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Precision Trolling Tactics for Spring Walleye

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

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

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

PRO WTC 864-1T

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

Photo: Oliver Sutro

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

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

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

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

Photo: Oliver Sutro

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

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

PRO WTC 1004-2

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

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

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

Photo: Oliver Sutro

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

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

Stay tuned for Part ll later for early summer walleye tactics…

Kayak Fishing 101 – Getting Started In Kayak Fishing

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

Photo: Cameron Mosier

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

Photo: Cameron Mosier

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

Photo: Cameron Mosier

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

Photo: Charlie Wells

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

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

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

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

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

Prespawn Smallmouth Tactics with Ben Nowak

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

Ideal Water Temperatures

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

Transition, Contour & Structure

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

Photo: Ben Nowak

Setups

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Key Takeaways

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

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

Targeting Early Spring Bass & Redfish with Cliff Pace

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

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

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

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

Photo: Cavin Brothers

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

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

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

 

Behind The Lens – Capturing Great Fishing Photos with Kory Robbins

There is an anonymous quote that goes, “Taking an image, freezing a moment, reveals how rich reality truly is.” The idea behind this quote is one of the main reasons I got into fishing photography back in the mid 2010’s. Frequently, I would find myself exploring vast Alaskan fisheries. On the trips where I captured unforgettable moments with my camera, I would later look back at the images and be truly grateful for that time on the water. There are probably many of you who can agree with this, but need some direction on what gear to buy, which camera settings to use, and how to find the best angles when trying to capture great fishing photos. Here are some tips I’ve gathered through my experiences.

Gear

Phone cameras have made huge gains regarding quality when looking back over the past few years. The addition of wide-angle lenses, better low light performance, and manual settings are a few main reasons for this. There are many instances where you can produce great images with a phone camera, but there are also times where that camera is not going to hang with a DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera. All the images shared in this blog were captured with a Canon 5D Mark IV DSLR, so let talk DSLRs.

Most people these days have a phone with a solid camera built in, but not everyone has a DSLR. If you want to have greater control over the photos you take, I highly recommend investing in a DSLR. Interchangeable lenses give each photo a different feel, full manual settings let you completely control the outcome, and a large internal sensor stores massive information in the image for easy post production editing.

When it comes to picking the right DSLR, this requires a bit of research for the photographer. There are numerous options ranging from a few hundred dollars up into the thousands of dollars. If I were to recommend a DSLR for a first-time buyer, I would suggest the Canon 80D. This is a mid-level camera priced around $1000. It’s weather sealed so it can handle wet rainy days, has a flip out screen for easy photo viewing, and has a quality sensor that produces great images. If you are on a tighter budget, I would recommend the Canon T7 Bundle which averages under $500. This will get you into the interchange lens game at a great price point.

After finding the right camera, your next biggest step is finding the right lens. When I am on the water, I always have two lens options in my case. A 17-40mm Canon wide angle and a 70-200mm Canon telephoto lens. Each lens offers a dramatically different perspective to the photo which we will talk about more later on. Most camera manufactures offer camera bundles that come with both types of these lenses at a discounted price. The other option is to buy the camera body, and then purchase lenses individually. This gives you a little bit more freedom.

Camera Settings

For those that are just getting into DSLR photography, there are a few terms you must become familiar with; ISO, Aperture, Shutter Speed, Depth of Field, and RAW.

  • ISO: The larger the ISO number, the brighter your image will be. Be careful with this though. As you raise the ISO, you increase the noise, or fuzziness, in the shadows.
  • Aperture: This is the opening in the lens. A small number here results in a wide aperture. A wide aperture will let in more light, making the image brighter.
  • Shutter Speed: This controls how fast the shutter closes. A fast shutter will let in less light, but also will freeze fast moving objects.
  • Depth of Field: This is the range of what’s in focus in your image: A very fine-tuned focal point means you have a wide aperture.
  • RAW: This is a file type the camera can save images as. This type of image is very large in file size. A RAW image for example is around 25 megabytes in size, while an average iPhone image is only around 6 megabytes. The additional megabytes mean more information is stored in the image, making post editing a breeze.

Now that you are familiar with the terms. Let’s jump into camera settings. Most DSLR cameras have three general options; Full manual, priority, or full auto. I use each of these for varying situations on the water.

  • Full Manual: This is where you have complete control over all the camera settings. I use this when I have ample time to capture the shot. Landscape portraits or capturing action like casting are where this setting is handy. As a general rule, I try to keep the ISO under 800. This keeps the noise down to a very manageable level in post.
  • Priority: Adjust either the ISO, Shutter Speed, or Aperture, and the camera auto adjusts the other settings to get the right lighting. This is my go-to on the water. I like to fix the shutter at 1/200. This will freeze a moving angler and fish so they don’t appear blurred.
  • Full Auto: This is where the camera does all the work for you. I usually only use this for run-and-gun shooting where I don’t have time to mess with camera settings.

Angles

This is my favorite part of photography. There are infinite lighting scenarios, infinite compositions, and essentially infinite options when it comes to framing your shot. Let’s take a look at some of my go-to angles.

Close up with Telephoto Lens: Reveals details not commonly viewed with the eye. Axiom ll

 

Wide Angle: Offers a distorted and unique view.

 

Wide Angle + Slow Shutter: As this fish was preparing to be released, I adjusted my shutter to blur the moving water. The stationary fish was not affected by the shutter, so it appears in focus.

 

Glow Effect: Shooting into the sun, zoomed in with a telephoto lens to crop out the sun.

 

Shallow Depth of Field: See how the angler, net, and fish are in the same focal plane. Then the rod and background are blurred heavily. LK Legacy with BVK SD reel.

 

Shallow Depth of Field + Bright Background: You can use the sun reflecting off the water to make this unique effect when using a wide aperture. LK Legacy with BVK SD reel.

 

Wide Angle + Low to Water + Foreground: The wide angle makes the angler seem small, and the river seem larger than normal. Added fish trough in foreground for bonus detail. Pro ll TH with BVK-SD.

 

Fast Sutter + Shallow Depth of Field: The fast shutter freezes the line motion and water droplets during a spey cast. LK Legacy TH with BVK SD reel.

Last Notes 

Now that you have captured the perfect image, some post editing will really bring the image to life. My personal favorite editing software is Adobe Lightroom, but there are numerous other editing software options out there. Do a little research and see what fits your budget and workflow. While you are at it, check out some how-to DSLR videos and blogs online. I have learned everything I know about photography from the internet. It may seem like a lot of information to take in at first, but the real knowledge comes from trial and error, so don’t be discouraged. Learning a new skill is good for the soul, and for anyone wanting to get into photography, I highly recommend you develop a budget, find a camera that works for you, and take the leap.

 

Blog written and photos provided by TFO Ambassador Kory Robbins. Kory lives in Anchorage, Alaska with his wife and fellow TFO Ambassador Tessa Shetter. You can check out more of Kory’s photography here.

Winter Redfish and Bass Fishing in the Delta with Cliff Pace

Another tournament season is about to kick off for Bassmaster Classic and MLF Bass Pro Champion Cliff Pace, but before he hits the road, Cliff is doing what he loves the most – winter fishing in the Delta for redfish and bass. Check out some suggestions from TFO Advisor Cliff Pace on how to maximize your time on the water this winter.

TFO: Talk about your fishery back home and why winter fishing is one of your favorite times of year to fish.

CP: Winter fishing back home has always been special to me. To me, home is considered the coastal deltas along Mississippi and Louisiana. It’s where I grew up and learned to fish.

There are several advantages for fishing in the Delta in the winter. First, like many places, there is less boat traffic and fishing pressure in the winter. Unlike other times of year, you can go out and have a day to yourself and just enjoy the solitude that the great outdoors has to offer. Winter is also the easiest time of year to fish (to me), if you understand it well.

During the winter, there’s obviously going to be cold fronts that come through. Cold fronts can be detrimental to the fishing. When it comes to tidal fisheries and cold fronts, some of the Northwest winds that stem from the fronts actually blow the tides out to their lowest points. What that does, essentially, is it bunches up fish from hundreds of thousands of acres of shallow water into whatever deeper water that is nearby by for them. It’s the best time of year to target fish that tend to group up.

Photo: Cavin Brothers Media

Locating Fish in Winter

It can be a little bit difficult to locate fish in the winter. They aren’t as scattered out and you really need to find those precise locations where they group up. Once you get them dialed in, you can essentially have a chance at catching all the fish in that area within a square mile.

So to me – it’s that time of the year where those fish are going to pull to a little bit deeper water. They’re going to be bunched up on really hard spots – anything that’s in the water from a curb standpoint – maybe some grass that’s a little deeper than anything in the area.

When I say “deep” I’m not talking about 20-30 feet deep. I’m referring to water that is 4-7 feet deep. That might be the deepest water in an area.

The other aspect is a lot of our fishes’ food source is actually salt water based. We have shrimp and other food sources that migrate into the marsh in the fall and in the summer. These winter cold fronts push all those food sources back out into the gulf.

You have these fish that have bunched up that don’t have a meal sitting around the corner just waiting for them. It just makes them very susceptible to be caught. It makes it easy for the angler.

There are many situations where areas that contain bass will also have redfish, and will also contain speckled trout, flounder, and lot of varieties of other species. You can catch all these different types of species in the water in an area the size of your truck.

Photo: Cavin Brothers Media

Winter Set Ups

TFO: Talk about the your favorite setups for fishing in the winter.

CP: There are two main techniques for me when fishing during the winter on the Delta: one is a crankbait, and the other is a jig. You can pretty much take those two techniques and get a fish to bite when you find those concentrated locations of fish.

Winter Crankbait Set-Up

Typically, I’m fishing crankbaits on a Tactical Elite Bass 7′ Medium Cranking Rod (TLE LW 70CB-1). I’m fishing relatively smaller baits for targeting those 3-8 feet depth range areas where the fish can be concentrated. I’m usually using a 12lb test line.

For baits, I usually go with Black Label baits. I also really like the flat sided baits – especially when the water is really clear. If I’m in a situation where I want something that has a little bit more feel or noise to it in dirtier water conditions, I’ll often times use some of the Jackall baits.

Winter Jig Set-Up

As mentioned earlier, water this time of year is really low, so typically your shorelines are mud banks with basically nothing up shallow to target fish. You’re normally fishing little hard spots.

Therefore, for my jig setup in the winter, I’m casting (rather than flipping) a jig. I’m using the Tactical Elite Bass 747 (TLE SC 747-1) with 15lb test line.

I usually go with one of my V&M jigs – something subtle rather than a jig that has more kick or flap to it. I’ll pair it up with a chunk style trailer. The weight of the jig is usually somewhere between 3/8 oz. and 1/2 oz. depending on the depth I’m fishing and the tidal flow we have that day.

Photo: Cavin Brothers Media

Positioning the Boat For Maximizing Success

TFO: What other tips do you have for making the most of your time on the water in winter?

CP: It’s important to position the boat in a way that you can present the bait to the fish with the tidal flow. I’ve found it definitely makes a difference more so on these lethargic fish than what it might on other times of the year. Presentation anytime of the year can be everything.

Once you learn an area and know where the fish are positioned, it is important to set up (to me) on the downstream side if possible, and fish your way towards the fish upstream. Typically, those fish are going to be facing upstream. These fish are very tough. They’re going to be on something like a hard spot or a piece of cover – it could be anything.

After you catch one, nine times out of ten, there’s more than one there. If you’re fishing with the current and you catch a fish, by the time you unhook that fish and release it and fix your gear – the current is either directing you right on top of or past that location. So, by fishing into the current, you can catch a fish while holding you boat position, and you can make the same cast twenty or thirty more times if you need to in order to fully maximize the potential of that spot without disrupting it.

Photo: Cavin Brothers Media

Winter’s End

TFO: When does the winter season typically transition into spring for you? What are signs that you look for or notice on the water?

CF: Every year is different, but there’s always a drop dead date when this stops. I’ve seen it end as early as the first of February, and I’ve seen it as late as March. It just depends on what Mother Nature gives us.

Spring fishing revolves around when these fish decide to move up and spawn. Other factors include the length of the day, as well as weather patterns (temperature, precipitation, etc.). A lot of fish will spawn based on the moon.

Photo: Cliff Pace

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this blog for early Spring tactics!

 

Winter Speckled Trout Tactics For Fly & Light Tackle

When not chasing after striped bass and redfish in the Pamlico Sound and estuaries of coastal North Carolina, TFO National Advisor Capt. Gary Dubiel (Spec Fever Guide Service) loves to put his clients on large speckled sea trout. Even during the cold winter months, Gary knows how to find speckled trout and has some excellent tips for both fly and conventional anglers.

The Pamlico Sound & The Migration of Coastal North Carolina Speckled Trout 

TFO: Tell us about your fishery briefly and why it’s suitable for speckled trout.

GD: The Pamlico Sound estuary system is fairly giant – 2.1 million surface acres of water. You’re basically looking at a shallow inland sea. It’s very conducive to speckled trout just from an environmental point of view – lots of shallow water, nursery area, and an abundance of food. It will also hold enough ideal water temperatures where the fish are going to be in the area year round.

Speckled trout here in North Carolina are very different then ones you’ll find in Florida, Louisiana, or Texas in that they have a significant migration distance. Many of the fish we have here will migrate out into the ocean and go north into the Chesapeake Bay.

I’ve been involved in a lot of tagging studies and my furthest tag return was 285 miles away from its starting point in Oriental, NC. Another interesting tag return that I was involved in was a fish I recaptured that was tagged in Virginia. The fish was only 13 inches long and was tracked from Northern Virginia to Oriental, NC and was recaptured within 14 days. These fish can move great distances in very short periods of time, which can make it challenging when trying to locate them.

As a rule of thumb in our river systems (Pamlico River and the Neuse River into the Pamlico Sound), typically what you’re going to find is that the cooler the weather, the more the fish move upriver and into the creeks. In other words, the further back into the creeks you go, the warmer the temps get. You’re typically going to see this pattern in late October/November right up into March/early April.

Once the water temperatures warm up into the low 70s and stay there for a short period of time, those fish will move out of the creek systems and back out into the main river systems. At that point, there can be fish that move to North Carolina from Virginia – move back out into the ocean and up into the Chesapeake Bay.

Photo: Gary Dubiel

Spawning & Average Size

TFO: What are typical spawning or migrating behaviors across the seasons for speckled trout?

GD: Our fish here will adjust and typically move out into the lower parts of the river in the Sounds – where their first spawning will be around the first full moon at the end of May/early June. The first spawn is also going to be related to water temperature – somewhere in the low-mid 70s.

The fish will stay in those areas through the summer into early fall. There will be some shifting, but they are in those general area. Speckled trout can spawn 3-4 times throughout the course of the year. Smaller fish typically spawn twice, larger fish might spawn up to 3 times in a year.

TFO: How big do they get typically and what’s an average size for you? 

GD: You can find a mix of fish (size-wise) throughout the course of a year. Typically in the cooler months, bigger fish are more concentrated and more on the aggressive side. They tend to be more willing to eat much smaller baits as the water temperatures drop. Typically, you can catch more large speckled trout (24”-30”) in the cooler months, however, you can still catch big fish all summer long depending on your tactics.

You’ll see a lot of small fish in my area because of the volume of breeding that occurs here – anywhere from 10”-12” fish, right into 20”-24” fish. You’re looking at a pretty significant distribution of fish from one right up about six years old.

Photo: Gary Dubiel

Locating Specked Trout

TFO: How are you typically locating speckled trout in the winter? Where is the best place to target them (river/water location or depth)?

GD: In the cooler months, you’re going to be looking to fish primarily in the creek systems, and the upper parts of the rivers. You basically have two different areas that you’ll find fish during the winter – both are particularly related to water temperatures.

In water less than five feet deep, I can catch speckled sea trout down to about 47.5 degrees (water surface temperature). Typically, in the backs of the creeks (water less than five five deep), the bottoms are dark mud and soft – so they’ll warm up faster in the sunshine. You can get a one to four temperature increase over the course of a sunny day.

In areas that are deeper – around six to twelve feet of water – you can catch speckled trout right down to about 45 degrees (water surface temperature) with your bottom temperature being a few degrees warmer.

The further upriver you go – cities like New Bern or Washington – you’re going to find some of the creeks are much deeper, so you’ll target the fish a bit deeper. Good news for that is that you can fish those with much lower water temperatures in colder conditions – bad news is they don’t warm up. What you have when you start out, over the course of the day is typically what you’re going to have. Those deeper creeks won’t warm up much on sunny days.

Tactics & Set-Ups For Light Tackle

GD: In the winter, you want to fish as light as you possibly can.  Allow your baits to sink very slowly and take advantage of a fish that’s pretty lethargic. You’re fishing for them at the lower ends of their tolerance to eat.

Scaling down in weights is helpful. Typically, I will fish down to a 1/16 oz. jig head with soft plastic bodies. I’ll scale down on soft plastic bodies – 2.5-3 inches.

Another bait that works really well for me in the winter is the Storm Shrimp – which is a composite, keel-weighted shrimp pattern. This mean that the weight is in the center of the hook shank, so the baits will fall flat – rather than head first. This results in a decreased fall rate, which can increase the amount of the bites you get.

In order to fish those baits, I want to have the lightest, most sensitive rod I can have. The 6’9” Light Inshore is ideal for that. Typically I’m going to be fishing a 1000-1500 series spinning reel with 8-10 lb. test braid. Everything is really light and scaled down. Even if you catch a striper or a redfish, the water is cold, so those fish aren’t going to peel line off like when its 75 degrees. In the winter, everything is lethargic.

Photo: Gary Dubiel

Tactics & Set-Ups For Fly

GD: You pretty much want to copy the same tactics used for light tackle, and apply it to fly. Typically, I’m fishing Type 2 to Type 3 lines depending on the water depth. You’ll want a slow sinking line, or a clear intermediate line, with a lightly weighted fly.

Rods that fish this type of setup well are the Axiom ll-X, the Axiom ll, and the Mangrove. 6wt and 7wt are what I prefer, but you can also fish up to an 8wt.

Smaller weighted flies such as Clousers, Half & Halfs work great. I also use a few of my own craft fur patterns. The Lil’ Hayden is one I tie that produces well for speckled trout. The Pop-N-Shrimp is another good one. Flymen has reproduced one of my mine called the Crafty Deceiver.

Ultimately, you’re looking for something that has some weight in it, but that falls about the same rate as those slow sinking lines do. Click here for a video where Gary breaks down some of his go-to patterns for speckled trout.

For a reel, the BVK-SD is the perfect tool for the job. It’s lightweight and has plenty of drag if you need it, too.

I usually use a 3’-4’ straight leader to the fly. Usually, I scale down to 15lb fluorocarbon in the winter to help maintain that straight contact with the line and fly.

Photo: Oliver Sutro

TFO: What retrieval patterns typically work best for you?

GD: Strip and Pause. Strip, Strip, Pause – All your bites are going to be on the pause. Pay attention to your counts on your pauses. If you are getting bites on a certain number (seconds you are counting), take note as it gives you an indication of where the fish are and how they’re reacting.

Anything that feels different – strip strike. Even though it is cold, those fish can spit out that fly pretty quickly.

Make sure that the rod tip is almost in the water and pointed at the fly to maintain as direct contact as possible to help detect any strikes.

TFO: Not many anglers are aware that speckled trout have some pretty sharp teeth. Do you have any advice on handling them?

GD: You’ll want to grab them in the belly right under the gills. Don’t put your fingers in their mouth like you would a bass or other species (laughs). You’ll want to have some plies or hemostats to get the fly out of their mouth once you have them at the both.

 

Revisiting “Made for The Outdoors: Hows Its Made – TFO Rods” with Bill Sherck

Not many anglers actually know about the process of how they’re fishing rods are made. Luckily, in 2017, we had the opportunity to partner up with Sportsman Channel’s Made For The Outdoors TV  to show the world exactly how both TFO fly and conventional rods are made. If you haven’t seen both of these videos, do yourself a favor and check them out below. The amount of detail, time, and focus that goes into each step of the rod building process is incredible, and we are honored to have such a hard working and talented team that makes it all happen.

We recently connected with TFO Ambassador and Made For The Outdoors TV host Bill Sherck to revisit these videos and his trip overseas to where TFO rods are born.

What still stands out to you the most about your visit to the South Korea factory where both the fly and conventional rods are made?

There are a bunch of things that stand out about the trip. First off, BJ is the most passionate rod builder I have ever met. He is a very technical guy who understands all the engineering and hi-tech materials, all the stuff that regular anglers don’t always comprehend or appreciate…But more importantly, BJ loves to fish! He has so many GREAT fish stories from his adventures. You can tell that passion translates into how BJ and his team build rods.  I’m talking about the tapers for all kinds of specific species of fish, how each rod feels in hand, how each rod looks.  

Conventional Category Manager Jim Shulin with TFO’s rod engineer B.J.

This is TFO’s facility. This isn’t some place where builders manufacture a bunch of rods and throw in TFO’s order when it comes through. BJ and his team build only TFO rods.  That is why these rods are so darn perfect.

The other very special part of our trip was watching BJ’s crew build each rod.   They are handcrafted.  From the hand cutting of the materials to shaping blanks to painting and building grips. Each station and each step of the process was so much fun to watch. I loved the discerning eyes. It seemed like every person was always looking at details.   

The crew is definitely a closer-knit family than any other place I’ve been. They work hard and they play hard.  Literally! The team works together, and then they take a mid-day break and walk to lunch together where they eat as a team (I believe BJ provides their meals) and then they walk back to the facility and grind out games of ping pong and checkers before getting back to rod building. 

Of all the steps and processes involved, what surprised you the most? Was there a procedure in rod making that you never thought would have been a part of the process?

It was funny, but I was wandering around the facility and discovered a complete guide wrapping/rod wrapping area sitting in the dark collecting dust.  Why in the world…Because BJ had good friends across town who are the best in the business at wrapping guides. BJ shares that part of the rod building process with those people. I love that every day, TFO drives completed blanks over to their friends who wrap and finish all of the guides and then drive those completed rods back to TFO for final assembly.  A very cool part of the process to experience (outside of the dried fish sitting on all the wrapping machines.  Turns out it’s a sign of good luck for those employees).

BJ and the TFO team take great pride in where they build the rods.  Incheon/Seoul area is a global manufacturing hub know for some of the world’s biggest technology names.  Samsung, Kia, SAP.  TFO fits right in. They don’t pretend to make the most rods, but they are absolutely convinced they make the best and they do so with the most passion.

2021 TFO Conventional Category Products – Available Now!

Available Now! Temple Fork Outfitters has added five new additions to the TFO family of conventional rods: a live bait casting model to the popular Seahunter Series, fast action Mag Bass rods additions to the popular Tactical Elite Bass & Tactical Bass spinning rod configurations, the all new Tactical Surf available in seven models, three variations of the Professional Walleye series specialized and engineered for trolling, and the fiberglass Tactical Glass rods. See below for more information on these new products.

 

 

Tactical Seahunter – Live Bait Casting Rod Addition

The modern center console boat has transformed nearshore and offshore fishing from traditionally passive to an amazingly active, almost athletic sport. Designed by TFO National Advisor Rob Fordyce, the Tactical Seahunter series matches this evolution with cutting edge gear to handle a range of techniques and species while remaining durable and light in hand. Casting, jigging, trolling, kiting, or all the above in concert! Regardless of the demands, these high performance rods allow saltwater anglers to quickly respond to changing conditions and opportunities by offering a wide range of capabilities without the need to change gear. This series is perfect for competitive tournament teams and serious anglers fishing salt-borne techniques and species.

The foundation of the Tactical Seahunter series are moderate-fast action blanks constructed with standard modulus carbon fiber material and a proprietary fiberglass scrim. The blanks are a midnight blue with metal fleck finish topped with braid- and saltwater-safe Fuji® Concept Guides™. The series includes 9 models: 5 casting in 6’0”–7’0” lengths in 20#-50# weight classes and a live bait rod; and 4 spinning in 6’0”-7’0” lengths in 20#-50# weight classes. Componentry includes down-locking reel seats on casting models in aluminum on the #40 and #50 models; up-locking reel seats on spinning models in aluminum on the #50 model. EVA foam fore and rear grips. Fore grips are 7” long in a large diameter for comfort while fighting fish. Rear grips are rocket launcher friendly at 13” in length and all models are equipped with anodized aluminum gimbals.

Every Tactical Seahunter series rod is designed and manufactured to deliver uncompromising performance and proven durability. And when combined with TFO’s no-fault lifetime warranty against defects, these rods are the perfect choice for anglers wanting to insure their fishing enjoyment. Fish the Original

 

 

 

Tactical Elite Bass – Fast Action Mag Bass Rod Spinning Rod Additions

The Tactical Elite Bass series of rods are our premier level fishing tools for tournament focused anglers. This series optimizes technique specific rod actions with performance maximizing componentry. When success equates to earning a paycheck, Tactical Elite Bass series rods do not compromise on any aspect of design, engineering, or manufacturing to guarantee anglers consistent performance and durability.

The foundation of the Tactical Elite Bass series are technique specific moderate and fast action blanks constructed with intermediate modulus carbon fiber material. The blanks are a gun metal grey finish with PacBay’s lightweight Titaium SV guides. The series includes 18 models: 13 casting in 6’10”–7’6” lengths in medium-light to magnum extra-heavy powers; and 5 spinning in 6’10”-7’3” lengths in medium-light to medium-heavy powers. Componentry includes down-locking graphite feel-through skeletal reel seats for maximum sensitivity with black anodized hoods. All rods include custom Winn® split grips.

Every Tactical Elite Bass series rod is designed and manufactured to deliver uncompromising performance and proven durability. And when combined with TFO’s no-fault lifetime warranty against defects, these rods are the perfect choice for anglers wanting to insure their fishing enjoyment. Fish the Original

Tactical Bass – Fast Action Mag Bass Rod Spinning Rod Additions

 

The Tactical Bass series of rods are precision fishing tools for serious anglers. Designed to match optimized rod actions and powers to specific fishing techniques, this series ensures maximum success on the water. From topwater, to crankbaits, to various structure and finesse actions the Tactical Bass series has it covered. And most importantly, TFO’s manufacturing capabilities and quality standards guarantee rod action consistency and durability over time.

The foundation of the Tactical Bass series is technique-specific moderate to fast action blanks constructed with intermediate modulus carbon fiber material. The blanks are a natural satin clear coat finish topped with Pac Bay’s lightweight stainless SV guides. The series includes 23 models: 18 casting in 6’9”–8’0” lengths in medium-light to extra heavy powers; and 5 spinning in 6’10”-7’3” lengths in medium-light to medium heavy powers. Componentry includes down-locking feel-through skeletal reel seats for maximum sensitivity. All rods include premium split cork grips and black EVA foam butt caps with accent rings and all models are one piece.

Every Tactical Bass series rod is designed and manufactured to deliver uncompromising performance and proven durability across a wide-range of fishing situations. And when combined with TFO’s no-fault lifetime warranty against defects, these rods are the perfect choice for anglers wanting to insure their fishing enjoyment. Fish the Original

 

Tactical Elite Bass Spinning Rods – Fast Action Mag Bass Rod Spinning Rod Addition

 

Tactical Bass Spinning Rods – Fast Action Mag Bass Rod Spinning Rod Addition

 

 

Tactical Surf

The Tactical Surf series is designed for the intermediate to advanced angler and optimized for long accurate casts from the beach, that special rock or fishing pier. And because performance is critical when you reach your spot (or the top of your waders), we’ve designed the Tactical Surf series as powerful casting tools that are durable enough to handle the extremes of the surf environment but light enough to fish by hand all day without fatigue.

The foundation of the Tactical Surf series is moderate-fast to fast action blanks constructed with intermediate modulus carbon fiber material. The blanks are a satin sky-blue finish topped with braid- and saltwater-safe Fuji® K-Series Guides™ with Fuji® Alconite® inserts. The series includes 7 models in 8’0”-12’0” lengths in medium light to heavy powers. All 2-piece models are 70/30 split for one-piece performance and safe transport. Componentry includes up-locking pipe-style reel seats. All rods include blue/gray fish scale heat shrink grips with black EVA foam and rubber butt caps.

The SUS 804-1 through SUS 1103-2 incorporate longer, softer actions perfect for anglers casting and working artificial baits. The SUS 1065-2, SUS 1106-2, and SUS 1206-2 are for anglers focused on fishing bait rigs and making long casts with either spinning or casting gear. These rods are particularly popular along the Cape Cod Canal where the current requires the use of heavier lures and jigs.

Every Tactical Surf series rod is designed and manufactured to deliver uncompromising performance and proven durability. And when combined with TFO’s no-fault lifetime warranty against defects, these rods are the perfect choice for anglers wanting to insure their fishing enjoyment. Fish the Original

 

 

Professional Walleye – Trolling 

With a premium on high sensitivity, the Professional Walleye series is designed specifically for pursuing these finicky and notoriously light biting fish. Beginning with the blank, the grip and the reel seat, everything is maximized for sensitivity and the series lengths, powers and actions are engineered to maximize angler success when fishing the most successful walleye techniques.

The foundation of the Professional Walleye series are blanks designed with technique specific actions constructed with intermediate modulus carbon fiber material. The blanks are a non-glare gold fleck finish topped with PacBay Stainless SV guides. The series includes 12 models: 6 spinning in 6’0”-7’6” lengths in light to medium powers; and 6 casting in 7’0”–7’6” lengths in medium light to medium powers. Componentry includes down-locking split graphite reel seats for super sensitivity. All rods include premium cork grips and black EVA foam butt caps with accent rings. Full cork grips are provided on all casting models and split cork grips are provided on spinning models.

The super-fast actions, light weight, and sensitivity of the WS 663-1 and WS 664-1 are perfect for anglers focused on jigging. The longer 7’0” and 7’6” rods are specifically for the sweeping hooksets of rigging. And the slower actions and light weight of the casting rods make them ideal for anglers cranking. And for 2021, we’ve added three rods in 8’6” and 10’ lengths specially designed for all trolling techniques.

Every Professional Walleye series rod is designed and manufactured to deliver uncompromising performance and proven durability across a wide-range of fishing situations. And when combined with TFO’s no-fault lifetime warranty against defects, these rods are the perfect choice for anglers wanting to insure their fishing enjoyment. Fish the Original

 

 

 

Tactical Glass Bass

The Tactical Glass Bass series is designed specifically for anglers fishing crank baits and who want the hook setting benefits of fiberglass, married to the light weight of carbon fiber. These composite rods are sensitive enough to transmit the lure action to the angler, but also have a slightly damped recovery that maximize hook sets because they allow the fish to consume the bait. The Tactical Glass Bass series delivers a higher level of technique-specific performance to anglers focused on fishing action-oriented lures with light-wire treble hooks.

The foundation of the Tactical Glass Bass series are blanks constructed with 60% intermediate modulus carbon fiber and 40% S-Glass fiberglass material. The blanks are a natural satin clear coat finish topped with PacBay’s lightweight stainless steel SV guides. The series includes 3 casting models 7’2”-7’10” lengths in medium to medium heavy powers. Componentry includes down-locking reel seats and premium cork grips and black EVA foam butt caps with accent rings.

Every Tactical Glass Bass series rod is designed and manufactured to deliver uncompromising performance and proven durability. And when combined with TFO’s no-fault lifetime warranty against defects, these rods are the perfect choice for anglers wanting to insure their fishing enjoyment. Fish the Original

 

TFO Holiday Gift Ideas – 2020 Edition

It’s hard to believe we’re already upon the holiday season, but here we are again! If you’re having trouble finding the right gift for the angler in your life, we’ve put together a list of items that won’t break the bank, but will be sure to be a great surprise for the recipient.

TFO Apparel – New Items Added!

Just in time for the holidays, the TFO Apparel Store has added some new items! Rep your favorite rod company with a TFO t-shirt, hat/beanie, baseball tee, hoodie/jacket and more!

tforods.com/swag

Lefty Kreh Koozie, Decal & Poster Pack

Add some inspiration to your fly tying room/area with a little bit of Lefty Kreh.

Lefty Kreh will always be a legend in the world of fishing. He was a true original and he helped TFO pioneer the concept of affordable high-performance fly rods. At Temple Fork Outfitters, we’re forever grateful for all that he gave of himself to us and our favorite sport.

Lefty regularly shared his passion in the way of teaching and in being kind to others, which often lit a fire in the hearts of those that knew him. That’s why above being a great angler, we remember him as a great friend and hope you’ll find this pack of Lefty Kreh nostalgia as a way to remember him as we do: smiling.

Artwork by Paul Puckett. Get your koozie, decal and poster pack while supplies last. Fish the Original ™

Decal Dimensions: 4″ x 5″ | Poster Dimensions: 16″ x 20″

https://tforods.com/lefty-kreh-pack/

Reel Case, Rod Tubes, Rod & Reel Carriers

Whether on a boat, car or plane, transporting your gear while keeping it protected from damages is extremely important. Keep you gear safe with a rod tube, rod/reel carriers, and reel cover.

https://tforods.com/fly-rod-reel-cases/

BVK-SD Reel

We can’t always predict where fish will be, but we can do our best to be prepared to get to any depth that fish might be holding. This is where having a different type of line (full sink, sink tip, intermediate, floating) comes in hand, and if you have another line, you’re going to need another reel (or backup spool) to hold it. The BVK-SD is a great primary and/or back up reel. The sealed drag functionality gives you even more confidence for playing bigger fish when needed.

https://tforods.com/bvk-sd-reels/

Traveler

While this year may not have been a great year to travel, 2021 is looking a lot more promising. Whether you’re just looking for a compact fishing rod to transport to the lake, or if you’re looking for a great inshore rod to take with you on the plane for your beach trip, but don’t want to worry about traveling with a one-piece rod, the Traveler is an excellent, and reliable choice.

https://tforods.com/traveler-rods/