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Frogging with the Tactical Bass

Summer is a great time to be out on the water for a lot of reasons, but fishing topwater might be a highlight. TFO Ambassador Bill Sherck gives us a rundown of how he’s fishing topwater with frog patterns on the lakes in Minnesota using the 8′ Extra-Heavy Tactical Bass rod (TAC FS 807-1).

Check out the video below for more tips from Bill, and be on the look out for more topwater tip for fly and light tackle from more ambassadors soon!

Carp on the Fly

Carp on the fly is completely and utterly underrated! If you haven’t ever chased carp with a fly rod, you are seriously missing out on some of the most fun that you could ever have with a fly rod. These massive fish will test your patience, presentation, gear, and knot-tying skills. Once you get out there and try it, I can guarantee that you will be hooked! It is relatively easy to get started because most of your local waters probably already have a thriving carp population. In this write-up, we will go over the rod, leader, and line set up that I personally use, along with the tactics, flies, and approach that have scored me some big ones!

Photo: Ryan Rachiele

Stealth/Approach

Carp have an incredible sense of sight, and they also are highly sensitive to even the slightest vibrations on the water. The slightest misstep or slip up on your approach can send the carp jetting off leaving you with nothing but a big mud cloud. Stacking the odds in your favor can increase your chances of having a successful day on the water. Here are a few personal tips to up your stealth game/approach:

  • Be like a statue. Carp have a wide angle of vision and they are always on the lookout for danger. Thus, making the least amount of movement as possible is a must! The carp has a small blind spot that is directly behind them, I repeat this is a very small blind spot. Because of this I like to use an upstream approach, this way, I am less likely to spook the fish.
  • Clothing is highly important for your approach – make sure to wear natural colors. Colors such as black, brown, or green are the best. I’m not saying that you need to go out and buy a ghillie suit, just don’t expect to be very stealthy in fluorescent orange!
  • 9 times out of 10 your first cast is going to be your only cast. So, your presentation better be on point because you won’t get another chance at the same fish. Practice casting while you are crouching or on your knees, because, most of the time this will be the position you will be casting in.
  • Spotting a feeding carp can be easy most of the time because of the mud cloud that they create while feeding. Once you spot a feeding carp you need approach slow, and as methodically as possible. Once you are in a casting position you need to target the area that is a few inches ahead of the carp’s feeding lane. Once you make the cast slowly bounce your pattern in front of the fish, the fly should then catch his attention. Sometimes you will not be able to see them eat your fly so keep on stripping until you feel resistance, once you do HOLD ON TIGHT!
Photo: Ryan Rachiele

Flies

Carp feed on a variety of prey items, such as, insects, crustaceans, and crayfish. Crayfish and Damsel Nymphs are my personal favorite patterns to use for carp. Try to make sure to pick fly patterns that can get down right in front of the fish, but, are not so heavy that they make a splash and spook every fish you cast for. Carp flies should be simple. Using materials like rabbit strips or marabou will provide movement with little effort on your part. Here are a few of my personal favorite carp patterns:

  • Whitlock’s Near Nuff Crayfish
  • Bartlett’s Hybrid
  • Marlock’s Carp Breakfast
  • Reynold’s Carp Bitter
Photo: Ryan Rachiele

Rod/Reel Setup

These fish have some serious torque that will test your gear and your fish fighting skills. A 7wt rod is the best overall fly rod to use, and will handle most of the situations that you will find yourself in. Sometimes, when I plan on fishing for smallmouth as well, I will use an 8wt. I use two different fly rods throughout the season, the first is the TFO Mangrove 7wt and the second is the TFO LK Legacy 7wt. Both rods give me the delicate presentation I need, but still have the backbone needed to handle the rod bending carp. With most fish, your reel is basically a line holder, I rarely, if ever, put a big trout or a bass on the reel, because, most of the time there is no need to. However, with carp, your reel is going to be one of the most important parts of your setup. You want a lightweight reel with a flawless sealed drag system. I use the TFO BVK SD III and it withstands the relentless abuse that I put it through season after season.

Photo: Ryan Rachiele

Fly Line/Leader Setup

A weight forward floating fly line will be the most versatile line to use. I personally find an intermediate or sink tip line to be too much. As far as leader goes a 9-foot fluorocarbon leader tapered down to a 12-pound test will do the job. I use a 12-pound test because it is strong enough to handle the big fish, but, not too thick that it spooks every fish.

I can promise you that once your hooked into a monster carp and you feel the fly line to backing knot slide through your fingers and it is still going, you will give carp an all new respect. You can blame me when carp becomes your new obsession!

Blog written by TFO Ambassador Ryan Rachiele (Instagram: @streamerjunkie17). When not fishing, you can also find him working at Wellsboro, Pennsylvania shop Wellsboro Tackle Shack. Find out more about Ryan here.

Photo: Ryan Rachiele

 

TFO Unveils 2022 Fly Products

This week, Temple Fork Outfitters announced three new fly products to the TFO family: the BC Big Fly, the NTR reel, and the Mangrove Coast. Find out more below, and be sure to check out these new additions at your local TFO dealer later this summer!

BC Big Fly

Introducing the all new BC Big Fly series. Designed by TFO Advisor Blane Chocklett, the BC Big Fly delivers big flies to big predatory fish with ease.

Evolving from the Esox series, the BC Big Fly will feature the our popular Axiom technology in the blank design, while incorporating updated componentry including elongated composite cork handles, extended fighting butt, Black Pearl REC stripping guides, blacked snake guides, laser engraved Game Changer fly logo on the reel seat, and much more.

The BC Big Fly will be offering in a 9’ 8wt, 10wt, and 12wt and will retail for $399. To find out more about specifics and details of the BC Big Fly, click here.

Stay tuned for more, and be sure to check out the BC Big Fly at your local TFO dealer later this summer!

NTR Reel

Introducing the all new NTR reel series. This new reel series offers anglers a ‘No Tools Required’ solution in a high-performance, fully sealed and machined aluminum fly reel.

The NTR reels will be available in four sizes, two-color options (Black/Gold & Clear/Gold), and will retail for $139-$169. To find out more about specifics and details of the NTR reel series, click here.

Stay tuned for more, and be sure to check out the NTR reels at your local TFO dealer later this summer!

Mangrove Coast

Introducing the all new Mangrove Coast series. Designed by TFO Advisor Flip Pallot, the Mangrove Coast was built for the hardcore saltwater angler seeking a medium fast action blank. Easy to load and precisely deliver a fly to spooky saltwater fish, the Mangrove Coast delivers all the necessary components to be successful.

This series features full wells grips with an instant rod weight burled cork LINE-ID system, fighting butts on all models, and cleverly machined hook keepers built into each side of the aluminum up-locking reel seat. All rods are topped with saltwater safe FUJI stripping guides and ultra-lightweight chromium-impregnated stainless-steel snake guides.

The moderate-fast action Mangrove Coast will be available in a 9’ 6 weight through 12 weight and will retail starting at $289.95. To find out more about specifics and details of the Mangrove Coast, click here.

Stay tuned for more, and be sure to check out the Mangrove Coast at your local TFO dealer later this summer!

 

Once again, these new rods will be available later this summer! To see our entire catalog of fly fishing products, click here.

Late Spring Post Spawn Bass Fishing

Often thought of as one of the toughest times to consistently catch quality bass, the late spring to early summer transition can be a challenge at times – but can also be extremely rewarding! The key is truly being versatile and not getting stuck with just one game plan in mind.

When bass finish up with their annual spawning rituals, there is a lot going on in their tiny little brains. First off is recovery – the spawn is a stressful time for a bass where they are particularly vulnerable, and are often caught by the lucky angler that lands the perfect cast on their bed. With this being said, the recovery period where a post spawn fish just truly won’t bite doesn’t last long!

Location

Within a matter of days, a typical shallow water spawning bass will make its way offshore looking for the most healthy environment to post up in, where feeding opportunities come easy, and the water quality is the best. In most lake situations, deep water is the key to consistently catching post spawn bass.

How deep those post spawn bass might go is greatly dependent on water clarity. In muddy water situations, such as current oriented rivers and reservoirs, “deep” might be 8 to 12 feet, whereas on clear water lakes, bass might spend their post spawn days in 15 to 35 feet of water. The clarity truly makes a big difference.

Knowing where bass spawn is also very important to finding where they hang out post spawn. It’s very important that an angler must understand that different species of bass will spawn in different locations! While largemouth typically spawn in shallow protected pockets and creek arms, spotted bass and smallmouth bass often spawn on main lake banks, points, humps, and road beds. The key is finding deep water such as a point, a ledge, a brush pile, or a grass line! These places provide a safe environment that is normally rich with oxygen and baitfish where the bass can begin to feed and regain strength!

Photo: Joey Nania

Setups

Your bait selection is the final key to catching post spawn bass, and a lot of that depends on the main forage base and the type of deep water your lake of choice has to offer. As a rule of thumb, I like to keep fast moving reaction baits and slower baits ready to go in my arsenal.

For your reaction baits, as the fish begin to recover, chatterbaits and swimbaits can be great fish catching tools. For my personal Chatterbait setup I rely on the 7’4” Medium Heavy TFO Tactical Glass Bass Rod (TAC GB CB 745-1). The balance between tip and backbone on this rod is absolutely perfect, and with light weight high quality components, I rarely miss a bite.

For my swimbait, I love the 7’4” Medium Heavy TFO Tactical Elite Bass Rod (TLE LW 74CB-1). While also being perfectly balanced, this rod has just a touch more sensitivity that allows me to detect and capitalize on light bites in deep water. For my post spawn slow moving techniques, I also keep things pretty simple rotating between a Ned Rig, a Drop Shot, and a Carolina Rig.

When Ned Rigging and drop shotting post spawn deep water bass, the 7’1” Medium Light TFO Tactical Elite Bass Rod (TLE MBR S 713-1) is absolutely perfect! Sensitivity in these situations is critical, and this rod is built to perfection.

For my Carolina Rig and truly the majority of my heavy line techniques, the 7’3” Heavy TFO Tactical Elite Bass Rod (TLE MBR 736-1) is the one I trust the most!

Photo: Joey Nania

Versatility

With all of this deep water talk, you truly do need to keep an open mind when targeting bass in any season. Remember the principal that not all bass do the same thing or behave the same at the same time! On any given day, there are tons of different ways to catch a bass and while typical post spawn fishing revolves around deep water fishing, the shallow bite should never be ignored!

When bass are finishing up their spawn, many other species such as bluegill and shad are just beginning their annual spawning rituals! With that in mind, baits such as topwater walking baits, frogs, swimjigs, and flipped soft plastics can be used with success for post spawn bass. The key for the shallow bite is low light. This traditionally means early in the morning or late in the evening but cover such as docks, grass beds, and over hanging trees can hold post spawn bass throughout the course of the day.

Keep an open mind and never kick a dead horse too long. If you do these things and rotate through all of the possible options, you will greatly reduce your bad days on the water!

Blog written by TFO Ambassador and Bassmaster Open Champion Joey Nania. You can find out more about Joey here.

Fly Fishing in Belize + Reel Women Fly Fishing

“An inordinate passion for pleasure is the secret of remaining young.” Oscar Wilde

There is a great saying here in Belize, “Why not?” Working with Belizean guides creating and building Reel Belize in San Pedro, I ask a lot of questions. And most of the time I’m answered with “Why not?” Which is how I like to roll. Yes, it was a very big decision to move to San Pedro, Belize in 2009. A lot has happened since then, including staying on the island the past two years without travel.

For me and the rest of the world we have had time to assess what is important in our lives. You wouldn’t be reading this if fly fishing wasn’t important to you. What we all don’t know is how far our passion for this all inclusive captivating sport will lead us. If you have been to Belize, you know about the warm hearted English speaking fly fishing guides who share your same love for the hunt of bonefish, permit, and tarpon on the flats. They too are passionate casters and when TFO sent me the 7wt Axiom II-X – everyone was in line to cast and borrow our new favorite. We love this rod!

Photo: Oliver Sutro

If you are planning a trip it’s an exciting time! It is also extremely important to know and love your gear. Precious moments don’t have time for used and beat up gear. Our fishery on Ambergris Caye is for bonefish that average 2 to 6 lbs, permit 5-30 lbs, tarpon 5-150 lbs! We also have jacks, barracuda and snapper – all fun on a fly rod. We have used this one rod – the 7wt Axiom II-X – for all of these fish. Including tarpon landed up to 50 lbs. It’s nice to have a bigger rod for fighting bigger fish, but if the opportunity presents itself, this rod will get it done.

Fly delivery is a huge part of the game – the fish have to see the fly and it needs to be moving away from them. A shrimp or crab would never swim to the mouth of any fish. Smooth casts – one for speed the next for accuracy and put it! Not all casts have to be great but the fly does need to get in the water without a lot of false casting. They see what looks like a new kind of osprey flying over them. Yes, we have ospreys in Belize that love to grab and eat bonefish.

Photo: Lori-Ann Murphy

Depending on the weather and conditions we are generally fishing six inches of water to 3-5 feet for permit and tarpon. You will want a nice selection of Christmas Island Specials, Gotcha’s, Squimps, Tarpon Toads, the Strong Armed Merkin is the latest craze for permit – but basically flies that will fish weedless if needed or some heavy eyes or lead wrapped flies to get down fast. And generally speaking – the flies imitate a shrimp, crab or bait fish. Make sure you fish the fly how a shrimp, crab or baitfish would move in the water. A crab does not swim as fast as a shrimp. I have learned this lesson many times and I’m sure I’ll goof up again. Be the fly!

Photo: Lori-Ann Murphy

Travel

Traveling to Belize is as easy as 1,2,3! This is our slogan. Just this week, entry into Belize has been updated. It is no longer necessary to download an app from the Ministry of Health. A card showing you are fully vaccinated, or COVID testing before travel is still required. The US requires a rapid test 42 hrs prior to return – which is easily done from your hotel or lodge and costs $75 US.

Belize is also making lists! – “the safest international places to travel right now.” (TravelPulse). While many countries were downgraded by the US State Department for COVID levels, Belize was one of only 15 countries upgraded to a Level 2 travel advisory. Level 2= Exercise Increased Caution. 4= Do Not Travel. No countries are currently at Level 1.

Belize has very low COVID numbers. However, only 15% of the population has been vaccinated, so it is still law to wear a mask and safe practices remain in place. It is required that the travelers stay at a Gold Standard Hotel and fish with a Gold Standard Tour Operator. I’m happy to say Reel Belize has met all Gold Standard requirements. I submitted a 47 page application! I felt like I was in nursing school all over again but it did put us all on the same page.  Plan to be treated like royalty when you show up – Belizeans were very very sad without tourists!

Photo: Lori-Ann Murphy

Reel Women Fly Fishing Adventures

I’m proud to say that women are fly fishing on waters all over the world. And I’m proud because RWFFA was established in 1994 to do just that – get women fly fishing so we could lead trips to fun places. For almost thirty years, we have met women who have an adventurous spirit and the guts to make it happen. These are incredible women and many of them have made friends from these trips that have lasted over time with many more fishing stories to tell.

The most exciting time in all of this for me is now. Now we have remarkable fly fishing women and guides who have become RWFFA Ambassadors leading their own trips. Now, there are so many women fly fishing guides all over the world – I can’t name them all. It used to be easy, because there were so few of us for such a long time.

Photo: Lori-Ann Murphy

This year fly fishing exploded due to the pandemic. People are wanting to get out and explore rivers and salt flats and learn about fly fishing. To accommodate the demand, we have added more trips and fly fishing schools. We have schools for the beginners and schools for guides. There are freshwater trout trips in the mountains of the east and west, and then of course we have our RWFFA saltwater trips!

Since I live in San Pedro, Belize, own a fly shop and outfitting business (Reel Belize), it only makes sense to lasso these women and invite them to fish our waters! This week, eight women are showing up from all over the place for our first ever RWFFA Women’s Tarpon Quest! There is only one beginner in the group and she will have a lot of love to bring her up to speed. Stay tuned for the action!

Photo: Lori-Ann Murphy

 

Blog written by TFO Ambassador Lori-Ann Murphy. You can find out more about Reel Belize here, or Reel Women Fly Fishing here.

Spring Bass Tactics

By now, spring has set in for most of the US. With the longer day light hours and warmer temperatures, its arguably every angler’s favorite season to bass fish. Why? Well, your chances at catching a personal best are at its highest in the pre-spawn. Secondly, the bass go shallow and who doesn’t like to fish shallow?

Spring is also probably the only season that you can simplify by breaking down in to three phases; pre-spawn, spawn, and post spawn. This transitional time of the year can be incredible with both quantity and quality, but it can also be frustrating and downright confusing due to early spring cold fronts, some fish in all three phases, and the post-spawn “funk”.

Generally speaking, for most of the lower 48 states the spawn takes place from late March through early June. It starts earlier the further south you go and a little later the further north you go. Pre spawn fish will be at their biggest all year because the females are full of eggs, spawning fish are on beds and are tricky to catch with a lot of “sight fishing”, and during the post-spawn period you’ll have fish eager to eat but sometimes they’ll be in what a lot of anglers like to call the “post spawn funk” for a short while after spawning where the bass aren’t spawning or feeding heavily.

The way I approach this time of year is to be versatile and prepared. I fish out of a kayak, so I have to be mindful and really dial in what I bring on the water because my storage capacity is fairly small. Even with the storage options on my Hobie Pro Angler 12 MD360, things can get crowded QUICK! That said, I typically bring 10 to 12 rod and reel combo’s, 6-7 3700 series Plano tackle boxes, and enough soft plastics to cover the basics of flipping, worms and trailer options. The amount of rods allows me to pre-rig different techniques in multiple sizes and/or colors so that I’m better prepared for the water conditions and situations that may arise.

Photo: Matt Mather

Focus Factors

The bite windows this time of year are typically small, so I get on the water as early as possible and I stay late so that I can pay attention to the times of the day when the fish are biting. To help clue me in to when and where I should be fishing, I focus on the following factors:

  1. Length of day
    • Longer day time hours = more sun warming the water. Bass really start to get active when the water reaches 50 degrees and generally spawn in water temps between 55-75 degrees water temperature.
  2. Weather trend 2-3 days prior
    • The early spring can be volatile with cold fronts, so ideally I want stable weather in the days leading up to my time on the water.
  3. Hard bottom areas of the lake
    • During this time of year, they like to congregate around hard bottom areas so they can move up to feed up and spawn when the time is right. I’ve seen beds on top of lay downs, next to stumps, on rocks, and on cypress knee root systems.
  4. Wind-protection
    • Southern facing shallow pockets, bays, coves, flats and creek arms are high-percentage areas protected from North winds. However, I don’t mind a South wind as it can sometimes help turn on the bite. I’ve had some very special days in the pre-spawn with a south wind.

Tactics

This time of year, being versatile is a big factor while ultimately, the conditions will dictate what I’m throwing. I’m focusing a lot on reaction baits like a chatterbait or crankbait, but im also prepared with the slower techniques, like a jig, Texas-rigged creature and yes, the ol’ trusty Yamamoto Senko ready to go.

Once the water is above 50 degrees, I’ll start covering water with a chatterbait or a top water like a buzzbait. If I start with a topwater like a buzzbait, I like throwing a 3/8 oz with a buzz frog instead of a skirt and I’ll throw that until the sun gets over the horizon or until the bite goes away. Then I’ll switch to a chatterbait since it’s an incredibly versatile lure and catches big fish. Up shallow, I’ll throw a 3/8 oz with a Yamamoto Zako trailer and if I’m fishing in water 5-10 feet, I’ll throw a ½ oz and let it sink to the bottom before I start to retrieve. With both the buzzbait and chatterbait, the one thing I see a lot of people do is “chuck-&-wind”, which will catch fish, but it sort of takes away from the versatility of each lure. Instead of just casting and reeling, try doing short twitches of the rod during the retrieve when the lure gets near an object. Also try different retrieve speeds like slow-rolling or burning.

I keep a spinnerbait and swimjig ready as pinch-hitters for the chatterbait. If there is a lot of snags or heavy vegetation, I’ll switch to a swimjig or if the wind is heavy then ill go to a spinnerbait. Though I will say, I don’t have any hard rules and I’ll swap in between the three at any moment I feel I may need to.

If I approach some stumps or a laydown, I’ll swap out with a squarebill crankbait and work it along the edges, bouncing it off every stump, stick and branch I can.

If these techniques don’t elicit a reactive strike, then I will start picking apart every lay down and piece of wood I come across with a jig, creature or worm in no specific order. Bass love to use wood as cover and they’re known to spawn on and around wood, since it offers a form of hard bottom and also protection.

If I come across bass on beds, these slower presentations are the ticket. I’m not big on bed-fishing because you can often waste a lot of your day trying to catch one fish, but I also don’t want to cause more stress on the fish. However, even blind casting you are bound to catch spawning fish so take it for what its worth.

The frog and big glidebait/soft swimbait are my “special teams” lures. For example, if I come up on a random clump of grass along the bank or there is a thick tangle of wood. I’ll work a frog over and through it. Or say I find a brushpile on my side imaging sonar, I’ll throw the glide bait over it or bring the big soft swimbait through it hoping to find a monster female bass looking for a big lazy meal. That isn’t to say these baits are ONLY good for these scenarios, you could definitely fish them both all day. I just choose to reserve them for high-percentage areas during the pre and post-spawn.

Rod & Reel Setups

Chatterbaits:

Tactical Glass Bass, 7’4” Medium (TAC GB CB 745-1), Shimano Metanium MGL 151B, 7.1:1 – 17 lb test fluorocarbon

This rod performs exceptionally well with chatterbaits, offering enough tip flex to let the fish eat the bait better and to keep the hook pinned, while also having enough backbone to drive a hard hookset and also helps snap your lure free of grass. You get all this in a very light and sensitive rod.

Photo: Rob Kretsch

Squarebill Crankbaits:

Tactical Glass Bass, 7’2” MH (TAC GB CB 724-1), 7.1:1 Shimano Bantam MGL 151 – 15-17 lb fluorocarbon.

I’m fishing this around heavy cover and the length of rod allows me to “worm” the crankbait through the trees better and the heavy line helps me horse the fish out.

Swimjigs:

Tactical Elite Bass 7’4” Heavy (TLE SC 746-1), 7.1:1 speed Shimano Metanium MGL with 20 lb fluorocarbon for everything but vegetation. For vegetation, I’ll use the same rod paired with a Shimano Curado 201 with 50lb braid.

Spinnerbaits :

I prefer a shorter rod and use the Tactical Elite Bass 7’0” MH (TLE SB 705-1), Shimano Curado 6.6:1 and 17 lb fluorocarbon. Heavier applications is the Shimano SLX MGL 70, 7.1:1 with 40 lb braid.

Photo: Rob Kretsch

Topwaters:

Tactical Elite Bass 7’ M (TLE LW 70CB-1) for lighter weight topwaters like poppers. Paired with a Shimano Curado 70 7.4:1 speed and 15 lb copolymer. For buzzbaits, I use the TFO Professional (TFG PSC 705-1) 7’ MH b/c I like the longer butt-end on the shorter rod for bombing casts and hooksets.

Flipping and bottom baits like a jig, t-rigged creature, and worms, I use the Tactical Elite Bass 7’4” Heavy (TLE SC 746-1). This is a great all-around rod and I’ll have one rigged for both heavy and light applications.   Lite applications is the Shimano Antares 7.4:1 for light weight applications with 17 lb fluorocarbon. Heavier applications is the Shimano SLX MGL 70, 7.1:1 with 40 lb braid.

Photo: Rob Kretsch

Frogs & Swimbaits:

My clean-up hitters get the heavy rod treatment. For frogs, I like the Tactical Elite Bass 7’2” Heavy (TLE SB 726-1) paired to an 8.4:1 speed Shimano Exsence 8×5 DC, spooled with 50lb braid. For big glidebaits and soft swimbaits, I call on the Mag Heavy 7’11” GTS Swimbait (GTS BBC 7116-1) paired with a Shimano Tranx 301 5.8:1 speed reel and 20-25 lb fluorocarbon. This rod works beautifully with hard and soft baits between 6-10” with a soft enough tip to cast these heavy lures long distances, paired with a stout backbone to really drive the hook hard and cranking big fish in.

Blog written by TFO Pro Staffer Rob Kretsch. You can find out more about Rob here.

 

Targeting Prespawn Smallmouth on the Fly

Smallmouth on the fly will change your life completely, and it will be for the better that I can promise you. Watching a big angry smallie come from out of nowhere and destroy your streamer is nothing short of amazing. I am going to share with you the water temperature that is ideal, the rod set up that I use, the line and leader set up I use, the flies that I personally use, and some interesting tips and tricks that works well for me and makes me have successful days on the water.

Water Temperature

The temperature of the water is key during this time of the year. Honestly, it is vital all year round, but it is highly crucial in the spring. To have a successful trip the water temperature needs to climb to around 50-55 degrees. This is when the smallmouth will begin to move from their wintering holes and their metabolisms will kick into gear. Pre-spawn is when you will have a high chance of catching the biggest bass in your local river system. The outcome of your fishing day will all boil down to water temperature. Personally, I always carry a thermometer with me when I go out and check the water temperature periodically throughout the day. Knowing what the temperature is throughout the different times of the day will give you an idea of what the bass are up to. Different parts of the river system will display different temperatures. The farther you are from the headwaters the warmer the water should be. During this time of the year you will find fish in the slower moving and deeper water. Anywhere you see that there is a current break or a slow seam, it will be worth it to throw your streamer into it. Look for things like logjams, boulders, or any other place you see some structure.

Photo: Ryan Rachiele

Rod Setup

If you want to chase the biggest smallmouth in your river system, then you better go out prepared. I would recommend using a 7wt to an 8wt rod. When your pursuing trophy sized fish you do not want to be under-gunned. Hooking into a smallie in the current of a river is enough to put even the best gear to the test. Personally, I use two rods throughout the year. The rods I use are the Axiom II-X in an 8wt and the LK Legacy in a 7wt. The Axiom II-X is a powerhouse of a rod and it is my go-to when I want to throw big streamers and use heavier fly lines. This rod will handle those meaty streamers and heavy lines with ease. The LK Legacy is a great casting rod and allows you to be precise when picking apart sections of water at a distance, especially when wading. On both rods the reel that I use is the BVK SD III. The reel is lightweight but built tough. The sealed drag system takes the abuse I put it through especially when the occasional carp comes along, and we tangle in the mud.

7wt LK Legacy // Photo: Ryan Rachiele

 

BVK SD lll reel // Photo: Ryan Rachiele

Line and Leader Setup

In the spring I use two different fly lines depending on what the water conditions are like. The two types are sink tip and intermediate fly line. Cortland’s Compact series is my personal go-to lines. I only resort to using sink tip if I absolutely have too, or if the water level is up a bit. A good intermediate fly line will get the job done in almost all situations that you will likely encounter. As far as my leader set-up I like to keep it simple. With a sink tip line, I use a short leader in the 3 and a half to 4-foot range of 12 to 15-pound fluorocarbon. When using an intermediate line, I like to use a longer leader in the 6 and a half to 7- foot range also in 12 to 15-pound fluorocarbon. Super simple and gets the job done.

8wt Axiom ll-X // Photo: Ryan Rachiele

Flies

Every bass box should have crayfish, leech, hellgrammite, and baitfish patterns in them at- all- times, but this time of the year it is a baitfish game. Absolutely nothing is more exciting than watching your baitfish swimming along as you strip, strip, pause and it gets smashed by a monster bronze back. In my personal spring box, you will find patterns with a lot of bucktail, rabbit strips, and craft fur. These materials provide a ton of movement in the water without having to create that action yourself. With the slower presentation of the spring- time a fisherman needs to take any advantage that they can. Some of my favorite flies to use are: Villwock’s Roamer, Red-Eye Leech, Clouser Minnow, Changer Craw, Bugger Changer, Bulkheads, Deceivers, and Hellgraworms.

Go-To Smallmouth flies for Ryan // Photo: Ryan Rachiele

Tactics

During the pre-spawn smallmouth have only one thing on their minds—food! A slow methodical presentation is going to be the best approach. Taking your time and really picking apart the water is going to drastically up your chances of finding a fish. Three of the most important tactics for me are as follows:

  • Swinging the baitfish patterns. This tactic is the best way to cover a lot of water. The big girls are out looking for a meal and showing them a helpless baitfish caught in the river current is almost next to impossible for them to resist.
  • Bouncing crayfish, hellgrammite, and leech patterns on the bottom. This tactic can be productive by allowing your fly to get down where the fish are more likely to be hanging out.
  • Finally, making sure you make the baitfish patterns all about the pause. When you fish make sure that after you give it a couple strips you also give it a pause. Sometimes, making this pause a long one is a good idea because a lot of times a smallmouth will follow your streamer for a long distance and then as soon as you pause it, it pounces!

Ensuring that you are fishing in the right conditions and with the right equipment is key to having a great spring with smallmouth. Remember to always check your water temperature, pause that baitfish pattern, and make sure to check out the Axiom II-X and the LK Legacy. Pre-spawn smallmouth fishing is a great way to warm up for the top water action coming up soon!

Blog written by TFO Ambassador Ryan Rachiele (Instagram: @streamerjunkie17). When not fishing, you can also find him working at Wellsboro, Pennsylvania shop Wellsboro Tackle Shack. Find out more about Ryan here.

Photo: Ryan Rachiele

Night Trolling for Big Walleye

Dusting off the trolling gear from a long winter’s nap is not for the faint of heart. Spring temps aren’t usually all that forgiving across most of the lower 48, but in Colorado, sitting a mile closer to the sun has some early season perks. Certainly, slathering on sunscreen again isn’t one of them. That’s part of the reason you can find me dropping the boat in the water just as the sun begins its trip around the other half of the world.

It’s no secret that the darkness brings on lots of advantages when you talk walleye fishing. But why? Well, as I tell most of my clients and friends, it’s all really because of the “tapetum lucidum.” Now before you think I’m some literary guru, it really just describes the way a walleye’s eyes are able to reflect light, like a cat. By definition, it’s “a layer of tissue in the eye, lying immediately behind the retina; it is a retroreflector. It reflects visible light back through the retina, increasing the light available to the photoreceptors.” This is what lends to the walleye’s incredible sight at night. 

When we put the boat in gear and head to our first spot there are a couple absolutes in my mind. We are going to use stick baits and we are going to fish them shallow. Long stick baits like Rogues, Rapala’s, and Bombers, all have earned a permanent spot in my tackle locker. Spring walleye, no matter what stage of the spawn, are not moving too quickly. The slow wobble of these stick baits produce more fish than a fast action crank at night, even though our reservoirs are filled with gizzard shad, which carry a smaller profile like a crankbait. Secondarily, the longer profile bait gives the walleye more to look at as they silhouette the bait above them while it tracks through the shallows.In general, I want to build a pattern and repeat that pattern. That is what trolling is all about.

My gear consists of the Professional Walleye 7’ Casting Rod in Medium action (PRO WC 704-1) paired up with a 20 size line counting reel. The 7’ rod allows me to be extremely mobile in my boat. By keeping 7’ rods, when I catch a fish on one planer board, I can simply reel that fish in and rotate all the rods on that side of the boat forward. Then I can easily re-release the bait and set that rod in the now empty last rod holder spot. All this without ever missing a beat on the troll and hopefully tagging a few more fish along with it. The 7’ rods also provide a fair amount of give for the big waves without pulsing or shooting the planer board at the top of the break, and enough power to reel in the board, bait, and potential 25+” walleye.

Photo: Oliver Sutro

Planer boards are a popular way to keep your baits separated and also target the fish that spook away from the boat. Typically, fish will spook out perpendicular to the boat’s direction of travel, making planer boards a good choice all around. You can make them easier to see in the dark with reflective tape and boat mounted LEDs, lights that mount to the board, or just a traditional headlamp. Albeit, you can just as easily catch fish with the proper amount of line out behind the boat. I would recommend, if you fish without boards, to go for a trolling rod instead of a casting rod. The new Professional Walleye 8’6” (PRO WTC 864-1T) or the 2 piece 10’ (PRO WTC 1004-2) Professional Walleye Trolling rods will serve the purpose of keeping your baits separated and providing a little more backbone for hooking fish when a planer board is not in use.

We typically fish anywhere from 1-6 feet below the surface and in depths of 6-30 feet. When we start to build a pattern, we want to try multiple colors, different styles of baits, and varying depths. We may set one bait back 15 feet from a planer board for a shallow run and the next one 30 feet back. If we find one depth is being favored we can quickly match that with the line counters. Then from there, we can dial in a color or action that is working well. Once we catch consistent fish on one single pattern, we switch everything to that exact depth and bait. At this point, we’ve built a fairly good pattern that might be tuned in further by direction or travel, speed (1.4 – 1.8 MPH), or location. 

All things considered, it’s usually not a bad way to spend a weekend night. It’s a bit colder than fishing under the giant solar heat lamp of day but arguably the best perk of braving the dark and chilly is the chance at a fish of a lifetime. A larger female sow walleye will lay roughly 500,000 eggs during the spawn. This expends tremendous amounts of energy, and after a bit of a resting period, the game is on to replenish the much needed nutrition lost during the event. Spring and fall are the best times to target these big fish but please remember how vital they can be to any ecosystem when just one fish produces so many eggs, only fractions of which will survive to become a catchable size. A picture will serve its purpose in securing a great memory and if you like something for the wall, today’s replicas are usually much better quality and a lot easier on the wallet than a traditional fish mount.

So embrace the dark or leave it, but if you haven’t tried it at least once, do. It’s harder to say yes to life’s little challenges as we get more comfortable in what we know. Seek discomfort, and you may just find the biggest walleye of your life hanging on at the end of your line.

 

Photo: Chris Edlin

Blog written by Colorado based TFO Ambassador Chris Edlin. You can find out more about Chris at his Youtube channel here.

A Taste of Summer – Offshore Fishing with the Seahunter

Spring can bring some great opportunities to fish inshore, but for the serious offshore angler, some of the best saltwater fishing comes when the more consistent summer weather patterns arrive. TFO Ambassador Captain Jonathan Moss gave us a rundown of the offshore fishing he’ll be doing with his clients in the next few months, including the Seahunter series rods he’s using to land big game species:

“The main things we look forward to with summer are the warmer temps and less wind. During this time of year (April), spring cold fronts often make offshore fishing pretty difficult. Conditions become a lot easier to fish in once we get past the cold fronts, and the warmer, calmer days arrive.

Photo: Oliver Sutro

In the summertime, I often joke and refer to the Atlantic Ocean as “Lake Atlantic”. Some days, the water really does look like a lake. With its slick, glassy look, you’d have no idea you were fishing on the ocean. These are my ideal days. It is considerably easier for us to run offshore. It is better for the client, and at the end of the day you don’t feel beat up, like you would in rough conditions.

With those warmer days come rising water temperatures. The typical target species begin to push closer to shore. During the summer, we are typically taking clients to target amberjack, snapper and grouper. Of course when the short season opens, we’ll be catching (and keeping) red snapper.

Photo: The Captain’s Log

In order to target these big fish, we have to rely on a heavier rod like the Seahunter that has the backbone to allow you to put the heat on these fish and bring them up off the bottom. These fish are holding in structure – wrecks, reefs, rock piles and artificial reefs. When they come out of these structures, if you don’t have the backbone in a rod or a strong enough drag on a reel, they are going to grab your bait, swim back into that structure and break you off. Having the power in a rod to put the brakes on a fish is crucial.

Gear

I rely on two TFO rods when fishing offshore:

1) 7’ 7030 Seahunter spinning rod (TAC SHS 7030) with a 6000 series reel, spooled with 40lb braid and a 50-60lb fluorocarbon leader

2) 6’6” 6640 Seahunter spinning rod (TAC SHS 6640) with a 8000 series reel, spooled 60lb braid and a 50-60lb fluorocarbon leader

Photo: The Captain’s Log

If we find that we’re not getting the action/bites we desire, we will size down on the leader. Conversely, if fish are breaking off more, we’ll step up the strength of the leader. We’ll adjust until we find that sweet spot.

Pro Tip: Sometimes adding an additional cushion to the butt of the rod can really help reduce fatigue and minimize the bruising of the hip.

For baits, we are typically using grunts in the 8”-10” range. These are great baits to send to the bottom using a knocker rig, for your bigger fish like grouper, red snapper, etc. For the smaller species, we’re using cut baits (squid, shrimp) with a chicken rig.

Inshore > Offshore Trolling with the Seahunter

Another tactic I like to use the Seahunter for is trolling. Typically when we run out the inlet, we are throwing out a trolling bait right off the bat. You never know what you’ll catch as you’re working your way out to your spot to fish the bottom. It’s not uncommon to catch barracuda, kingfish, mahi mahi, or a sailfish while you are running out to your deep water spots. The 7030 rod setup is what we typically use for this.

Photo: The Captain’s Log

Offshore Vertical Jigging

One of my favorite ways to fish the Seahunter offshore is vertical jigging. I spend the majority of my time fishing lures inshore on the flats, so being able to fish a lure offshore is an absolute blast.

Amberjacks are what we typically catch while doing vertical jigging. They are also referred to as reef donkeys, because when they hit the lure, they take off like a mean mule. You’ll be vertical jigging – pulling up that lure, popping and jigging it – then it will just stop and take off when an amberjack hits it. Not only do they fight hard, but they are a fantastic table fare. A blue and yellow 9oz vertical jig, with a lot of flash works well at getting the fish’s attention.

Offshore fishing is a ton of fun. It’s hand-to-hand combat. You are literally going one on one with these fish. Having a strong tool like the Seahunter makes all the difference. It’s in my boat everyday and my clients love using them.”

Photo: The Captain’s Log

Blog written by Ambassador Capt. Jonathan Moss. You can find out more about his charter Go Castaway Fishing Charters here or follow him on social media here. You can also see Captain Jonathan Moss in action on his hit new show The Captain’s Log, viewable on Waypoint TV, Amazon Prime and his YouTube channel.

Kayak Fishing 101 – Getting Started In Kayak Fishing

Fishing from a kayak brings an entirely new dynamic to fishing that is both challenging and therapeutic. While the average angler starts out bank fishing and some move directly into boat fishing, I think kayak fishing is heavily overlooked. Kayaks come in all different shapes and sizes, styles and price points, so it’s understandable that some may be intimidated by the unlimited options. I’m here to tell you it’s not as bad as you might think, and if you decide to get into one it can change your life!

Photo: Cameron Mosier

I’ve used multiple types of kayaks, from paddle to pedal, budget to premium. One aspect they all have in common is the ability to get to where bank fisherman and boaters can’t or won’t normally go. It allows you to seek and chase a new adventure whether it’s a creek, river, small pond or even a big lake. It puts you where the fish are! You also get a little exercise out of it as well.

Photo: Cameron Mosier

For those of you looking to get into your first kayak, you should start by establishing a budget. This is key to determining the type of boat you will be able to get into. There are tons of kayaks on the market that fall into multiple price points so having a solid budget is the best place to start. You will see those cheap $300-400 boats at your local Walmart and think I’ll just grab one of those and be good. Most of the time these kayak will work just fine, but just for a little while. You’ll quickly realize the lesser expensive models aren’t comfortable for fishing all day. They’re usually not as stable, and because of the cheaply made design, they can take on water easier, and often quick. My advice is don’t cheap out. While I totally understand its not always easy to afford some of the big name kayaks, but in my opinion, a good baseline for a great fishing kayak is around $1,000. My very first kayak retailed for $899 before taxes and was out the door right at $1,000. Most, if not all kayak outfitters offer demos at no cost – which you should absolutely do before purchasing. Reach out to your local dealer or outfitter to see if they offer demo days.

Photo: Cameron Mosier

In addition to a kayak, the absolute first item you should purchase is a PFD (life vest). This is probably the single most important piece of equipment you need to always be wearing. It will literally save your life! Second, you’ll need a good paddle. Even if you purchase or use pedal kayaks, having a paddle comes in handy – especially when you get into a jam or your pedal drive fails! Consider getting a paddle that is comfortable to use and light enough that it doesn’t cause arm fatigue after several hours on the water. A first aid kit, and other safety equipment i.e., whistle, 360 light and flag are also items you should consider as well.

Photo: Charlie Wells

Now for the fun stuff, the fishing gear! This is the whole reason you bought that kayak, and now you’re ready to get after that new PB right?! I typically have a lot of rods with me. This isn’t always needed as I constantly find myself only using a hand full of them. We kayakers tend to bring the whole tackle shop with us as a “just in case”.

Spring is probably one of my most favorite times of year to fish and there are 3 very specific setups I always have in the yak!

  1. A Texas rig setup: I use a 7’ MH Heroes on the Water benefit rod as my t-rig setup. You get the same great action and sensitivity as the Professional Series and when you buy one, a portion of that proceeds benefit a great organization!
  2. A shallow to medium cranking setup: for this I use a 7’4 Medium Heavy Cranking Bait Tactical Elite Bass rod. This rod is perfectly balanced and is extremely lightweight and doesn’t cause any fatigue when I’m making a million casts throwing those square bills
  3. A Panfish setup: we live to fish, and fish to eat right? I always have a 6’6-7’ Trout-Panfish rod on the kayak for those crappie and sand bass because you never know when you might run into a school and smack’em! Keep that stringer on deck!
Photo: Charlie Wells

All in all, kayak fishing is a new experience that is easy to get into and I think everyone should try. It’s a great way to relax, unwind, and reconnect with nature. If given the opportunity to try it, you should give it a go. You never know what kind of adventure you may find!

Blog written by TFO Ambassador Brandon Mayes (IG: _thatbassfishingdude). You can find Brandon on social media here or visit his website here.