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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.

Precision Trolling Tactics for Spring Walleye

Spring is an excellent time to catch some trophy walleye, and tactics such as precision trolling with TFO’s new Professional Walleye Trolling series is the ideal method and tool for this scenario. This week, we catch up with Ambassador Will Dykstra (who helped with the design and feedback of the new trolling rods), to discuss spring walleye fishing and how he’s rigging and using the Professional Walleye trolling rods.

TFO: Walleye season opener is coming up for some states, but you’ve already had a head start out west in Colorado. Can you talk about how you’ve been/are fishing for walleye this spring?

WD: This time of year, we’re looking at prespawn/spawn/post spawn fish – the post spawn bite is probably your best trophy bite of the whole year. Precision trolling with crankbaits and big stick baits with planer boards is the hot ticket. This method works especially well right now in Colorado, but will also work in just about every walleye fishery in the country. We also do a lot of night trolling during the spring with 4”-6” jerk baits so we can dial in on those plainer boards and get the fish in. My go-to rod is the new 8’6” Medium Professional Walleye Trolling rod.

PRO WTC 864-1T

When you’re precision trolling for fish right above structure or in the actual strike zone of fish – if it’s too high or too low, those fish aren’t going to take your bait. When you have planer boards that are surging because the rods tips can’t absorb the weight of the planer board, you’re going to spend a lot less time fishing the strike zone. For me, having the forgiving action on the 8’6’ trolling rods allows me to stay fishing in the zone the entire time with minimal planer board surge.

Photo: Oliver Sutro

TFO: What types of baits or lures do you typically use this time of year on your fisheries? Additionally, what type of line and reel setup are you using for precision trolling?

WD: Here in Colorado, we have mostly gizzard shad in our lakes, so we are primarily focused on trying to find the piles of gizzard shad and setting our baits to the current distance behind the boards to make sure we are fishing the strike zone.

I use 10 lb. monofilament line. Basically, every dive chart created for every lure was based off of 10 lb. monofilament line. I prefer to use the P-Line CXX X-Tra Strong series because of its durability. It’s also really important to have some kind of crosslock snap to get the best action out of the bait., and also the most consistent diving action of out the bait, too.

I use an Okuma Coldwater Line Counter for my trolling reel. It really doesn’t matter which line counter you use, but I’ve had some luck using this one particular one.

Photo: Oliver Sutro

TFO: Any other methods besides precision trolling that you like to do in the spring or late spring?

WD: Precision trolling at night is primarily what I am doing in the spring until the fish wrap up their post spawn timeframe. From there, I’m going to be transitioning to a lead core bite. The 10’ lead core rod (PRO WTC 1004-2) and also the 8’6” trolling rod are both of the rods that I’m pulling lead with.

PRO WTC 1004-2

It’s a little unconventional, but we’re pulling small swimbaits with a 3/8 ounce jighead with a 3.5” swim bait – and literally fishing 2-6” off the bottom. Pulling that lead core allows us to dial in on depth that well. We can adjust the line non-stop to where we are just ticking the bottom every 30 seconds to a minute.

If you’re dragging it through the mud or bouncing it off rocks, for whatever reason, it doesn’t trigger fish here like it does in other places like the Canadian Shield where bouncing crankbaits triggers everything – smallmouth, northern, musky, and walleye. For whatever reason, our western fish don’t want it digging up the mud.

Fishing smaller crankbaits and swimbaits 2”-4” off the bottom is the ticket here. Again, the nice think about the Professional Walleye Trolling rods – with the lead and the zero stretch that you have pulling lead core, you have a much more forgiving aspect that allows you to still bury those hooks into the fish.

Photo: Oliver Sutro

TFO: Why fish for walleye at night in the spring?

WD: They’re more active. They’re putting on the food bags once they’ve finished spawning, and they’re trying to gain that weight they lost during the spawn and get those calories back on. I’ve noticed that typically in the last full moon in April (April 26) is when the night bite starts to fade off, and our water temperatures start climbing into the high 50s. As soon as we start seeing 60 degree waters, we stop trolling. A lot of it has to do with vegetation growth. At that point, the fish will start setting up on their summer spots and we’ll switch to casting and jigging.

Stay tuned for Part ll for late spring/early summer walleye tactics…

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.

Prespawn Smallmouth Tactics with Ben Nowak

Prespawn smallmouth to me is associated with constant movement. The prespawn period is typically when water temps are between mid 40 degrees to upper 50’s, with the “Magic Number” being around 60 degrees for smallmouth to be in full-blown spawn mode. Smallmouth in the prespawn are constantly in transition from deeper waters into staging areas and getting closer towards shallower flats where they will spawn. Smallmouth are unique in the fact that they tend to spawn in deeper water than largemouth and are more willing to be in open water areas near the main lake, as long as they can be protected from the elements; wind, waves, and current. The areas that I’m looking for during the prespawn are areas where fish can transition very easily. Fish want to have easy access between shallow and deeper water areas, especially during early to mid spring while they’re feeding up in the prespawn. Important factors such as weather, water color and temperatures are constantly changing, so being able to adjust to these variables is important for catching more smallmouth.

Ideal Water Temperatures

Typically the ideal prespawn water temperature for smallmouth is in the upper 40s to upper 50s – approximately 48-58 degrees. That’s really when I’m going to consider active prespawn smallmouth fishing. Mid April to mid May is a pretty good gauge for when fish seem to be fully in prespawn mode.

Transition, Contour & Structure

Finding transition points in depth and structure are where smallmouth can be found in early spring. Typically, these transitional staging areas are drops, points, or really any subtle structures on the bottom. Hard spots, or areas where there’s small contour off the edge of a hard drop are great holding spots. Smallmouth on northern lakes tend to set up on obvious contour changes, for example areas where there are steep drops near a main lake point can be very productive locations.

Photo: Ben Nowak

Setups

In order to adapt to the weather, water color and temperatures, and ever-changing moods of smallmouths, I’ll have a variety of baits tied on during the early spring to find smallmouth. The bait that I’ll choose will depend on the situation, fish mood, and water clarity. Having the ability to catch fish on a variety of baits is one of the most fun, but most challenging things during the spring.

1.) Jerkbait with the7’ Medium Cranking Tactical Bass (TAC LW 70CB-1)

The jerkbait is probably my number 1 bait for fishing the prespawn. Jerkbaits work especially well for the Northern lakes that I’m typically fishing this time of year. They catch fish that are both lethargic and don’t necessarily want to eat. A jerkbait elicits more of a reaction strike, but they’re also a really good bait to cover water with and just get really aggressive fish to come up and eat too.

The rod that I prefer to use is the 7’ Medium Cranking Tactical rod (TAC LW 70CB-1). The reason I like this rod is because the action is snappy enough that I can fish the jerkbait well, but when the fish bites, the rod has a deeper bend (more moderate action) to keep these big smallmouths hooked!

2.) Medium Crankbait with the 7’4 Medium Heavy Tactical Elite Bass (TLE LW 74CB-1)

I also really like a medium diving crankbait for covering water in the springtime. Using an 8-12 foot diving crankbait allows me to cover a lot of water to locate these big pods of smallmouth. Once I’ve located the school, I can also use the same bait to trigger fish to bite cast after cast. What I’m looking for when fishing a medium diving crankbait are mid depth contour changes, preferably with isolated cover on bottom. Grass, rock piles, or even subtle bottom composition changes can be the key to finding perfect prespawn smallmouth habitat!

3.) Hair Jig with the 7’6 Medium Light Professional Walleye (PRO WS 763-1)

One of the x-factors during the spring are warm sunny days with light wind. After a long winter under ice up here in the north, fish are seeking warmer water areas, so light wind days with high sun will warm the shallow waters quickly. On days where other techniques seem not to be effective, a small marabou hair jig can be a great way to target these shallow smallmouths that are sunning themselves in warming shallow water.

A big key when fishing a hair jig is the ability to make long casts to isolated targets. Similar to hunting, having a stealthy approach and being able to sneak up on fish is important, so having a longer rod with the right action to cast light baits is paramount. My rod of choice for a 3/32 ounce or ⅛ ounce hair jig is the 7’6” Medium Light Professional Walleye rod. This rod is long enough to allow me to make the long casts that I need, but also soft enough to handle these baits with ease.

When I’m fishing a hair jig, I’m looking for really obvious cover – big boulders, isolated dock posts, or any obvious isolated pieces of cover. My favorite approach to target this shallow cover is to throw the hair jig by these pieces of cover and use a very slow retrieve, just waiting for the rod to load up with a fat prespawn smallmouth.

4.) Swimbait with the 7’5 Heavy Tactical Elite Bass (TLE FS 756-1)

Last but not least is a soft plastic swimbait. Of all of the approaches, a 3.5” soft plastic swimbait is one of the most versatile baits that I will throw in the prespawn. This is a lure that you can do just about anything with, from slow rolling in deeper water to swimming high in the water column, a swimbait can be used in a variety of situations. When choosing swimbait colors, I keep things simple in the prespawn; white or shad based colors in clear water situations and darker green based colors when the water gets slightly off-colored or has a stain to it. With these two colors, you can approach a variety of water clarities with success.

With a swimbait, let the approach dictate the size jighead that you choose to use. For smallmouth around open water I’m typically using an open-hook jighead. This allows the best hookup to land ratio, and is my preferred method.

Although these are setups that I use for smallmouth in Michigan, you can use these same setups in other smallmouth fisheries and have success anywhere that smallmouth swim.

Key Takeaways

The biggest things to prespawn smallmouth fishing is covering water and finding where they are staging. A lot of times where there is one smallmouth in the prespawn, there tend to be many! Cover water until you find them and then slow down and pick them apart.

Blog written by Midland, Michigan based TFO Ambassador Ben Nowak. You can find out more about Ben by visiting and subscribing to his YouTube channel here or following him on social media here.

The ‘Why’ and ‘How’ of Euro Nymphing

No facet of fly fishing has witnessed a more rapid rate of change than nymph fishing. Driven by its popularity which is fueled by its success, nymph fishing has arrived at the forefront of fly fishing. More anglers are nymphing than ever before. And it’s no wonder; trout feed more often on subsurface food sources than those floating on top and anglers rely more on nymph fishing to target those feeding fish.

Euronymphing, sometimes called tightline or contact nymphing has exploded onto the fly fishing scene and changed the landscape of nymphing. No other method brings more fish to the net because it allows anglers to more effectively meet the three goals of nymph fishing with every drift.

The three goals of nymph fishing: the ‘Why’

Regardless of the method, the three goals of nymph fishing still apply: the first goal challenges you to get your flies to the strike zone where trout feed, usually the bottom 20% of the water column. Trout hold in feeding lies close to the bottom where the current is less than that flowing over their heads. To reach those trout in the strike zone, our leader must pass through the faster layers, which produces drag that lifts our flies from the bottom and traps them in midcurrent.

Presentation, the second goal of nymph fishing, requires us to achieve a dead drift for our nymphs just like we do for our dry flies. Flies should tumble in the strike zone at the slower speed of that layer, not whisk over their heads in midcurrent. Natural invertebrates drift this way and so should our flies. In other words, our flies should not drift at the speed of the current we see on the surface, but at a speed approximately one half of the surface current.

Lacking a floatation style indicator, whose large surface area affixes our drift to the surface speed, euronymphing allows our leader to cut through the fast current to reach the strike zone. Producing less drag on our flies, euronymphing allows our flies to remain in the strike zone and lets them drift at the slower speed of that layer, achieving goals number one and two.

A more accurate means of strike detection obviously leads to more fish in the net, making it goal number three for any successful nymphing method. While there’s a time and place for floatation devices, euronymphing affords a more sensitive and reliable means of strike detection by eliminating the inherent delay in strike detection with floatation devices, including plastic indicators. With the improved connectivity to our flies that euronymphing provides, strike detection sensitivity and immediacy also improves.

This graphic further illustrates the importance of a drag free drift. Notice how the current is faster near the top of the water column underneath the bobber/indicator, thus creating more drag . Not having an indicator lets the nymph rig reach the bottom of the water column faster.

The ‘How’ of Euronymphing

Euronymphing minimizes the drag inducing effect of the surface and midcurrent portion of the water column by cutting through these layers as efficiently as possible to reach the strike zone, allowing our flies to maximize the time spent there. To accomplish this, first and foremost eliminate drag accentuating plastic floating strike indicators. Then eliminate any line or leader lying on the water’s surface as this will also accelerate your drift. Lastly, use the thinnest leader you can manage with all subsurface sections of your leader or tippet thin and level.

On the water, cast your flies upstream or at an upstream angle, usually less than forty-five degrees across stream. Most casts are less than twenty-five to thirty feet. A slightly overpowered forward cast combined with a hard stop will transfer enough energy to complete the cast and snap back the weighted flies enough to ‘tuck’ them under, drilling them into the water to improve their sink rate. Recover any slack in the leader as quickly as possible to connect to your flies since many strikes occur during the descent. You’ll know when your flies reach the strike zone because the leader will tighten slightly and the drift will slow noticeably to a speed more consistent with that layer.

By lifting the rod after the cast and holding steady throughout the drift, then by recovering slack with your line hand, keep all line and leader from the water’s surface, maintaining the most vertical orientation of the leader as it pierces the water. Keep the sighter out of the water not only so you can see it but also to reduce drag since its usually thicker than the fluorocarbon tippet below it. Allow the drift to approach and pass downstream of your position. At this point, you’re fishing under the rod tip. At the end of the drift, you can recast to start another pass.

Anglers can vary any of the three parts of a euronymphing presentation, which are the initial cast, the dead drift portion of the presentation that follows and thirdly, the aftermath of the dead drift.

Casting, the first phase of every drift, offers several choices. While a constant tension oval shaped tuck cast works most of the time, the choice of various other casts may be necessitated by circumstances, such as overhead vegetation. In this situation, a water loaded cast might work better. Another common problem; you encounter faster water that minimizes fly time in the strike zone or prevents them from even getting to the bottom at all. Try more power and a firmer stop on the forward cast to drill the flies to the bottom.

The dead drift phase, the middle part of every euronymphing presentation, often works best as a dead drift. But when trout hesitate or on slow days, try adding a very subtle jig animation to the flies to elicit a strike. Gently lift the rod and drop it slowly, staying in contact with the flies as much as possible. Use nymphs tied on jig hooks to reduce bottom snags. Sometime a simple jig ‘twitch’ means the difference of several fish on slow days.

The final stage of each pass begins as the dead drift ends. Often we simply recast to start another drift, but try stopping the rod tip to allow the flies to lift up towards the waters surface in the manner Jim Leisenring made famous many years ago as a method to imitate natural insect behavior releasing from the streambed and rising towards the surface. You’ll even get strikes by letting the flies dangle in the current. Also on occasion, let the flies swing across current at the end of the drift like wet flies, since trout like to chase living food prey. You can tease a lot of trout to bite that you might otherwise miss.

Armed with the ‘Whys’ and ‘Hows’ of euronymphing, you’re ready to hit the water. Pack your nymph fly box, grab your net and your nymphing rod. If you don’t have a nymphing rod and love to euronymph, consider adding one to arsenal. The ability to cast lightly weighted flies, rod length and sensitivity make a dedicated euronymphing rod a wise investment.

TFO recently released the new Stealth rod – designed specifically for European, high-stick and tight-line nymphing techniques. Learn more about the Stealth below or here.

Blog written by TFO Advisor Jason Randall. Photos provided Jo Randall.

Targeting Early Spring Bass & Redfish with Cliff Pace

Last month, we caught up with Cliff Pace to talk about late winter tactics for targeting bass and redfish in the Louisiana Delta. Although winter hasn’t loosened its grip completely, we are seeing longer, warmer days, and the fish are starting to move. Cliff goes over how he’s adjusting to this change and the two rods he’s using to get the job done.

TFO: How do you adapt to the change from winter to spring and maximize your time on the water to catch more fish?

CP: In early spring, those fish are going to disperse from the winter groups that they were in during the winter, and leave those areas to push up into the shallower, flat bays and bottoms to spawn. In other words, pretty much anything that has a hard bottom without a lot of current.

The Louisiana Delta as a whole, is a very soft bottomed environment. If you can find areas where there’s quality spawn habit in the form of a hard bottom, typically, there’s going to be more than just one or two fish that move in to that area. You have to cover a lot of dead water to find those areas, but once you do, you can slow down and use your typical spawn techniques. This is when your search baits really come into play. Soft plastics primarily fished soft slowly with a very light weight are very effective for picking those fish off.

Photo: Cavin Brothers

One of my first choices to use during this time of year is the 7’2” Heavy Tactical Elite Bass Casting rod (TLE SB 726-1). I usually fish these a lot with spinner baits, chatter baits, thing of that nature.

The other rod I like to use is a 7’3” Heavy Tactical Elite (TLE MBR 736-1) for fishing soft plastics. I’ll also use this rod to fish a swim jig or a light Texas rig that I can either reel throw the grass or a weightless stick worm or something similar.

But what about cold fronts? It happens every year – a stretch of warm spring days, followed by a cold snap that takes us right back to winter. This seasonal transition can be extremely rewarding when targeting prespawn bass, but can also present some challenges when cold fronts come into play. See below for two important tips for how to find more fish in these scenarios.