Saturday, August 29, 2015

Fishing Through Curve Balls

I recently traveled to Lake Seminole in Sneads, Florida to scout for the last Bassmaster Southern Open tour event of 2015.
fishing tips from bass fishing on bassmaster opens
Jim Woodruff dam (background) created the 38,000 acre Lake Seminole

Being a multi-tasker, I also added to my list three other goals: re-learn the lake's massive stump fields and fishing quirks, record depth contours for Insight Genesis social maps, and find enough bass to successfully compete in the FL Bass Nation state qualifier tournament which I entered without any practice.  This qualifier tournament was my second to last chance to earn a birth into the Florida BASS Nation State Championship.

fishing tips from bass fishing on bassmaster opens

Lake Seminole is located north of Tallahassee, FL on the Florida /Georgia border.  It  was a five-hour drive to reach the boat ramp and it had been over six years since I fished Lake Seminole last. When I began boating around, I found a very different lake than I knew.  A mayfly hatch was in full swing, a strong northwest wind  had been blowing for several days, and the water was severely stained at the lower end near the dam.
Mayfly hatch on Lake Seminole had the bluegill happy

The conditions had eliminated much of the open water areas I previously knew to fish. I was forced to fish the limited wind protected areas and find new fish holding areas in my limited two days.  For a reservoir nearly 60 square miles (38,000 acres), the task was overwhelming.

fishing tips from bass fishing on bassmaster opens
Woodroof Dam creating the reservoir

Since it was summertime, I took the approach to tie on basic lures to cover the top, middle, and bottom of the water column.  Topwater plugs, spinnerbaits/ swimbaits, and worms were my first choice.

I scouted in the Chattahoochee river,  Flint, and Spring Creek sections of Lake Seminole. Water temperatures ranged 88-90F and locating solid groups of shad and bass was challenging. The hot summer water had fish scattered on the flats and my first fishing attempts were unsuccessful. The Chattahoochee River was stained, and the Flint and Spring Creek river arms were clear, almost too clear for the heat.
fishing tips from bass fishing on bassmaster opens
Stained water on Lake Seminole was common on the Chattahoochee river

In other areas of Lake Seminole, the exotic plant Hydrilla was choking out acres but making the water clear (FWC weed alert). Bass in the ultra clear water were spooky in the mid-day sunshine. Using typical clear water baits, I coaxed a lot of bass to follow my lures, but none would commit. Seeing three pounds bass follow lures all the way to the boat without striking made me believe the afternoon conditions were wrong to catch these bass after the sun began to blare. I would have to use the areas as morning fishing spots.
fishing tips from bass fishing on bassmaster opens
Hydrilla topping out and reducing access for boating 

Massive acres of topped out hydrilla
My second pattern was to try the deeper main channels and stained water areas. After a second day on the water, I mapped nearly 400 acres of contours for Insight Genesis social maps and figured out how to catch some bass in the process. A few nice fish were easy to flip up, and a few others hit the mid-water baits I scouted with.

fishing tips from bass fishing on bassmaster opens
Insight Genesis freshwater mapping software free with sign up

I felt I had performed a reasonable job of reacquainting myself with Lake Seminole after only two days on the water. I was going to fish the tournament the next day with some confidence, and a good deal of knowledge of the reservoir conditions.
When the morning of the Bass Nation state championship qualifying tournament arrived, I motored out into the lake ready to tackle the day.  I noticed on the Army Corp website that the reservoir discharge had increased 4 fold.

I arrived at my first spot on the main river and worked it over for an hour without a bite. I witnessed the water flow to be much faster, water higher, and all my stained water was replaced by clear, tannic water. The reservoir managers had needed to move water overnight due to heavy rain in Georgia, and this flushed the entire lower end of the lake.  Life had thrown me my first curve ball! The sudden change in water conditions altered fish behavior and locations.  I was forced to start practicing again after wasting an hour trying to coax bass in my area to bite.
fishing tips from bass fishing on bassmaster opens
Weather change threw me a curve ball

I fished many promising areas again and focused on efficiently covering the habitat, while at the same time looking for a sign of bass or fish activity.

By 9am the wind had died to present me with a mirror-calm Lake Seminole, 99F degree heat index, and sunny, cloudless skies.  This second curve ball made conditions even tougher!
fishing tips from bass fishing on bassmaster opens
Lack of wind produced slick water and slowed the bite down

I put my trolling motor down just went fishing through fishy-looking areas with a mix of plants. I managed to find one area where I picked up three bites on my spinnerbait.  I landed only one of the three bass, and gave myself a pathetic 33% landing average.  Later in the day I hit a bass flipping but failed to land it too. This dropped my landing average to a horrible 25%. To state the obvious, I had a mentally challenging day!

fishing tips from bass fishing on bassmaster opens
My single bass was big enough to finish in 9th place
In the end, I brought only one bass to the scales in my state qualifier tournament.  However, since bass tournaments competitors fish under the same changing conditions, the weights are all relative. The champion was a local expert who weighed in 18-pounds for a five-fish limit, beating me by a large margin.
I was happy to see my bass was big enough to earn me 9th place, and a birth into the 2015 FL Bass Nation State Championship! This was great news on a hard fishing day.  The State Championship is scheduled this November to be near my home on the Harris Chain of Lakes in Leesburg, FL.  I should have a much better tournament with the ability to practice more.
My trip was successful on all accounts except my fish landing skills. I met my goals of re-learning the stump fields, scouting Lake Seminole's quirks, recording depth readings for Insight Genesis, finding aquatic plants and bass, and earning my birth into the state championship!  I had mixed emotions on the outcome.  I enjoyed the time on the water, but I was not happy with my poor execution of converting fish bites into landing fish.
I remain motivated on building my skills at adapting to on-the-water-conditions, and improving my conversion of hookup-to-landings.  Had I achieved a 100% ratio in the tournament I would have made a top-five finish.  I should have done better.....
Now that qualified for FL Bass Nation State Championship, I already started mapping the Harris Chain Of Lakes for Insight Genesis social maps and re-learning the location of this year's bass communities and aquatic vegetation.
fishing tips from bass fishing on bassmaster opens
Began practice on Harris Chain for State Championship

Having to share the water with anglers and aviators
In September, I'll join KISS (Kids In Support of Soldiers) for a packaging event for our military troops.
fishing tips from bass fishing on bassmaster opens

fishing tips from bass fishing on bassmaster opens
In October, I fish my last Bassmaster Southern Open event of 2015 on Lake Seminole. We launch out of Bainbridge, GA, so I will need to learn some more stump fields to successfully navigate around that section of the lake.

Finally, In November after the Bassmaster Southern Open, I return my focus to winning the FL Bass Nation State Championship on the Harris Chain of Lakes, FL.  Accomplishing that goal will provide me the opportunity to fish the Bassmaster Classic!  

fishing tips from bass fishing on bassmaster opens
I was taught by anglers much better than myself, and I still have much to learn, so I am always willing to pay it forward to other anglers who are wanting to learn more.
Visit my webpages "Angler Resource" for aquatic plant info, maps, water info, techniques, and more.

fishing tips from bass fishing on bassmaster opens
Thanks for following along!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Lull in Between Events

What does a die hard angler do between tournaments to keep busy and focused?

I am finding myself with that delima and in an area of lull that is foreign to me. Basically, no planned tournament fishing. A storm is brewing in my head. 

The 2015 schedule for the Bassmaster Southern Open tour has a five month break over the summer.  I have enjoyed more family time than I can remember. Trip to California, to Hawaii, and a nice dinner at the German pub in Sanford, Fl. 

So far this year on the tournament trail I have struggled to make a check in the Bassmaster Opens. I didn't even place high enough to qualify for the BassFest extravaganza on Kentucky Lake. 

As I sit at home I happily support my roommate Shaw Grigsby, friend Paul Elias, and fellow angler Troy Boussard of Swamp People on their quest to win BassFest. 

When life takes us away from our goals we all need to embark on a "grounding", the process of going back to our roots, stoking up the flames of desire, and getting motivated to burn through the challenges life throws at you. 

I just celebrated my 28th year marriage anniversary with my wife Trish. We developed juvenile diabetes with our first child 28 years ago. I say "we" because we are a team and have to rely on each other for strength. 

Today, we enjoy three beautiful children, one angel, and a great son in law. My wife's diabetes and our fight to enjoy life has been a very inspirational and motivating experience. Her ability to push through the tough times and reap the rewards of hard work without complain makes me proud!!

The strength my wife shows as she endures against all odds makes me mad at today's lazy society that wants something from nothing. 

I love tournament bass fishing and I love to take on challenges, but is there more??  I believe there is. 

I want to recuperate and gain my mental strength that I seems to have withered. I know I can catch fish, I have proven it over four years in the Bassmaster Southern Open trail. Yet, I feel I need to take a moment to regroup. My famy and my career limit me to 2.5days of practice in my Open events. With such limited time against full-time pros and local experts, I fight an uphill battle to be the best. 

So, I am thinking about expanding my promotional ability to more anglers for my sponsor #AERF.  Surveys show for every high level tournament angler there are nine anglers fishing mid-level and club tournaments.  

I stand to gain a nine-fold increase in brand impressions by fishing the Florida Bass Nation trail and ABA Weekend Series as I regroup and fish in Florida for a while with my friends. That's a win-win deal!! 

During my mission to share aquatic plant education, my goal will be to qualify for the BASS National Championship through the Bass Nation schedule and earn a berth in the Bassmaster Classic.

During my sabbatical from the Opens, I intend to accrue the vacation time needed to balance family vacations with a full-time career as a  Pro Angler. 

Juggling family time against a full-time biology career and a parttime BasspPro associate career has been a hand full. 

If it works out that 2016 limits me to home waters, I look forward to being a local expert for awhile, then everyone else will have to compete against me! 

Soon, I will recharge and challenge my Elite tournament friends again! If I retire from my career anytime soon, I will look to be a threat against the Bassmaster pros full time!! 

Look out Shaw Grigsby, Gary Klein, and Paul Elias. I'm coming! 

....This is the rant of a die-hard bass angler....I hope you feel my struggle and share my enjoyment of competitive bass fishing. Don't forget to balance fishing with family. 


Sunday, April 19, 2015

On A Roll, In The Wrong Direction

My fishing career in 2015 is trending; only it's going in the wrong direction. My placement in the second #Bassmaster Southern Open event on Alabama River was a miserable 123rd place (out of 182 pros). 

The points I earned for this event put me in 127th place (top 60%) in Angler of the Year standings. 

Even though I'm not happy with my finish, I have to take comfort in knowing that I am stil ahead of several big Elite pros. 

On the Alabama River solid rain and poor weather altered the river conditions and made the bass fishing tough. 

Normally a clear/ semi-stained river, this week we saw conditions that caused muddy water to roll down the river and flow out of backwater oxbows. 

With over four inches of rain in the watershed, the water regulators were forced to move water downstream to avoid flooding. Two hydro-electric dams on the Coosa River (Walter Bouldin and Jordan) and one on the Tallapoosa River (Thurlow) fed the Montgomery section of the Alabama River that we fished. 

When the Walter Bouldin and Jordan dams were flowing water was clear. When the Tallapoosa River flowed it brought turbid water with zero visibility.  

The further you went down stream on the Alabama River the muddier the main river became from all the backwater bays flushing in storm runoff. Erosion and collapsing river-banks were a common sight along he way. 

I found the Alabama River was rich with backwater bays and oxbows, sand bars, rock, trees, and a some aquatic water-willow. 

My practice was good for finding fish using shaking head jigs and topwater lures along the main river. I also had a good backwater pattern using lipless crankbaits and spinnerbaits around trees and wood.  These baits produced in both clear and stained waters. 

Tournament Day One:
Army Corp of Engineers lowered the water level of the Alabama River nearly two feet overnight in response to heavy rain showers. This made the fish skittish in the shallower water bays. The low river water helped drain the dirty water out of these bays and into the main river. 

Launching out as boat 171 (out of 182) I found most of my creek mouths were already taken by competitors. I managed to find one area still open and started fishing. I worked my way from the mouth into the backwater river about five feet deep.  After 30 minutes I left without a bite and moved out into the main river to fish fallen trees. I caught my first fish of the tournament, a 2lb largemouth on a shakeyhead jig. 

Next, I moved into another stained bay and caught several small bass before landing another keeper largemouth on a Redeye shad lipless crankbait. My crankbait even snagged one of the prolific Gizzard Shad back in the bay. 

Since most of my river areas were turning muddy and less productive, I made the decision to run 40 minutes up to the Coosa River near Wetumpka, AL in search of clear, flowing water. 

I found the water clarity of the Coosa River still good and quickly finished out my five bass limit on the #StrikeKing Redeye shad.  Somewhat later my coangler partner landed a 3lb spotted bass on a Spinnerbait which gave me a clue.  I switched over to a hard jerkbait and landed a 3lb bass of my own and culled a few other bass. With not much time left I headed back to weighin. My first day weight was 6lbs-8oz. 

Tournament Day Two:
This day the Army Corps did not let the water flow downstream so the Alabama River rose overnight. This added two feet of water and flooded my once visible cover.  My best areas in the Coosa River were now under water.  The heavy flow tested my ability to hold the trolling motor  against such strong currents and It was extremely difficult to hold the correct boat positioned and fish effectively. 

My first cast of the morning with a jerkbait produced a bite from a bass that looked to be about two pounds. It jumped and threw the bait back at me. I hooked and lost six more good bass before I finally landed a 2lb largemouth. 

Every stop I made I got bites on my jerkbait and lost fish. I changed out the treble hooks but still lost bass. 

A few hours into fishing and the river flow doubled in speed. I was forced to find current eddies off to the side.  When my coangler landed two bass over three pounds on a chatterbait, I switched over to my own vibrating jig. I landed my second fish of the day, a spotted bass over 3.25 lbs. I continued to search out current breaks along the river but never caught another bass. I weighed in only two bass for 5lbs, 1oz. 

They were only "show" fish: something to walk up on stage and show off. There was not enough weight to help me jump up the leader board. 

James Overstreet took my picture holding the spotted bass for the webpage.  A few other photos were taken from BASS staff and displayed as well. 

Pre-tournament research showed me the river has almost always produced the winning stringers. Having caught a small limit on the first day, I thought I found the right stuff in the Coosa River to do well the second day. However, the second day was even tougher and my execution for landing fish was the worst I've experienced in a long time. 

Only landing two bass out of more than a dozen good size bass was a horrible performance. Either my bait size, color, or cadence was off. I never figured which it was. Had I landed those fish, I would have made a nice finish and earned a good check to take home. 

I am greatful for the experience and pride myself on enduring in tough tournaments, but this year the bass are getting the best of me. 

As with most things in life, there are up and downs. You have to experience both, and I'll be glad when I get back on the upswing. 

The tournament was won by a local pro fishing the main river current breaks. His knowledge of the key breaks gave him the win. Cold rains muddied up the backwater bays and made only the river successful. 

Not always the case, but in this event local knowledge prevailed and only more practice would have given me enough options to be competitive. 

I will use this experience for my next event on Lake Seminole reservoir. Another hydroelectric system with three rivers flowing in: Chattahoochee, Spring Creek, and Flint River. 

Until next time, good luck fishing! Jeff

Monday, March 2, 2015

Alabama River Looks Impressive

The next Bassmaster Southern Open event iis on the Alabama River. An amazingly fertile river system with everything an angler could wish for. 

Located in Montogmery AL this diverse river is a compilation of many miles of water. 

Doing my pre-tournent research I find myself more intimidated by this river system than all the vegetation on Lake Okeechobee. 

Largemouth bass in Florida vegetation I understand, but Alabama spotted bass buffaloed me on Logan Martin in 2013, and will likely challenge me on this next venue. 

The Alabam River has every type of habitat, a wide variety of fish species, and a large list of water types. I don't know where to start. 

My research found that nearly every style of fishing has dominated winning stringers! Topwater, crankbaits, spinnerbaits, Alabama rigs, jigs,worms, Carolina rigs, drop shot, and skakeyheads.

This river is an angler's paradise if you understand it, and can be an ordeal if you miss the mark. Water flows at the whim of electrical power-generation schedules. Going from nearly 20,000 cubic feet per second to zero. Sometimes clear water flows down and sometimes stained. 

With three major systems contributing to the Alabana River, it is hard to research which tributary to watch. The Boulden Dam section of Coosa River, Jordan Dam portion, or Tallapoosa River.  All influence the bite in some form. 

My research also found a more diverse system than I have ever faced. Dams, culverts, ditches, creeks, streams, tributaries, oxbows, and a main river drives the fishery. 

Habitat is equaly complex. Rocks, gravel, sand, standing trees, tree-falls, stumps, vegetation, docks, sea walls, and deep water oasis. 

This system and it habitats are available in clear water, stained water, and muddy water, depending on the section of river. Again, an angler's best dream come true!