Not many anglers actually know about the process of how they’re fishing rods are made. Luckily, in 2017, we had the opportunity to partner up with Sportsman Channel’s Made For The Outdoors TV to show the world exactly how both TFO fly and conventional rods are made. If you haven’t seen both of these videos, do yourself a favor and check them out below. The amount of detail, time, and focus that goes into each step of the rod building process is incredible, and we are honored to have such a hard working and talented team that makes it all happen.
We recently connected with TFO Ambassador and Made For The Outdoors TVhost Bill Sherck to revisit these videos and his trip overseas to where TFO rods are born.
What still stands out to you the most about your visit to the South Korea factory where both the fly and conventional rods are made?
There are a bunch of things that stand out about the trip. First off, BJ is the most passionate rod builder I have ever met. He is a very technical guy who understands all the engineering and hi-tech materials, all the stuff that regular anglers don’t always comprehend or appreciate…But more importantly, BJ loves to fish! He has so many GREAT fish stories from his adventures. You can tell that passion translates into how BJ and his team build rods. I’m talking about the tapers for all kinds of specific species of fish, how each rod feels in hand, how each rod looks.
This is TFO’s facility. This isn’t some place where builders manufacture a bunch of rods and throw in TFO’s order when it comes through. BJ and his team build only TFO rods. That is why these rods are so darn perfect.
The other very special part of our trip was watching BJ’s crew build each rod. They are handcrafted. From the hand cutting of the materials to shaping blanks to painting and building grips. Each station and each step of the process was so much fun to watch. I loved the discerning eyes. It seemed like every person was always looking at details.
The crew is definitely a closer-knit family than any other place I’ve been. They work hard and they play hard. Literally! The team works together, and then they take a mid-day break and walk to lunch together where they eat as a team (I believe BJ provides their meals) and then they walk back to the facility and grind out games of ping pong and checkers before getting back to rod building.
Of all the steps and processes involved, what surprised you the most? Was there a procedure in rod making that you never thought would have been a part of the process?
It was funny, but I was wandering around the facility and discovered a complete guide wrapping/rod wrapping area sitting in the dark collecting dust. Why in the world…Because BJ had good friends across town who are the best in the business at wrapping guides. BJ shares that part of the rod building process with those people. I love that every day, TFO drives completed blanks over to their friends who wrap and finish all of the guides and then drive those completed rods back to TFO for final assembly. A very cool part of the process to experience (outside of the dried fish sitting on all the wrapping machines. Turns out it’s a sign of good luck for those employees).
BJ and the TFO team take great pride in where they build the rods. Incheon/Seoul area is a global manufacturing hub know for some of the world’s biggest technology names. Samsung, Kia, SAP. TFO fits right in. They don’t pretend to make the most rods, but they are absolutely convinced they make the best and they do so with the most passion.
Available Now! Temple Fork Outfitters has added five new additions to the TFO family of conventional rods: a live bait casting model to the popular Seahunter Series, fast action Mag Bass rods additions to the popular Tactical Elite Bass & Tactical Bass spinning rod configurations, the all new Tactical Surf available in seven models, three variations of the Professional Walleye series specialized and engineered for trolling, and the fiberglass Tactical Glass rods. See below for more information on these new products.
Tactical Seahunter – Live Bait Casting Rod Addition
The modern center console boat has transformed nearshore and offshore fishing from traditionally passive to an amazingly active, almost athletic sport. Designed by TFO National Advisor Rob Fordyce, the Tactical Seahunter series matches this evolution with cutting edge gear to handle a range of techniques and species while remaining durable and light in hand. Casting, jigging, trolling, kiting, or all the above in concert! Regardless of the demands, these high performance rods allow saltwater anglers to quickly respond to changing conditions and opportunities by offering a wide range of capabilities without the need to change gear. This series is perfect for competitive tournament teams and serious anglers fishing salt-borne techniques and species.
The foundation of the Tactical Seahunter series are moderate-fast action blanks constructed with standard modulus carbon fiber material and a proprietary fiberglass scrim. The blanks are a midnight blue with metal fleck finish topped with braid- and saltwater-safe Fuji® Concept Guides™. The series includes 9 models: 5 casting in 6’0”–7’0” lengths in 20#-50# weight classes and a live bait rod; and 4 spinning in 6’0”-7’0” lengths in 20#-50# weight classes. Componentry includes down-locking reel seats on casting models in aluminum on the #40 and #50 models; up-locking reel seats on spinning models in aluminum on the #50 model. EVA foam fore and rear grips. Fore grips are 7” long in a large diameter for comfort while fighting fish. Rear grips are rocket launcher friendly at 13” in length and all models are equipped with anodized aluminum gimbals.
Every Tactical Seahunter series rod is designed and manufactured to deliver uncompromising performance and proven durability. And when combined with TFO’s no-fault lifetime warranty against defects, these rods are the perfect choice for anglers wanting to insure their fishing enjoyment. Fish the Original ™
Tactical Elite Bass – Fast Action Mag Bass Rod Spinning Rod Additions
The Tactical Elite Bass series of rods are our premier level fishing tools for tournament focused anglers. This series optimizes technique specific rod actions with performance maximizing componentry. When success equates to earning a paycheck, Tactical Elite Bass series rods do not compromise on any aspect of design, engineering, or manufacturing to guarantee anglers consistent performance and durability.
The foundation of the Tactical Elite Bass series are technique specific moderate and fast action blanks constructed with intermediate modulus carbon fiber material. The blanks are a gun metal grey finish with PacBay’s lightweight Titaium SV guides. The series includes 18 models: 13 casting in 6’10”–7’6” lengths in medium-light to magnum extra-heavy powers; and 5 spinning in 6’10”-7’3” lengths in medium-light to medium-heavy powers. Componentry includes down-locking graphite feel-through skeletal reel seats for maximum sensitivity with black anodized hoods. All rods include custom Winn® split grips.
Every Tactical Elite Bassseries rod is designed and manufactured to deliver uncompromising performance and proven durability. And when combined with TFO’s no-fault lifetime warranty against defects, these rods are the perfect choice for anglers wanting to insure their fishing enjoyment. Fish the Original ™
Tactical Bass – Fast Action Mag Bass Rod Spinning Rod Additions
The Tactical Bass series of rods are precision fishing tools for serious anglers. Designed to match optimized rod actions and powers to specific fishing techniques, this series ensures maximum success on the water. From topwater, to crankbaits, to various structure and finesse actions the Tactical Bass series has it covered. And most importantly, TFO’s manufacturing capabilities and quality standards guarantee rod action consistency and durability over time.
The foundation of the Tactical Bass series is technique-specific moderate to fast action blanks constructed with intermediate modulus carbon fiber material. The blanks are a natural satin clear coat finish topped with Pac Bay’s lightweight stainless SV guides. The series includes 23 models: 18 casting in 6’9”–8’0” lengths in medium-light to extra heavy powers; and 5 spinning in 6’10”-7’3” lengths in medium-light to medium heavy powers. Componentry includes down-locking feel-through skeletal reel seats for maximum sensitivity. All rods include premium split cork grips and black EVA foam butt caps with accent rings and all models are one piece.
Every Tactical Bass series rod is designed and manufactured to deliver uncompromising performance and proven durability across a wide-range of fishing situations. And when combined with TFO’s no-fault lifetime warranty against defects, these rods are the perfect choice for anglers wanting to insure their fishing enjoyment. Fish the Original ™
Tactical Elite Bass Spinning Rods – Fast Action Mag Bass Rod Spinning Rod Addition
Tactical Bass Spinning Rods – Fast Action Mag Bass Rod Spinning Rod Addition
The Tactical Surf series is designed for the intermediate to advanced angler and optimized for long accurate casts from the beach, that special rock or fishing pier. And because performance is critical when you reach your spot (or the top of your waders), we’ve designed the Tactical Surf series as powerful casting tools that are durable enough to handle the extremes of the surf environment but light enough to fish by hand all day without fatigue.
The foundation of the Tactical Surf series is moderate-fast to fast action blanks constructed with intermediate modulus carbon fiber material. The blanks are a satin sky-blue finish topped with braid- and saltwater-safe Fuji® K-Series Guides™ with Fuji® Alconite® inserts. The series includes 7 models in 8’0”-12’0” lengths in medium light to heavy powers. All 2-piece models are 70/30 split for one-piece performance and safe transport. Componentry includes up-locking pipe-style reel seats. All rods include blue/gray fish scale heat shrink grips with black EVA foam and rubber butt caps.
The SUS 804-1 through SUS 1103-2 incorporate longer, softer actions perfect for anglers casting and working artificial baits. The SUS 1065-2, SUS 1106-2, and SUS 1206-2 are for anglers focused on fishing bait rigs and making long casts with either spinning or casting gear. These rods are particularly popular along the Cape Cod Canal where the current requires the use of heavier lures and jigs.
Every Tactical Surf series rod is designed and manufactured to deliver uncompromising performance and proven durability. And when combined with TFO’s no-fault lifetime warranty against defects, these rods are the perfect choice for anglers wanting to insure their fishing enjoyment. Fish the Original ™
Professional Walleye – Trolling
With a premium on high sensitivity, the Professional Walleye series is designed specifically for pursuing these finicky and notoriously light biting fish. Beginning with the blank, the grip and the reel seat, everything is maximized for sensitivity and the series lengths, powers and actions are engineered to maximize angler success when fishing the most successful walleye techniques.
The foundation of the Professional Walleye series are blanks designed with technique specific actions constructed with intermediate modulus carbon fiber material. The blanks are a non-glare gold fleck finish topped with PacBay Stainless SV guides. The series includes 12 models: 6 spinning in 6’0”-7’6” lengths in light to medium powers; and 6 casting in 7’0”–7’6” lengths in medium light to medium powers. Componentry includes down-locking split graphite reel seats for super sensitivity. All rods include premium cork grips and black EVA foam butt caps with accent rings. Full cork grips are provided on all casting models and split cork grips are provided on spinning models.
The super-fast actions, light weight, and sensitivity of the WS 663-1 and WS 664-1 are perfect for anglers focused on jigging. The longer 7’0” and 7’6” rods are specifically for the sweeping hooksets of rigging. And the slower actions and light weight of the casting rods make them ideal for anglers cranking. And for 2021, we’ve added three rods in 8’6” and 10’ lengths specially designed for all trolling techniques.
Every Professional Walleye series rod is designed and manufactured to deliver uncompromising performance and proven durability across a wide-range of fishing situations. And when combined with TFO’s no-fault lifetime warranty against defects, these rods are the perfect choice for anglers wanting to insure their fishing enjoyment. Fish the Original ™
Tactical Glass Bass
The Tactical Glass Bass series is designed specifically for anglers fishing crank baits and who want the hook setting benefits of fiberglass, married to the light weight of carbon fiber. These composite rods are sensitive enough to transmit the lure action to the angler, but also have a slightly damped recovery that maximize hook sets because they allow the fish to consume the bait. The Tactical Glass Bass series delivers a higher level of technique-specific performance to anglers focused on fishing action-oriented lures with light-wire treble hooks.
The foundation of the Tactical Glass Bass series are blanks constructed with 60% intermediate modulus carbon fiber and 40% S-Glass fiberglass material. The blanks are a natural satin clear coat finish topped with PacBay’s lightweight stainless steel SV guides. The series includes 3 casting models 7’2”-7’10” lengths in medium to medium heavy powers. Componentry includes down-locking reel seats and premium cork grips and black EVA foam butt caps with accent rings.
Every Tactical Glass Bass series rod is designed and manufactured to deliver uncompromising performance and proven durability. And when combined with TFO’s no-fault lifetime warranty against defects, these rods are the perfect choice for anglers wanting to insure their fishing enjoyment. Fish the Original ™
It’s hard to believe we’re already upon the holiday season, but here we are again! If you’re having trouble finding the right gift for the angler in your life, we’ve put together a list of items that won’t break the bank, but will be sure to be a great surprise for the recipient.
TFO Apparel – New Items Added!
Just in time for the holidays, the TFO Apparel Store has added some new items! Rep your favorite rod company with a TFO t-shirt, hat/beanie, baseball tee, hoodie/jacket and more!
Add some inspiration to your fly tying room/area with a little bit of Lefty Kreh.
Lefty Kreh will always be a legend in the world of fishing. He was a true original and he helped TFO pioneer the concept of affordable high-performance fly rods. At Temple Fork Outfitters, we’re forever grateful for all that he gave of himself to us and our favorite sport.
Lefty regularly shared his passion in the way of teaching and in being kind to others, which often lit a fire in the hearts of those that knew him. That’s why above being a great angler, we remember him as a great friend and hope you’ll find this pack of Lefty Kreh nostalgia as a way to remember him as we do: smiling.
Artwork by Paul Puckett. Get your koozie, decal and poster pack while supplies last. Fish the Original ™
Decal Dimensions: 4″ x 5″ | Poster Dimensions: 16″ x 20″
We can’t always predict where fish will be, but we can do our best to be prepared to get to any depth that fish might be holding. This is where having a different type of line (full sink, sink tip, intermediate, floating) comes in hand, and if you have another line, you’re going to need another reel (or backup spool) to hold it. The BVK-SD is a great primary and/or back up reel. The sealed drag functionality gives you even more confidence for playing bigger fish when needed.
While this year may not have been a great year to travel, 2021 is looking a lot more promising. Whether you’re just looking for a compact fishing rod to transport to the lake, or if you’re looking for a great inshore rod to take with you on the plane for your beach trip, but don’t want to worry about traveling with a one-piece rod, the Traveler is an excellent, and reliable choice.
Not many 19 year olds can say they’ve won three Bassmaster High School National Championships, but TFO Ambassador Tucker Smith can proudly say he has. Last weekend, Tucker and his teammate Hayden Marbut won the Mossy Oak Fishing Bassmaster High School National Championship presented by Academy Sports + Outdoors on Kentucky Lake with a final three-day total of 47-5. It was Tucker’s third-straight title win, and the first for his teammate Hayden.
The tournament was not a cakewalk by any means for Tucker and Hayden. Originally scheduled to be in August, the tournament was rescheduled due to COVID to late October. Although Tucker had fished Kentucky Lake before, fishing it at a very different time of year brought many challenges – including cooler water and air temperatures, heavier winds, different holding spots for fish, and a change in eating patterns/behaviors. Tucker and his teammate were able to have very productive practices to adjust to these changes, but also had the right tools to get the job done.
This week we caught up with Tucker while he took a break from his virtual freshman year classes at Auburn University to get the scoop on the Championship win, the TFO rods that helped him bring home the gold, but also to get some backstory on Tucker on how he got into competitive fishing, and how he became a part of the TFO family.
Where did you grow up and how long have you been fishing?
I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama fishing around the Coosa River. I’ve been fishing for as long as I could remember. My Dad, Uncle, and my grandfather really got me into fishing. Eventually, I met local competitive angler, guide, and TFO Ambassador Joey Nania. Joey was kind of a mentor to me growing up.
How did you and Joey meet?
Mutual friends. My Dad had a friend that recommended we fish with Joey for a guided trip when I was 14 or 15 years old. We did a trip with Joey and caught a ton of fish and had a great time. I started fishing with Joey a lot more after that. We became buddies and he started taking me out fishing just for fun outside of guide trips. He kind of showed me the ropes. We’re still good friends today.
When did you start fishing competitively?
I started fishing competitively in high school when I was a freshman. I did a few tournaments in middle school, but didn’t really start fishing the “bigger” tournaments until I got on the high school fishing team.
How long have you been fishing TFO?
I’ve been fishing with TFO as long as I’ve been fishing with Joey. He was a huge supporter of TFO rods when I started fishing with him. I got comfortable using the rods competitively in my high school tournaments. I wanted to get more involved with TFO, and thankfully not long after I won my first championship my sophomore year, I became a Youth Ambassador for TFO.
Let’s talk about the tournament. When was it originally supposed to happen?
It was supposed to be in August at the same location the tournament has been the last two years – Kentucky Lake. When it got postponed due to COVID, it was definitely a challenge because we were fishing this lake at a totally different time of year. The fish were focused on completely different baits and holding in different spots as well. We had to adapt and catch them outside of what we had done historically there.
What were conditions like throughout the tournament in late October, compared to what they would have likely been in August? How did you adjust and adapt to this change?
Typically in August, its 95 degrees and you’re having to take your sunglasses off every five minutes because they’re getting fogged up with sweat. Late October, the first couple of days were nice in the high 60s/70s, but the last day it really dropped – mid 30s with high winds. It was pretty miserable that last day.
For the most part we were throwing topwater the whole tournament, but on the last day when it was windy and got down in the 30s, we had to get a little deeper.
What TFO rods were you using? Why did you choose that rod and stick with it versus using others?
I was using the 6’10” Medium Tactical Elite Bass almost the entire time. I was throwing topwater most of the tournament. That 6’10” is perfect for working a spook. I was using that most of the tournament. For this type of topwater fishing, you really want a shorter rod so you can work the bait not hit the water with your rod every time you jerk it. The Medium Action has enough to give to load up with those treble hooks, so they don’t sling it when they jump.
We were catching 3-7 pound fish. When they have a big topwater in their mouth jumping with treble hooks, you need that rod to bend and give them some space to jump. That’s why I went with the 6’10 Medium Tactical Elite Bass. For the rest of my setup, I was using 40 lb. braid to a Shimano Curado K (7:1).
Would you have used this same setup (topwater) in August?
In August, we were throwing a lot of chatterbaits and I was using the 7’3” Medium HeavyTactical Elite Bass. That’s actually my favorite rod because of the versatility of it – you can throw so many things on it. It’s a great chatterbait rod.
Give us a breakdown of the days of the tournament. Sounds like you guys had a pretty successful first day out.
A few weeks prior to the tournament, we were fortunate enough to get some practice time on the lake. We fished five days, daylight to dark before we got cut off to practicing. When it came to be the official tournament practice days, we went back and checked all the baits that worked for us during those five days of scouting practice, and cut the hooks off so that we wouldn’t catch the tournament fish, but we could see where they were.
We were throwing topwater, so you could easily see when they’d come up and eat. We’d work down these long main river flats and bars until we’d get bit. Whenever we’d get a bite, there’d be a few others as the fish were usually schooled up. Once we’d find these spots, we mark it down for actual tournament days.
On Day 1, the conditions were perfect – calm, no wind. We hit up a few of the spots that we had marked during practice, but we weren’t getting into any big numbers. We eventually moved to another spot we had marked. After a few casts of no bites, I noticed an indention in the flat that looked really good about a hundred yards down the flat. After I got on the trolling motor and got close enough, I made a cast and caught a 4 lb. smallmouth. My buddy picked up his rod, made a cast in there, and caught a 7.5 largemouth (which was the biggest fish of the tournament). I threw back in there again and caught another 4lb smallmouth, he threw in after me and caught a 4lb smallmouth, then I followed up again and caught a 3 lb smallmouth. So after all that, we had 22 pounds in five casts in five minutes. It was the craziest five minutes of fishing in my life. We ended up getting biggest bag and biggest bass of the tournament on that first day.
Day 2 – We started with the spot where we caught the big bag from the day before. The wind had picked up making the water really choppy and they just weren’t hitting topwater. We were able to get eight 3+ lb bites, but they just wouldn’t eat it. My buddy snagged a 4lb smallmouth with a spook in the back of the head cause they were just basically slapping at our bait at that point.
We decided to switch up our tactics. I grabbed a 7’3” Medium Heavy Tactical Elite Bass with a rattle trap and caught a 4lb smallmouth, and then the next cast I caught one over three pounds – so at that point we had three good ones in the box.
We tried another spot later in the day where I caught another bass pushing 4 pounds on the 6’10” Medium Tactical Elite Bass. We ended up getting two more at that spot and filled our limit for the day. We ended up with a bag of 17.5 for that second day.
Day 3 – This was a super rough day with 20-degree temperature drop and very strong winds. They actually almost didn’t let us go out, but after a 45-minute delay, they ended up letting us go. Right out of the marina we were hitting 4-foot waves. It was rough.
We knew we had a good lead amongst the other teams from our previous two days, but still needed to get fish in the boat. We ended up getting two 4 lb. fish, but it was really tough.
We ended up winning by 10 pounds, but it was funny the way we found out. We were the last ones to pull up to the weigh in because the judges typically put the people they think are going to win in the back. When it came to be our turn, they called out “Alright boys, you want to come on up here and weigh your fish, or do you want to just come get your trophy because you’ve already won without weighing in your fish.” We would have won by 3 pounds if we haven’t weighed our fish in from that last day, but after we did weigh in, we ended up winning by 10 pounds.
Now that the tournament is over, you’re back at school for your freshman semester at Auburn now. What’s next for you in terms of fishing and life?
I’m on the Auburn Bass Fishing team right now, and I’m currently majoring in Business. My goal is to fish all these college tournaments and make it to the National Championship. If you make it to that and get in the top four, you can make it to the Classic Bracket. If you win in the Classic Bracket, then you get to fish in the Bassmaster Classic – which is the biggest tournament in bass fishing. That’s my dream.
Other than that, I’ll fish some Opens, and maybe fish some Toyota events as well. Try to qualify for the Bassmaster Classic through that as well.
Have you thought about guiding some? I’m sure you’ll want to focus on your competitive fishing first, but have you thought about doing some guiding down the road?
I’ve definitely thought about it, but you’re right – mainly focusing on fishing competitively right now. I might pick up some guiding in the summer when I’m back home. We’ll see..
If you could only take one TFO rod with you – doesn’t matter what time of year or the conditions – what TFO rod would you take and why?
If I could take one, I’d probably take the 7’3” Heavy Tactical Elite Bass. I think it’s the most versatile. I like the Medium Heavy too, but if you have that Heavy, you can do flipping, frogging, throw a jig, chatterbaits, big swimbaits, A-rig. You can throw most of what you need to make it work.
While it’s easy to get sad about summer’s end, the transition into fall brings a special type of excitement to anglers on the East cost. The tail end of summer brings bull redfish inland to spawn and forage on baitfish, but by late September, a cool north wind blows offshore forcing baitfish back towards the ocean, while also bringing false albacore inland. This results in a head on collision of predator and prey, and the perfect scenario for the angler that gets at the right place at the right time.
TFO is fortunate enough to have several advisors and ambassadors with lots of knowledge and experience fishing for false albacore on both fly and conventional gear. This week, we decided to switch it up and get feedback from several of TFO’s finest – Jake Jordan, Gary Gubiel and Andy Bates – to give some tips, tactics, and insights for all things albie fishing.
Overview, History & Migration
Give us a brief overview of false albacore. Have they always been a sport fish, and what is it about fall that makes that the time to fish for them?
Jake Jordan – False albacore (also known as Little Tunny, Albies, Fat Albert) are located in the Atlantic Ocean all the way from Maine to Chile, as well as the Gulf of Mexico, Pacific Ocean, and the Indian Ocean. Although they are in the tuna family, their rough flesh makes for not so good eating, but a fantastic sporting fish.
North Carolina was one of the first places that people started fishing them as a sport fishing fly fishing in the late 1990s. Historically, albies were referred to as a baitfish. We used to catch them, cut out their bellies, and troll them for marlin. As a sport fish, they are like any other tuna or jack – they are very, very powerful. Anglers often refer to bonefish as being one of the strongest fighting fish. An equal size false albacore is much faster and much more powerful than the same weight bonefish.
In the summer months, the baitfish (anchovies, silver sides, spearing, etc.) in the estuaries will eat and get bigger in the warmer, shallower water of the Sounds. As soon as the first cold front of the year comes through, a Northern wind cools down the surface water in the Sounds, causing the baitfish to run out of the inland water towards the warmer water of the ocean. Likewise, as soon as the albacore out in the Gulf Stream feel that cool, north breeze, they immediately swim into the wind and head inshore. They’ll come towards the beach, coming right up into these giant schools of baitfish. At this point, you can find albies anywhere from 2ft to 100ft deep.
Baitball, Birds, and Shrimp Trawlers
TFO: Aside from being able to see them near the surface, how do you locate albies?
Jake Jordan: Two of the most important factors in locating albies are bait balls and birds. Typically when I’m starting out for the day, even before first light, I’m just looking for bird action. Really good anglers will have “Bird Radar” where you can see out as far as 20-25 miles, but even at 10 miles, you’ll see the birds diving down on the fish and you can run right up to them. This will be a sign of either redfish or Spinner sharks, or it’s going to be albacore. Earlier in September it could even be big Spanish mackerel and King mackerel.
You’ll see these giant baitballs where the water is boiling with fish going crazy and baitfish jumping out of the water. These bait balls can be the size of a big swimming pool. All you have to do is drop your bait or fly into that boil, and before you get a chance to strip or anything, your line just takes off with a fish on the end.
TFO: Let’s say you’ve located some fish busting on a bait ball. How are you positioning yourself to cast?
Jake Jordan: Albies are unique in that they swim and feed into the wind. When you’re chasing these fish, if you can get upwind in front of the schools, you can sit there and wait for them to come right to you. I try to sit the boat right to the side but in front of the path of the schools. You’ll be casting straight into where they’re going to be, your fly is coming across the school, so basically you are casting ahead and perpendicular to them.
TFO: Do you ever spook the schools when casting to them as they are migrating?
Jake Jordan: No. These fish aren’t afraid of anything. There are times when they are boat-shy. When you get 100 f.t from them, they go down and disappear, and then they’ll pop up 300 ft from you.
TFO: I’ve heard that fishing behind shrimp boats trawling bottom can be another great way to catch albies. Can you talk about that?
Jake Jordan: If there aren’t a lot of bait balls happening, and we aren’t seeing any birds, another way to catch albacore is fishing behind shrimp boats. Here in North Carolina, shrimp boats are operating almost 24hrs a day. Here we have flat sandy bottoms, and these shrimp boats are trolling the bottoms with these big chains holding the bottom of these large nets, just scooping up shrimp and all kinds of baitfish. About 50-60% of what they bring up to the boat is baitfish also called bycatch, the other 40-50% is shrimp. When they make their pull up to the boat, they’ll throw everything back overboard that isn’t shrimp. This will draw sharks, albacore, and millions of birds.
You can get about a hundred feet from the back of the boat and wait for the boats to throw the bycatch overboard. You can use a 10wt in this scenario (sharks), but I like to use a Bluewater SG Mediumwith a Power Reel using about 500-700 grain head with 1.5-2 ft of 20lb leader with about a 5 inch white Clouser minnow. I’ll set the drag on my reel to about 6 pounds. As soon as you get a hook up, I usually put the boat in reverse to get away from the boat so the fish don’t get wrapped up in the trolling nets/cables.
Fly Rods & Reels
Jake Jordan: – At the start of the season in September, and in the summer when I’m also targeting Spanish mackerel, I’ll start off with a 9’ 7wt Axiom ll-X. I’ll pair this up with a BVK SD-lll reel. Typically, you’ll want a reel with a heavy drag system, but with early season albies (4-6 pounds), you’ll be fine with the BVK-SD, and it’s a lot of fun on a 7wt. Once we start catching albies more consistently, I’ll switch over to a 9wt Axiom ll-X. I’ll fish this until late October/early November, and then I’ll step up to a 10wt Axiom ll-X. The purpose of stepping up to the 9 and 10 is relative to how the fish are growing over the season and also the size of the flies as well. I’ll pair both the 9wt and 10wt with the TFO Power III Reel.
Gary Dubiel: Im targeting albies in mid- October after the bull reds are done doing their thing inland. 9wt &10wt Axiom ll-Xs are my preferred rods. A lot of the albacore we get in coastal North Carolina are pretty big – around 16-18 pounds. The 9wt Axiom ll-X is a fabulous rod to use for albacore, but for folks that have trouble making longer casts in stronger winds, the 10wt is an excellent choice. More than anything else, you’ll want a quality reel with a great drag system, so the Power Reel III.
Fly Lines & Leaders
Gary Dubiel: I like intermediate or intermediate tip lines – particularly a clear tip line. The reason I like that is, you’re going to do much better with direct contact to the fly. Even if the fish aren’t on the surface, if you can get the fly down to the fish a little quicker so that it get 3-6 inches down quickly. Even if you’re using a weighted fly – you’re going to do well with that intermediate line. You can also decrease your leader length to get it down quicker. For leaders, I do a 4ft piece of 20lb fluorocarbon straight to the fly.
Flies & Retrieval Patterns
Gary Dubiel:For flies, a #1 or #2 size hook that is no more than 2.5”-3” long that are fairly translucent all work well. Clouser Minnows, Surf Candies are great patterns. I like flies to have some motion, so I actually tie most of my flies with craft fur so when that flies is sinking it has a little bit of undulation to it.
Retrieves – I like to fish albacore a little bit different. When I’m striping the rod in, I don’t want to strip in really fast. Once you get in a bait ball, you want to maximize the time that the fly is in front of the fish. Just strip it enough to keep the fly line tight, and the fish are more than happy to eat it. The intermediate line lets you have more direct contact so you don’t have to do as much on the strip strike to get good hook penetration on the fish. So that intermediate line serves multiple purposes for me.
Andy Bates:I throw a lot of Clousers. I stick with mostly white, but white with tan, and white with chartreuse works too. Just depends on the clarity of the water on that day. You can catch pretty much anything in North Carolina on a white and chartreuse Clouser.
Conventional Gear & Retrieval Techniques
Gary Dubiel:I use the Inshore 7’ Medium and Medium Heavy depending on what we’re throwing. Certainly for long distance casting with small, long 3” spoons whether that be mostly metal spoons, but big profile spoons about an ounce and about 3 inches long are ideal for getting really long casts to breaking fish. You can throw those and crank them fast. They can be very effective if you’re having a hard time getting on the bait balls and you’re seeing breaking fish.
If you’re on bait balls, I prefer to go to the 7’ Medium Inshore and fish soft plastics – particularly fluke style baits. Whether that be on a jig head or just a hook. Jig heads in a 1/4 -3/8 ounce aren’t going to get as far, but I find them really effective. Fishing them is very different. I use a lot of rod tip and not as fast of a reel so the bait has a tendency to dart side-to-side. You’re keeping the soft plastic in the bait longer, but giving it a very erratic speed while doing that, which seems to be very deadly effective on the fish.
Certainly 20lb braid, then 20-30lb fluorocarbon if there’s Spanish mackerel around. Definitely using 30lb when those mackerel are around.
Andy Bates:A lot of people think that albies be a nuisance, and an easy fish to catch, but that’s not always the case. Its not as easy as dropping your fly or a bait in a bait ball and they’ll just crush it. Sometimes you have to get creative. When they’re feeding on really small fry, or what we call snot bait, it’s hard to match the hatch. Even if you can match the hatch, the albies almost turn into a predatory fish into a filter feeder type fish. If you’re spin rod fishing for them and you’re having trouble getting a bite, you can go to a big 5” fluke or an albie snack on a swim bait hook (weighted or unweighted) where you can make a long cast on a Medium or Medium Light rod with 10-12lb braid. After you make a long cast from a ways back, hold your tip up and rip it back as fast as you can and work the bait. You’re basically skipping the bait across the water and getting a reaction bite. I’ve found this technique very effective for when they get picky on the subsurface bite.
Fighting Albies and the Release/Launch
Gary Dubiel: When you’ve got an albie on, making sure you’re utilizing the bottom third of the rod and using the drag on your reel correctly is definitely important when playing these fish. I use a little bit stiffer drag to help slow the fish down. They’re going to go and there’s not much to do to stop them, so you let them go when they go.
Big albacore sometimes will do what’s called the death spiral, where they go straight down and spin in a circle. That can be a challenge, but a really short pump of the rod to try and pull the fish and get his head up can help prevent them from spiraling back down. You’re basically shortening the line, and shortening the line until you get him high enough in the water column to grab and boat him.
Jake Jordan: Once you catch your first fish, their tail is like a handle. Like a tuna fish, you grab them by the tail, hold them up over the boat. They’re probably going to spit out about 50 bait fish on the deck, then you get the fly and let them go. Unlike trout or other fish where you typically hold them long, albies are the opposite. When you release them, shoot them in the water like a bullet. You do this because they are so powerful and fast, they need that water going over their gills. That splash gives them a really good start. Their tail is moving when you let go of them, and they just propel themselves to get that first burst of oxygen.
If you’d like to learn and see more about albie fishing in coastal North Carolina, you might enjoy this film featuring TFO Advisor Rob “The Seahunter” Fordyce and TFO Ambassador Chris Thompson. This film was shot after the annual Cape Lookout Albacore Festival last year. Sadly, this year’s festival has been cancelled due to the pandemic, but the festival plans to resume in 2021. You can find out more about Albie Fest here.
Jake Jordan is a TFO National Advisor that has spent more than half a century guiding tarpon anglers in the Keys. During his lifetime, Jake has caught more than 2,400 billfish on the fly – thus was the perfect person to help us design our offshore rod – the Bluewater SG. Nowadays, Jake splits his time chasing tarpon in the Keys and albacores and redfish in coastal North Carolina. You can find out more about Jake here.
Gary Dubiel has been a TFO National Advisor since 2002. He currently lives in guides in the coastal North Carolina Outer Banks area through his guiding business Spec Fever Guide Service. You can find out more about Gary here.
Andy Bates has been an ambassador for TFO since 2017. He currently lives in guides in the coastal North Carolina Outer Banks area through his guiding business, Captain Bates Guiding Service. You can find out more about Andy here.
TFO Ambassador Ben Nowak is no stranger to smallmouth fishing. Based out of Michigan, Ben hosts a YouTube channel called The Smallmouth Experience where he uploads weekly videos sharing his experiences of catching smallmouth bass, as well as helpful tips for anglers out there who want to find more success on the water.
While summer can be a fantastic time to catch smallmouth, the transition into fall is not to be overlooked for catching some serious numbers (size and quantity). While the casual, warm weather anglers are storing their boats for next summer, anglers like Ben are taking advantage of the less crowded lakes in Michigan, and finding success on migrating baitfish near the banks.
As we begin to move into fall, we decided to catch up with Ben on how he adjusts his tactics and setups for catching more fish.
Tell us about your home waters and what tends to happen as we transition into fall. What temperature fluctuations do you see, how does it effect the fishes’ behavior and location?
I spend a lot of time fishing on Lake Huron, Lake St. Clair, and several other glacial bodies of waters in Michigan. Up here, the biggest thing is we are starting to get a lot colder nights. You go from the summer time where you’ll have 80 degree days with 65 degree nights, and now we’re transitioning into 60 degree days with 35-40 degree nights. As the air temps drop, this causes bait fish to push shallow and into the grass or up into the rock piles in the shallow water situations.
My favorite part of this is when the fish wish will start to move into the river mouths, and they’ll push up and congregate at the first piece of cover or structure (drop off, rock pile, or grass patch) they come to. This, to me, is when it’s the most fun, because in the summer, a lot of our fish can get really tough because they spread out a lot more. As it gets cooler, locating fish is a lot more predictable, and you can get into some serious numbers when you find that first really hard piece of structure outside of a shallow grass flat or river mouths. Typically they’re in 15 feet of water or less located next to something pretty obvious such as grass patches or boulder fields with some sort of drop off. This is where my 5 fall baits and specific TFO rods come in handy.
For both rods, I’m using 12 lb. test line. Typically, with this set up I’m targeting the medium depth rocks out in front of rivers where you tend to have some of that gravel pushing and those bait fish are kind of pushing up on that gravel. This is probably my favorite approach in the fall because you can usually catch so many fish and it’s just an awesome bite.
For smallmouth, I typically got with a lighter wire swimbait. A lot of anglers are going to want to throw this on a heavier rod, I’m actually throwing it on the cranking rod as well –7’4” Medium Heavy Graphite Cranking Tactical Elite Bass rod – TLE LW 74CB-1. With the light wire hook, you’ll want something that is a bit softer, and for the fish to get the bait a lot better.
This is one of my favorite applications with this rod, because it lets the fish get the bait a little bit better. It also helps me play the fish better. Once again, I’m targeting medium depth rock with some grass.
3.) Wobble Head
I really like to throw these because it’s almost like a compliment to the crank bait – fishing it slower and close to the bottom. I’ll throw this on the 7’5” Heavy Tactical Elite Bass – TLE FS 756-1. I like this rod because it’s moderate. When the fish hit that bait, a lot of the times the fish won’t get that bait the first time they bite it, so you want to let them have the bait a little bit more. The moderate action is going to let those fish get that bait, and you’re not going to tend to lose as many fish on the wobble head. A lot of guys go with an XH (Extra Heavy). For me, a softer and more moderate rod is going to help those fish stay pinned, and have a lot more success.
4.) A Rig
I throw this on the TFO GTS Swimbait Rod 7’11” Mag Heavy. I’m typically throwing a heavy, big A Rig – I’ll throw a seven wire with five hooks and two dummies. So basically, what you’re looking at is three jig heads that are ¼ oz., 2 jigs that are 3/8oz., and two dummies that are empty, non-weighted jig heads. It’s a heavy A rig so I throw it on the 7’11. When those smallmouth hit it, they just absolutely smash it! The rod loads up well, and you can cast it forever.
5.) Finesse Tube
I don’t like to go finesse in the fall, but when I have to, I’ll go to a tube or a ned rig. A lot of the smallmouth fishing I’m doing up here is in clear water, so I want to get that bait super far away from the boat. For this scenario, I’m going with the 7’3” Medium Heavy Tactical Elite Bass spinning rod – TLE MBR S 735-1and then a 3000 size spinning reel.
The biggest thing is getting that bait super far away, but still having enough power in the rod to drive the hook home. So that Medium Heavy is pretty important. This is about the only (and my favorite) scenario in the fall where I use a Medium Heavy rod.
Ben Nowak is a TFO Ambassador based out of Michigan, where he has lived his entire life. Ten years ago, he started fishing TFO when he was in college, but came back to TFO last winter with the release of the Tactical Elite Bass and Tactical Bass rods. Ben hosts a YouTube channel focusing on catching smallmouth bass. (The Smallmouth Experience). His YouTube channel is all about sharing his experiences of catching smallmouth, but to also help others to be more effective smallmouth anglers wherever these hard-fighting fish.
Patience, focus, and a lot of praying paid off for TFO Ambassador Bill Weidler this past weekend.
Weidler won his first title at the YETI Bassmaster Elite Series at Lake St. Clair in Macomb County, Michigan with a four-day total of 86 pounds, 7 ounces – earning him $100,500 and nearly doubling his career earning with B.A.S.S. to $204,350.
We checked in with Bill after he had time to celebrate and found out about the big day, along with the TFO rod that helped him bring home the win.
How does it feel to win your first title?
It feels unbelievable! I’m looking forward to getting to Guntersville and try to ride this wave while it’s still going!
Had you fished St. Clair before? What helped you know how to adjust to that lake versus the lakes back home in Birmingham?
I had never fished St. Clair before. I had talked to some other anglers to get the feel and layout of the lake. I knew it was a flat bottom lake with very little contours. It was all grass driven with open areas around the grass. The key to it was finding the bare areas. If you found those, you could find fish.
I wanted to do some largemouth fishing, but I know it was going to be primarily smallmouth, so I needed to get comfortable with that. I came ready with my spinning gear and was focused on getting my drop shots far out and deep.
It so funny because some people refer to this win as a Cinderella or underdog story for me. Prior to this tournament, this year has been pretty rough. 90% of that has been attributed to mechanical and electrical problems. It was one thing after the other. I wasn’t fishing bad, I just couldn’t get four full days. I’d made sure this time to be careful with my boat/gear and not overdue it. It definitely paid off.
What TFO rods helped you at St. Clair?
The TFO Professional Walleye 7’6” Medium Light. My first event at Lake Oahe for smallmouth I was fishing a custom medium-heavy spinning rod. Every time I’d button up with a fish, I’d lose it. I talked to Jim Shulin, Sport Fishing Category Manager at TFO, about this rod and told him I needed TFO to make a similar, but longer (7’6″-7’8″) rod that would be a good for drop shots, but I also needed it to be softer. This way I would have plenty of leverage when I snap that hook set, and also the rod acts like a shock absorber for the bigger fish when they jump and shake their heads while fighting them on light line.
The next tournament is at Lake Guntersville in Scottsboro, Alabama. It’s the last weekend of September. It’s basically a home lake for me about 1.5 hours from where I live. I grew up fishing it so I’ve got a game plan in mind. Last year I finished 27th, but I’m hoping to make it to the top 20.
For a tournament angler that has been in the scene for a while, what got you interested in fishing with TFO rods?
I signed on with TFO this year. I had heard many great things about their conventional rods as far as the action and design. I love them, haven’t had a problem with them, and that Professional Walleye 7’6” Medium Light did some work this past weekend – I promise!
In Southeastern North Carolina, the Cape Fear River, a rich and beautiful blackwater river recognized for its very large flounder population, flows 191 miles all the way to the Atlantic Ocean where it empties near Cape Fear. In 2018, Hurricane Florence hit coastal North Carolina causing catastrophic damage to the homes and fisheries in the area, but particularly – the Cape Fear River.
In addition to the substantial amount of flooding, other factors contributed that led to the almost complete disintegration of the aquatic life – resulting in some serious efforts from local fisheries and organizations to place a ban on harvesting flounder in the river for a year. After a year of prohibiting the harvest of flounder and letting nature takes its course, the Cape Fear River is now thriving with some very large and healthy flounder, and guides like TFO Ambassador Stuart Caulder couldn’t be happier.
This Sunday marks the end of the moratorium and the start of flounder season. We decided to catch up with Stu to talk about this exciting time for him and the anglers in this area to find out more about how to find and catch these hard fighting flatfish.
This Sunday, August 16th is the opening day for flounder season, but for the last year, harvesting flounder was not permitted. Can you talk about what factors went into implementing those regulations?
What we’ve had here is a moratorium on keeping flounder since last year. It opens back up this Sunday, August 16 and runs through September 30. Two factors prompted the suspension of harvesting flounder for the past year.
1) Shrimp Boat Trawlers – We still have a lot of inshore shrimp trawlers in this area. As the shrimp boats drag and trawl bottom to collect shrimp, they are also picking up a lot of other species – especially flounder. When the nets come up to the boat for the boat hands to unload, the fish are already worn out, and since collecting and icing the shrimp are the main priorities for these shrimp boaters, the bycatch flounder often get neglected or put off for several minutes while out of water, and most end up dying before they get tossed back over board.
2) Hurricane Florence – With the massive amount of rain and floods we got from Florence in 2018, the waste ponds on the pig farms upriver flooded, resulting in a large bacteria bloom. This took out all of the oxygen in the river, and basically killed millions of fish.
With these two factors, and because the flounder population had been decimated so bad, the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries put a moratorium on the species for a year.
Were there any other species that were largely affected by both Hurricane Florence and the hog farm flood aftermath?
Oh yeah – trout, redfish and stripers. Right after the storm, it pretty much decimated our striper fishery for the winter. They’re coming back now, but there’s only the small ones left where they’ve restocked the river. A lot of the fish either left to the ocean or died. You could see thousands of them floating down the river after Florence.
How did the year long moratorium effect the flounder population on the Cape Fear River?
It’s actually rebounded remarkably! A lot of the fish that were close to the mouth of the river could get a sense for what was going on when Florence hit, and they ran offshore. After the storm, they came back up the river, and with the moratorium in effect, these fish have basically sat here for a year and have gotten big.
It’s nothing to get your limit and get a few 3-4 pounders now. An 8 pounder is definitely not out of the question, and there have already been some 10 pounders caught as well. It’s really early for some of those big ones, but it’s a great sign that they’re already in here. It’s go time!
That’s great news! Let’s talk fishing set-ups. Are you using conventional or fly when going after flounder?
The majority of the flounder fishing I’m doing is conventional, and I typically use artificial bait because I can usually cover more ground than I can with live bait. With live bait, you have to slow way down, and you can’t fish it as fast. I’d rather pitch fast and work the grass banks on high tide and just pitch, pitch, pitch.
I like to use bucktail baits with some type of scented trailer behind it. It can be a DOA bait, or a gulp bait – something that has some smell to it. The ones you’re after are going to eat that bucktail. The bigger flounder are very aggressive and they don’t have any problem popping those bucktails, as long as there’s a scented trailer. They really like a scented trailer.
The rod that helps me get this done is the TFO Inshore 7’ Medium. The bucktails I’m throwing are usually between 3/8 – 1/2 oz. in weight. I like using the Inshore Medium as it has a little bit more backbone compared to the Medium Light. Every now and then, you’ll pick up a drum with that same flounder bait, and sometimes the drums you’ll get into are pretty big and can put a work out on those smaller rods. The Medium is a great tool for handling those larger fish.
The 7ft works great because it’s long enough to make a nice long cast, when needed, but short enough to pitch baits tight to the bank, as well. For a reel, I’m using a Penn Conflict in a size 30 with 15lb. Berkley Ultra Cast braided line, and then I use a 20-30lb fluorocarbon leader because they have got some teeth; especially those bigger ones!
Inshore Tarpon – I also like to have a Seahunter rigged up when fishing inshore, because every now and then, you’ll have tarpon roll up on you, and you just can’t pass up the opportunity to cast to a tarpon.
I like to have a Seahunter SHS 7030 rigged up with a Diawa BG 5000 size reel loaded with 50lb Berkley Ultra Cast braided line. For bait, DOA makes a Big Fish Lure, it’s a 5.5” soft plastic swim bait that suspends about 2 feet under the water. You can snap the rod tip a few times and that bait will just sit there and suspend. That’s a great setup for inshore tarpon fishing.
What type of forage food do the flounder key in on this fishery?
Typically, what I find them eating are small baitfish patterns such as small spots, croakers, or popeye/finger mullet. They’ll also eat a lot of shrimp. I don’t get a lot of crabs out of them. So mainly that’s what I’m mimicking, and that’s what the bucktail bait is used for.
Sometimes, a 7-8lb flounder can eat a 6-7 inch baitfish. You can throw a big bait in an area where you know there’s fish and usually bypass the smaller ones to go for a 3-4 pounder or bigger.
Do you typically just stick to white patterns to imitate baitfish?
Mainly white bucktails, and sometimes I’ll switch it up on my trailers. I may run a trailer that’s white on one, then maybe run a chartreuse trailer on another. A lot of that will depend on the water clarity. Sometimes I run a root beer color trailer, something dark. If the water is real dark and dingy, I’ll run dark baits. If the water’s real clear, I’ll run lighter baits.
How are you targeting flounder? In other words, where are you looking for them in the inshore areas within the Cape Fear River?
Flounder aren’t too spooky, it’s not like you’re sitting a really long distance off the bank and casting to them, I’m fairly close to the bank and all I’m doing is just making little underhand pitches. I’m working that first five feet of grass line on high tide. Once you’re out about 5-8 feet, bring it in, then pitch it back over to your next spot, work it out, etc.
It’s almost like bass fishing. They’re going to go right up to that cover and stay there, cause that’s where all the food is. So once you’re back out past that 5-8 feet zone, bring it in and pitch it back in there. The more time you spend in that “hot zone”, the better off you’ll be and the more fish you’ll catch.
Do those larger flounder tend to stick to deeper areas/drop-offs?
It’s mainly tide oriented here. We have about six feet of tide. So on high tide, all the fish push right up to the grass banks/edges. The water on all the grass banks will be at about 3 feet, but they’ll be right up on the grass edge. Now when the tide falls out, and we get to lower tide, that’s when they go to the drops and go from 2 feet to 6-8 feet in the creeks. If you go to the main river, you’re dealing with more of a 12-15 foot drop off.
For the most part, I stick to targeting flounder around high tide. I like to fish the grass edges cause I like to move. When I do go to the deeper spots, a lot of the time I’ll position my boat, throw to the shallows, and just bounce that bucktail right down the shelf. Usually they’re on the slope, or they’re right at the bottom, or they’re right at the top. They’re usually around that release somewhere, so once you get way out off of the release, then you might as well just bring it back in and get back on top of the shelf.
Do you use any type of bobber or indictor to detect a strike?
I don’t. The strike is fairly firm. They’re pretty aggressive, especially with the amount of current we get here. Even if I were fishing somewhere where there isn’t much current I still wouldn’t use a bobber or indicator, because you have to make sure you’re freely getting to the right depth.
With the 7′ Medium Inshore rod accompanied with a braided line combo, it’s very sensitive. You feel everything. You’re definitely going to feel the bite.
How about offshore fishing for flounder? Are you doing much of that, and what setups do you typically use in that scenario?
I like to fish the wrecks offshore, and when I do, I like to make sure I have a few of the Seahunter rods with a couple of different baits rigged up in case a cobia, or a jack, or season king mackerel swims up on me. A lot of times when you bring these flounders up off the wrecks, the cobia will follow them straight to the boat. And when they do, just leave the flounder in the water, take your other bait on that Seahunter rod, then pitch it to them. Usually the cobia will hit it. As soon as he hits that bait, bring the flounder in, then you’ve got the cobia as well. That way you can get a double bang for your buck in that type of fishing.
I think what’s happening is this scenario is that when the flounder are on that way up to the boat, they’re spitting stuff up, and the cobia is just picking that stuff off. Except in the scenario where the cobia is bigger than the flounder, and the flounder just gets eaten.
Pro Tip For Offshore Flounder Fishing – Always have a Seahunter rod ready and rigged up for when you do hook into a flounder for this very reason.
For my Seahunter set up, I’m using the SHS 7030 – so the 20-30lb line size model, and I like the 7 foot version. I run a Daiwa BG 5000 reel with 50lb Berkley Ultra Cast braided line. For my baits, I typically use a big bucktail, or sometimes even a big swim bait. That way if I have another fish follow the first flounder, I can usually just drop it in the second fish’s face and they’ll pop it.
Another way to locate and target flounder off shore, which usually involves using scopes and electronics, is targeting what we call Flounder Hotels. What they are is a big cement dome with holes in it, and the flounder love them. Once you locate one and mark it on the screen, you can usually use a 1oz. buck tail. Fire that sucker down there in about 30-40 feet of water to where it’s near the parameter of those domes/hotels, and the flounder will come out of those holes and pop that bait.
Would you rather fish for flounder in the rivers or offshore?
I prefer to fish the river because that’s where the big ones are. Not that you won’t catch some nice ones offshore. There’s probably more numbers offshore in the 3-5 lb. range, but the bigger fish are in the Cape Fear River.
Any words of wisdom/tips you want to leave with our readers related to flounder fishing that we haven’t gone over?
The main tip is to be patient, and as you make long drifts down the banks, remember where your bites were. What you’ll find is that you may cover a quarter to half mile bank and get all your bites in a little 200 yard area. Once you fish that long stretch and are able to access where those bites were, go back over that area again, because most likely all those fish have oriented themselves to that particular area for that particular day. Just go back and go through those hot spots two or three times, move on to your next stretch and search it out the same way. Rinse and repeat.
Stuart Caulder is a TFO Ambassador based out of Wilmington, North Carolina. He runs Gold Leader Guide Servicewhere he primarily fishes the Cape Fear River in search of flounder, drums, and stripers, but also offers offshore charters as well. To contact Stuart for a trip, find him on Facebook and Instagram, or shoot him an email.
August can be a challenging time of year for bass anglers, but very rewarding for those that know where and how to look for fish. Being willing to be versatile and switch up your tactics is crucial, and TFO Ambassador Joey Nania does exactly that when fishing the Coosa River system in Alabama. If you aren’t familiar with Joey or the Coosa River system, just take a look at his Instagram (@joeyfishing), and you’ll get a glimpse of the very healthy bass that come out of these lakes and rivers. If there’s anyone that knows how to find these fish, it’s Joey Nania.
We got on a call with Joey in between his family time and guided trips to catch up, and to talk about how he’s finding (and catching) bass during the hottest and most difficult times of year – the dog days of summer.
To start things off, let’s talk about the fisheries/areas where you are fishing and what brings you to this area.
I’m from Washington state originally, but my family and I now live in the hot, but very beautiful state of Alabama. I specifically chose Birmingham (Pell City, AL) for the many amazing fisheries in the surrounding areas. I mainly fish the Coosa River system, which entails Weiss Lake, Lake Neely Henry, Lake Logan Martin, Lay Lake, Lake Mitchell and Lake Jordan. There’s a ton of diversity and fishing options within this river system, and for a guy that fishes tournaments and guides around 200 trips a year, this area is paradise.
Sounds perfect for you. What do conditions typically look like on the Coosa River this time of year? How do you decide where and when to get out on the water as opposed to other times of year to maximize your fishing time?
We get the four seasons like everyone else, but we get some long, hot summers! It’s not uncommon to have days in the 90s for 3 months consecutively, with water temps in the high 80s to low 90s. When there’s not much current and things are tough like they are right now – the fish are all over the place. When there’s a lot of flow, fish set up on specific places on the main river and places that current flushes over, and they really group up in big groups. When the oxygen gets low and there’s not much current flowing, the fish start to disperse. That tends to happen on one end of the lake to the other.
Typically, I like to narrow down locating the fish by breaking down/targeting different sections of the lake –which I’ll break down in two sections:
1) The Upper End – Where you’ve got your narrow, winding rivers with lots of lay downs and trees/logjams and then you’ve got rock piles. Those are the three structure options up in the rivers that I like to focus on.
2) The Bottom End – As you come down toward the bottom end of the Coosa River lakes, they widen out and you’ve got big major creeks flowing in. Every lake on the Coosa River has several big feeder creeks that are good contributors of fresh water that are also great backwaters for the fish to go to when they are spawning. The bottom end has a lot more open areas for the fish to roam, feed and hide.
I typically like to focus more of my time fishing the upper ends of the rivers this time of year. It’s narrower up there so when they do run the water (generators), at least there’s flow that you can feel. When they’re only running one generator on the bottom ends of our lakes, you really can’t feel a whole lot of current. Water is typically warmer there, thus more lethargic fish.
Let’s talk about fishing the bottom ends of the lakes first. Where are you looking for fish and how are you targeting them (baits/setups)?
On the bottom end, if I’m going to fish the main parts of these lakes and the bigger creeks, what I target a lot of the times is docks, grassy areas, and then you’ve got your offshore fish. When fish leave those deep schools where they group up by the hundred, a lot of them to go to brush piles. There’s always fish in man-made brush piles on these lakes in the south. I’d probably say the brush pile bite is the best, but in the dog days of the summer, no matter where you are, offshore fishing is always an option. There’s plenty of fish that spend most of their life offshore.
From Frogs To Flipping Baits – Working The Banks
The key to being successful during the dog days of summer is being versatile – especially on the lower ends of lakes. Typically I like to start shallow, and fish that way as long as possible. You’ve usually got shade and willow grass and other types of grass, which produces oxygen and provides excellent places for bass to find a meal. A lot of the times I start off with a frog pattern or swim a jig, but it seems like for me, as it gets hotter the swim jig bite typically fades away. You can still get some on the frog, but I really love flipping. Just slowing it down a little bit and you can be very efficient and cover a lot of water and hit the little shade pockets and really get the bait in front of the fish when you slow it down and pitch it down down the bank. It’s not really flipping, it’s pitching – Taking that underhand cast and skipping it under the overhanding cover; it’s just a very effective way of fishing this time of year.
For this scenario, I really like fishing the 7’3” Heavy Tactical Elite Bass (TLE MBR 736-1). I love that 7’3” Heavy! To me, that’s the most versatile heavy line rod that TFO makes. I throw this rod a ton. The 7’3” is the most effective rod for skipping, pitching, fishing tight covers, flipping jigs – Pretty much every bait I fish with anywhere from 17lb lines to 50lb braid, I rely on that 7’3” Heavy. It has such a perfect backbone for setting the hook. You can crack it and feel there’s no give when you set the hook really. But the tip is nicely tapered. It’s almost like a hybrid medium heavy rod in my opinion, but that’s what’s neat in that there’s no industry standard to come up with each power and it be the same for every company. This rod and other TFO rods are so perfectly balanced, and they’re true to what they’re supposed to be – an easy and reliable rod to fish with.
I like to throw the 7’5” Heavy Tactical Elite Bass (TLE FS 756-1) for fishing with frogs on mats. With this style/setup I’m typically making longer casts and forcing them out. I like to have that longer rod/leverage to get them out of the mats.
In terms of patterns, my go-to is the pop-n-frog. The new Z-Man Leap FrogZ Popping Frog. Bluegills make a really specific noise when they slurp a bug off the surface. They’ve got a really perfect cupped mouth. I feel like 90% of the time when they are eating your frog in open water or up under stuff, they really probably think it’s a bluegill. It’s just something up there that looks good to them. They’re predators and just looking for a good meal, and when something’s pretty big and twitching above them, they’re probably going to eat it. When a bass is sitting up under a tree or in the grass in the summertime – they’re comfortable. They’re sitting, they aren’t moving. Just in a holding place waiting to strike when food presents itself. Its almost like when you’re sitting in your chair at home and your wife comes home with a pizza – you’re probably going to go after that pizza (laughs).
For my jigging set-up, if the water is really clear, typically I’m using 20lb fluorocarbon on a high-speed reel. I use an 8:3:1 reel so I can be very quick and efficient. Usually when I’m working the banks, I don’t keep the bait out of the water for very long – just in and out. Working that jig, just trying to fish every single piece of cover that could hold fish.
What about retrieval patterns for fishing top water stuff?
I really think one of the keys to fishing frog patterns is the fact that the bait can walk. You can make the bait walk the dog where it’s jumping from side to side. That walk the dog action where you’re twitching and popping 5 to 6 inches from to left to right each time you twitch it – it makes the bait stay in the strike zone longer. On really hot days, it might not hurt to fish it a little slower, but there might be days where you’ve got to make them react, and slower retrieves might not trigger that response. I just vary it up depending on the day. Find what works and stick to it. Changing your retrieves, changing your tactics, and just knowing that each day is different is key to finding more success on the water during the dog days of summer.
Let’s say the sun is coming up and the morning bite is slowing down on the banks. Now you’re deciding to focus on the offshore bite. How are you looking for fish offshore and what are you throwing?
My very favorite way of catching bass is on deep schools. Part of that is being a guide and its just so much fun to put people on fish and that usually works the best for my clients. There’s certain summers where there’s definitely schools of fish to be found offshore. Our school fish here disappeared in the last month, but that doesn’t mean they always do that or they’re going to do that everywhere. So really, for the deep schools – what I’m going to start doing if the dams are running current, I’m going to start idling, and looking out offshore for schools of bass. Learning how to use your electronics is definitely important in the dog days of summer. As soon as you leave that bank, its super important to know where to look for fish and how to get the bait in front of them.
Brush Piles & Finesse Jigs
If there isn’t any generation current and I can’t find any schools of fish because its so hot, I’ll go and start fishing brush piles. It doesn’t have to be deep brush piles. Some of the best brush I fish is in 8 to 12 feet of water. One of my very favorite brush baits to throw is a CrosseyeZ Power Finesse Jigwith a TRD BugZ trailer in the back. For this setup, I’m fishing the same rod – 7’3” HeavyTactical Elite Basswith an 8:3:1 reel. I’ll use 17-20 pound test fluorocarbon cause I’m fishing it out off the bank and I like to have it fall through the water a little better with a lighter line. This is a prefect combo for a finesse jig. Sometimes the fish want something with a little bit more finesse, so if that’s the case, I’m switching over to a spinning rod.
Spinning Rods & Ned Rigs
A spinning rod is definitely something you’ve got to have ready during the dog days of summer. To me, a ned rig is one of the best rigs you can throw out there and also a dropshot. My favorite ned rig set up is a 1/6 oz. Ned LockZ Jighead. That 1/6 oz. is the right weight for fishing that depth, but if I’m fishing docks and stuff where its more shallow, I’ll do 1/10 oz., but that 1/6 oz. is great for getting down quicker. The bait I use is a Finesse TRD. I actually rig mine weedless. I fish it like a miniature shakey head on a Jighead just much smaller. That way I can throw it into brush and when the bait swims with that shakey head style rig, it makes it swim at a 45 degree angle rather than standing straight up off the bottom, and I just feel like I get less drag and it looks really good, too.
The spinning rod that I use for this set up is the 6’10” Medium Tactical Elite Bass (TLE SHS 6104-1). I use 10lb braid to an 8 or 10lb test fluorocarbon leader. In October, TFO is coming out with a 7’1” Medium Light that is an amazing ned rig rod that has a perfect back bone for that style of fishing with a great tip as well. Highly recommend that rod when it does come out!
Let’s switch things up and head up river. Talk about how you are fishing these sections this time year.
I typically spend more time on the river sections in the summer as there is more shade/cover, typically more current/flow from the generation, and the area for the fish to be in is a lot narrower compared to the bottom end of the lakes so it can be easier to find them. What I’ve been catching them on lately is my favorite way to catch them – which is flipping my finesse jig toward the banks. There’s also a pretty good squarebill bite a lot of the time during the dog days. Ive got a 6th Sense Crush 100x Squarebill I throw that will get down to about 6 – 8 feet where I can fish logs and other structures off the bank.
The rod I’ve been using for this setup is the 7’4” Medium Heavy Tactical Glass Bass rod that is coming out in October. That rod has that unique 60/40 bend where its 60% carbon fiber/40% fiberglass. Great rod for throwing crank baits, really perfect for throwing squarebills, but also an incredible chatterbait rod. Fishing those outer trees off the bank with a medium crankbait on all the rivers throughout the South is a good way to make fish react.
If the tree bite dies, I usually look for rock piles offshore that create any visual disturbance in current flow on the river. Basically any type of structure/rock pile that holds perpendicular to the current where the current rolls over it, there’s usually a great spot for bass to hold up in, and I have a lot of success targeting those areas. I really enjoy fishing a 6th Sense Cloud 9 C10 Crankbait on offshore rock piles in 6 to 12 feet of water. I typically stick with shad colors, but if the waters a little dirtier, I’ll go with a chartreuse.
I like to do long casts in this scenario because I want my bait to track on the bottom for a longer period of time and hit all those rocks/lips where the drops are. For this situation I’m throwing what I think is by far the best cranking rod for this scenario, and it’s the 7’10” Medium Heavy Tactical Glass. This rod is the perfect flexing catapult that launches crankbaits and for making those longer casts.
A Forgotten Tip…
We’ve talked about the offshore fishing on the bottom end, and hitting up the upper main river sections where’s there’s more grass/laydowns/structure and it’s a little cooler, but one forgotten tactic that not a lot of people think about is fishing the very back ends of creeks this time of year. It seems totally weird to go about 5 miles off the main channel to the very back of a shallow creek when its that hot out. Anytime we get any rain, the water is going to flush into those creeks, so when I’m going down the river, I like to target the back ends of those feeder creeks where the water is a little cooler. If you really do your homework and target specifically spring creeks, you can find bass that are pretty much residential in that everything they need is provided by the resources in those creeks and they really don’t need to migrate to the lakes. You can find some really nice bass in these creeks.
For the angler working on a budget, or to simplify a boat setup – If you could only take 3 rods/baits for this time of year, what would you take and why?
1) The finesse jig would be my first pick. Jigs are such an old school way of fishing, but they really are one of the most versatile baits there are. Especially if you get one that’s weighted properly – you can fish one from 2 feet deep to 20 feet deep, and really feel it down there and make it move the way you want to.
2) No matter what time of year, I like having a chatterbait rigged up. You can fish them shallow and slow roll it a little bit deeper. Chatterbaits just get bit. Especially the Chatterbait Jackhammer that hunts and cuts. I like to fish a Zman Diesel MinnowZ swimbait trailer off my Chatterbait Jackhammer. The ultimate setup for this scenario is with a 7’4” Medium Heavy Tactical Glass Bass rod. I fish it with a 6:8:1 reel and 17lb fluorocarbon.
3) I really believe that having a spinning rod and having a ned rig is important. No matter what time of time, having a neg rig ready is such a good idea. This is probably my most trustworthy/reliable setup for clients anytime of year. For this set up, I’ve using the 6’10” Medium Spinning Tactical Elite Bass, but I’m really excited for the upcoming 7’1” Medium Light Spinning Tactical Elite Bass that’s coming out this fall.
Based out of Pell City, Alabama, Joey Nania has been a TFO Ambassador since 2012. He is also an ambassador for Z-Man baits, Bass Pro Shop, and many other brands. Prior to coming onboard to TFO, he began fishing tournaments since he was 12 years old. He worked his way to fishing in high school and Junior Bass tournaments, and is now fishing professional tournaments regularly. Joey runs a guiding service, Joey Fishing, where he is on the water with clients about 200 days a year. Outside of guiding, you can find Joey on the water with his family, as his wife and two sons, Zeke and Eli love to fish as well. You can follow or get a hold of Joey on his Facebook or Instagram pages or at his website.
It’s an exciting time for Captain Gary Dubiel and other east coastal and guides and anglers. As we say goodbye to July and turn the page to August, water temperatures are increasing, more baitfish are moving towards estuaries, and the summer crowds are slowly going back to their homes. Bull redfish season is here.
I was fortunate enough to catch Gary on a rare day off, as for the next 2-3 months, he’ll be on the water with clients pursing large adult redfish – or bull reds – that make their way into his fisheries. Gary breaks down the annual migration of bull reds to coastal North Carolina and how he finds and catches these fish.
Sounds and looks like the bull redfish are on the move in your area in coastal North Carolina. For those new to targeting or interested in targeting bull reds, can you talk about what it is these fish are doing? Are they spawning? What drives them in (temperature, water levels) to your area in coastal North Carolina?
The bull reds here are very migratory. They’ll be in the ocean most of the year. They’re in the process now in late July where the vast majority of them are shifting from the ocean into the estuary into the Pamlico Sound primarily for the purpose of spawning.
The spawning rituals itself which usually occur on the full and new moon phases are very brief, and the rest of the time the fish take full advantage of the food sources so they are perpetually feeding.
Every year is a little bit different and it can be hard to predict on how quickly they move in. Some years you’ll see fish in abundance by early/mid July, some years you’ll see fish a little bit later, but usually once you get into the first part of August, you’re going to see an increasing number of fish pushing into the river and that will continue into a few weeks to follow and stay peaked usually until the end of September. As the temperatures drop, the bull reds will move back out into the ocean.
Does water temperature have any effect for these migratory patterns?
There is some temperature orientation. During summer, the water temperature is obviously going to be very hot, so there’s not a lot of fluctuation, but your fall temperature, depending when your cold fronts come in, has a tendency to push the bait out, thus the volume of fish. Usually when you see the water temperature drop down into the mid 60s is when you see that migration move back out.
When the bull reds are in your area spawning/foraging, how do you look for them? Is it similar to looking for normal redfish looking for crabs in the flood tides, etc. in that there are more visual signs to look for like tailing, grass movement, etc?
No; totally different ballgame. Normal redfish and adult redfish have nothing to do with each other as far as their habits go – especially here in coastal North Carolina. Once adult redfish come into that migratory adult population, they become much more of a pelagic fish than a normal redfish that is more estuary oriented – very short distances.
There was actually a radio tracking study here years back. On average, an adult redfish swim 25 miles a day. That 25 miles doesn’t necessarily have to be a straight line, but they are perpetually in motion just like a school of tuna would be. They are much more in motion, and that motion basically continues until they locate food, and then they eat, and then they’ll move until they find more food, and so on. They are perpetually moving day and night and anytime they intersect food, they eat.
So not really much sight fishing opportunities?
Our waters are very tan and bottoms are very dark, so it would be very rare if you ever looked in the water and saw one. What we’ve been able to do here is basically develop the ability to look for those fish by looking for the food source.
Bull redfish will eat pretty much anything. They aren’t like the typical Carolina redfish that is tailing and looking for a crab. Bull reds are primarily going to be fin fish feeders, but they will also eat crab, shrimp, and anything that’s basically 18” and smaller than they are.
Because of the way the food reacts when being chased by these big fish can help you locate those fish and catch them. For example, if they find a mullet, mullet move in a straight line and they move very fast, and its usually in much shallower water – which makes for some really cool signs to look for because its very explosive – there’s a lot of splashing, a lot going on. But the issue then becomes – How do you get to these fish? They’re moving so fast you can get in front of them it doesn’t make any difference.
The one thing that is very helpful in all that is menhaden – Because when they get chased they form a big bait ball and they don’t go anywhere. Looking at big schools – literally acres of menhaden on top of the water – that bait ball is very tight. The spinning/splashing on top of the water gives you an indication that there’s fish there. You can also look for things like flicks, you can smell the oil from the fish being eaten, etc. Big redfish can feed anywhere from two feet of water to twenty feet of water which is as deep as the rivers in this area. So subsequently, they can be anywhere and everywhere. They can be very difficult to see feeding but if you see that bait ball on the surface, that bait can be your best indicator of where those fish are.
Let’s say you’ve located some bull reds, what set ups, both fly and conventional are using to go after these guys?
For conventional tackle – I’m using the Inshore Series. Medium-Heavy and Heavy action rods. So the 705-706 models. Mostly what we’re going to be using to catch those fish are pop-n-corks and soft plastics. The reason we use those (pop-n-corks) is that it makes noise and it draws the fish to the bait just like the fish that are constantly moving and feeding.
Very different from a juvenile redfish where they might be tight at to the bottom, bull reds can be at mid-water column, they can be on top of the water, or they can be all the way on the bottom. We want to try and pull the fish to that bait so we’ll use very large pop-n-corks and large 5-6 inch long soft plastics that catches their attention. It’s the most effective way to catch those fish when we’re fishing tackle.
I’ll match those rods with 4000-5000 series reels with 30lb braid goes on those rods nicely and the rods have the backbone it takes to fish those well.
We do throw some topwater baits. The Medium Heavy does really well there. We’ll also do some swim baits using the Heavy action Inshores. Large 6-8 inch swim baits on a jighead will occasionally produce as well.
For Fly – Axiom ll-X 10wt. You need that extra backbone compared to the popular 8wt because 1) You’ll never throw the set up and 2) You’ll never land the fish. I match it with the TFO Power Reel.
How big do the bull reds get?
A lot of places will say a bull redfish is 36-38 inches. That’s not a big fish here. That’s a little fish. Our fish average 43-45 inches. They’re typically a pound an inch. We’ll catch fish in excess of 50 inches – So you’re looking at 50-60 lb. fish.
So in other words, you’ll have all you need on the end of a 10wt Axiom ll-X.
What about fly lines, leaders, tippet?
You’ll want an aggressive front taper floating line. I use the Scientific Anglers Titan Taper Line WF10F. For leaders, I go straight 20 lb. fluorocarbon for about 6 feet to the popping fly, then about 20-24 inches of 30lb fluoro off of that to the fly.
You’ll want to do the same thing that you were doing with the spinning rod as you would on the fly rod – so that’s where my pop-n-fly comes in. You’re basically fishing a pop-n-cork and then 20-24 inches below that you’re fishing a large minnow style fly. Something oval that breaths well. I have my own menhaden style fly that I tie which is a slightly less weight, large oval baitfish pattern.
Any particular tips, tactics, or strategies for fighting bull reds and increasing the chances of getting the fish to the boat and not breaking off?
Don’t be shy of putting pressure on them. They’ll never surrender. You need to work the fish back to the boat (another reason why the 10wt comes in handy here). Typically, the fish will normally have a long run first, then you usually have 1-2 shorter runs, then the fish will bulldog you at the boat. Once you apply pressure to that fish’s head, keep that pressure on! A lot of my clients will yank up real hard, then drop the rod tip real fast, then if the fish is even able to drop his head and turn away from you, he’ll take right off again.
The way these fish fight, they want to get their head down and away from you. So a much steadier, constant pressure on that fish will beat that fish quicker. On a 10wt, you’re looking at 7-9 minute fight time on average.
Any other tips/suggestions you’d like to leave with our readers?
One thing I’d like to mention. We have a lot of folks that come from other places to fish here for bull reds that make the biggest mistake when fishing for these fish. Even if they’re in deeper water, they are extremely motor shy! So outboard motors can be horribly detrimental to catching those fish.
If you see those big schools of bait, approach those schools of fish with stealth. Stuff like coming downwind, using the trolling motor, using the trolling motor at lower speeds if you can get away with it makes a huge difference. Also, giving yourself a few hundred yards to start, then working in on those fish as low noise rather than rushing on top. If you’re treating it like albacore fishing where you see those bait balls and you rush in there with the boat, they’ll go to another zip code.
Gary Dubiel has been a TFO National Advisor since 2002. He currently lives in guides in the coastal North Carolina Outer Banks area through his guiding business Spec Fever Guide Service. You can find out more about Gary here.