Archive for November 2012


Tackle Box Assortment 0001Waterfowl hunting is almost over and ice out fishing has not yet begun.  It is time to check out the fishing gear by cleaning out the tackle box, checking rods and reels, and replacing rusty or dulled hooks.

Organization and convenience are keys to storing my gear. If I did not get it done last fall then now is the time. If I wait until later it robs me of fishing time.

There is nothing more frustrating than looking for a particular piece of equipment and not being able to find it. Organizing can take place on a winter evening while watching television with the family. One common method of organization is to use a different tackle box for each kind of fishing.

Organization does take a little advance planning. It is dependent upon what type of fishing I am planning for the year. If all the fishing is done from a single boat and for a single species it is simple. If wadding or shore fishing is what I plan then organization must consider space and weight limits. Limited pocket space must be taken into account. There are just so many pockets in a fishing vest.

Since I fish for a variety of species from shore and sometimes by boat, I have a number of tackle boxes. I use those clear plastic boxes made by Plano and related companies. I label them as to for what species the tackle inside is intended. The boxes then go into a cloth bag on the particular date I plan to fish. If I go catfishing one day and bass fishing the next day it is just a matter of changing out the boxes.

Now is the time to check rods and reels as well as terminal tackle. The first step is to check the rods for cracks and/or unusual wear. Look at the guides carefully to find chips and cracks. A Q-tip passed through a guide will soon show where any abrasion has taken place. The cotton from the Q-tip will stick to any cracks or abrasion in the guide. Repair or replace the guide immediately as such sharp edges will eventually cut a line. That usually happens when that big fish is on the line.

Wipe down the rod with a damp cloth and wipe the guides with some Reel Magic oil so as to further cut down any friction as the line passes through them.

Turning to the reel the work really begins. The first step is to make sure it is functioning properly. Check the brake and drag. Strip off all the old line. Clean and lightly oil the inner workings. When disassembling the reel use a white terry cloth towel on the table beneath it. If a screw or some other part falls out it will be caught by the cloth and is very visible on the white background.

Once you reassemble the reel spool it with fresh high quality new line of your choice. Different pound test and materials can be placed on various reels. A small label is attached denoting the date, pound test, number of yards and type of line on each reel. I do not remember which reel holds which line later in the season.

Finally check out the terminal tackle. Hooks are cheap to replace so rusty ones can be snipped off of lures and discarded. New quality hooks are applied. Any left over line still attached to a bait is clipped off and discarded.

Crankbaits that are faded can be renewed by the application of a little paint. Bent blades of spinnerbaits are easily replaced and the arms straightened. Tie crankbaits to a short piece of line and pull them through water in the bath tub to make sure they travel straight. If they do not travel straight then bend the eye so that they do run correctly.

In replacing any rusty or damaged hooks I recommend brand names like Tru Turn or related companies. Cheap hooks give cheap performance and hooks that bend or break are not going to provide satisfactory use.

By paying attention to the quality and condition of your fishing equipment at the beginning of the season many hours of wasted time on the water are avoided. It is fun to work up the anticipation of fishing trips by getting your gear in shape.


Pheasant hunting is usually a social type of hunting.  Several hunters drive a field with blockers at the end.  Dogs probe every patch of vegetation in search of the gaudy import from the orient.  Late season birds are different.  They require a change of tactics.

Not everyone can find a hunting partner with the same availability of time in busy schedules.  Perhaps they do not know someone who is as die hard in his approach to the sport as to accept the challenge of cold winds and snow. Others may not have a good dog to work the fields.  Some times the dog is ill or tired from the early part of the season.  These are the late season hunters.

A combination of careful selection of habitat and stealth are keys to success for these pheasant hunters.

Sneaking up on birds is a profitable technique.  Cold, they will often sit tight to conserve body-warming calories and allow hunters to get into range before they flush.

Find areas of brush and heavy cover that are next to harvested fields.  You can stalk the birds toward the open areas.  The birds will usually flush rather than take a chance running across bare areas.  Even if they do decide to run, seeing them allows hunters to follow the crafty birds.

Another area to work is the fringe land area along streams.  Cover is usually good and the birds have easy access to water and gravel for grit.  Late in the season, pheasants do not want to move around much as they need to conserve calories for warmth.  In any area where they find all they need to make it through the winter pheasants are reluctant o leave unless disturbed.

A little less productive are fencerows.  These are usually areas of brush and planted trees next to grain fields.  The cover is good and birds have access to any spilled grain in the fields.  Because they are more open, stalking is a bit more difficult.  Nevertheless, they do have open areas where the hunter can see any birds trying to sneak away.

Late season hunters can also work areas with a lot of ground cover.  Slews, cattail swamps and the like are shelters for birds.  Early in the season, everybody hunts these areas but sometimes the birds move back to them for shelter.

This type of hunting is good in public land areas.  The birds are concentrated in the heaviest cover.  Some birds will flush wild, but you will get some shots if you walk slowly.

Find a brushy area and walk about 50 yards straight into it.  Then stop and wait for about two minutes.  Walk directly away to the left and circle around to the other side.  Come back in from there.  This confuses the birds and confines those that would otherwise walk out on the opposite side from where the hunter enters.

Some other good areas to seek late season birds are the lowlands where landowners sometimes pile brush from other locations or where it is too wet to plow and seed.  Often these areas are but a few hundred feet across and located in the middle of a grain field that harvested earlier.  Smaller slews or cattail swamps will also fall into this category.

Because brush provides shelter in otherwise featureless fields, birds will huddle up in any cover they can find.

Dried up or frozen up wetlands often hold water part of the year but become dry land in the fall and winter.  Due to the nature of the vegetative cover, they attract pheasants in search of a home.  Wear waterproof boots as all the water is not always gone or frozen and one can fall through the ice.

Hunting isolated habitat is a bit different from working grain fields.  For the late season hunter it is perfect.  Work in a circle around the outside perimeter of the wetland.  Then repeat the circles in ever decreasing size until reaching the middle.  In this way birds trying to evade the hunter move into the middle until they have no place left to go except to flush.

Late season pheasant hunting can be difficult.  Try some of these techniques.


As we get older there is a preference for the warm confines of home rather than fishing out on a lake in 40-degree temperatures.  Winter fishing becomes pretty much limited to ice fishing or an occasional trip to a power plant lake.

Mostly we tend to put away the fishing gear once hunting season begins.  It comes out again in late February in anticipation of spring spawning of bass and crappie.  In areas south of St. Louis a few hardy souls seek out the big crappie that go deep in cold weather.

Kyle Schoenherr of All Seasons Crappie Fishing enticed me out on the water with tales of 2-pound crappie.  Many crappie fishermen tend to think of crappie in terms of quantity instead of size.

In addition to the cold weather, I do not have much experience of fishing with 16-foot poles.  The limber poles provide the sensitivity to feel virtually everything that comes into contact with the terminal tackle.

All Seasons Crappie Fishing ( is a guide service dedicated to crappie fishing all year.   Kyle is also a successful tournament crappie fisherman on the Crappie Masters tournament trail.

Cruising along on Lake Kinkaid near Murphysboro, Illinois the wind is down but the air cold.  We make for some bluffs to start fishing.  Kyle explains that the bluffs continue into the water and below the surface can be found rocks and brush.  What is surprising is the structure is some 40 feet below the surface.

The terminal tackle is the standard crappie rig of a heavy sinker at the end with a tag line tied about 18 inches up.  On the tag line is a small jig or a hook with a minnow.  The rig is jigged vertically.  A slight twitching motion is applied to give the minnow or jig a realistic presentation.  Usually in deep water a shorter rod is used.  However, Kyle likes the sensitivity of a long pole.  I have to agree.

We slowly troll parallel to the underwater ledges beneath the bluffs.  Kyle explains that he prefers to follow the lay of the land beneath the surface as opposed to the shoreline.  The bottom here drops off three or four feet which seems to make a difference in the fish we see in the locator.

Kyle catches several fish and I have some hits and a fish.  We decide to relocate across the bay.  I begin to reel in my line when it suddenly goes sideways.  I do not feel the hit until I set the hook.  The flexible rod allows for some fun fishing action as I bring my first 2-pound crappie to the surface.

Kyle quickly nets the fish and places it in a Slabmaster Crappie Saver.  This fish has been brought up from 33 feet beneath the surface and if we are to save it alive, immediate attention must be paid to its air bladder.  The Slabmaster holds the fish so that it can be measured for length, and an estimate of age and weight can be taken.  In order to keep it alive, the air bladder must be deflated.

A needle is inserted into the air bladder at a 45 degree angler.  Where is the air bladder?  The Slabmaster has a slot that marks the location for the fisherman.  Kyle inserts the needle and the process is over in seconds.  The fish is alive and will stay that way in the live well.  In tournaments this is important as all fish weighed in dead result in a points penalty which could make the difference between a winner and an also ran.

Catching this fish is the highlight of my trip with Kyle.  Kyle maintains that 2-pound fish are not uncommon in the lake but it is the largest crappie I have ever caught.  It is a fish I would have overlooked any other time.  I never thought of crappie being at such a depth in this lake let alone in winter.

Not only will I no longer assume that winter fishing is for little fish.  Staying home and sorting tackle is not the only option in winter.

For additional information on rods, reels and other crappie tackle, like the Slabmaster, check out BnM Pole Company at


The jig and minnow combination barely reaches the seven foot depth when the pole bends in the first of the spider rig holders.  Lifting it immediately, the feel of the fish at the other end is great.  Brought to surface he is a nice 2-pound white crappie.  Not a bad way to start the day with such a nice fish only a couple of minutes into the trip.

The trip is with Billy Blakely, chief guide at Blue Bank Resort on the eastern shore of Reelfoot Lake.  Billy and I are into our second fishing trip together and both are very successful. The weather is a bit cooler than the blazing hot days we had last time.  The air temperature is plus 50 degrees and the water about 60 degrees.

We are fishing a stump field off of a point in about 15 feet of water.  With the spider rig we can fish at a variety of depths from 7 ½ feet to 9 ½ feet.  The 12-foot poles have a very sensitive reaction to any action from fish.  We have Capps & Coleman pre-rigged hook and sinker leaders suspended below small bobbers.

Getting into position is a bit more problematic due to low water levels on the lake from a very dry summer.  The War Eagle boat with its heavy gauge aluminum hull takes quite a beating from the many stumps and logs beneath the surface.

We bait up and move very slowly from the downwind side of the structure to ease them into position.  Soon we are catching fish ranging from half pound to the two pounders.  The action slows at times but then can be like the proverbial Chinese fire drill with fish on multiple poles at the same time.

Most of the fish we catch are white crappie but we do get a few nice black crappie.  The black crappie is known locally as “stubbys” referring to their rather blunt nose.  Some locals call them “shallow water crappies” as they inhabit the more shallow areas.

All of the fish we are catching are in good health with no sign of parasites, marks, or damage.  Our morning catch totaled 54 fish in the cooler for dinner tonight at the resort.  We also have a few of the larger fish in the live well to photograph before releasing them.


Photo and story courtsey PRADCO fishing and Lawrence Taylor

Once Midwestern lakes freeze Ted Takasaki turns his focus to panfish, and he uses a high level of skill and experience to achieve consistent success on the ice.

Whether talking about perch, crappie or bluegills, the key to catching panfish through the ice is finding the fish.  If you locate schools of panfish and discern what you are seeing on your electronics, you can experiment with jigs or spoons and different types of bait to figure out how to make the fish bite. If you can’t find them you can’t catch them.

For Takasaki, the search process begins during late fall, just before the ice begins forming. If possible he always scouts the lakes where he intends to ice fish. Being mobile in his boat allows him to cover more water.

Ted begins by exploring major bays known to hold bluegills, perch or crappie.  If they have aquatic grass growing, he looks along break lines both with his eyes and with his graph. Ted is not necessarily looking for fish.  Although making mental notes about where the fish are most concentrated is never a bad thing. Instead, he looks at the weeds themselves because weeds typically produce the best panfish action during the first part of the ice season.

“What I’m looking for are weed edges,” says Takasaki, “and for weeds that are still green late in the year. Along those edges I look for places where the weedline shifts – maybe a little point or a pocket – and I create waypoints for those places, which I put into a handheld GPS that I bring out on the ice with me.”

Lacking the opportunity to visit a lake before the formation of the ice, Takasaki gets the Lakemaster chip for his GPS or finds the best available map and studies the contour lines. He looks for break lines within bays if early in the season because the weed growth tends to taper along depth breaks. Depending on the lake and the type of vegetation, the weed edge can be quite shallow – only a few feet – or it might be 10 feet deep. On the ice he follows those breaks drilling a lot of holes, and looks for weeds and the same green edges.

In either case Takasaki always begins by drilling a number of holes.  Usually he does a fair amount of looking with his Humminbird Ice 55 before he ever starts fishing. He wants to find holes that are just outside of the weed edge.  He is not actually fishing in the weeds but he is close enough that fish using the weeds can ambush his baits. He noted that sometimes you see fish right in the weeds, and give those fish a shot.

Once he’s located a weed edge, Takasaki drills holes along that edge and begins to focus on finding fish. Early in the day he does a lot of hole hopping, sometimes just looking with his electronics and fishing other holes briefly to see how many fish are down there.

My favorite jig for panfish is a Lindy Frostee,” Takasaki says. “It’s a jig that I can use to really pound the bottom and stir up some sediment to get the fish’s attention. I’ll usually pound it pretty aggressively and then bring it up off the bottom and shake it a little, or maybe just let it sit.”

Takasaki likes the smallest size for panfish and normally tips his hooks with one or two waxworms or spikes. If specifically targeting crappie or perch, he begins with a minnow head or entire small minnow hooked through the tail so it fights against the jig.

Takasaki’s favorite time to ice fish is early in the season. For the first few weeks of good ice, he normally finds plenty of panfish along shallow weed lines and rarely strays out of the bays. As winter progresses, he moves his search onto tapering points at the edges of the same bays, and eventually to deeper flats.

Later in the winter, he moves from the weeds to the deeper mud flats.  The mud has more aquatic insect larvae provides panfish with food later in the winter.

While the location changes with the season, the basic strategy does not. Anytime on the ice fishing for panfish, be drilling a bunch of holes, move frequently.


In many rivers and lakes, the task of locating fish in thousands of acres of water is daunting.  Harry Padgett, an Arkansas tournament angler, takes a much more systematic approach that begins with looking at things from the bass’ perspective. He considers the five factors he finds have the greatest impact on a bass’ locations and behavior: season, water, temperature, water color, water level and weather.

The season provides answers to many big-picture questions that help in knowing where to begin searching for fish. Are stages of the spawn a factor? Should the fish be on mid-summer structure? Are they apt to be following baitfish up creeks? Not all fish in a lake do the same things at the same time, but thinking about the season helps you narrow your thoughts about where most fish should be.

The season must consider geography. Fish finish spawning in Florida while Minnesota lakes remain frozen. Pay attention to when things happen on the bodies of water closest to you.  They you have the first piece of the puzzle.

Narrowing the focus a little, the water temperature reveals more about how fish will behave and about where they will be. Anglers too often ignore the temperature readings shown on their electronics.

Exactly how the temperature comes into play depends upon the season. During summer, you are looking for those areas that are a couple of degrees cooler than the rest of the lake. During winter, the opposite is true. Through spring and fall, temperatures help you know how far along fish are likely to be either in spawning phases or in transitional moves.

The water temperature, which can change as a day progresses, also affects the activity level of the fish. When the water is somewhat cool late in the fall fish often become more active and may move shallower as the day progresses and the water warms.

Water color is darker in the spring, influencing the normal behavior of the fish. Generally speaking, dirtier water causes fish to stay shallow, hold tight to cover and rely heavily on their lateral lines for finding meals. In clear water fish are more apt to use offshore structure or cruise flats and to feed visually.

Take note of how water clarity varies within a body of water. If a lake badly muddied by a big rain but with the backs of its creeks beginning to clear, there’s a good chance feeding fish will be concentrated in the clear water.

Understanding the influence of water color helps you pick potentially productive areas and to choose the best lures. It also impacts color selections. Padgett’s picks range from darker colors that are easy for fish to see for dirty water to translucent colors for very clear water.

Some waterways are subject to massive level fluctuations, while others only vary slightly. Most go up and down and the fish tend to move up and down with the water. High water generally pushes fish toward the banks, especially as new cover gets flooded. Low water draws fish out toward creek and river channels.

In most rivers and many reservoirs, high water has the added effect of creating current, helping position fish because they either move into fully protected pockets, protected from the flow or they hold in predictable positions behind trees, dock supports or other current-breaking pieces of cover.

As with other variables, the trend is at least as important as the current conditions. As you look at the level and consider how the fish will react, also take into account whether the water is rising or falling (or neither) and how the trend will impact the fish’s positioning.

The weather is a “constant variable,” according to Padgett, and the bass give evidence to it. The morning begins bright, and while the sun continues shining the fish bit well. When thick clouds settled in, the bite slows dramatically and the fish reposition themselves.

Rising and falling pressure, rain, clouds, sunshine, steady wind… many weather conditions dictate where the fish are likely waiting, so watch for clues. Pay especially close attention to any condition that changes during the day and note how that change affects the fish.

To cover all variables involved requires “a very large volume,” according to Padgett, and there is no simple, specific formula that leads to the fish every time. Giving fair and intentional consideration to these factors and taking into account acquired knowledge about the water you are fishing can be a major step toward putting fish in the boat.

Padgett does not assume anything.  He lets the fish provide the final answers each day.

“I’m still trying and learning,” he said, “because the fish make the rules and can change their rules when and where they choose.”



You know it’s time when the foliage has turned colors and fallen to the ground; when fernlike patterns appear on the truck’s windows every morning before driving to the lake. When Jack Frost comes nipping at your nose and toes leaving a thin, white layer of crystals, it is time to resist the temptation of hiding under the covers. It is time to go crankbaiting in the South.

“It’s a great time to be out cranking,” says Bassmaster Elite Series Pro Tim Horton.

The Muscle Shoals, Alabama, fishing pro is more renowned for his deep offshore structure fishing. But in November he switches crankbaits. He trades in his Bomber Fat Free Shad BD8 and BD7 for the shallow running Bomber Model 4A.

“The key to catching bass in November is location. I like to begin the search in a main tributary that feeds the lake,” he said. “I go halfway back into it then fish toward the backend.

During November, big smallmouth move back into creeks feeding on schools of shad. The largemouth bass, and smallmouth use channel swings as prime locations for ambushing and gorging themselves on shad.

Shad are always moving around during November. What I look for is shad on the surface,” he noted. “I also keep an eye out for surface action and birds.”

Horton noted that creek channel turns, or “channel swings” as they are commonly referred to, are key locations to find schools of bass during November. His favorite lure is a small, compact Bomber Model 4A crankbait for fishing channel swings or other locations in most autumn situations. Horton likes the wobble and thumping action of the 2 1/8-inch lure.

A shallow diving crankbait is Horton’s first choice, but that’s relative to the reservoir he’s fishing.

“Most of the time I will move away from the clear water if possible,” Horton continued, “I really like to be fishing in stained water during November.”

When fishing channel swings, Horton is searching for curves with 45-degree banks. Normally these will be steeper banks within the creek channel. The key to catching bass in these areas is bouncing the crankbait off cover such as lay downs or stumps.

Another favorite target of Horton’s when fishing creek channel swings is rocks. Big boulders or rock piles will have bass ganged up on them. To trigger strikes, Horton parallels the bank banging the crankbait into cover and rocks.

Besides using fluorocarbon line, Horton uses a medium heavy rod in 7’4” in length which allows for longer casts in addition to having better leverage once a bass is hooked.

Deciding what color crankbait is easy for Horton. “I like rootbeer chartreuse. It’s a confidence color for me,” he said. Other popular colors during the fall include shad patterns like Tennessee shad, threadfin shad, royal shad, silver flash, pearl blue/back, black pearl and foxy shad.

One other prime area for big schools of shad during November is a shallow flat on the inside the creek channel. The bottom composition doesn’t really factor into why the shad migrate to them — the shad are feeding on plankton and the bass on shad.

Spotting schools of shad is easy on windless days. They swell against the surface in schools swimming round and round while nibbling at the surface making soft smacking sounds. Shad occasionally ripple the surface trying to escape a hungry bass.

Wind often plays a major part in the activity level of bass when they are on the shallow flat.  With little or no wind shad will be extremely skittish. They may even move off the shallow flat towards deep water.

When the wind is blowing, bass will get shallow and aggressive. Often bass will leap out of the water chasing schools of shad. There’s nothing like being in the middle of schooling bass that have pushed the baitfish to the top and are churning the surface as they gorge.

Catching these shallow bass in skinny water, however, requires a different type of crankbait — one that doesn’t dive deep, but wobbles and semi-rolls flashing its body. The square-lipped  XCalibur Xcs is Horton’s go-to crank when catching these shallower bass.

Anglers should note shallow water crankbait bite gets better as the day progresses. Bass know from experience that the shad are easier to catch when they are swimming on the surface.

When Jack Frost comes knocking at your door, instead of grabbing another blanket grab your fishing pole, crankbaits and go experience the best crankbaiting of the year.

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