Safe boating “gotta-have’s”

FISHING AND BOATING “GOTTA-HAVE’s”

Capt. Cefus McRae

Hopefully everyone understands and adheres to the USCG requirements for safety gear you ‘Must-Have’ on a boat.  Personal Flotation Devices (lifejackets), a Throwable (throwing cushion), Fire Extinguisher, Daytime/Nightime distress signals (flares), and some smaller boats might also require a paddle on board.   Regarding PFD’s… there must be a lifejacket for every person on board, AND…it must fit them.   So if you have kids on board, you must have child-sized PFD’s for each of them.  PFD’s must be in a serviceable condition, that is, they can’t be moldy, torn or in poor condition.   And both your PFD’s and Throwable must be ‘readily accessible’…they can’t be hidden under waterski’s or stowed in a compartment beneath all your fishing rods.   When you need a lifejacket…you need a lifejacket.   They need to be easy to access.

A couple other things to keep in mind regarding safety gear.   Check your fire extinguisher regularly to insure it is compliant, and fully charged.   Most have either a gauge or an indicator to let you know they’re good to go.  Another thing that’s easy to overlook…check your flares for their serviceable/expiration date.   Each one has a expire date printed on it.   Replace them well in advance of their expire date.   A violation of any of the above will get you a high-priced ticket from the Coast Guard or DNR.   More importantly, these are items that you will definitely need if you ever run into problems on the water, and they could save your life.

OK…let’s talk about a couple things that aren’t actually ‘required’ gear on a boat, but I think they should be.   And I’d suggest you give serious thought to incorporating them on your boat, whether it’s a fishing boat, a ski boat, or a pontoon boat.

#1. A functional marine band VHF radio with a high quality VHF antenna.  The first response from most folks is… “I’ve got a cell phone, why do I need to add a VHF radio?”   Here’s why.   A lot of the areas where we go boating/fishing can have spotty cell service.   Cell companies don’t spend a lot of money directing their cell tower coverage beyond the shoreline.   So it’s entirely possible you could have limited, or no, service even on some of our inland lakes and coastal areas.   Offshore, you’ll notice your cell service cuts out just a few miles beyond the beach.   Also, when you make a call on a cell phone, the only person you contact is the person on the other end of the phone.   If you call 911, you’ll most likely be connected to the land-based EMS or police dept.   You’re on the water!   They have to go through a lot of gyrations to get you in touch with the Coast Guard or Marine Patrol.   And in an emergency, seconds or minutes can make the difference between a quick response and an uncontrolled dangerous situation.   With a marine VHF, when you send out a distress call, everyone with a VHF radio (within range) hears your call for help, including the Coast Guard, Marine Patrol, local marinas, and boaters who might be closer and able to lend assistance.  The net-net is usually a quicker response.   A good quality VHF radio costs around $100 and a good quality VHF antenna costs about the same.  So for just a couple hundred bucks, you have some added peace of mind, and the ability to call for help… and lend assistance to someone who might need it as well.

#2.  A chartplotter/sonar that is equipped with digital cartography.   Many anglers depend on chartplotters and their sonar units to help them find fish.   And most of today’s fishfinders are actually combo units with both charting and sonar available on the same unit.  For recreational boaters, a chartplotter can be a valuable asset for navigating unfamiliar waters, keeping you away from dangerous shoals, rocks, submerged obstacles, and simply staying in the main channel.  They also have points of interest like marinas that offer fuel and slip space, boat ramps, and of course all the aids to navigation (channel markers).   They let you plot a course to your next destination, create waypoints and they are especially helpful when navigating at night. 

 

SiriusXM Marine Weather on Simrad Chartplotter screen

#3. SiriusXM Marine Weather is another “Gotta Have”.  Everyone who spends time on the water will eventually be subject to inclement weather.   Whether it’s a spring rain shower, a windy day that chops up the water, or a summer squall with torrential rain, lightning and high winds.   And sometimes these potentially dangerous weather systems can sneak up on us, catching us off-guard, and a long way from safe harbor.  Cell phone weather apps are a good tool to get forecasts and watch approaching weather systems.  But once you lose cell service, you’re at the mercy of your own senses…looking at the sky, and feeling the temperature and wind change of a weather front on the way.  Usually, by the time you realize this, it’s too late to make a run for the barn.   You can wind up in a precarious situation that creates a lot of undue stress and danger to you and your passengers.   The SiriusXM Marine Weather service gives you contemporaneous weather information, displayed right on your chartplotter screen.  It shows a variety of weather-related information including storm fronts and their speed/direction, wind speed and direction, wave height, precipitation, and lightning.  All of this information helps the skipper make prudent decisions on avoiding dangerous weather conditions, or the ability to potentially navigate around the worst of the storm.  When the waves are breaking over the bow, and the rain is coming down in sheets, having a tool that doesn’t rely on cell service and is displayed on your charting screen is extremely valuable.   It has been for me.  SiriusXM Marine Weather is a subscription service, and it’s quite reasonably priced.  You can suspend the service during the winter months and then re-start it when you put you boat back in the water when spring arrives.  And, you get all the SiriusXM music, news and entertainment you’ve grown to love in your car and at home.

#4. Take a Boater Safety Course.   When you think about it, operating a recreational boat doesn’t require any kind of competence certification.   The money you pay for your registration is really just a tax.  Having a registration number on the side of a boat doesn’t mean the person at the helm is truly capable of running the boat, or has any knowledge of the Rules of the Road for safe navigation.  Take the time to attend a safe boating course offered by the US Power Squadron or your local Coast Guard Auxiliary.   You’ll get a good foundation of the basics of operating a boat safely, understand all the safety gear you must have, and even get basic first aid instruction.   Personally, I think every boat owner should be required to take one of these courses.

We have several DVD’s to help you become a better, safer boater.   Check out the titles at www.NutsAndBoltsFishing.com 

Stay safe on the water and catch ‘em up.

Capt. Cefus McRae and Buck The Wonder Dog.

DIGITAL CHARTS: ROADMAPS TO FISHING SUCCESS

The other day, Buck The Wonder Dog told me he wanted to do a little fishing.  So we loaded up the boat and headed out to chase down a few stripers.   I knew the general area where I wanted to start trolling, so I really didn’t pay a lot of attention to my chartplotter on the way there.  Instead, we just enjoyed the sunrise and the brisk ride about four miles up the lake.

My Simrad was set to display DownScan full screen, and when we arrived in the vicinity, I switched over to my multi-window view which shows DownScan, SideScan and the chart.   Oops!  No chart chip!   I had removed it a few days earlier to download some screen captures, and forgot to put it back. 

I still had all my waypoints, but I was just looking at the ‘base map’ on the screen.  No contours, no creek channels, navigation aids, etc.   Nevertheless, we fished over several of my favorite marks (I name most of my good waypoints so I can easily see which ones are the ‘go-to’ spots), and caught some nice fish.

When I got back home, I dropped in my chart chip to note exactly where we had been catching fish.   Interestingly, those spots were very close to creek channels, and the convergence of creek channels.    I’ve known those places are usually likely spots for fish, but it became even clearer to me just how important understanding bottom features are to a productive day on the water. 

I’m convinced gamefish … both fresh and salt…use underwater channels, ledges, and other distinctive features as highways and travel routes.   Much the same way that offshore pelagics use currents and water temperature to guide them on their migratory paths each season.  

Once I saw the overlay of my waypoints on the chart, it was eye-opening.   I even scrolled around to other fishy spots on the lake, and the vast majority were either right on top, or very close to, these kinds of features.   I know this may seem quite elementary to a lot of anglers out there, but for me, it was a reminder of the significance of underwater highways.

It also lends some insight on how to fish a body of water for the first time.   Get the chart…either digitally on your electronics…or a paper chart of the area.   Plan out your stops for the day, and make your initial stops at the aforementioned places.   You’ll be pleasantly surprised, just like me, how helpful an underwater roadmap can be to catching more fish.

Tight lines and calm seas.

Capt. Cefus McRae

Southeast striper & Hybrid Fishing report

MID-OCTOBER FRESHWATER FISHING REPORT: Southeast Stripers & Hybrids

By Capt. Cefus McRae

Fall fishing is in full swing!  Hartwell, and other lakes like Lanier, Murray, Clarks Hill, are all delivering nice stringers of hybrids and stripers.   The water temperature is in the mid-70’s, and slowly dropping toward that magical 68 to 70 degree range.  October can be one of the most productive, and fun, times to be on any of our regional lakes.  So get out there and go catching!

Linesides are feeling the temperature drop, and the reduction in daylight hours.  And they are ready to eat.  There is plenty of bait for them to gorge on, and it is becoming more and more common to see explosions of bait wads throughout the entire lake.  Spotted bass are joining in the feeding frenzy too.    

Locating gamefish should be pretty easy right now.   Find the bait, and gamefish won’t be too far away.   And the bait can be holding over the deepest channels, as well as up on shallow humps.   So this can make searching a little more time consuming, but once you find bait schools, it’s time to stop and fish.   Use your Simrad SideScan to explore more of the water column out to 100 or more feet on either side of the boat.  The bait schools (and the stripers) will show up clearly; and you can pinpoint their location.

Stripers, hybrids and white bass will eat from the same menu…and so will spots and largemouth, and even the gar and catfish we have in our lakes will readily slam a tasty blueback herring, shiner, or salty.   When you locate the bait school, or see the ‘spaghetti’ on your screen to indicate active gamefish, drop your baits on a Carolina-style rig using a 1 to 2 ounce egg sinker above 4 feet of fluorocarbon leader with a #1 or #2 Gamakatsu octopus hook.  Handle your baits with care, hooking the herring sideways through the nostrils.  The water is still warm, compared to the water your baits came from, so check them frequently, and replace them when they appear sluggish.   Keep those ‘expired’ baits in a separate bucket with a little water and a handful of salt in it.  When the bite slows down, chop those baits and use them as chum to fire up the bite again. 

While you are downlining, pitch out a freelined live bait on a very light rig (10 lb test) behind the boat.   Keep this bait far away from your downlines to prevent tangling with your other baits.  If you are slow trolling, you can put these freelines out on Perfect Planer boards as well. 

This is also the time of year when you can experience some exciting topwater action.  Have a MirroLure Top Dog in a Silver-Blue or Mullet color pattern rigged on a spinning rod to cast to surfacing schools.   Project-X X-Rigs and the Mini-Mack can be extremely effective right now.   Cast beyond the surfacing fish, and retrieve the rig through the school.  If you can cast to the outer edge of the school, let it sink for a 5-count, you will probably pick up some bigger fish that are hanging away from the larger school of smaller fish.  Chug Bugs and Zara Spooks will also bring some major topwater explosions.    When the school sounds deep, throw a WhoopAss 1 ounce bucktail, tipped with a 3” Project-X Saucertail in the same vicinity.  Let it sink 10 to 15 feet, and retrieve erratically, but slowly…and hang on!

You can get all your striper gear, lures and rigs at www.NutsAndBoltsFishing.com.   We’ll get you hooked up!   And watch our TV episodes on catching stripers and hybrids on CarbonTV.com.

Stay safe on the water and catch ‘em up.

Capt. Cefus McRae and Buck The Wonder Dog.

Hooked Up

By Capt. Cefus McRae, Nuts & Bolts of Fishing Series

It’s been a long time since I got a hook stuck in me.  I try to be careful when tying on a lure, when landing fish, and when removing hooks from fish.   But if you do enough fishing, at some point, you’re probably going to get stuck.  

Now, probably 99% of the times I’ve felt the pointy end of the hook piercing my skin, I was able to react quickly enough to prevent it from doing much more than a simple prick of the skin.   That other 1% of the time is when the hook becomes embedded beyond the barb.   And that’s what happened last week.

In this particular case, I wasn’t even fishing.  I was just cleaning up some tackle in my man-cave.  As you can imagine, I’ve got waaaaaay too much fishing gear.  At least my wife tells me that on a regular basis.

I’ve got a wire rack where I hang lures to dry after I’ve fished with them, or when I wash everything down after a trip to the ocean.  I like to let my WhoopAss Bucktails dry in the air, versus drying in the tackle box.  It keeps the filaments of the bucktail nice and straight, and it also keeps the hooks from rusting.  Same goes for my hard plastic lures, spinnerbaits and trolling plugs. 

On this particular occasion, I had just hung up a spinnerbait, and as I was taking my hand away, my finger got a little too close to a MirrOlure Top Dog….and in a split second, I was having a tug of war with the wire rack.  The bottom treble hook of the Top Dog had completely buried itself into the tip of my middle finger. 

In reality, I really didn’t even feel the hook go in.   The hooks are super-sharp, and this was a freshly cleaned and hardly-used plug.  Now I’ve got a huge plug dangling off the end of my finger, and each time I moved my hand the plug also moved, which caused the hook to move, which caused me to wince in pain. 

After determining I wasn’t going to pass out from shock, the next step was to get the hook off the plug.  Fortunately, I’ve got some great Cuda Cable Cutters, and after four snips the hook eye had a gap big enough to fall free from the eye screw on the plug. 

You might say “Why not just cut the hook at the shank?”.   If you do, then you have nothing to grab securely during the removal procedure.  Better to keep the entire hook intact. 

For the 1% of the time I’ve had an embedded hook in me…probably 95% of the time, I’ve been able to remove it myself.  Either by pushing it on through enough to expose the barb…cut the barb off and then back the shank out.   Or by doing the ‘piece of monofilament wrapped around the shank and jerking it out the way it came in’ method.  Google both of these methods and you’ll never want to get near a fishing hook again.  Neither of them are fun for the hook-ee.  I tried both of these methods this time too.  And neither of them proved fruitful.  The net result was a lot of pain, and no success.

So, it’s off to the doctor we go.

I live on the lake.  Our local doctors have seen plenty of hooks in anglers.   The procedure was pretty simple.  A little Novocain, and some surgical skills to expose the barb, then the sterilized bolt cutters.  Doc closed the small incision with SuperGlue; and one Bugs Bunny bandaid later, I was walking out of the office.  Oh, and I got a tetanus booster shot too. 

Lessons learned.  Now my wire lure drying rack has fewer lures, so it’s darn near impossible to touch two lures at the same time.  And I’ve gained a new respect for just how sharp MirrOlure hooks are.

Wishing all of you many days of only putting your hooks in fish…

Tight lines and calm seas.

Capt. Cefus McRae

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

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