout.   Although the river is only a stones throw from the room where Wood is speaking, I plan to fish the more shallow areas upstream. 

The trout are more prevalent in the tailwaters up there at the base of Canyon Lake.  The local chapter of TU, Guadalupe River Trout Unlimited ( stocks rainbows and some brown trout each October as part of the winter trout stocking that goes on around the state. 

The stocking program here began with stocking a trout by Lone Star Brewing Company and continues through GRTU.  Today some 12,000 pounds of fingerlings from a Missouri hatchery go into the river each year.  This particular bloodline of rainbows seems to survive the best.  In early days some browns and cutthroat trout stocked that did not survive as well as these rainbows. 

Additionally watercress plantings are helping the reestablishment of vegetation in the river.  A massive flood in 2002 destroyed much of the native vegetation in the river and trees on the shore. 

The local activity is to protect, reconstruct and restore the environment of the river.  This river is one of  the 100 best trout streams in the country.  It is also the furthest south water were trout will actually survive and reproduce.  The Texas state record trout came from this river.  It was over 10 pounds according to a local fly shop owner in Gruene, Tx.  

The water here comes from the bottom of Canyon Lake through a pumping station in the dam.  Because it comes from so deep, cold temperatures are maintained year around.  The water maintains the cold temperatures for 13 to 15 miles downstream with the assistance of cold water springs along the way. 

Because much of the shore is in private hands, GRTU is engaging in cooperative agreements in and attempt  to provide public access in many areas of the river. 

GRTU does have some concern over the predator problems along the fishery.  Ospreys are the principle threat but some eagles are present.  They are exploring various in-river shelters that protect the fish from threats from the sky.  They also have to consider the other users of the rivers.  Much of the shoreline is privately owned and it is a popular waterway for canoers, kayakers and tubers.  GRTU believes a way can be found to protect the fish without interfering with their activities. 

The most promising shelter appears to be under cutting the shore and establishing sheltered areas beneath it.  That presents problems with shoreline ownership and costs.  They continue to explore all alternatives.

Visitors to the New Braunfels can obtain information about other attractions and accommodations from the New Braunfels Chamber of Commerce, 390 S. Seguin Ave., New Braunfels, TX 78130.  On line they can be contacted at

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