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Joey Nania Takes 2nd Place at Bassmaster Southern Open at Lake Norman

TFO Ambassador Joey Nania had an excellent weekend at Lake Norman in Charlotte, North Carolina last weekend with a strong second place win. Nania finished with a total weight of 36lb – 11oz and walked away with over $21,000 in cash winnings. Joey was fishing a “Neg Neeky” Zman Streak 375 on a 3/16 ounce finesse eye jig head on a 1/0 hook in a shiner color for both. Joey was fishing this on the Tactical Elite Bass 7’1″ Medium Light (TLE MBR S 713-1). Check out the video below to see why this rod was the right tool to seal the deal.

Fall Fishing Preview – Gear, Tactics & More

Fall is officially here, and with it comes many excellent angling opportunities. From bull redfish, speckled trout, and false albacore in the salt – to striped bass, musky, big colored up brown and brook trout and trophy bass in freshwater fisheries are just a few of many reasons to get excited for this season. This week, we checked in with some of our Pro Staff to see how they are planning on spending their time on the water this fall, as well as the tools and tactics they rely on.

Freshwater and Saltwater Fly

Striped Bass & Musky

TFO Advisor Blane Chocklett, Virginia – “Fall in my opinion, especially where I live in Virginia, we have several excellent options, but I spend most of my time going after striped bass and musky. We have freshwater striper fishing in the lakes and in the bay. In the bay, you can have bigger pogie/menhaden schools where the Big Fly comes in handy. Any of the sizes (8wt, 10wt, 12wt) are perfect. I also like to use an 8wt or 9wt Axiom ll-X.

Intermediate lines work best. My recommendation would be the SA Sonar Sink 30 Clear in the appropriate grain weight. For a sinking line, the SA Sonar Sink 25 (with appropriate grain wt.) works well. Both lines are typically spooled on the BVK-SD reel.

The important thing to remember in fall striper fishing situations is sometimes you have low, clear cooling water where fish a lot of times will want smaller baits. Freshwater stripers are feeding on smaller threadfin shad – anywhere from 2-3” range. They want it kind of suspended, so an intermediate line is very important.”

“The BC Big Fly comes in handy for musky fishing as well. SA Full intermediate lines work well this time of year with the cooler water. SA also has a new musky line that I like a lot, which has a larger head to be able to turn over bigger flies and works great with the design of the Big Fly. Both are usually paired up with the BVK-SD reel or NTR reel.”

Photo: Oliver Sutro

False Albacore/Albies

“Late October in the mid-Atlantic and North Carolina is prime time for albie fishing. The Axiom ll-X in an 8wt or 9wt is what I typically use, however when the larger albies start showing up, having a 9wt or even a 10wt is good way to go. Intermediate lines when albie fishing is very important. My go-to lines are the SA Sink 30 Clear or the Full Intermediate spooled up on the BVK-SD reel. I’ll match these up to my Finesse Changer and my Micro Changers to match the bait like glass minnows and silver sides. That’s my ideal albie setup.

For a more in-depth blog on albie fishing, check out the “All About Albies” from last fall. Click here to read it.

Photo: Jim Shulin

Large Trout Streamer Fishing

Trent Jones (Harcourt 3G Fly Fishing), Colorado – “Fall is officially here in Colorado. Last night it got down to the 30s. Hopper dropper fishing is tapering off and I am focusing my attention on chasing those larger fish on streamers. I do some wading, but I’m doing most of my fishing this time of year in a boat. I absolutely love the LK Legacy for streamer fishing. I have several different streamer setups in my boat, but for the most part, I am running a 9’ 7wt or 8wt LK Legacy. I also like to have a 9’6” 7 wt as it helps clients with less experience casting heavier lines to really pick up those weighted lines and larger streamers and easier unloading when casting.”

Photo: Trent Jones

“I use a variety of Cortland medium sink tip and heaving sinking lines depending on the areas I’m fishing at, and the conditions for that day. I usually have these paired up with the BVK SD lll reel. One of my go-to patterns is the Dungeon. I prefer white or black variations for the fall. Occasionally, I’ll fish a Mini Dungeon (4” or less), and can have great days fishing those smaller profile articulated streamers. I usually fish these under a 4 foot 20lb fluoro leader. In Colorado, we’re allowed to use up to three flies, so occasionally I’ll trailed a bunny leach or a black single hook pattern like a wooly bigger behind the Dungeon on a piece of 16lb fluoro. That can be a deadly set up.”

Freshwater Conventional – Bass Fishing

Joey Nania (Bassmaster), Alabama – “For fall fishing in Alabama and the southeast, the Tactical Elite Bass 7’1” Medium Light (TLE MBR S 713-1) is the rod I use the most with 10lb braid to a 10 lb leader! I like to pair with a 3000 size Johnny Morris platinum signature reel. I use the Zman Finesse EyeZ Jighead 3/16oz with a StreakZ 3.75 straight tail as well as the MinnowZ swimbait. Clear water is where it really excels on points with deep water near main lakes and in the creeks.”

Photo: Joey Nania

Ben Nowak, Michigan – “There are several different setup I like to use in the fall, but a jerkbait and a tube are probably the two I rely on the most. A jerkbait is a great tool to cover water and trigger bites. The key to fall is covering water until you locate the bass, and there are few better lures than a jerkbait to trigger reaction strikes from fall bass. The Tactical Elite 7′ Medium Crankbait (TLE LW 70CB-1) works perfect for this!

Tubes are a great for smallmouth during the fall when they’re keying on bigger forage and baitfish.  The Tactical Elite Bass 7’3″ Medium (TLE MBR 734-1) has extra length so you can make longer casts on shallow flats and pick up line quickly to ensure positive hooksets when the smallmouth bite long distances from the boat.”

Ben Nowak with an early fall Michigan smallmouth.

Saltwater Conventional

Capt. Gary Dubiel, Coastal North Carolina – During the fall, I do a lot of fishing with clients for speckled trout, redfish, and stripers. For lighter popping corks and fishing soft plastic baits, I find the Tactical Inshore 703 (TAC IS 703-1) to work the best.

For topwater stuff, my favorite topwater rod is the Tactical Inshore 694 (TAC IS 694-1). Short handle is ideal for walking the dog.  Perfect for fall specks, reds, stripers, bluefish and so on.

To read more about how Gary targets bull redfish in the fall, check out this article from last year – “Chasing Bull Redfish with Gary Dubiel”.

Photo: Cavin Brothers Media

Capt. Jonathan Moss – Orlando, Florida – Fall fishing is here and so is the mullet run! This is an exciting time as there are thousands of mullet migrating south on the Atlantic coast. If you’re lucky enough to witness this, you’ll see tons of surface activity busting the surface, with the occasional tarpon jumping out of the water as they hunt these fish down. It’s not uncommon to find a bull red within the chaos as well.

When fishing the fall mullet run, I like to use the Tactical Inshore 8’ Mag Heavy (TAC IS 806-1). Paired with a 6,000-8,000 reel featuring a strong drag, I’ll use 40lb – 60lb fluoro line with a 50 lb fluoro leader. Big swimbaits work well, and of course live mullets will work great for those wanting to use live bait.

Like We Never Left – The Return to ICAST

We can all agree that 2020 was a tough year. Between many places being shut down and inventory issues brought on by unprecedented demand, it was (and in some cases still) a mess. Not being able to attend fishing shows was one of the many aspects that we (and others) missed about 2020. Needless to say, the return of ICAST last week was a blessing and a long overdue meeting of friends and family, ambassadors, pro staff anglers, and more – both new and old.

Photo: Tom Wetherington

Over the last week, we saw hundreds of familiar and new faces at Booth 3420 at the Orange County Convention Center (OCCC), many of which were eager to see and feel both the new conventional gear and new fly products. Since ICAST didn’t take place in 2020 (or hardly any fishing shows last year), many people were excited to see last year’s additions: Tactical Glass Bass, Tactical Surf, Seahunter Live Bait addition, Tactical Elite Bass additions) — as well as last year’s fly category additions: LK Legacy, Blue Ribbon, Stealth.

The newly redesigned Professional series. // Photo: Tom Wetherington
The newly redesigned Tactical Inshore series. // Photo: Tom Wetherington
The Tactical Surf – a new addition from last year. // Photo: Tom Wetherington
A favorite for ultra light anglers – the Trout-Panfish series added two new models this year. // Photo: Tom Wetherington
The Tactical Elite Bass series. // Photo: Tom Wetherington

For those unfamiliar with the changes in ICAST and IFTD (International Fly Tackle Dealer), the shows are now happening at different times of year – ICAST in July, and IFTD now taking place in October. Historically, both shows happened at the same time – which was ALOT to take in, but great for those wanting to get the most of both worlds. Needless to say, even though ICAST is now more focused on the conventional side of fishing, we still had a TON of people stop by the TFO booth to check out our fly gear, and make trips to the casting pond to try out the new Mangrove Coast and BC Big Fly, as well as some familiar favorites like the Axiom ll-X. While the fly stuff was getting plenty of love, there was a lot of attention aimed at the newly redesigned Professional and Tactical Inshore series, as well as the new Tactical Elite Bass swimbait models.

The all new Mangrove Coast and BC Big Fly – two new additions to TFO for 2022. // Photo: Tom Wetherington
The all new NTR reel in black/gold new to TFO for 2022. // Photo: Tom Wetherington
The all new NTR reel in clear/gold new to TFO for 2022. // Photo: Tom Wetherington
Checking out the new Tactical Elite Bass swimbait models. // Photo: Tom Wetherington
The Mangrove Coast and NTR set up got a lot of test drives on the Casting Pond at ICAST this year. // Photo: Tom Wetherington

We were able to film a few videos with TFO Ambassadors Rob Fordyce, Joey Nania, and Jonathan Moss going over some of the new stuff, as well as some classics.

Our good friends at Tackle Warehouse stopped by for a bit to interview Joey Nania, and go over some of the new Tactical Elite additions. Check out those videos below.

Temple Fork Outfitters TFO Tactical Elite Swimbait Rods with Joey Nania | First Look 2021

New Temple Fork Outfitters Tactical Elite Spinning Rod 7’6″ Med Lt w Joey Nania | First Look 2021

Temple Fork Outfitters TFO Tactical Bass and Tactical Elite Comparison | First Look 2021

Be on the lookout for more content from ICAST. We had several friends and dealers stop by to shoot some content on the new conventional gear, and we can’t wait to share them on our socials as they become available.

We’re already getting ready for IFTD at Salt Palace in Salt Lake City, Utah on October 20-22, 2021. For those planning on attending IFTD, we hope to see you there, and for those not able to attend, be sure to follow along on our social media pages to stay in the know.

Flipping and Pitching For Large Bass In Late Summer Conditions

During the dog days of summer in the heat of the day, depending on the type of water you are fishing bass are going to either go deep or relate to structure and shade in shallow areas.  When I first started cutting my teeth on fishing bass tournaments flipping and pitching quickly became one of my favorite ways to catch largemouth bass.  I started fishing tournaments in 1995 when I was stationed in Yuma, Arizona while serving in the Marines.  The lower Colorado River in the middle of the desert is a jungle paradise for bass anglers which offers many different types of thick vegetation from tules, cane, grass, and trees.  It also offers dead wood trees and a few areas that have docks.

The Gear

When largemouth bass are buried in deep cover where they are hard to get to and hard to get them out of with other techniques flipping and pitching are the way to go.  One of the most important things for flipping and pitching is a stout rod so that when you get a fish on you can clear that fish of any cover as quickly as possible. For most situations, I like to use a 7’6″ Extra Heavy casting rod. Temple Fork makes this in their Tactical Bass series ( TAC FS 767-1) which is an excellent tool for this scenario. I’ll pair this rod up with a high speed Shimano Chronarch 8.1:1 gear ration reel spooled with 65 lb P-Line TCB8 braided line.  When I’m flipping or pitching I am also using heavy or superline hooks so they don’t bend out when I horse that big bass out of the cover.  Also the larger the bass, the harder the roof of their mouth is which requires greater force – especially with heavier hooks to achieve adequate hook penetration past the barb.  The Tactical Bass 7’6″ XH has the power to get both done.  I use braid whenever I can get away with it; however, if the water is super clear or if I’m fishing light cover like grass I will go to a 25lb fluorocarbon leader, fluorocarbon is also a good idea around old dead wood that braid might saw into.

Basic Techniques

Flipping is fishing like you would with a cane pole with no reel. The only exception is that since you do have a reel you can increase your distance by letting a little additional line out by pulling the excess line out away from the reel with your free hand and then feeding it smoothly back through the guides as your are flipping the bait to your target.  The advantage of flipping is if the targets are close to the boat you can flip to many more targets within a shorter time than pitching.

Pitching is great for reaching targets a little further away than flipping.  Start with enough line out to be able to hold the bait in your free hand next to your rod butt or reel and then lowering the tip of your rod with your bait caster thumb bar depressed and thumb on the spool.  Then, simply let go of the bait with your free hand and raise your rod tip to guide the bait to where you want it to go, while at the same time thumbing the spool to let line go out as you control the bait.  Keeping the bait low to the water and controlling with the thumb also helps to make and entry with very little to no splash with practice. If you are new to fishing, it may be best to watch some videos on how to perform these techniques to get a better idea.

When to Flip and Pitch

Fish naturally relate to cover, so flipping and pitching anytime can be productive. I like to flip and pitch in water usually less than 6′ but have fished deeper. If you are fishing open shallow water and the reaction bite seems to slow down or isn’t productive, you can either look for deeper structure or go in shallow after the fish by flipping and pitching.  Fish seek the cover for security, shade, and food so don’t be afraid to go in after them.

Baits

I personally like to use the following baits:

  1. Flipping jigs with trailers and heavy weed guards.
  2. Texas Rigged beaver/creature baits.
  3. Darker colors in dirty stained water and natural colors in clear water.
  4. 1/2 ounce baits are a good starting point and then adjust heavier or lighter depending on conditions.
Photo: Steve Lund

Quick Pointers

  1. I prefer to lock my drag down so that the fish can’t take any line. I want to get good hook penetration and I want to clear the fish from cover as quickly as possible.  I will only lighten the drag in areas where clearing the fish fast off the cover is not as crucial like soft grass or vertical poles. When I loosen the drag some, I will use my thumb to lock down the spool for the initial hook set.
  2. By using a high speed reel, this allows you to take up any slack line faster to set the hook, catch up to a fish running at you quicker, and also get your bait back to the boat faster for the next pitch.
  3. Use heavy hooks, smaller hooks can bend out and cause you to lose fish when muscling them out of heavy cover.
  4. Pick your targets out and try to establish a pattern.  Are you catching fish on one side or the other (Shady side or sunny side, up current side or down side) At the bottom, in the middle, or near the surface as you are pulling out?
  5. When you flip or pitch to your target be ready for a bite at any moment, let your bait fall to the bottom, twitch a few times, pull the bait out and repeat. Depending on the how the fish are reacting you may need to try soaking a bait a little longer with more twitches, try dead sticking for a bit, or shake and bump the bait against cover at the surface.
  6. Look for shallow structure/vegetation areas that are close to deep water, big fish like to sit in shallow haunts near deep water for an easy retreat.
  7. Practice controlling the entry of the bait to make as little water disturbance as possible upon entry.
  8. Ease the bait out of the cover so your weed guard or weedless Texas rigged bait doesn’t expose the hook and snag up on the cover.

Conclusion

Flipping and pitching have been a staple in my fishing success since I first started tournament fishing. It is a very effective technique that not only puts fish in the boat but has put many good quality fish in the boat and has contributed to many of my tournament wins.  Fish love to bury themselves in cover so don’t be afraid to go in after them, Just make sure you are well equipped to do so, you might just find that big fish you’ve been looking for!

Blog written by TFO Ambassador Steve Lund. You can find out more about Steve here.

Photo: Steve Lund

TFO Releases 2022 Conventional Products

Temple Fork Outfitters is proud to announce the release of the newly redesigned Professional and Tactical Inshore series, two swimbait models to the Tactical Elite Bass series and two new light power models to the Trout-Panfish series.

All of these new products for 2022 are available now and shipping to TFO dealers in your area. Find out more about these new additions below!

Professional

TFO’s redesigned Professional rod series is designed for the versatile angler of any skill level and is perfectly suited for a wide variety of species and environments.

Highly durable, standard modulus, and moderate fast action blanks with powerful butt sections, come together to create one of the best values of any rod on the market.

New to the Professional series are down-locking reel seats with hidden threads for increased comfort, Fuji Concept O-ring guides, and cork grips all combine to give you a fabulous rod, safe for use in both fresh and saltwater. The Professional series continues to use the popular TFO color coded power system so you can quickly identify which action you are grabbing when the bite is hot.

Full length grips on 7’ & 7’6” spinning rods, split grips on all remaining models.

Find out more about the new Professional series here or at your local TFO dealer!

Professional Spinning Rods

Professional Casting Rods

Tactical Inshore

The newly redesigned Tactical Inshore series, are specialized inshore saltwater rods, built and designed for the accomplished inshore angler looking to find a series that will fit every need they have regardless of geography.

Compared to previous models, the new Tactical Inshore features a slight reduction in the blank weight, improved balance resulting in increased sensitivity, and new down-locking reel seats with hidden threads for enhanced comfort.

The series features TFO’s sky blue finish, Fuji K Guides with corrosion control and Fazlite inserts, premium cork grips with EVA accents and butts – along with shorter split grips on rods less than 7’. Full length grips on all other models.

Find out more about the new Tactical Inshore series here or at your local TFO dealer!

Tactical Inshore Spinning Rods

Tactical Inshore Casting Rods

 

Tactical Elite Bass Series Additions

New to the Tactical Elite Bass series are two swimbait additions (TLE BBC 806-1 & TLE BBC 807-1), and a new spinning rod addition (TLE MBR S 763-1) ideal for for hair jigs, long finesse and spy baits.  These new additions feature IM carbon fiber blanks, and are incredibly light and powerful.

Trout-Panfish Series Additions

New to the Trout-Panfish series are two new light power models: the TPS 662-1 (6’6″ Light Power) and the TPS 702-1 (7′ Light Power). Anglers familiar with this series will appreciate these new additions for throwing larger baits, and having more hook set power. Both new models feature the same components and look as the others in the Trout-Panfish family.

These new rods are available now and shipping to your local TFO dealers! To see our entire catalog of conventional fishing gear, click here.

Late Summer Lake Walleye Tactics

As we transition toward the end of summer and into the early fall season, casting for big water walleye that roam the Eastern Basin of Lake Ontario is something I encourage all walleye anglers to explore. This style of fishing is oftentimes over shadowed by the great trolling opportunities the fishery provides, yet when armed with the right equipment, this style of fishing is one of the most exciting ways to catch big water walleye.

Equipment

I use TFO’s Professional Walleye rods, PRO WC 764-1, 7’6″, Moderate power, fast action, rated for 6-12 lb. test and ¼ – ¾ oz. lures.   I pair this rod with a Daiwa Tatula 6.3:1 reel spooled with either 10 or 15 lb. Cortland Masterbraid braid, and on the business end I tie directly to a size 10 snap swivel and to that I attach a 5/8 oz. Walleye Wonder weight forward in-line spinner dressed with a 4- or 6-inch Zoom Trick Worm (green pumpkin w/chartreuse tail). The weight forward spinner comes with a size 3 gold Aberdeen hook, I replace that with a size 3/0 Trokar or Gamakatsu flipping hook, both hooks have bait keepers bonded on the hook shank which hold the trick worm in place on repeated casts and they provide excellent hooking properties.

A lot of folks ask me why the Zoom Trick worm instead of a natural night crawler.  To that I say, “Why not?!” In my assessment, the walleye sees the flash, they close in on the lure to get a closer look, then feel the thump of the rotating blade and ultimately the last thing they’ll do is bite it to see exactly what it is. When you look at a natural night crawler rigged on the back of a weight forward in-line spinner the worm is usually stretched out straight behind the blade as it comes through the water, the Zoom Trick worm looks much the same. The biggest difference is I can usually catch four or more walleye on the same Zoom Trick Worm before I need to replace it and I’m not worried about getting bait and keeping it fresh until it’s time to fish again.

The other lure that’s proven very productive over the past six years is the 2.5 squarebill. There are countless models available, but I prefer the Lucky Craft brand. These baits run true right out of the package and the 2.5 size does a fantastic job of matching the hatch regarding perch and panfish the walleye prefer.

What To Look For

I concentrate my efforts on main lake shoals and the offshore shoals in the back bay areas. The better shoals top out at 7-12 foot dropping off into the main basin and they need to have a decent mix of cobble rock and weed (preferably coontail or milfoil) find some eel grass mixed in and it’s even better.  In my experience, the cleaner the weeds are the best. Whenever I find an area with green slimly algae bloom smothering the primary weeds, I move on to the next area.

What I’ve found is the clean weeds play host to the grass shrimp, which draw in the panfish and perch and once they congregate on the weeds the walleye aren’t too far behind.  The other factor that seems to help (at least in the Eastern Basin on Lake Ontario) is the start of the fall salmon migration.  This salmon migration seems to trigger the walleye to vacate their open water feeding on alewives and move to shallower areas in search of the perch and these shoals are the first feeding areas they intercept as the move out of the deep open water.

Presentation

What works best for me is a steady retrieve. I’ll cast these lures out adjacent to the shoals along the weed edge and depending on depth (at least 6-7 ft. of open water above the weeds), I’ll sometimes present the lure across the very top of the shoal.

I have my best success casting adjacent to the shoals along the outside weed edges. Key to my success in these areas is making long casts, and the properties of the TFO Professional Walleye 7’6” rods make easy work of getting the lure well away from the boat.

I’m oftentimes asked about using a leader on the end of the Masterbraid. In my experience, when fishing the weight forward in-line spinner there seems to be no difference in using a leader- Vs- tying the masterbraid direct.  I’ve had days where a fluorocarbon leader in front of the 2.5 squarebill resulted in more strikes/hook-ups. I usually tie in a 36-40” section of Cortland’s Top Secret Fluorocarbon when I’m casting the 2.5 squarebill.

When selecting which lure to use, I generally start with the 2.5 squarebill and once I’ve caught a few fish on it, I’ll go back through the same area with the in-line weight forward spinner and pick off another fish or two. I’ve also had days where it didn’t matter which lure you cast first, but I just have great confidence in the 2.5 squarebill therefore I usually start with it.

Once an area slows, I move on to the next shoal. When walleye feed on or near the shoals, you’ll usually hit a two or more fish on your first pass through the area. When that occurs, make another pass through to see who else is willing to bite.  The other thing to remember is this, if conditions allow, make repeated casts to the same general area where you hooked the very first fish. Oftentimes these fish feed in groups and odds are the one you just caught has some buddies with him.

When casting the weight forward in-line spinner I’ve had days where the walleye will just nip the chartreuse tip off the tail of the worm and to remedy the bite offs, I borrowed a trick for the jig fisherman and put on a 3” stinger hook. This can turn those light biters or bites off into solid hook ups. I initially started with the stinger hooks from Northland Tackle, but found those hooks are a fine wire hook and can be flexed open by a good-sized walleye. I started making my own using a size 6 Gamakatsu round bend treble hook tied with Masterbraid, so far it’s working great.

Using the 2.5 squarebill is a simple presentation – cast it out and begin a steady retrieve. I’ve found these crankbaits dive around 5-7 ft. depending on the speed of retrieve and the diameter of line you use. I prefer Masterbraid for both applications (the 2.5 and weight forward in-line spinner) for two reasons: 1) It allows me to make super long casts in the gin clear waters of Lake Ontario and 2) The no stretch line provides excellent long distance hook sets. Remember all braids are no-stretch lines, therefore you want to allow a bit of slippage on your drag setting and trust the moderate power of the TFO Professional Walleye 7’6” rod.

Pro Tip: When you initially feel a tap on the lure do not set the hook, instead continue with the steady retrieve, and wait until you feel the weight of the fish to perform a moderate sweeping hookset raising the rod from the 9 to the 12 O’clock position. By waiting until you feel the weight of the fish, it allows the walleye to take the entire bait in its mouth and usually results in better strike to hook up ratios.

What you’ve just read has consistently produced late summer early fall walleye for me on the Eastern Basin of Lake Ontario since 2015 and if you can find the similar conditions on the Great Lake nearest you it ought to produce there as well.

Good luck to you, harvest what you can reasonably eat, and release the rest to fight another day!

Blog written by TFO Ambassador Burnie Haney. You can find out more about Burnie and his guiding service in upstate New York at his website here.

Topwater Season – Three Rods & Techniques To Keep At The Ready

Summer is upon us, and topwater season is in full swing, with big blow-ups in store!  Here’s a unique approach from TFO Ambassador Jeremy Francis, to tackling three topwater techniques, and getting the most out of your rods for the topwater bite (and more)!

1). Hollow Body Frogs.

There’s not much in the world of bass fishing that yields heart-pumping topwater blow-ups like a bass crashing in on a topwater frog.  While there are different frogs to consider (walking, popping, buzzing), the gear and set-up you should use are mostly the same.  For starters, you need line that will float, and not stretch.  Hollow Body Frogs are equipped with 2 very strong heavy gauge hooks, therefore you need strong line and a heavy rod to match.  Consider 50-60 braid, especially if you like fishing a frog in and around heavy cover.  The braid will give you very responsive action with zero stretch, while also cutting through any grass and vegetation a fish may try to dive into after the hookset.

Photo: Cameron Mosier

For the rod, the Tactical Elite 7’4 XH (TLE SC 747-1) gets the job done.  While this rod is labeled as “Moderate,” the XH power gives it a strong backbone which makes for great hooksets.  The moderate action and softer tip also allows for super accurate casts when you’re trying to pick apart holes in grass mats or lily pads.  For the reel, consider a model with heavier drag to pull those fish out of the thick stuff, with a high gear speed.  Since you’re working the frog with the rod and not the reel, the reel speed will only come into play once you set the hook, and you’ll need and want that higher speed to keep the fish from running into the cover you just brought her out of.

Unfortunately, the frog bite can sometimes die off in mid-day with a high, bright sun.  For those times, I’ll use the same 7’4 TLE SC rod, but turn to a jig, Texas rig, or big shaky head worm instead.  This rod blank still gives you the great sensitivity you love from the Tactical Elite line-up, which makes for a great bottom-contact rod for dragging baits around in deeper water.  If you’re fishing stained water then you can still use braid.  However, if the water is clearer, consider switching out reels to 17 lb fluorocarbon.  It obviously doesn’t need to float (which flouro doesn’t), and flouro still gives you great feel and very little stretch for your hooksets.  This is how I turn this rod into a 2 for 1, and we’ll discuss the same methodology for the next two topwater set-ups.

 

2.) Big Walking Baits and Ploppers

We’re going to lump a few baits into one, as we discuss the next topwater technique that is highly effective and a lot of fun to fish!  Big topwater baits equipped with treble hooks (key component here) that include:  Big walking baits, the good ‘ol Whopper Plopper, or the Berkley Choppo.  While each of these baits come in a smaller version of themselves, we are currently talking about the big brothers here.  These baits are highly effective on shallow flats, main lake points, or fishing parallel to the bank on long casts.  To help you get the most out of your casts, hook-sets, and landing ratios, the rod and line you choose make all the difference in the world!

Let’s first discuss the line.  You really have two options here, and many personal preferences come into play – monofilament or braid, or a combination of the two for a third option.  Both mono and braid float, but depending on how much side to side walking action you are getting or wanting out of your walking baits, braided line can sometimes fall back into the treble hooks and kill the cast/action of the lure.  Mono will help prevent this.  For those die-hard braid fans out there, you can still use your favorite here, just consider a monofilament leader which is a little stiffer and stays out of the way of your hooks during the walking motion.  For your Whopper Ploppers or Berkley Choppo, it really comes down to personal preference between braid and mono, but I’d go with braid IF you’re also using the right rod for this application.

For rod selection, if you’re not using the Tactical Glass 7’4 MH, you should really give it a try.  I can’t speak highly enough about this new glass rod (TAC GB CB 745-1).  The parabolic bend in this blank allows you to cast a country-mile, but more importantly, the rod is phenomenal for hooksets with these baits.  The moderate action prevents you from ripping the bait away from a fish after it explodes on your bait.  After the great hookset you bestow upon this fish, you are able to keep the fish pinned with a slower response rate compared to a fast action rod, which prevents fish from throwing your bait on head shakes and brings more fish in the boat.  And once the sun gets high and the topwater bite dies off, this rod makes for a great bladed jig set-up.  Switch to the reel/line of your choice, but you will still experience the same benefits mid-day with this rod and a bladed jig!

3. Smaller Spooks, Poppers, and Wake Baits

Now that we’ve covered the larger variety of these baits, let’s move to the smaller versions.  As much as we all love big bass on big baits, there are times that we have to come to terms with the fact that bass are keyed in on smaller bait fish.  For these moments, smaller spooks or walking baits, poppers, and even smaller wake baits can really excel, especially along grass lines or under overhanging trees.

Much like above, your line needs to float here.  For the same reasons mentioned above, you can choose monofilament or braid.  20-30 lb braid seems to work well with these baits, except for super clear water when monofilament may work better on a slower retrieve and with pressured fish.  Reel speed doesn’t matter much so I prefer the higher/faster ratios, unless it’s for a smaller wake bait, then a slower ratio reel helps me slow down the retrieve.  For rod selection, we also like to step slightly down in size and power, and use the 7’2 Tactical Glass Bass (TAC GB CB 724-1).  This is still a manageable rod length for imparting walking action on these baits, and the hook-up ratio is hard to beat with this rod’s action!  Both the 7’2 and 7’4 Tactical Glass Bass rods are great for topwater treble hook style baits, and you won’t want to put them down.

Last thing to mention is that the 7’2 Tactical Glass Bass rod also makes for a great crankbait rod with your favorite squarebill or lipless crank.  So in between the morning and evening topwater sessions when you’re slaying ‘em, switch over to a crankbait on this rod and keep sticking them mid-day!

These three topwater techniques and rods stay on the deck of my boat at all times during the Summer months.  I now actually have 2 of each so I don’t have to switch reels, and can get the exact action I need and want out of the line and reel speed.  You can’t go wrong with these rods, and you if haven’t tried the Tactical Glass series yet, you really need to.  The quality, benefits, and price point all come together for high performance fishing to help you land more fish and get the most out of your time on the water!

Blog written by TFO Ambassador Jeremy Francis. You can find out more at his YouTube channel Fishing The LoneStar, or follow him on Instagram here.

Photo: Cameron Mosier

 

The Remarkable Northern Snakehead

Have you heard of the Northern Snakehead before? Some have heard of other people catching or spotting one, and many people have a common misconception about this species. Then there are those fishermen, like myself, anxiously await the first couple of hot and humid days of the year so we can get out on the water and enjoy every minute we are out catching this fish.

The Northern Snakehead is a predatory freshwater fish native to China, Japan, Russia, North Korea, and South Korea that were illegally introduced to canals, lakes, ponds, reservoirs, and rivers in different countries, including multiple states throughout the US. These fish prefers hot tropical-like conditions. They have a primal lung to breathe in and out of the water; snakeheads begin to breathe more air once the grass or hydrilla grows too thick in the heat of the summer, and they are very visual hunters. These fish can be spooked easily, are very aggressive when feeding and when protecting their fry. They provide fishermen with some of the most fantastic sight fishing opportunities, and they eat topwater flies and frogs regularly.

Snakehead on the fly! // Photo: Braden Miller

There is just no comparison to the sight, sounds, and show when a snakehead eats your fly or frog. If you are lucky, after site casting to a snakehead, you can witness the wake of the fish as it stalks your fly or frog. The sound this powerful fish makes at the precise moment it engulfs your fly is unmistakable, and you better be prepared for a fight. You have to set the hook with every bit of strength you can muster because the mouth of these fish is small and bony, and they have very sharp teeth and powerful jaws. You can consider the hook set round one in your fight to get your snakehead to the boat. Whether you were fishing with one of Temple Fork Outfitters’ fly or conventional rods, remember to keep your line tight! That fish will do everything it can to free the hook stuck in its mouth, which could mean violent head shakes and propelling themselves, at any angle, out of the water. Once you have the snakehead at the boat, the battle is not over yet. Once you have netted your fish and have it inside the boat is when you prepare for a little hand-to-fin combat between you and that fish. Because of their sharp teeth, you’ll need to use pliers to get the hook out.  Snap a fish pics, and then release the fish to make someone else’s day.

Honestly, what more could you ask for from a fish?

You’ve been warned! Snakehead have VERY sharp teeth. Be extra careful handling these fish. // Photo: Braden Miller

Invasive species?

Yes, the snakehead is not native to the United States, but they have most definitely settled in well to their new bodies of water, and you can bet they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. There is still a large group of people who dislike this species immensely. Still, most of the anglers I know, have met, or have seen out fishing for this amazing species have quite the opposite outlook on the situation. In my opinion, the main reason a lot of people do not view this fish as a possible future game fish, like the largemouth bass, is because when the Northern Snakehead was first discovered in the US, people were misinformed. They were told this species would eat anything and everything that lived in the same water, and that they were highly aggressive and classified them as “invasive.” People were told that if they caught one, it MUST be killed. It was perceived that these fish were going to take over the rivers, but I can attest that this simply isn’t the case. From what I’ve seen, other species are coexisting just fine.

Where are they?

If you want to catch a snakehead, you will need to locate what waters they live in. According to USGS, at least one snakehead has been reported from the following states: Arkansas, California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Where there is one, there are more. They inhabit canals, lakes, ponds, reservoirs, and rivers. I choose to target snakeheads in my local local tidal rivers of Virginia. More specifically, I look for lily pads, hydrilla, spatterdock, and hard submerged grass lines.

Another day in Snakehead Paradise, Virginia. // Photo: Braden Miller

Snakehead On The Fly 

My go-to rod for catching snakeheads with a fly rod is an eight-weight, but depending on various situations, a seven-weight or nine-weight rod could be the best option for specific conditions.  My favorite snakehead fly rod has been my TFO Axiom II-X 8 wt. This rod is lightweight, accurate at range, and has zero issues casting a large fly, like a Game Changer or foam frog pattern.

The 7wt LK Legacy and the 8wt LK Legacy are two other options that will work great for targeting snakehead on the fly. These rods are light, very accurate, and have tons of backbone in the butt to fight this hard fighting species. I tend to use the 7wt LK Legacy when fishing smaller flies and lower tides to make a gentler presentation. The downside to using a smaller-weight rod is that it can be a difficult battle when fish take you into thick cover.

For a reel – I have been using the BVK SD the most recently. I choose this reel not because I am necessarily using the drag, but because it is a super lightweight large arbor reel. While fishing all day, a reel that is reduced in weight is a plus in my book, and a large arbor reduces line twists/coils. I primarily fish Scientific Anglers floating lines like the SA Tropical Titan and intermediate lines like the Sonar Titan. I use a floating line when I am fishing topwater presentations and subsurface flies that I want to wake or just hang in the first foot of the water column. I use the intermediate fly lines when I am fishing down the channel on low tide and in the deeper creeks many times because those fish will drop out of the hydrilla, lily pads, and other grass and lay on either the hard grass line or in the channel.

I reached out to Tim O’Neill, who has fished for Snakeheads with me for two years now, about what he loves most about these mesmerizing fish, and here’s what he had to say:

“Northern Snakeheads are one of the coolest, most unique fish you can chase on fly gear. They have these two beady little black eyes on top of their wide flat head. Their beady eyes, along with a slightly up-turned mouth, make them tailor-made to eat on top. They can lay motionless in a grass bed waiting for the proper moment to pounce, and when they do…it is one of the most aggressive surface takes you will ever see. Yes, spend some time chasing snakehead on the fly, and you will soon forget about trout fishing.” – Tim O’Neill

Photo: Braden Miller

Flies, Leaders, and Retrieves

I throw many topwater fly creations I’ve tied, but foam divers and waking patterns rule most of that. Another go-to pattern I throw is the many different styles of Blane Chocklett’s Game Changers. These include the Feather Changers, Jerk Changers, Finesse Changers, Crafty Changers, and small Hybrid Changers. When I am fishing these types of flies, I usually am fishing with a 6-foot leader; I honestly try not to keep it simple and not complicate things by using 25lb to 30lb fluorocarbon, or sometimes if I’m lazy, I’ll just fish straight 30lb.

When fishing the Game Changers, I will use a two-handed strip just to keep the fly moving down a grass or pad line (unless I’m sight fishing), and look for a fish chasing, a lot of times, you will see a wake following your fly or just the fish, or I will strip it down the line for a few feet and pause now and then. I don’t fish top water flies and divers as fast as the changers. I strip, strip pause, strip, strip, strip pause – just mix it up and see what is working that day and time. You have to see what they are in the mood for that day. They could be fired up, or they could have had a minor cold front move through the night before that could have them a little slower or finicky.

Photo: Braden Miller

Snakehead on Conventional Gear 

When I am fishing for Northern Snakeheads with my conventional gear, I always take two specific TFO rods with me: the Tactical Elite Bass 7’3″ Heavy and the Tactical Elite Bass 7′ Medium Heavy.

The first rod – the Tactical Elite Bass 7’3” Heavy Casting – I choose when fishing topwater frogs. The power of this rod allows me to get the hardest hook set I can with the heavy frog hooks, and it allows me to work those frogs with ease.

The Tactical Elite Bass 7’ Medium Heavy Casting rod is the second rod I use for fishing small to medium-sized swimbaits on weedless rigs down grass lines or creek channels. This rod allows me to get solid hooksets driving the heavy swimbait hook into the fish’s hard bony head, and it allows me to flip and pitch the swimbaits into small pockets and target cast.

On both of these setups, I am running high gear ratio baitcasting reels like the Shimano Curado or SLX either in an 8:5:1 or 7:4:1 and with 50 lb braided line.

The TLE MBR 736-1 is a great choice for targeting snakehead with conventional gear. // Photo: Braden Miller
Photo: Braden Miller

Conventional Lures & How to Work Them:

There are a ton of conventional lures you could use to attract a Northern Snakehead – both topwater and subsurface. I tend to stick with frogs and small to medium-sized swimbaits. I do not like a frog that is too big; I lean towards small to medium-sized ones. I have caught most of my larger-sized snakeheads on smaller, more finesse-style body frogs than the larger sizes. There are two categories of frogs: “working” frogs and “retrieving” frogs. You will fish“working” frogs slower and will not be covering a large section of water as quickly. However, you should achieve some very, very confident eats. There are a bunch of companies that produce frogs that will help you achieve this.

Next, the “retrieving” frogs are the ones you want to fish when you want to cover a large amount of water, and a lot of times, you will get more active and aggressive fish that will chase, wake, and either engulf or simply stare your frog down. Now when I say engulf or stare at your frog, I mean that when you have a fish waking on your frog, and you stop retrieving it, most of these fish will either engulf (eat) it, or you can make them eat it by walking it in place. Also, small twitches of your rod tip will make your frog just twitch around a little bit. There is also an extensive number of companies producing great retrieving frogs—my all-time favorite types of frogs are produced by Teckel.

Photo: Braden Miller

Different species that share the same waters as a Northern Snakehead

There are no other species where snakeheads live because they ate them all…. just kidding! There is an abundance of different fish species living with and around the Northern Snakehead. One day while fishing for Northern Snakehead in mid-June, I also saw a blue catfish, bluegill, bowfin, common carp, grass carp, largemouth bass, longnose gar, shad, snakehead, and yellow perch. A snakeheads favorite food, in my area, is the mosquitofish or killifish. You can look down the bank and see thousands of them. All of these incredible fish coexisting together, all healthy and in large populations. While fishing, I have also seen bald eagles, blue herons, ducks, egrets, and many other birds who call this habitat home.

Bowfins and Gar

Although snakehead are one of my favorite species to target on fly or conventional tackle, bowfin are also a blast to target and are my second favorite fish to catch. These fish run the show on the river, and they know it too. A bowfin is literally a living fossil; these fish have been around since the dinosaur ages. Since they’ve been around forever, they have evolved into the perfect predator. The bowfin is aggressive, and extremely confident when they eat, making them a fantastic species for sight casting. Although it’s not difficult to get them to eat, don’t forget to strip-set hard! You may not know it, but chances are there is a place near you that you could chase after bowfin. If I were you, I would start looking because you are missing out if you aren’t fishing for them!

The Axiom ll-X 8wt is my Go-To for targeting bowfin and snakehead on the fly!

The longnose gar lands third on my list. Gar are plentiful in many rivers; they offer excellent sight fishing and give anglers tons of chances to land one. They can be challenging and a lot of fun to fish for when they are aggressive and snapping at your fly. I love how hard a gar pulls, how crazy cool they look with their armor-like scales and long narrow jaws.

Both bowfin and gar have a primal lung in addition to their gills, which means they breathe underwater and they can come up to the surface to breathe. To anyone who looks down on bowfin, gar, snakehead, and other “trash” species, I urge you to get out there and give them a shot! These species are here to stay, so more people need to take the time to research all of the new information that is out about them. They deserve more respect because these fish could quite possibly be some of the most remarkable species, in my opinion, to fish for in the United States. So many people can target these great fish near them, and if you are one of them, I suggest you get out there and find them.

Gar on the LK Legacy 8wt! // Photo: Braden Miller

I reached out to the man responsible for my snakehead addiction, my good friend and a Virginia snakehead guide, Grant Alvis, about how many different species he has seen on the river while Snakehead fishing:

“In a single day of snakehead fishing, I’ve caught snakehead, bowfin, longnose gar, yellow perch, white perch, largemouth bass, various sunfish, blue catfish, channel catfish, and chain pickerel. That’s probably my best species day while I was actively trying to catch as many species as possible.” – Grant Alvis

The Northern Snakehead is here to stay, and its popularity is rapidly growing around me and in other neighboring states. They can grow to weigh 20 pounds, fight harder than the average bass typically targeted, offer great topwater eats, and you can sight fish for them! In my eyes and others just like me, consider the Snakehead a gamefish. Hopefully, one day soon, everyone will view them not as an invasive species that will destroy the ecosystem but as another game fish that lives in their home waters that is a thrill to catch. So, whether you are targeting snakeheads on the fly or conventional, you are guaranteed to have fun on the water, and you may just find your new favorite species!

Blog written by TFO Ambassador Braden Miller. You can find out more about Braden at his website Miller Time Flies, and follow him on Instagram here.

Photo: Braden Miller

Jigging For Giant Lake Trout

Growing up in Colorado means camping trips. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, thousands of families flock to the woods for an escape from the 9 to 5. My family was no different, and I attribute those experiences to building my incredible passion for fishing and the outdoors.
Every fisherman today remembers their first fish. Mine was nothing special. A rainbow trout on a stream casting a Pistol Pete fly behind a bubble. But it wasn’t about the first fish for me. The metal bell hung from the door of the tackle shop rang loudly behind me as I raced into the store in Granby, Colorado. I was roughly 6 years old and all I could focus my eyes on was the giant taxidermied lake trout above the cash register. I remember asking more than enough questions about how to catch them and what color power bait they liked. Needless to say, I had some learning to do.

Fast forward to today, it’s crazy to look back and realize just how far I was from actually catching one of these trophy fish. It’s not that you can’t catch them from shore. Some of the best fishing for lake trout is right at ice-out, when mackinaw (another name for lake trout) move up into the shallows to feed on rainbow trout and other shallow fish. It’s about the technique and tactics it takes to lure one of these prehistoric fish to take your bait. That fish mounted to the wall of the tackle store was roughly 42” long. That fish could easily have been 50 years old.

When we talk about jigging for lake trout – a standard practice in any lake holding this species – we usually think of white jigs, sturdy leaders, and hopefully sore arms. Once you start expanding your quiver while fishing for lakers, you realize they eat a lot of different things and it’s more about keeping them hooked than actually getting a bite. Lake trout have some of the hardest upper jaws you can imagine. You have to get a clean, strong hookset or you are going to lose fish. The first time guide Nate Zelinsky took me jigging he kept saying, “Everyone tells me they will give a hard hookset, but I have never seen it.”

That’s where he got creative to help clients close the deal on fish. Nate taught me a technique of cutting a Professional Walleye rod down from a 6’6” Medium jigging rod to a 5’ lake trout broomstick. The idea is that you are removing the most sensitive upper guides of the rod and therefore speeding up your hooksets by getting to the rod’s backbone sooner. An added benefit is that you are gaining massive power in your hooksets, especially when the bait is 60+ feet down.

The process is simple. You spool a 6’ or 6’ 6” Professional Walleye Medium action rod, and tighten down the drag on your spinning reel (you can use casting rods too). Grab the rod in one hand and the line in the other. Load the rod up by pulling on the line and get a good bend out of the top guides. Take note of where the rod starts to bend at the backbone and that’s just about the perfect spot to cut it. Use a Dremel tool so you don’t crack the blank and add a rod tip with some glue. Voilà. You now have made about the best laker rod you can imagine and I promise, it only hurts a little to cut the top off your brand new rod. It hurts less when you land a laker of a lifetime.

Earlier this year, we made it up for a day of lake trout jigging and were able to capitalize on one bite out of many takes we had that morning. I counted 13. Sometimes, you have to warm up your skills a bit after a long winter off the boat. Either way, it was the right fish and an amazing fight. Every time I shuffle one of these giants over the gunnel it takes me right back to Granby Tackle Store and helps awake the kid inside. I feel so blessed to be able to catch these fish and get an up-close look and feel of their power and beauty. Every fish goes back. When you hold one in your hand for the first time, I suspect it will be the same incredible experience I had. You know that fish had one heck of a journey to end up in your arms. It’s the respect for how magnificent they are and how many thrills they provide that helps you understand why we never take a trophy home. To have learned from masters of the craft like Nate Zelinsky and finally feel like I have some excellent skills and knowledge to apply in the future catching lake trout is a true honor. If you haven’t had the opportunity to fish for this amazing specimen, look into opportunities in your area or maybe think about a trip next time you are in my neck of the woods. You won’t regret trying it and it just might change your perspective of what a “big” fish really is.

Blog and video provided by TFO Ambassador Chris Edlin. You can find out more about Chris at his YouTube channel here.

 

Frogging with the Tactical Bass

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

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