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Swimbaits 101: How and Why You Should Fish Them

Editor’s Note: This submission comes from TFO amabassador Will Dykstra, who is dialed in swimbaits. Enjoy.

When it comes to targeting large predator fish, few presentations match the subtlety of swimbaits. Technology has benefited this lure category as much as any on the market today. A big reason for the effectiveness of swimbaits is the ability to not only match the forage of large predators perfectly, but to be able to present these lures in a finesse manner that coaxes fish to strike in highly pressured waters.

The Setup

In order to fish swimbaits effectively, it is imperative that you have the proper setup, or equipment. One of the biggest challenges for anglers throwing these heavy lures all day is the toll it can take on the body. For this reason, TFO offers several options that can accommodate just about any swimbait and any angler out there. The GTS Swimbait Rod, for example, is specifically designed to allow the angler to cast larger and heavier baits with ease due to the fact that the rod has a softer tip. This feature results in a better lure launch and provides a higher sensitivity that equips the angler to execute a more precise finesse approach. This means even the most subtle take from a large predator can be detected, leading to greater success. The bottom portion of the rod, however, is built with strength and power in mind. The long stout butt of the rod allows for maximum power for the cast, retrieval, and equally important, the hook-set.

Heavy braided line is essential for large predator swimbaits. In order to handle big baits and large fish, the line weight should be in the 65-80-pound range. The braided line has proven to be more effective than a copolymer in this application because it maximizes sensitivity for lure control and hook-setting power. Often times, muskies, pike, or even a big mackinaw, will bite down so hard on these large soft plastic baits that the lure won’t even move on a hook set without stout gear. This is largely due to the gauntlet of teeth in these predators’ mouths as well as the soft nature of the bait. Therefore, having very little stretch in the line is imperative.

Finally, a reel with a larger line capacity is critical to accommodate the heavier braid. Typically, this will require a 300 series or bigger. The gear ratios can range anywhere from a 5:2:1 to 6:4:1, and will be adequate in any situation for these large fish.

The Presentation

When targeting these large predators, choosing a bait that matches color and profile of the forage is key. In many western waters the trout profile and color is king, while in the midwest and farther north into Canada the forage is much more diverse, ranging from suckers, ciscoes, and walleye, to even small pike.

Typically, swimbaits have “Rate of Fall” (ROF) options that include slow, moderate, or fast-sinking. Simply put, the ROF indicates the sink rates of the lure, allowing accurate target zones for desired depths to fish. The bait packaging normally lists the feet-per-second that the baits will sink. The depth that you run a swimbait is vital to fishing success; most of these targeted predators are ambush feeders. Therefore, fishing adjacent to weed lines, or even through the weeds, is extremely effective. The same goes for other forms of cover like rock ledges and stacked timber. Getting the bait at the right depth and in the right position is absolutely critical and can mean the difference between triggering a strike and missing your target altogether.

The finesse aspect of these swimbaits allows them to be fished extremely slow while still achieving a realistic profile and action that mimics exactly what the forage fish look like in their natural habitat. Fishing these baits slow with occasional pauses followed by very short bursts with the crank of the reel can generate some bone-jarring strikes, while the slow and steady retrieves tend to provoke a lighter, softer take.

Paying attention to the line and rod tip is crucial when it comes to this finesse approach, as often times these large fish will grab the bait and swim with it at the exact speed the bait is being retrieved. Once the take has occurred it is imperative to reel through the hook-set to maximize leverage followed with a second hook-set to drive the hooks home.

Regardless of the time of year, a swimbait can be a producer of some of the largest predators day in and day out. With the right tackle, the right presentation, and a little finesse, your chances of landing that fish of a lifetime can become a knee-knocking, arm-wrenching reality.

Toby Uppinghouse Transitions into Advisory Role

TFO proudly welcomes Toby Uppinghouse of Sacramento, California into an advisory role.

Retiring from his responsibilities as sales rep in the region, Toby humbly will transition the territory into the hands of Sales Rep Clint Nicholson.

TFO warmly thanks Toby for his dedication and efforts as a sales rep and true ambassador of the sport. All of us in Dallas are excited for the future.

While managing TFO sales in California for thirteen years, Toby’s relationship and industry acumen helped grow and nurture a critical foundation for TFO product. With his infectious smile and laugh, Toby has not only become a staple in his community for how an industry member should act, but has been the right, “TFO,” type of person from the beginning.

We excitedly look for continued growth and brand awareness through his participation at dealer events and consumer shows.

Toby will continue to operate his immensely successful guide and outfitting business, Edgewater Outfitters, while focusing on big picture relationships and product development with the existing TFO design team. Toby will also be an important contributor to our social media presence due to his talents behind a camera lens.

While the California Delta, and northern California trout and steelhead rivers are home, Toby has been an active angler and guide in Montana, Alaska and Mexico. His vast experience in both fresh and saltwater will continue to be a welcome addition to the sport and TFO team.

Toby is an active contributor and leader in the Cast Hope organization. Cast Hope is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization positively impacting kids and their mentors in the communities of Northern California, Southern California, and Western Nevada through free fly fishing and outdoor experiences. Through programs, clients help build mentoring relationships, fly fishing skills, outdoor knowledge, sustainable practices, and personal values. Cast Hope’s gift of the outdoors empowers each mentoring pair to grow closer as they participate in healthy hobbies together.

Toby and his wife Sue, who dwarfs her husband’s good looks by many miles, currently preside in Sacramento with their dogs Hunter and Sammy, and probably far too many boats in the drive-way.

Tips on How to Fish for Ice-Out Bass

Editor’s Note: This post comes from TFO Ambassador Burnie Haney. Enjoy.

When we talk about ice out bass fishing in the northeast, we’re talking cold water, and believe me, it’s specialty fishing. In short, you must really want to do it, or there’s no point in reading any further. Now, for those of you still with me, we’re going to review what to wear, where to find these fish and review five lures and setups that will help get you bit during this cold-water period.

Dress for the Conditions

First and foremost, remember the acronym C.O.L.D.  Wear Clean clothes, don’t Overheat, dress in Layers and try to stay Dry. Don’t forget you can always take layers off if you get too hot during the trip, but if you don’t have enough on it’s hard to stay warm. Also, nothing will end an ice-out trip faster than wet clothes or cold hands or feet. I prefer to use finger-tip wool gloves that allow me to feel my line, yet they cover 90-percent of the exposed skin, and they still provide warmth if they do get moist or wet from casting. The other required items are a quality set of waterproof boots, a cap with a bill and a nice wool cap to wear over it along to keep your head warm, along with a pair of polarized glasses.

Where to Start

I’ve had my best success starting my search in the northwest corners on most ponds, lakes or reservoirs. This area of water usually warms the fastest after the ice out, and if you can find good hard cover, it’s a big-time bonus. Oftentimes the bass will be relating to deep water structural elements (rock piles, ledges, humps or the ends of secondary points) nearest spawning flats they intend to use in the next 60-90 days. I’ve found using my side-imagining unit I can quickly identify these areas and see if any fish are present. Remember, these fish have had a lid over them for the past 4-6 months and once the water opens, they’re going to feed in anticipation of the annul spawn that’s just around the corner.

As far as the ideal depth, it’s a relative thing depending on how deep your lakes are and where you’re fishing, but I’ve found most often that starting in the 15 to 20-foot zone adjacent to spawning flats is a reliable zone. Once I identify where the fish are holding, I scout around that general area looking for the migration routes out of the deeper water onto the spawning flat. It might be a slight rock vein or old road bed, perhaps a ridge that climbs up onto the flat or maybe a ditch or cut that comes out of the deeper water up onto the flat or one of last year’s submerged weed beds.

Not to over simplify it, but I’ve always treated this cold to warm-water migration much the same as when I go anywhere; I usually have a target destination, and I arrive there by traveling known routes along the path of least resistance. Think of the points, ledges, ditches, cuts or weed beds as sidewalks, not unlike if you or I were going to a store or restaurant. We don’t park our car hop out and then wander around the parking lot; instead, don’t we usually select a route, walk straight to the building open the door and go inside? Well, it’s generally the same thing for the bass; they’re looking to feed up so rather than meander all over the water column they too will take an easily identifiable path to get to the prime areas. In this situation. it’s food and a bit warmer water.

Once you’ve located these migration routes, then it’s just a matter of monitoring them as the water continues to warm, and the fish begin to use them more and more. Once the fish get up onto the flats, horizontal baits will produce the most fish, with the quality fish usually coming on vertical baits that fall and stay right in front of fish’s face.

Five Lures to Consider

For those deep-water fish, it’s hard to beat a blade bait like a Silver Buddy or a Heddon Sonar (3/8 or ½ oz). For this presentation I like to use the TFO GTS Bass C735-1, 7’3 MH rod paired with a 6.3:1 reel spooled with 12 to 15-pound fluorocarbon. It’s a good vertical presentation that allows you to cover water quickly and generate a bite that you can duplicate in similar areas of the lake. I start the presentation with a long cast toward the fish holding area and work it back to the boat hopping it along the bottom with short 12-15-inch pops of the rod tip. On the lift, you’ll feel a violent vibration, and on the fall, just follow the lure back down with your rod tip. Usually the hits occur on the drop, so be a line watcher, but sometimes they strike just as you lift the blade up off the bottom. If that doesn’t generate a strike, then try changing the length of your hop, either go shorter or possibly a tad longer.

Another great deep-water presentation is rigging some Berkley gulp minnow on a VMC Mooneye Jig, position your boat directly over the fish and keep the bait about a foot above where you mark them on the graph. I know this sounds goofy, but don’t work the bait. Instead rely on the natural motion of the boat on the waves to give it the slightest amount of movement. Until I tried this technique, I didn’t believe it, but this do-nothing method will get you bit. For this presentation I use the TFO GTS Bass S734-1, 7’3 M rod paired with a 5.1:1 spinning reel spooled with 8-pound Cortland Master Braid and about a three-foot section of 8-pound fluorocarbon leader. And for the jig I start with a 3/8 oz. head and might drop down to ¼ oz.

As the fish start moving into that 8-10-foot zone, it’s a good bet the Jerkbait will do most of the heavy lifting on any given day. Remember those weed beds we talked about earlier, this is where the suspending jerkbait rules. Baitfish are still in and around those weed beds, and the suspending jerkbait gets right in their face and just sits there daring them to bite it and most often they will. Again, we’re talking cold water, so you’ll need to keep your movements slow and subtle. I start with a long cast, give it about six or seven cranks to get the bait down, then give it a slight twitch and let it sit for an eight count. Reel up any slack line give the bait one or two light twitches and again let it set. If this doesn’t generate a strike, then I’ll increase the pause from the eight count to maybe 15. However if I find I’m generating follows but no strikes, then I usually drop down in lure size, and that seems to work. There are a ton of jerkbaits to choose from, and I happen to like Lucky Craft, so that’s what I use. However, having said that the most important thing is depth control and the lure’s ability to stay where it is in the water column once you stop the retrieve. For this presentation I use the TFO GTS Bass 695-1, 6’9” MH rod paired with a 7.3.1 reel spooled with 10-pound fluorocarbon.

As the fish start to occupy areas shallower than 6 feet, I’ve enjoyed good success with a Boot tail swimbait in the 2.8 – 3.3 sizes. There are a bunch out there to choose, but I prefer the Keitech Swing Impact or Fat Swing Impact. I’ve found keeping it simple works best for me, so I use three basic colors — Silver Flash, Blue Gill Flash and Tennessee Shad. I rig these swimbaits on 1/8 or ¼ oz jig head (size 1 hook) and fish them on a slow, steady retrieve. For this presentation I use the TFO TFG PSC 703-1, 7’ ML rod paired with a 5.1:1 spinning reel spooled with Cortland Master Braid and a 36” section of 8-pound fluorocarbon leader.

Another nice dual-purpose bait this time of year is the Swimjig. I use Strike King 3/8 oz Tour Grade in three colors, white, green pumpkin and black/blue. For the trailer I use a Zoom Twin Tail (Fat Albert) matching the jig colors. This is a great search bait for scouring the flats and if you see following fish, simply let the lure fall to the bottom, and the fish will usually nose down on it. As they go to it just give it a short twitch and they’ll hit it and if not just start a normal retrieve and they’ll usually grab it. The other nice thing about the swim jig is if you come across a weed bed you can pitch or flip it in there and work the cover the same as you would with a standard jig & pig.  For this presentation I use the TFO GTS Bass 736-1, 7’ 3” H rod paired with a 6.3:1 reel spooled with 20-pound Cortland Master Braid with a 48” section of 16-pound fluorocarbon leader.

I think if you dress accordingly and give these lures and setups a try, that you’ll be pleasantly surprised at just how many bites you can generate when chasing ice-out bass.

In closing, remember cold-water conditions are no joke and require a clear head. Take a cell phone with you and let someone know where you’re going and how long you’ll be out and be sure to let them know when you’re safely off the water.

 

Good luck and be sure to post those fish catches on one of our social pages. Questions, comments about ice-out bass, let us know those thoughts as well.

Tools of the Trade for Catching Walleye

Sensitivity, stealth and pin-point bait placement are some of the cornerstones of effectively targeting walleye.

To be an effective walleye angler, you need to start with the appropriate rod. Below are some of the features of the TFO line-up of walleye specific spinning and casting rods.

GTS Walleye rods incorporate beautiful, translucent green blanks with proprietary, braid safe Tactical Series guides with black anodized foots and chrome inserts. These rods feature premium-grade cork grips and cleverly placed hook keepers.

GTS WJS 663-1 and WJS 664-1

Walleyes can be finicky biters known to suck the blood from a leech without ever alerting an angler to its presence.

The 6’6” medium light model is a superb tool for the subtle presentation of light jigs tipped with leeches or crawlers.

While the 6’6” medium power model has a slightly beefier backbone for a solid hook-set when working larger, meatier baits and fighting larger fish. Both rods feature split-cork grips for additional weight savings.

GTS WRS 703-1 and WRS 763-1

The Lindy Rig® has been, without a doubt, one of the most productive walleye-catching techniques in recent history.

Despite a relatively simple premise, not just any rod will allow this technique to succeed.

A rigging rod needs the subtle nuances of a faster, stiffer tip to bring to life the often ultra-subtle presentation.

The WRS 703-1 and 763-1 can also double as rods for pulling bottom bouncers, crawler harness rigs or crankbaits. Both the 7’0” and 7’6” medium-light models come in a split-grip handle.

GTS WBC 704-1 and WBC 764-1

A staple presentation for locating schools of fish has been to run bait along drops offs and weed lines.  The Spinner Rig/bait trolling rods brings to the table a smorgasbord of leeches, crawlers and minnows. For those running single and two-hook harnesses, the WBC family is the ticket. Both rods come in a full-cork grip to snuggly fit in rod holders.

It’s been said that the bigger the blade, the bigger the bump and thump.

The 7’6” model is perfect for when the water gets cloudy and anglers need to turn to larger, flashier blades to elicit strikes.

GTS WTC 703-1 and 863-1T

Peek into any walleye anglers tackle trays and you’re likely to find a healthy supply of long-bodied, tear-drop billed lures.

From Walleye Divers® to Hot N’ Tots® and Long A’s® to Shad Rap’s® walleye anglers have the trolling lure approach dialed in.

The WTC models load progressively from butt to tip, with a more forgiving action necessary for effective hook-sets when working cranks with treble hooks. These rods feature a full-cork grip and forward mounted hook keeper.

The 7’0” model is great for the close-in rod, in the holder and cranks that dive less than 10-feet.

The 8’6” model is ideal for deeper diving lures or running baits through a planer board. This model is telescopic to accommodate rod lockers.

Suggestions on walleye rods and comments about our rods, feel free to comment on one of our social media pages.

Pace Rested and Ready for 2019 Pro Bass Season

Cliff Pace had two objectives this offseason:

To rest.

And to get better.

After a few months off from the grind of competitive bass fishing, Pace said he feels somewhat rejuvenated as he prepares for start of 2019.

“It helps me from a relaxation standpoint,” Pace said. “I love to fish. That’s why I ended up doing this for a living. I do a lot of inshore fishing, a lot of speckled trout fishing, red fishing and bass fishing as well. It allows me to be home, spend time with the family.  It allows for more of a routine lifestyle a few months out of the year, stuff I really look forward to.”

Pace said he has a new boat and more, important, new electronics. The TFO advisor said he switched from Raymarine to Garmin.

“I’ve spent the last few weeks trying to use the Garmin electronics to the best of my ability,” Pace said. “There is a learning curve there. It’s like using a computer, things like that, just trying to get ready. I learned how to use them, learned how to use what they’re telling me. Being more efficient with them was probably what I spent most of my offseason doing. I felt I struggled mostly with the smallmouth tournaments up north, which are very much an electronics game. I felt I was kind of behind the 8-ball with the technology that was available. I went ahead with the learning curve and learned how to use them. I have no doubt that there will be some events this year that it will pay dividends.”

The objective, of course is to evaluate what’s going on underneath the surface to find more fish.

“I spent a lot of time this offseason fishing in different types of water, spending time putting in a manual setting from an auto setting, where you can adjust everything independently on your own, to be able to interpret better what you’re seeing more so than anything else,” said Pace, the 2013 Bassmaster Classic champion.

Because professional fishing is so competitive once the season starts, anglers have to develop their skills in the offseason. The collective skill level from event to event is fierce, as are the changing conditions.

“There’s a huge difference between fishing an area you’re comfortable with to an area you’re fishing competitively,” Pace said. “The anglers that fish like I do have to be very, very diverse and effective with different things. If all I did was fish at home, I could use a couple techniques and have what I needed year-round. If you fish in South Florida and then go fish for smallmouth up north, it’s two very, very different situations. But both events count the same. You need to be dialed into the best of your ability in each respect. That’s pretty much competitive fishing in a nutshell, being competitive and diverse in all the situations that we’re put in.”

Pace spent much of his professional fishing career competing in the Bassmaster Elite series but has taken his skills to a new circuit — Major League Fishing’s Bass Pro Tour, which started its first season earlier this month.

The BPT was formed this past October when 80 of the top anglers from the Bassmaster and FLW circuits left for the invitation-only league, which will offer eight-regular season events, a championship, hefty payouts and backing from Bass Pro Shops.

“I’m probably more excited this season than I have been in any season I’ve competed,” Pace said. “I’m grateful to be in a time in this sport when we have people interested in growing the sport and taking advantage of all the technology to grow the sport and show case the sport for truly what it is. I felt like that was something throughout my career that was lacking. I think Major League Fishing is going to step up and fix a lot of those problems. That’s why I’m excited.”

The format differs from Bassmaster, which counts the top five fish. In the BPT, every fish counts.

“It’s definitely going to be more stressful,” Pace said. “I think all that’s positive. I think it will be much more exciting for the fans and a better platform for us to showcase our talents. You’re never in a sense of comfort and you’re never out of it.”

Regardless of the format, the goal is to improve from season to season.

“I had a good year last year,” Pace said. “I didn’t have a perfect year, but I definitely didn’t have a terrible year. Without a doubt, you want to do the best you possibly can. There’s always motivation to be a better and more competitive angler. The day that I can win every event that I got in, I will quit this sport. There’s always motivation. There’s always motivation, even for a guy that wins Angler of the Year. There’s motivation to continue that momentum. Motivation can come from a lot of different directions.”

 

Thoughts on Cliff or his change to Major League Fishing? Let us know on one of our social media pages.

How To Get Started in Bass Fishing

I caught my first bass more than 40 years ago, on a farm pond a pitch and a flip from my current house in the Western North Carolina mountains.

I remember the 4-pounder got away after I stuck the stringer in the mud, and the big green fish simply swam away with two panfish in tow.

I was 12. I was devastated.

Soon after college, I fell in love with trout on the long rod. I never really seriously pursued bass on spinning gear, but this season I’ve vowed to change that trend.

Here’s a few tips for those who wish to brush up on bass basics. Obviously, there are several types of bass. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll focus on the largemouth.

Fish Early or Late

I caught my first decent bass in late afternoon, but most of the time bass feed at sunrise and sunset. My rule of thumb is to fish when the sun is below the trees. Once the sun passes the tree line, the bite slows considerably.

In the evening, wait until the sun dips below the trees and fish until dark. Dusk is a great time to fish.

Because bass are light sensitive, your optimum windows are fairly tight. Nevertheless, take advantage of them.

Obviously, work and family commitments dictate when you can fish. If you can only go in the middle of the day, you can still fish, but fish deeper than you would if you were on the water early or late, when the fish are running shallow.

Tis the Season for Bass

A year or so after I caught my first big bass, I thought I was on a roll and would ride that momentum to fish after fish. One bitterly cold Thanksgiving I charged out on to Georgia’s Lake Burton with a carton of nightcrawlers. I caught a cold, but nary a fish.

What I didn’t know is that water temperature dictates when bass — and other fish feed — and success is largely seasonal. So if you’re a beginner, it’s best to fish in the spring or fall, when water temperatures are more conducive to success. This is not to say you can’t fish during winter’s chill or summer’s swelter, because you can, but your odds of catching fish are better in the spring and fall. Plus, the weather is more pleasant.

Where to Find Bass

Structure. Structure. Structure. Find the structure —- logs, brush, rocks, lily pads, hydrilla, or grass — and you will generally find the bass. The bass’ primary objective is to survive and they use structure as protection and as an avenue to ambush prey. This means you need to identify the structure where you fish. Learn it. Learn where it is and you’ll certainly find fish.

The Equipment You Need

You can probably get by with an initial investment of $100, maybe half that, to get your rod, reel, line and lures.

To get started, it’s best to buy a closed-face, push-button spinning outfit — with the line. If you have to spool your own line, go with 8-pound clear mono. Use an arbor knot to attach the mono to the reel and a clinch knot to attach the lure to your line.

For your second rod, I recommend a 7-footer, medium action TFG Professional Series from TFO, not too soft, not too stiff. Ideally, you want to feel your lure on the bottom as you make your presentation. Once you’re comfortable with a rod, a simple open-face spinning reel is a reasonable step up from the push-button combo.

Lures/Baits

When I first started fishing, I used shiners, nightcrawlers and crayfish. As I got more skilled, I graduated to artificial offerings. Some anglers thumb their noses at using bait, but there’s little doubt that can you can catch more fish and build confidence with it. If you choose bait, it helps to use a bobber. When the bobber moves, lift the rod to set the hook. Adjust the bobber according to the depth of the water.

My first lures were stickbaits/soft plastics —- mainly purple and black worms rigged weedless. My biggest mistake was chucking the offering as far as I could and reeling like a madman. What I should have done was cast toward structure and let the worm fall to the bottom before retrieving. A bass will often take a worm on the drop. My other lures were the venerable Snagless Sally and the Beetle Spin. These spinner baits helped me cover a lot of water and they were fun to cast. It also doesn’t hurt to have a crankbait or two in your tackle box as well, but plastic worms and spinner baits are a good start.

 

Thoughts on getting started in bass fishing? Let us know on one of our social media pages.

 

 

A Few Tips for the Hearty Smallmouth Bass Angler

Editor’s Note: This week, we turn to TFO Ambassador Burnie Haney for a few tips on fishing for late-fall smallmouth bass. Enjoy.

When the water drops below 50 degrees, it’s the best time to down-size your presentation for consistent rod action throughout the day. In central and northern New York, our waters are running 46, 47 degrees, and when other power presentations fail to produce, light line and small baits will get you bit day in and day out.

This past Friday my bass tournament teammate (Mike Cusano) and I fished Oneida Lake with the TFO Professional Series TFG PSS 703-1 paired with 5.1:1 spinning reels loaded with 4 or 6-pound test to present 2.8 and 3-inch Keitech swimbaits on 1/8 or 3/16-ounce jig heads.

Our best presentation was a long-distance cast with a slow steady retrieve. We wanted our baits to imitate the small size forage base of perch and shad, and these little swimbaits baits work perfectly for this application.

Often times in tournament fishing we hear anglers talk about employing a stop-and-go retrieve to help generate strikes. However, when it comes to cold water bassin’ I believe a slow steady retrieve works best especially for smallmouth. My theory: Since the water is colder, the fish usually react a bit slower. If they can find forage in open water that’s slowing passing by, they’re going to hit it nine times out of ten rather than let it go.

We employed this presentation with good results on a recent Friday and knew we could duplicate it on Sunday in the 2018 Brian Rayle Go Anywhere Tournament on Oneida Lake. During the tournament we landed 35 bass and 20 perch, with our five best bass weighing 21.31 pounds, which beat the second-place team by more than a 2-pound margin.

A lot of anglers put their boats away once the late fall hunting starts, and when they do, they leave behind some of the best smallmouth bass fishing of the season.

So the moral of this story is the next time you find yourself surrounded by cold-water smallmouth bass, in gin clear water, make sure you have a TFO Professional Series TFG PSS 703-1 rod paired with a 5.1:1 reel loaded with 4-6 lb. test and a handful of small swimbaits with 1/8 or 3/16th oz. jig heads.

Trust me on this one, you’ll be glad you’re properly geared up to enjoy all-day rod action.

Additional thoughts on smallmouth tactics? Let us know on one of our social media pages.

TFO Ambassador Tucker Smith Basking in the Glow of a Championship Run

TFO Ambassador Tucker Smith helped Briarwood Christian win the 2018 Mossy Oak Bassmaster High School National Championship this past summer. The Birmingham, Ala. resident joined with Briarwood Christian teammate Grayson Morris to prevail in the prestigious Paris, Tenn. event.

Smith chatted with TFO blog editor Mike Hodge about his championship run, his favorite tactics for bass, his mentor Joey Nania and his goals down the road among other things. Below are excerpts from last week’s interview.

TFO: How much did the national title mean to you?

TS: “That (win) meant everything, because the past year I’ve focused on fishing a lot. I quit all the (other) sports. Fishing’s my only thing right now. It means the world to me. I started fishing when I was … I’ve been fishing since as long as I can remember. It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. It’s my biggest passion.”

TFO: What was the key to victory for you in that tournament?

TS: “Staying in one spot, focusing in and being patient, waiting for those key bites. We knew we were around fish. We had to keep fishing and not give up, because we knew the fish were there. Basically, it was a matter of being patient.”

TFO: Do you have any tournaments coming up, any more events you’re looking forward to?

TS: “Our high school season just started. Bass Nation, all the tournaments are just starting up. I plan to fish around fifteen team tournaments this year, but with weekend tournaments maybe a little more than that.”

TFO: Do you have any short-term goals you want to accomplish in the next year or two?

TS: “Obviously a goal is to win the (national) championship again. A smaller goal is to qualify for it. Qualifying is hard. It’s a huge deal. Sometimes it’s harder to qualify than the actual tournament. We qualified at Toledo Bend. We had never been there before. It was tough, but we got third in that one, so. ..”

TFO: Any long-term goals, maybe to fish competitively in college?

TS: “I’ve been looking at Montevallo, Bethel and Auburn. When we won the championship, we got a scholarship to Bethel. I don’t know if I want go there or not.”

TFO: Anytime someone competes, they usually get something out of it, whether it’s basketball, baseball or football? What do you get out of fishing?

TS: “It’s my favorite thing to do. You can win money doing it. I think that’s really cool when you do something that you love and can get money out of it. That’s great, especially as a high school angler. I would never think that’s something you could do. That’s really cool.”

TFO: What appeals to you about bass fishing?

TS: “The camaraderie. I’ve gained so many friends from fishing. I know people from different schools that I fish with. All of my buddies. We all hang out on the lake and stuff. It’s good to get together with people and have fun.”

TFO: What’s your favorite way to catch bass? Your favorite tactic?

TS: “In the national championship, I was using a Chatterbait. That’s probably my favorite way to fish. I’m a power fisherman. I don’t like the finesse stuff as much. I’ll do it if I have to.”

TFO: Any advice you’d give to those who want to improve their fishing?

TS: “Time on the water is the most important thing. I fished ponds to start out and fished until I got those techniques down, then moved on to the lakes. Time on the water makes you better. You have to spend time on the water to find the fish.”

TFO: What do you think of TFO’s equipment, the rods?

TS: “I’m really good friends with (TFO Ambassador) Joey Nania. He’s been my fishing mentor. I grew up fishing with him. He introduced me to (TFO’s) rods. I’ve been fishing them ever since. I love them. They’re not too heavy and they’ve got great action. The 7-3 Heavy, you can throw so many things on that.”

TFO: What about the Pacemaker series? Do you like those rods?

TS: “I do. I just ordered eleven rods from (Bass Category Manager) Collins (Illich). I just got some Pacemakers. I haven’t fished with them a lot yet, but I like them so far.”

TFO: What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned from Joey?

TS: “How to locate fish. The best thing he taught me is finding fish deep. A lot of people can fish the bank, but not a lot of people can look at their graphs, find fish and catch them. I’m a shallow guy, but catching fish when it’s cold is a real big key.”

 

Be sure to follow Tucker, Joey, Cliff Pace and other TFO ambassadors/advisors on one of our social media channels.

The Trials and Tribulations of Trailer Ownership

I plugged in the last wire into the trailer hitch as darkness descended. Moments from cranking the ignition on my Jeep, I realized the moment of truth had arrived.

Either the lights were going to work, or they weren’t. It was a zero-sum game I played for several weeks while trying to fix a trailer I had bought for my Flycraft, a fly-fishing raft I assumed I could car top. The key word in that sentence is assumed. The raft is way too bulky to hoist on my Grand Cherokee roof after a day of fishing.

So it was back to the drawing board and I decided to buy a trailer off Craig’s List. When I first got the trailer home, everything seemed fine. Even though it was a 2003 Triton LT, the original owner had kept it in good shape. There was very little rust or wear and tear.

I paid $500. A very fair price.

With a Trailer, One Thing Leads to Another

The problems started as soon as I hooked up the lights to my Jeep. Everything worked, except the left turn signal.

I told myself not to panic. Maybe a bulb or a loose connection? Worst-case scenario: A bad tail light, right?

So I headed to Advance Auto thinking I was in for a quick fix. The bulb didn’t work. I replaced the tail light. That didn’t work. At that point, I knew I was in trouble. Think Wile E. Coyote with his ACME instructions after once again being bamboozled by the Road Runner. Ironically, that was my favorite cartoon as a kid. Whenever I have to fix something around the house, I sympathize with Mr. Wile E. Coyote.

In all, I made an additional nine or 10 trips to Advance Auto for …

Connectors

Adapters

Screws/bolts

Lubricant

Wire cutters

Fuses

Butt connectors

Wire terminals

Perseverance Is a Necessity with a Trailer

In a perfect world, I would have bought all of these things in one trip.  Of course, that assumes I diagnosed the problem correctly, went right to the source and fixed it. Trailers and electronics don’t work that way, trust me. I started at the back of the trailer, probed and then worked my way forward to the Jeep.

Was it the vehicle or the trailer? I wasn’t sure.

Initially, I assumed it was the Jeep’s electronics. Having lived in the saltwater of Northeast Florida with a Gheenoe, the brine had left my connector and adapter with a bit of corrosion. I replaced those, hooked everything back up. Still no left turn signal. My test light showed no power to the proper (yellow) wire.

I was stumped, a bit disappointed, but not defeated. I took a few days off and tried again, searching for clues. During one particularly frustrating afternoon, I then noticed that the right turn signal was not working.

I looked toward my hitch and noticed that there was a green wire from a wad of electrical tape near the front of the wiring harness. Initially, I had thought the tape was designed to shorten the harness. It was not. Say hello to a re-attached harness.

I removed the tape, and a bundle of wires — some connected, some not —- emerged. The green wire, which controls the right turn signal, was loose. I had found the issue, but could I sort through the connections? There were six wires coming from the trailer and only five from the four-way, wishbone connector. Matching color to color usually works, but not in this instance. There were two ground wires coming from the trailer — unlike traditional trailers Triton runs separate grounds —- leaving me with no idea of where the second ground would go. With my old trailer, the ground wire was bolted to the metal frame. Triton trailers are aluminum. So much for that option.

Not sure what to do, I wired one ground to the black wire, and the other ground to the matching white, cranked up the car and nary a light came on. I disconnected everything and probed with the test light and soon discovered I had no power anywhere. I had regressed and was on the verge of a meltdown. I grabbed a beer and texted my dad, who told me to take a break: I had probably blown a fuse.

The next day, I called Triton to ask about the extra ground. Their rep told me to connect all three grounds together. Simple. It was back to Auto Zone twice to mix, match and test fuses. Once I navigated the maze of the Jeep’s fuse box, I got power back to the hitch. On a roll, I connected the loose wires of the harness back together with electrical tape. I checked for power at the turn signal. Eureka. The current finally flowed.

The Road Less Traveled with a Trailer

I had a decision to make. Either I wing it with electrical tape and hope for the best. Or, better yet, I secure all of the questionable connections with heat shrink.  Back to Advance Auto Parts for the latter.

When I showed up at the store, the clerks were ready to greet me.

“If you keep showing up here, we’re going to have to hire you,” one said.

“I’m close. This is my last trip,” I replied.

It was about six in the evening. I had about two hours left before darkness settled in.

I took my time with each wire. First I connected, then I crimped, then I heated and sealed.

I hooked up the trailer as the sun set over the North Carolina mountains. And the lights came on.

Trailer horror stories of your own? Trailer advice? Let us know know on one of our social media pages.

Five Tips on How to Catch Tarpon

The Gold Cup features the best of the best in tarpon fishing. The invitation-only tournament is one of the most prestigious events of the competitive fishing season. TFO advisor Rob Fordyce has set the standard for Gold Cup consistency with 13 second-place finishes, the last of which came earlier this summer.

And he’s always learning.

“I’ve never been satisfied with my knowledge of tarpon,” Fordyce said. “I take fishing seriously. I do it for a living. Tarpon fishing, I take to a different level. That consistent (success) comes from never being satisfied with my knowledge of the game. I’m always trying new things and I’m trying to get better at it.”

TFO blog editor Mike Hodge chatted with Fordyce about his success, and the host of the outdoor series, Seahunter, offered a few tips. Among them:

Get In Shape

Tarpon fishing is not for the meek. It’s physical and fast paced. Many newbies assume the rough stuff comes once the big fish is hooked, and there’s no doubt your biceps, core and thighs will burn as you try to land your quarry.

Often overlooked, though, are the skills needed before the hookup. Good balance is essential. Why? Because if you fish the flats near a pass or a beach, swells can rock the boat. Sea legs aren’t a big deal for a hardened tarpon fisherman, but the newcomer needs to be strong and flexible to maintain good enough balance to spot fish and make accurate casts.

“It’s not a controlled environment,” Fordyce said. “A trout fishing setting is somewhat of a controlled environment. The fish aren’t moving. The fish are holding behind a rock and you know which rock that is. If you make a bad cast in a trout scenario, you get another shot. In tarpon fishing on the ocean side, there can be wind. There’s often extreme current, and sometimes both are in different directions. You can have waves over the bow with wind, and the fly has to end up in a six-inch diameter circle. It’s a game of inches.”

Use the Right Gear

Use gear that’s heavy enough. You don’t want to be under-gunned. A rod that’s too light will result in prolonged battles. A 10 weight is adequate. An 11 or 12 weight is better. For conventional gear, try medium heavy to heavy rods.

The Axiom II is a good choice for those who prefer fly. Our GIS Inshore or Seahunter Series works well for conventional enthusiasts.

Picking the Right Fly/Lure

The Cockroach may be the most famous and productive tarpon fly. I personally prefer the tarpon toad in black and purple. It’s easy to tie and it works. Rabbit strips are one my tying favorite materials simply because of the movement generated. And movement, as TFO advisor Blane Chocklett explains, is key to enticing strikes. I had never really thought about this concept before, but it makes perfect sense. Fish are predators. Feed them what they want.

When it comes to movement, conventional lures are hard to beat. Obvious choices are Bombers and DOAs and Yo-Zuri minnows.

“In sight-fishing scenarios we often use unweighted bass worms or flukes,” Fordyce said. “These baits will almost suspend allowing a lot of movement with a short, twitchy retrieve that can still be pretty slow without having to reel much. This can entice traveling fish to bite that aren’t in a feeding mode much the same way as a fly retrieve.”

Entire blog posts have been devoted to tarpon lures and flies. If you want more info, talk with your guide. Local knowledge is always best.

Seeing the Fish

There’s also a mental challenge involved with tarpon fishing. Count on long periods of time between schools of fish. The ability to concentrate through the doldrums is essential and usually acquired with experience.

“There can be times when you’re getting a shot every thirty seconds, and then there could be hours in between shots,” Fordyce said. “It could be four, five hours of just nothing. That’s when you really have to dig deep and focus hard. That’s when the shots are few and far between and you only get so many.”

Teamwork

You and your guide are a team. Ideally, he puts you on fish. The client’s job is to make an accurate cast, hook the fish and then land it. Rarely is it that easy. Mistakes happen and tempers can flare. The key, as in any relationship, is communication, particularly when it comes to the client’s skill level and expectations, so the chaos can be managed.

“There’s a lot of moving parts,” Fordyce said. “It’s a team sport. Your guide is trying to set you up for the most productive shot. There’s a lot going on.”

 

Headed out to pursue the Silver King? Let us know how you do on one of our social media channels. Want to add more tips or suggestions, feel free to speak up.