Summer Fishing: Hot Water, Hot Fishing

The summer heat is here!  With daytime temps in the upper 90’s, the water surface temperature on our southeastern lakes and reservoirs has also risen dramatically.   The stripers and hybrids have settled into their typical summer pattern, meaning they have gone deep.   Although you might find them feeding throughout the water column during the heat of the day, the best time to catch linesides now is going to be early morning or just as the sun touches the treetops in the evening. Cefus McRae Green Light Stripers 

By the way, if you choose to fish into the evening, be sure to drop a HydroGlow underwater light over the side to attract baitfish…and it won’t be long until the stripers show up.

 

Start your search in the morning  around creek mouths and mid-lake or mid-river humps that rise to 25 feet, which also have a main creek arm nearby.  This would be a good place to drop a live herring on a #1 or #2 Gamakatsu octopus hook with a 3 to 4 foot fluorocarbon leader.  I typically spool reels with 17 to 20 pound Stren mono and use 10 to 12 pound fluoro leader.  That way, if a fish gets hung up in the standing timber, the leader will break below the egg sinker and the fish can swim away.   Also be sure to have a MirroLure Top Dog rigged for topwater just in case a school of hybirds comes up to munch on a wad of baitfish.

If you want to fish mid-day, pull out your leadcore rods.   Run 8 colors of leadcore with 30 feet of 15 pound mono as a leader.   Tie on a 2 ounce WhoopAss Bucktail jig that is tipped with an expired herring, and pull the rig along the edges of the river channel and deep creek channels.   If your lake has standing timber and you get hung up in the trees occasionally, then you know you are fishing in the right spots.  Project-X X-Rigs rigged with 1/4 oz WhoopAss Bucktails and Capt. Mack’s ProBrellas are also catching fish in the river channels.   Be sure you have an Umbrella Retriever, because you will definitely catch a tree, and you don’t want to leave your U-rig to the murky depths.

X-Rig_Close_up

SideScan is a huge help when trolling, to let you see the schools that may be just beyond your trolling spread.  Make a wide turn to move laterally toward the schools and you should have rods bending in a few minutes.   Set the drags on your reels a little past the point where no line leaves the reel at your trolling speed.  With too much drag,  you may get a bite but the speed/power of the boat pulls the hook from the fish’s mouth.  And a screaming drag also sounds cool!

The Power-Reeling bite is starting to fire up as well.   You’ll be fishing in 60 to 90 feet of water that’s close to standing timber.   Again, a 2 ounce WhoopAss Bucktail with a Project-X pearl saucertail will trigger the reaction strike.  Free-spool the jig to the bottom and then wind up at a reasonably fast retrieve rate.   The key to catching here is you need to see fish on your sonar.  This is a great way to put some extra fish in the box once the trolling or live bait bite has slowed down.

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Stay safe on the water.  Use your SiriusXM Marine weather app to keep you informed on the afternoon pop-up storms so you don’t get caught in them.  And be sure to stay hydrated.

Tight lines,

Capt. Cefus and Buck, The Wonder Dog

Pontoon Boats – The Perfect Fishing Platform?

I’m not sure if it’s a law, but living on the lake, you might think there’s an ordinance that requires lake people to own a pontoon boat.   Virtually every dock you ride by has one sitting there.  For the longest time, I pretty much considered a pontoon boat as an awkward looking contraption to entertain kids, grandparents and friends who came up from the city.  They were slow, and didn’t have the pizazz of a sleek fishing boat.

Pontoon Fishing AA couple years ago, we caved and purchased a pontoon…just to make sure we were abiding by the lake-living rules.  This one is a tri-toon, meaning it has three tubes under the deck, instead of the traditional two tubes.  And it has a Honda 250 on the back, so it’s pretty fast…top speed around 40 mph.

Now, if I’m on the water, I am probably going to have a fishing rod within arm’s reach.   But a pontoon just didn’t fit my preconceived mental image of a fishing boat.  So, I adjusted my thinking and made a few modifications.  I installed a Lowrance Elite fishfinder with a TotalScan transducer.  I added several Scotty rod holder mounts around the perimeter and two on the back for trolling.   I added some additional 12 volt outlets so I could run the pump on a Keep Alive bait tank, and power my HyrdoGlow underwater lights for nighttime fishing.   And I mounted a 24 volt trolling motor on the front.   Although it still didn’t look like a fishing boat, it was now set up to fish like one.

I also rigged everything for easy removal, which lets us use the boat for its more traditional voyages.  The trolling motor has a quick-release plate that leaves a very low profile when the motor is removed.  The Scotty mounts use removable and positionable rod holders, so when they’re off, you are left with a very small footprint for the mount.  Plus, Miss Beth can use those same mounts with a Scotty drink holder or tray to serve cheese and assorted tidbits.  Please don’t tell her I use those same trays for cutting bait though.  The Lowrance stays on the boat for obvious reasons, and the bait tank resides on the dock when not in use.

After fishing the ‘toon’ for a couple times, I came to realize this could actually be the perfect inland and shallow bay water fishing platform.   Really????  Yep.  There’s an abundance of room, lots of storage, comfortable seating, and a bimini that can be raised or lowered depending on the day.  It is super-stable, and you can fish virtually 360 degrees around the boat.   It can get into about 12 inches of water (with the engine raised), and the trolling motor will pull it all weekend on a single charge.  The only disadvantage can be when the bimini top is in the raised position.  You may need to fight the fish along the length of the boat, and that means you have to work the rod around the bimini structure itself.  Typically, that’s not an issue, but if that’s the only downside; it’s a small sacrifice.

I’ve even run a couple charters off the ‘toon’, and although I got some strange looks when pulling up to the courtesy dock, once we got set up for fishing, folks realized just how comfortable and fishable it is.

So, if you’ve got a pontoon sitting at your dock, and you’re jonesing for some fishing… liberate your mind from the stereotype that fishing boats have to be shiny fiberglass and run 60 mph.  I’m sure you’ll be pleasantly surprised just how remarkable the under-rated pontoon boat can be as a fishing machine.

Tight lines and calm seas.

Capt. Cefus McRae – Nuts & Bolts of Fishing

It’s All About The Bait

If you open a hatch on my boat, you’ll find a dozen or more tackle trays with an assortment of hooks, weights, swivels, and of course lots of lures.   As a matter of fact, you might think you were looking down the aisle of a tackle store by the numbers of lures that I’ve stuffed in there.

Its All About the Bait PIC

As anglers, we need to have whatever we think the fish might be biting that day…and we need to have lots of it.  Right?  Diving plugs, suspending plugs, topwater plugs, swimbaits, soft plastics, jigs, spoons, bucktails…and it goes on and on.

The real secret with artificial baits is to mimic the food source gamefish want to eat.   Or, to pitch a lure that causes an instinctive reaction strike.   I honestly don’t know whether I’m getting an “I’m hungry” strike or a “reaction” strike many times.  I’m just happy when the fish takes the lure.

In my opinion, the best bait is going to be whatever the fish happen to be eating in their natural environment.   And that typically boils down to live bait.   I’m not aware of any gamefish that can solely survive on plastic, wood or nylon.   They have to eat other critters.   And if you can hone in on that natural quarry, then you’ve got a fighting chance at catching a fish.  Whether you’re presenting a living creature, or mimicking it with something man-made.

Minnows, smaller fish, crustaceans, bugs, worms, eels, even rodents and reptiles all represent food sources to top-of-the-food-chain gamefish.  So if I have the opportunity, I’m going to try to fill my bait well with something tasty and frisky that will fit on a hook.

Frisky is a definite key for success.   Live baits require some special attention, if you want to keep them at their peak friskiness all day.  Here’s a couple tips that can make the difference between fishing with great baits and not-so-great baits.

blueback herring in livewell

#1.  Buy your live bait from a reputable source that has LOTS of customers.   If they have a lot of customers, that means they’re going through lots of bait, and that means they get replenished frequently.   Which means you’re getting fresh bait too.

#2.  Don’t overcrowd your bait well.   You can’t put 20 pounds of potatoes in a 10 pound sack.  Frisky baits need room to move without constantly bumping into each other, or bumping into the walls of your bait well.  You’ll know you’ve put too many in, when you pull a herring or pogie out and it has a reddish nose.  I’d rather have 50 great baits, than 100 baits that are about to expire.

#3.  Consider the water temperature and oxygen content of the bait tank at the bait shop, and try to maintain that in your own bait well.  That might mean adding some ice during the day.   Pulling in 85 degree lake water into your bait well will have a detrimental effect on your minnows.   Bubblers work OK.  Recirculators are also good.   But you may want to consider adding an oxygen diffuser system to your wells to really keep baits fresh all day, or even overnight.

#4.  Have some sort of filtration on your bait well.  This comes in a variety of forms, and manufacturers offer lots of options.   The stress of being in a confined space causes fish to exude a lot of ammonia, and that’s not an ideal environment for bait.   Open your hatch regularly to let some of it escape as a gas.

#5.  Do your best to keep your bait well as full as it can be.   A partially filled bait well will ‘slosh’ around and that does bad things to your bait.  Imagine being in a washing machine…that’s what it’s like to your prized and expensive baits.

#6.  You want to keep you bait frisky and appealing when it’s on the hook.  So match the hook size to the size of the bait…not the size of fish you think you might catch.   A properly matched hook will allow the bait to swim freely and they will remain alive much longer; giving you more opportunity to hook up with a monster.

Finally, when a live bait does finally expire.   Don’t throw it back in the water.   Put it in a small container with a little ice in it.  When the bite slows down, cut those bluebacks, greenies, or pogies into tiny chunks and use as chum.   You’ll be amazed at how you can turn the bite back on.

Tight lines and calm seas.

Meet Capt Buck ICON

Capt. Cefus McRae & Buck, The Wonder Dog

What’s In Your Tackle Bag

 

It’s around this time of year that I take a hard look at the mound of tackle bags and boxes I have in my garage and have a serious heart-to-heart chat with myself.  Do I really need all this gear?  The answer is usually, “sure I do”.

Whats In Your Tackle Bag Pic 1

Now, in my own defense, I do fish both fresh and saltwater.   And I fish for a variety of species from crappie to tuna.  Each warrants its own category of hooks, lures, and rods.

For the uninformed, it may look like I have a sporting goods store in the garage, but when you dig a little deeper, I’ve got a couple crappie rods, a few bass rods, and striper gear for freshwater; and similar gear for saltwater expeditions.  In pure numbers, that’s a lot of stuff.  But if someone said, “you can only fish for spotted bass from now on”, that would significantly diminish my stockpiles.

When it comes to tackle, the reality is I probably only use about twenty percent of what I have hanging around.  I’m not adverse to trying new tactics or tackle, but I typically fall back into using what I have confidence in.

There was a time when I carried as much ‘stuff’ on the boat as I possibly could fit in it.  And I wound up spending a lot of extra time just loading and unloading gear…that never came out of the compartment on a fishing trip.  A few years back, I made the active decision to carry two medium-sized tackle bags for a day on the water.   Between the two, I have eight medium-sized trays, six zippered pockets, and two top pouches.   Believe it or not, that’s a lot of stuff.  And I’ve learned to work out of one or two of those trays at a time.  I’ve got everything for bottom fishing in one tray.  Jigs in another.   Plastics in yet another.  And so on.

Whats in Your Tackle Bag Pic 2

Now, I spend more time fishing, and less time digging through compartments for tackle that’s buried beneath other tackle that I seldom use.  The net-net is I’m more efficient at re-rigging, or if I decide to change out lures or rigs, I know exactly where everything is.

Like a lot of bass anglers, I prefer to have rods pre-rigged with what I anticipate might be appropriate for the day.   Now that my rod compartments are no longer over-stuffed with tackle boxes, I have the ability carry a couple extra rods.  When the conditions change or the fish decide they want something different, I don’t have to re-rig as often.

The lesson here is “Less is More”…at least in my case.  I’ve learned to carry what I need for the day in just a couple tackle bags.  And by limiting what I have on the boat, I believe I’ve actually become a better angler.  With fewer choices, I tend to select rigs that I have confidence will produce a strike, and I’ve learned the keys to working lures and rigging baits more effectively.

The side benefits are pretty obvious too.  With less stuff, it’s quicker loading and unloading gear each day.  And I’m not tripping over tackle bags or other stuff on the deck.  The only thing I haven’t found a solution for yet, is how to ‘downsize’ my 128 pound, four-legged buddy…Buck the Wonder Dog.  Then again, he could probably say the same about me.

Tight lines and calm seas.

Capt. Cefus McRae & Buck, The Wonder Dog

Spoon-Fed Stripers

CM Spoon Fed Stripers ENTRYIt’s been a long time since I fished the Santee Cooper area lakes.   Lake Marion and Lake Moultrie are world famous for mondo catfish and crappie.  And they are vibrant striped and largemouth bass fisheries as well.  Recently, I attended the South Carolina Outdoor Writer’s Conference, held at Black’s Fish Camp, and had the honor to fish with two iconic Santee Cooper charter guides…Capt. Leroy Suggs and Capt. Charlie King.

Each morning, I was treated to a home-cooked breakfast at Black’s restaurant while the captains prepped their boat with tackle and a livewell full of blueback herring.   After a short run down the lake, we would set four to six downline rods with live baits and drift near actively working seagulls.  The striper schools would show up on the sonar, and we would typically boat three or four fish before the school would break up or move on.   This is the way many anglers, including me, fish for stripers.   And it’s a very effective method.

Even though the calendar said October, the air temperature said July; with mid-morning temps in the mid-90’s.  The water surface temperature hovered near 85 degrees.   Not ideal conditions for man or fish.   By the time the sun cleared the treetops, the fish went deep and the bite all but stopped.  We could see fish on the sonar, but their enthusiasm to eat a herring diminished as the sun got higher.

Coincidentally, one of the sponsors of the conference was Live Target Lures, and they had put a few sample baits in each of the attendees’ goodie bags.  I’ve known this company for producing super-realistic crankbaits, soft plastics and swimbaits.   My bag had a Live Target Flutter Shad jigging spoon in it.  When the live bait bite slowed, I figured this was as good a time as any to try out the spoon.

Upon dropping it over the side, the first thing I noticed was the erratic, fluttering descent.   With 12 pound braid on a light spinning rod, I could really feel the spoon’s movement all the way down.   The same applied to the jigging retrieve.   You could feel the spoon when lifting the rod and when reeling it back to the surface.

On the second drop, the spoon went to the bottom…and as I lifted the rod…the line came tight.   This wasn’t a subtle, shy take either.   It was a noticeable thump that peeled drag.  And after a gallant fight, a slot-sized striper came to the landing net.  Coincidence? Blind luck? Stupid fish?   All possibilities.   When the third drop produced yet another fish, the other two writers on the boat, and the captain, started jigging as well.   While we were all jigging spoons, we kept a couple live baits out as well.   Interestingly enough, it was the spoons that consistently produced fish.

Quite honestly, this fishing strategy was contrary to tactics I would normally think to be productive.  After all, why would a fish prefer a piece of plastic and metal over a juicy live bait?  Then it occurred to me…the active feeding time had passed, and the stripers were hanging out in the cooler, oxygen-rich deep water until they got hungry again.  Our spoons were most likely drawing a reaction strike as it fluttered past their nose…presenting both a visual and sonic impression of an easy meal.  Although I couldn’t actually see what our herring were doing 40 feet below the boat; my guess is they were just hanging out as well, and didn’t present the same bite-generating action that the spoon did.

All in all, we caught over 50 fish each day, with the majority being caught on a jigging spoon.  We kept a few for dinner and the rest were released to be caught another day.

I’ve always been a believer in the effectiveness of jigging spoons to catch fish throughout the entire water column.   Now I’ve experienced first-hand that spoons can be a great tool to turn the bite back on…whether you fish Santee Cooper, Lanier, Clark Hill, Hartwell or any of our other impoundments.

The unique shape, action, and realistic pattern embedded in the Flutter Shad proved to out-fish frisky live herring in a head-to-head comparison.   These two days of fishing convinced me that spoons will always be a “never-leave-the-dock-without-one” item in my tackle box.

Tight lines and calm seas.

Capt. Cefus McRae

Think Like A Fish

In the real estate world, it’s all about Location…Location…and Location.  Folks want to put down their roots in an area that is convenient to shopping, grocery stores, good schools, social activities and their workplace.  And, they want to live in a climate that suits their particular taste.

When you think about it, the same is true for our piscatorial friends in both fresh and saltwater.  Although they may not be pushing a squeaky-wheeled cart down a grocery aisle, they will find a home where there’s ample forage.  And their schools teach more about the benefits of “safety-in-numbers” than quantum physics.

Picking the most suitable location to make a homestead is as important to fish as it is to us two-legged critters.   If you keep that in mind as you make your selection on where to fish, and in many cases…how to fish, you’ll find your days will become more productive.

Food Comfort SafetyWith perhaps the exception of the top predators, most fish base their location selection on the Big Three…Food, Comfort and Safety.   Identify where all three of those factors converge and you’ve got a very fishy spot.

Game fish have to eat, and they have to eat often…whether it’s a rainbow trout dining on tiny nymphs or billfish that will eat a 25 pound tuna in one bite.   A yellowfin tuna has to eat nearly its own weight in food every day, because it spends its entire life roaming the ocean currents.  And that uses up a lot of energy.  On the other hand, large trout will find a spot in a slip-stream behind a rock waiting for a tasty tidbit to float by.  They simply tilt their pectoral fins and the current lifts them up, just like airplane wings to grab a tiny midge and then glide back down to their rock again.  Not a lot of energy expended for the protein they just gulped.   So your first task is to find the kitchen.  Sometimes it’s pretty obvious when you see baitfish being corralled on the surface.  Sometimes it takes a little more thought and knowledge to locate the dining area.  There are seasonal patterns that occur and if you do a little research, or ask around at the local tackle stores, you can get some very valuable information.

The next component is Comfort.   Fish will move both horizontally and vertically to find a location that is comfortable.  Just like us, they have to breathe.  So they will congregate in place in the water column that has the right amount of dissolved oxygen.  Ever notice how reservoir-based stripers will move to deeper water in the summertime?  Sure the water is warmer at the surface than it is 50 feet down, but that warm water doesn’t hold as much oxygen as the cooler water does down deep.  Fish are cold-blooded, and the actual temperature of the water may have less to do with preferred locations than the oxygen content.  Look at how many fish hang around a natural spring upwelling or at a seamount, compared to a placid, sun-baked flat.   Remember the old adage about water temperature…“68 and the Fishin’s Great!”.    Most of us have experienced the impact weather can have on the fishing.   And changes in the barometric pressure, especially quick changes that occur with rapidly moving fronts can make a dramatic difference in the bite.  As the front approaches, the bite can really fire up.  And when the front arrives the fish may get lock-jaw for a couple days.  I believe the change in pressure (which transfers into the water) can make fish either lethargic or frisky.

And the third piece of the puzzle is Safety.   Why isn’t Safety the number one factor?  Well if you are starving to death, or can’t breathe, being in a safe place doesn’t really matter does it?  Safety can come in the form of a good hiding place like a rock outcropping, vertical structure such as pilings or ledges; or it can be exhibited by large numbers like we see in schooling baitfish.  The ability to blend into the environment or use camouflage is another trait that provides safety from being eaten by something larger.  Similarly, predator fish use those same techniques for finding food.   Flounder will change their color pattern to match the shelly bottom as they quietly wait on an unsuspecting meal to swim overhead.   Speckled trout have unique color patterns on their back that makes them virtually invisible in the grass flats, concealing them from overhead predators like ospreys.   And coincidentally, shell banks are great places to fish for flounder, and grass flats are prime locations for catching speckled trout.

Starting to see a pattern?

An inland lake, coastal waters, even a mountain trout stream will usually have places that provide at least two out of the three factors.   And during certain times of the year, you’ll find a spot that has all three.  That would be considered the gold mine. To find these spots, modern technology has provided us anglers with an assortment of tools.  Simrad DownScan will show ledges and drop-off’s, structure, creek channels, bottom composition.  Typical spots that hold game fish.  Services like Sirius/XM Marine Weather interfaces with your chart plotter to show contemporary weather systems, sea surface temperature, wave period, and wind speed/direction…all of which can be contributing factors to the bite, as well as letting you know when it’s time to head for the barn.

So, do a little homework and check out the real estate below the surface before you make your first cast.  Find a location that has the Big Three… Food, Comfort and Safety and you’ll be well on your way to closing the sale on some fine fishing.

Tight lines and calm seas.

Capt. Cefus McRae – Nuts & Bolts of Fishing

Fishing Rod Basics

Rod-Rack-ASelecting a rod is all about picking the right tool for the job.  And just between you and me, it can be a little overwhelming.  What makes one rods better suited for a style of fishing over another?  Rod companies use all kinds of terminology to describe their rods…there’s light, medium light, medium, medium heavy and on and on.   Then there’s the lure weight and the line weight.  It’s enough to make you want to go back to the good old cane pole.

Well, let me try to break all this down into a few simple concepts and explain the nomenclature that’s shown on the side of the rod blank.  Your first task is to decide the fish you’ll be targeting and the line class you intend to use while fishing.  Now you can narrow down your search on the rod aisle.  When you’re looking at rods, beyond the line class rating, you’ll usually see three descriptors on the side of the blank…Rod Power, Lure Weight and Flex.

Rods 101 PicRod Power:  This is a rating that refers to the ‘power’ of the rod and its ability function properly with a given line class.  And this is usually noted just above the grip, as Light, Medium, Heavy, etc.  What it boils down to is how much ‘beef’ the rod has…how much pressure you can put on the fish in combination with the line class the rod is rated for.  If you’re fishing in heavy cover, and need to get the fish away from the grass or rocks quickly, then you need a rod with a lot of power, or backbone.  On the other hand, too much power combined with light line will either snap the line, or pull the hook from the fish.   A word of caution though…with the popularity of braided lines, there is a tendency to ‘over-line’ the rod by using line classes that are way over the limit of the rod.  I’ve heard tales of using 60 pound braid with rods rated for 12 pound line.  And the angler wonders why his rod broke when he had the drag cranked down with a big fish.  Using heavier braid is OK on light rods, but be sure to set your reel drag to match the specs of the rod.

Lure Weight:  This refers to the lure weight the rod is designed to cast most efficiently.   Most of the time, this is rated in ounces.   A light spinning rod for bream or mountain trout could be rated at one-eighth to one-quarter ounce lures.  While a surf casting rod might be rated for three-quarter to two ounce lures.   And a bottom fishing rod for grouper could be rated at 4 ounces to 10 ounces.   Again, you want to try to match the rod to the size and weight of the lures you’ll be using.

Rod Action: Some manufacturers will use Light, Medium and Heavy to describe Rod Action, as well as Rod Power.  That’s kind of confusing.  Action typically refers to where the rod flex is located…in the top 1/3 of the blank (Fast)…in the middle of the blank (Medium – and the most common)…and Slow which means the rod flexes throughout the entire blank from tip to grip.

The Fast action rods typically have the greatest flex at the upper portion of the blank, and are pretty stiff throughout the rest of the rod.  Fast action rods are great for pitching heavy lures, top water plugs, and where you need lots of backbone to help set a hook in a tarpon’s hard mouth, for instance.

Medium action rods are what you’ll find as the predominant big box store rod.  They’re good all-around rods, and you can cast plugs, work crank baits, troll and even fish live baits with them.  Their flex starts at the tip, and stops about half-way down the blank.

Slow action rods have a nice parabolic bend throughout the blank…almost all the way to the grip.  They are usually all fiberglass construction, and they are great live bait rods.  Slow action rods are more forgiving on the hook-set too.  Their flexibility helps prevent pulling the hook in tender-mouthed fish like crappie and speckled trout.  For fishing with live baits, the flex in the rod lets your bait fish move around with less effort and the game fish can take the bait without ‘feeling’ the rod.  If you’ve ever thrown your minnow or shrimp off the hook on a cast, it’s possible the action is too fast.

Ready Rod CastingIn your quest for the perfect rod, there are a lot of variables that come into play, including personal preference.  There are myriad other factors that go into how a rod is made and how it fishes.  Things like…the construction materials, number of guides and guide placement, length and so on.  But that’s fodder for another article.  For now, these basics of rod label lingo will hopefully get you started down the right path to finding the rod that’s perfect for you.

Tight lines and calm seas,

Capt. Cefus McRae & Buck, The Wonder Dog

Big Fish – Little Hooks

Cefus_Big_Rainbow_CI love fly fishing.  I’m not the best long-pole thrower on the planet, but I can usually make a cast that gets the fly in the general vicinity.  One thing I’m continually amazed by, especially when trout fishing, is how small those dang flies are.  And just how big the fish are that I’ve caught with such a tiny fly.   I mean, some of the flies are almost too small to see.  Or to tie on the end of a leader.

One thing I’ve learned from fly fishing which I’ve carried over to conventional fishing techniques is an understanding of hook size.   And the fact you don’t necessarily need a hook made from rebar to catch a big fish.  The biggest rainbow trout I ever caught was over seven pounds, and I caught it with a fly tied to a #18 size hook.  By the way, a #18 hook is small…really small.

I believe a mistake many anglers make is using hooks that are too big.  They think you need a big hook to catch a big fish.  In some cases, that’s true.  Strong fish require a strong hook that won’t straighten out under pressure.  But more often, it’s the gap of the hook that you really need to be focused on.

Hooks come in a variety of configurations, shapes, sizes and materials.  My rule of thumb is to always use the smallest, lightest hook I can get away with.  And that rule of thumb is guided by the size of the bait that I’m using…not the size of the fish I’m fishing for.  Usually, the two will go hand-in-hand.   A hook used to fish for bream with a cricket is going to be much smaller than a hook used to troll for marlin with a 3 pound spanish mackerel.  The more you can conceal the hook from your quarry, the more likely they are to eat the bait attached to it.  A hook size properly matched to the bait you’re using will let allow that bait to move more naturally, and keep them frisky longer too.

circle hooksNowadays, I use circle hooks almost all the time.  Once you get used to the hook-up technique, you’ll find you actually have a better success rate.  And if you are in the catch-and-release mode, fish have a much better chance for survival after the release.

For circle hooks I like the Gamakatsu Nautilus Light circle hook.  It comes in a variety of sizes…small enough for mud minnows and fiddler crabs and big hooks for full grown mullet.  Even though it’s a relatively light wire hook, it’s strong enough to handle big fish.  The shorter shank means there’s less ‘hook’ exposed that might shy fish away.

While we’re on hook styles, I love to throw soft plastics.  Many worms, flukes and paddletails need a little help getting down into the strike zone.  Carolina rigs, Texas rigs and jig heads will serve the purpose, but sometimes you need to be super-stealthy.  All that weight in front of the plastic can spook fish or get hung up on grass, brush and rocks.   Years ago I discovered the advantages of what I call the “Flutter Hook”.  In reality, it’s a weighted-shank, worm hook.  The Gamakastu EWG (extra wide gap) Weighted Monster hook offers a big gap, sizes to match even the biggest plastic swim baits, and you rig it weedless.  The weighted shank gets the lure into the strike zone quicker too.  On the fall, the lure ‘flutters’ down like a distressed minnow, and as you retrieve the weight imparts a lot more action that a non-weighted worm hook might create.  I’ve used this hook for everything from soft plastics to cut bait, and it’s become my go-to hook for inshore fishing.  Again, I match the size of the hook to the size of the bait I’m pitching.

There’s an axiom that states, “Elephants eat peanuts”.   I think that’s true for fish too.  Fish don’t necessarily eat peanuts…but big fish will often focus on very small prey.  I’ve seen 25 pound stripers crashing baitfish that were an inch long.  And I’ve seen 40 pound amberjack gulping 3 inch glass minnows.  The only way to catch those fish was with similar-sized baits.  And that meant sizing all the terminal tackle down to match.

The next time you rig up, take a moment to consider your quarry.  Also consider what your bait or lure looks like to the fish you hope will eat it.   Does it look and move naturally?  Or is it hampered by a hook that’s too big?  Try sizing down and be prepared to reap the rewards of the big fish you’ll catch.

Tight Lines and Calm Seas

Capt. Cefus McRae

Piscatorial Pooches – Keep you pet safe on the water

Meet Capt Buck ICONI once read a survey that stated about 90% of people who own boats also have at least one dog.   Out of that 90%, nearly 50% of those people regularly take their dogs along with them on the water.  I fall into that category as well.  All my dogs have been ‘boat dogs’, and all of them have loved being out on the water.

But before you leave the dock with Fido, there are a few things to consider prior to putting your pooch on the pontoon.

Just like us two-legged animals, dogs need clean, fresh water to keep them hydrated and happy.  Regardless of what kind of beverages you take for yourself, be sure to have plenty of cool (not ice cold) fresh water for your dog.  That can be in the form of several bottles of water, or even a thoroughly cleaned gallon milk jug with tap water in it.   You should know how much water your dog needs during the day…so take 1 ½ times that much along.    Carry a plastic or rubber-based metal bowl that won’t spill if the boat is rolling a little.

And take them something to munch on too. You wouldn’t go out for a day of fishing without a few snacks.   Take some doggie snacks for your pup.   Something that isn’t affected by heat, and can be kept in a watertight container.  If you plan to be away from home all day, then you need to take a real meal along.

Now the aforementioned items will ultimately result in your pup’s need to relieve themselves at some point during the day.  Let’s presume that you’ve fed him his morning meal, and he’s had time to digest and eliminate breakfast, so you’re not immediately facing a bathroom break as soon as you get on the boat.   But, as a responsible pet owner, you are providing him enough water during the day, he will eventually have to go pee.  And just like us humans, they can only “hold it” for so long.

Don’t make your pet miserable, and induce a mentally bad experience on the boat by expecting them to “hold it” forever.   So, what do you do?   Well, you plan your day and your destinations such that you have easily accessible pit stops during the day.  Even if it means pulling up to an island, a beach, or a marina to let your pup relieve itself.   And of course, remember all the things you need to do to clean up after your pet.  Be aware of leash laws, etc. wherever you stop.   On a normal day, given the conditions described above, I wouldn’t expect my pup to go more than four hours without a pit stop.  Neither should you.

Something else we can tend to forget is shade for your pup, and keeping your pup cool in hot weather.   Find someplace on the boat that offers a cool shaded place for your dog to lay down comfortably.   That hot deck that burns your bare feet is doing the same to his paw pads.   Put down a towel, soaked in cool fresh water, for them to lay on.

All my four-legged best friends have been retrievers, and they have all absolutely loved being in, and around, the water.  In fact, Buck, The Wonder Dog’s been on the boat with me since he was 12 weeks old.

But remember, you’re bringing the dog along so everyone can have fun.  They should not be treated like an inconvenience.  If that’s the case…leave them at home or at the pet spa.  And while they’re on the boat, they need to be constantly in sight, and under your supervision.

If you decide to stop for a swim, and you choose to let your pup go in the water, then I would suggest getting them a Puppy PFD,  which is a comfortable, wearable flotation device that fits your dog’s build. You want them to enjoy having this PFD on.

Here’s a simple fact.   It’s fun to throw the tennis ball and have your pup chase it in the water.  However, because they’re having fun, they will actually swim to the point of exhaustion and could drown.  So be aware of when they are getting tired and get them out of the water before they get into trouble.

For most of us, our dogs are members of the family; whether they’re a duck dog, a show dog or just a loveable companion.  And just like any other member of the family, it’s our responsibility to make sure they are safe and comfortable on the water.  So before you take your best four-legged friend out on the boat, give some serious thought to the things they’ll need out there too.   Make it a part of your Pre-Launch Checklist.  Your pup will definitely thank you for it.

Tight Lines and Calm Seas

Capt. Cefus McRae and Buck, The Wonder Dog.

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