ICAST is over. We at TFO are back home from the trip to Orlando, but if you missed the world’s largest sportfishing show, do not despair.
We introduced quite a few new items at ICAST this year. On the fly side, we welcomed the Axiom II-X fly rod, the NXT Black Label Kit, and the BVK SD. As for spinning gear, we have the Tactical Bass Elite and Tactical Bass series as well as the Professional Walleye series.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a serious fly fisherman or an angler who prefers traditional spinning gear, TFO offers quality options for everyone —- from new anglers just getting started to seasoned professionals.
Here’s a bit more detail about each item, all of which will become available to consumers in the coming months:
The Axiom II-X: The Axiom impressed. Then came the Axiom II, which drew rave reviews. The Axiom II-X has a tough act to follow, but with if you want a rod that will deliver a big-time cast without sacrificing accuracy, this satin-blue stick is for you. Retails for ($349.95-$369.95) in weights 5-12. For more info, check out the video below.
The BVK SD: Need a reel to go with your new Axiom II-X? There’s no better choice than the BVK SD. Those who have the BVK swear by it. But get this: The BVK SD offers everything its predecessor did —- with a sealed drag system —- for the same price. Maintenance is minimal, so there’s no more worrying about the interior components. Now they’re fully protected. The BVK SD runs from $199.95-$229.95 and comes in four sizes I, II, III and III+.
NXT Black Label Kit: Fly fishing doesn’t have to be expensive, nor doesn’t it have to be complicated. In essence, that’s the premise behind the NXT Black Label Kit. You get a rod, reel, backing and fly line, all for a very reasonable price ($219.95-$229.95). Since the rod and reel and line are pre-matched, you don’t have to worry about pairing those components, a process that can be intimidating for inexperienced anglers.
Tactical Bass Rods: So you’re a serious bass fisherman. Like to fish topwater? How about crankbaits? Maybe finesse is more your style? If so, our Tactical Bass series ($149.95-$169.95) is for you, no matter how precise your style of angling is.
Tactical Elite Bass Rods: Whatever profession you choose, you need tools of the trade that will get the job done day after day. So it is with pro anglers and our Tactical Elite series. If you want to make a living fishing, serious tournament fishermen need a rod that will preform consistently day in and day out. By all accounts, our Tactical Elite series ($199.95) more than holds its own.
Professional Walleye Series: One of the biggest challenges in catching walleye is feeling the bite, but our newest walleye series provides enough sensitivity, from the handle to the tip, to help anglers counter this issue. And there’s the added bonus of versatility: You can jig, rig, crank and troll with this rod ($99.95).
Comments on our new products? Check out one of our social media pages.
Editor’s Note: This post comes from TFO Ambassador Steve Lund, who provides insight on drop shotting for bass.
Drop shotting is a technique that any serious or novice angler shouldn’t overlook. Some will say that they only catch small fish with this technique and rarely catch quality fish. In some cases this may be true; however, there are times when drop shotting seems to outperform other baits in catching not only quantity but quality bass as well. I personally would rather catch fish other ways and often will only resort to drop shotting when other techniques aren’t getting the job done, but I’ll never rule it out. In fact this is one bait that I almost always have tied on and ready to go. I used to be one of the guys that would snub his nose at the thought of drop shotting or as some refer to using the “fairy wand.” After moving to back to Arizona, an area with many clear-water canyon lakes, I quickly learned that drop shotting can be a valuable technique in helping to not only fill out a limit, but also win tournaments. There are certain lakes that big fish just seem to eat the drop shot really well.
Drop shot is a versatile technique that can be fished in a wide range of water column depths, from right next to the bank to the deepest part of the lake. For those that are unfamiliar or new to drop shotting, there are several videos on the Internet that can help you get started with the basic setup.
The Right Setup
My main drop shot setup that I use 90 percent of the time is a Temple Fork Outfitters Gary’s Tactical Series 6’9″ ML Spinning Rod (GTS DSS693-1), paired with a Shimano Stradic Ci4+ 2500 Spinning Reel, spooled with 10-pound P-LineTCB8 Braid with 8-pound P-Line Tactical Fluorocarbon 10-foot leader. I will use this set up when I’m fishing anywhere from about 1-30 feet, as I am usually throwing a 3/16 or 1/4-ounce weight. When I fish deeper than 30 feet, I will use heavier weights —- 3/8 or 1/2 ounce —- and also upsize my rod to the Temple Fork Outfitters Gary’s Tactical Series 7’3″ M Spinning Rod (GTS – S734-1). Increasing the rod power is necessary when fishing deeper so the rod sensitivity doesn’t feel as sluggish and provides more backbone for setting the hook with the heavier weights and more line out. I will fish the same line set up 10-pound braid to 8-pound fluorocarbon leader. On rare instances I may drop to a 6-pound fluorocarbon leader when the bite is finicky in super clear water.
For hooks, I vary the type of hook I use depending on the lake I’m fishing. If I’m fishing a lake with brush trees or other snags, I will use a Gamakatsu Rebarb hook that I can rig a bait texposed, where if I’m fishing relatively open water I will use an Aaron Martens TGW Drop Shot hook and nose hook or wacky hook the worm. Most of the time I will fish with around a 12″ length line from bait to weight. Sometimes it may be necessary to adjust to a shorter length when the fish are lethargic and sitting on the bottom or a longer length to ensure your bait is above vegetation or when targeting suspended fish that are off the bottom.
What to Fish and How to Fish It
Try different types and sizes of baits; sometimes switching it up can make a big difference. I will usually start with a standard straight tail finesse worm in 4.5 – 6″ which works for most conditions. I have had success with curly tail worms also and sometimes prefer to throw curly tail worms when there is more wind or when the fish are more aggressive, the curly tail worm slows down the fall and provides action on the fall attracting active fish that will travel greater distances to your bait. I also like to try bigger baits like a 6-7″ fat worm or baby brush hog that provides a little more visibility in stained, deep water, or fishing at night.
For action I let the fish tell me how they want it. I vary between twitching, dragging, shaking, or even dead sticking until I can determine what seems to be working best. Dead sticking is so hard for me to do, but sometimes the fish just want it that way.
When it comes to colors, there are so many choices and I like to try all kinds of new colors and different color combinations, but some of my favorite colors that always seem to work are Morning Dawn, Aarons Magic, Oxblood/Red Flake, and Margarita Mutilator.
The main thing I would say to keep in mind is change things up and try different things until you figure out the best drop-shot combination for the conditions. Drop shot is not always the best technique, but there are times when it can be, and it is one of many highly effective tools to keep in your box.
Suggestions, comments about drop shotting for bass? Feel free to comment on one of our social media pages.
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.
A few days after his finishing up the Toyota Bassmaster Texas Fest, TFO advisor Cliff Pace took inventory of his performance.
Third place isn’t too bad. Not at all.
“Any time you give yourself an opportunity to win on our level, (it’s good),” Pace said. “I did that. I just came up a little short in total weight. All in all, it was a good week to finish third and get the big fish of the weekend. That was a neat deal. Given that, it’s hard to complain, but yes, you do always want to win. Third is better than fourth.”
It was Pace’s first top-three Bassmaster finish since 2013. He will head to his next tournament with an extra $30,000 and a new Toyota Tundra after landing the event’s biggest bass during the May 17-20 affair.
“Momentum creates confidence, and confidence is good in anything from a competitive aspect,” Pace said.
Pace totaled 61 pounds, 12 ounces, trailing only Drew Benton (67 pounds, 15 ounces) and Jacob Wheeler (64 pounds, 8 ounces).
The key to his success? Versatility.
“I fished smarter,” Pace said. “I have multiple different patterns that will work, depending on the weather scenarios. You see a lot of guys who will have a really good day and then a really bad day. I had enough different things going on where I could be consistent each day. A lot of guys will catch fifteen pounds one day, then eight the next. I was able to stay in the teens every day. Over four days, you add up the numbers and it etches you up the list. A lot of guys they had the deep pattern going, then we had the overcast skies, and they weren’t as successful. I had enough things going on with the event to make it work with the changing conditions.”
Pace’s biggest bass weighed 10 pounds, 5 ounces. He caught it using a TFO Pacemaker 747 with a Carolina rig and a Drop Shad in about 25 feet of water. He boated it within the first 10 minutes of fishing on the first morning.
“What it does is it gives you confidence in what you’re doing,” Pace said. “It makes you believe what you’re doing is the right thing, so I could settle down and fish and fish more effectively and efficiently. That’s what you want to do — find the right thing. But if you settle on the wrong thing, there’s danger in that. Catching a big one like that gives you faith in the area of the lake that you’re fishing.”
Lake Travis, located near Austin, is known for its water clarity and its stout population of bucket-mouth bruisers.
“That lake has a lot of big fish in it,” Pace said. “There were four fish over eight pounds in the tournament.”
Next up for Pace is the Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Elite in Orange, Texas on June 7-10, as he tries maintain momentum for the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year honors. He currently stands in second behind Brent Chapman
“To win that would be a very big deal,” Pace said. “It’s something I’ve worked for my whole career. I’ve gotten close a couple times. I’ve never been able to pull off winning it. It’s a little too early in the year to be thinking about it. I’ve gotten off to a very good start. It definitely feels good to be in position the rest of the year.”
Check out the TFO blog for more info as we follow Cliff on the Bassmaster circuit.
Lake Okeechobee is one of the top bass lakes in the United States. It’s also one of the most challenging, given its sheer size and changing conditions. Two-time junior Bassmaster world champion and TFO Ambassador Joey Nania weighs in with a few tips on how to find bass in Lake O.
Preparation is Key
“The big thing is to do your research learning those key areas like the Monkey Box, certain places like that. Do your research on those backwater areas with good hard reed lines. But from what I heard the last hurricane wiped out the hard reed lines. And normally the key on that lake is finding the hard reed lines, even with the wind is blowing. Find a reed line that’s got good backwater behind it. Those kind of places are going to filter out the dirt and the sediment and the mud. Those Florida bass love to be in that clear water. Your best bet to catch them is in that not-sediment-filled water. Those reeds lines filter that out.
Expect the Unexpected Given Florida’s Recent Tropical Weather Trends
“A lot of stuff has changed. It’s one of those flat, shallow Florida lakes. A hurricane comes through and that can change the whole lake. It’s the same in Louisiana in those low-lying marshes. That vegetation can easily get ripped up and destroyed and killed. It can become a mess. Daytime decisions are a big thing. Understanding the wind, which way it’s blowing and which way things will be protected or blown out. Running away from the wind can be very important to having success.
“I’ve always done well in the rim canal, those canals that go all the way around the lake. There’s some good backwaters off those rim canals. Those places are going to stay a little more stable in terms of wind conditions and weather.”
Think Outside the Box
“The spawn is always a good time. A lot of fish will spawn through the fall and into the winter. That will depend on the conditions. One of the most fun times I know of is to go down there is post spawn — April — when the fish are still shallow, but a lot of them have done their thing. They’re just in a full feed mode. That’s a great time to swim a jig. They’re done spawning and they’re in full feed mode. They’re feeding hard. That time of year is a lot of fun.
The key is finding clean water, somewhere that’s not filthy and dirty. And then it’s a matter of figuring them out. …”
The Right Equipment
“A 7-6 heavy action rod to punch the grass mats. Something to punch with 65 to 80-pound braid, something in the 1-2 ounce range to consistently punch through with every pitch. You don’t want half your pitches not go through the mat. A heavy rod with a good backbone to throw a decent jig with a soft tip. That’s really important. I would say a 7-6 Heavy Pacemaker is a great rod. The 7-6 is a perfect length. It’s not so long that it’s overwhelming and too much to fish with. It’s a got a good bounce to it. You can flip with that thing all day and not get tired. I would use a high-gear ratio reel for the punching technique, something that can punch through those mats and get the bait back to the boat quickly to get to as many fish as possible.”
The Right Technique
“It’s about getting as many flips as you can and hitting them in the head when you’re punching. With punching, it’s important to know when you’re getting the bite and nine times out of ten, your bite comes on the initial fall when you pitch it in there and let it drop, or it will be on the first hop, when you pitch it through the mat, hop it, let it fall, and they’ll get it. And if the water is really cold, you have to hop it in the hole for a long time. Normally, it’s punch it in there, let it fall once and hop it, let it fall and get it to the next good looking area or clump.
Don’t Get Frustrated
“That lake can be overwhelming. It’s overwhelming because it all looks the same. Finding the right area that has the right water quality and grass and an abundance of different grass. Work that area. And you’ve got to think there’s a population of fish that use that backwater to spawn and go through their life cycle. It’s finding that right area, hunkering down and figuring out are they on the outer edges and outer reed lines in the deeper water, or are they up in the flats trying to spawn? Do that type of thing.
“One type of grass to look for and there are a couple different types that grow on hard bottom. One of them is Arrowhead. If I’m in Florida and I find Arrowhead grass and it grows in sand. It’s 2, 3-feet tall with a spear-shaped arrowhead on it. That’s always a good sign for hard bottom. And any time you’re around a full moon the first couple months of the year finding that Arrowhead grass with that sandy, hard bottom in those backwaters is really important.”
Manage Your Expectations
“(Lake Okeechobee) is not as good as it used to be it seems like. Lakes go through cycles and weather changes. It will rebound, but it’s down right now from what it used to be. Hopefully it rebounds strong. I’m sure it will. That’s how these lakes work. But it’s certainly not what it was at one point. It’s still a great destination, but I would wait till the water warms up a bit so you can get stable warmth before you schedule a trip, sometime in March or April. January and February in Florida is always up and down. Normally you’re going to hit a cold front of some sort.”
If you liked this story, let us know. If you want more bass fishing info, check out this interview from TFO advisor Cliff Pace.
Most fishermen hate winter fishing. But I love winter fishing. Full disclosure: I live in Florida. It’s warm pretty much year round. But even when I lived in Virginia, I liked winter fishing. Not many people fish in January and February, so chances are you will get your favorite spots all to yourself.
Here are few tips to make the best of those colder days on the water.
Wear neoprene waders. Gloves and a good thermal cap are essential. Layer up, if possible. It’s better to feel like the Michelin man than to freeze. Use a wading staff, if needed. No one wants to fall in the water. It’s uncomfortable in the summer; it’s potentially life-threatening in the winter.
Stay upright. Stay safe.
And even if you stay dry, make sure to take breaks to stay warm. Drink a cup of coffee or crank up the heat in your vehicle.
Pick the Right Water
Tailwaters are the obvious option in the winter simply because of the constant water temperature. Trout, for instance, like water temperatures in the 50s. You won’t find that water that warm in the winter — unless it’s a tailwater fishery.
My two favorites are the Nantahala in Bryson City, N.C.; the Jackson River in Hot Springs, Va.; the South Holston in Bristol, Tenn.; and the White River in Lakeview Ark. All are worth fishing, even when it’s not bone-chilling cold.
There’s no need to get up at the crack of dawn. I fish late morning until late afternoon. Sometimes, I go after lunch, when sun is up high enough to warm the water. This schedule applies to freshwater and salt.
For redfish on the Florida marsh, I wait until ankle-deep water covers the dark mud on the flats and in the creeks when the fish try to get warm off the heat from skinny water and dark bottom, always a good combination for winter fishing.
I typically fish too fast. My personality dictates more is better, particularly if the fishing is slow. This is the wrong approach in winter fishing. You need to slow down. Slow movements. Slow casts. Slow strips. Slow retrieves.
As the winter water temperature increases, a fish’s metabolism increases. Decreasing water temperature makes fish lethargic. To compensate, make accurate casts and slow down.
Use a Thermometer
The air temperature is important for personal safety. The water temperature dictates whether the fish will feed. Trout generally like temperatures in the 50s. Largemouth bass, on the other hand, prefer temperatures in the mid-60s and 70s.
I used to get wed to these guidelines, but don’t make the same mistake. Instead pay attention to whether the water temperature is moving. If you’re winter fishing, you want temperatures to rise. In the summer, you generally want temperatures to drop, preferably into each species’ feeding zone.
Temperature, of course, is only one factor in winter fishing success. But the important thing is to get out and enjoy winter fishing. Trust me, it’s worth braving the cold.
Any other tips you’d like to share, let us know with a comment or one of our social media pages.
Ever wonder if your tackle box has everything you need to catch bass? At times, we buy more and more and think we’re improving our arsenal, but more is not always better. We asked TFO’s Dakota Jones for his opinion on his top-five bass lures. Here’s what the accomplished guide had to say about his choice of go-to lures.
Look in any bass angler’s tackle box, odds are you will find at least one bag of Senkos or similar brand of this popular soft plastic. A stick bait is simply a straight soft-plastic worm with a thick body. Most anglers rig this bait weightless or weedless, but it is commonly used on wacky rigs, Texas rigs and countless other tackle configurations that require a soft plastic bait. Simplicity and versatility make this bait such a bass-catching machine. Rigged weightless, wacky style or weedless, the stickbait is a go-to in shallow water around docks, stumps, grass edges and laydowns. The Temple Fork Outfitters GTS C 735-1 casting rod is ideal for soft plastics such as a stick bait in and around cover. The 7.3 Medium Heavy will cast a weightless plastic effortlessly and accurately, but still has the power to fight and land bass living in the thick stuff. If light line is a necessity, the Temple Fork Outfitters Pacemaker TPM SP 705-1 spinning rod is a great choice for wacky rigged stick baits.
When bass live in deep water, it can be hard to beat a football jig. This style jig has an oval-shaped head, resembling a football, hence the name. Not surprisingly, it can maneuver through heavy cover, especially rocks, without snagging. Size and weight may vary, but a common choice among deep-water bassers is a ¾-ounce Football Jig and soft plastic craw shape trailer. Most fish a football jig in deep-water around rock piles, ledges or brush. The Temple Fork Outfitters TFG PSC 706-1 is a perfect match for dragging these big jigs around deep structure. With a medium-fast action the Professional Series 7-0’ Heavy will sling a jig across the lake! In addition, the TFO Professional Series is an affordable option, retailing at $99.95.
One of the oldest lures still widely used by bass fishermen today, the spinnerbait is no doubt one of the best bass catchers. Made up of multiple blades spinning on a v-shaped wire with a silicone skirt, a spinnerbait can range in size, color and shape, depending on the conditions. Although the spinnerbait can be fished in any water column and around any sort of cover, most anglers prefer to use this bait in shallow water. The Temple Fork Outfitters Pacemaker TPM SB 705-1 and 726-1 were designed by 2013 Bassmaster Classic Champion, Cliff Pace, specifically for fishing Spinnerbaits. The 7-0 Medium Heavy rod is perfectly suited for casting a spinnerbait in tight quarters. The 7-2 Heavy Model was built with bigger baits in mind, even deep-water applications. Both rods are designed with a spinnerbait action that will cast with ease.
Square Bill Crankbait
The 4×4 of all bass baits, the Square Bill is a standby for every bass angler. Easy to recognize with its short square-shaped bill, most Square Bills have two treble hooks and are designed to plow through heavy cover —- shallow rocks, stumps or laydown trees. The square-shape design allows the crankbait to deflect off cover rather than roll over and snag like a bait with a round- shaped bill would. A Temple Fork Outfitters Pacemaker TPM CB 704-1 is the perfect match for fishing Square Bill cranks around shallow cover. Its long, slow action will increase your odds of hooking and landing bass in any situation.
The Whopper Plopper
This offering started a phenomenon in the bass fishing world almost overnight: Larry Dahlberg’s Whopper Plopper is now a must-have for any hardcore bass angler. This topwater–buzz bait/walking bait hybrid has been catching loads of big bass across the country the past two years. Fish it over grass, around boat docks, bluff walls or shallow points. The Whopper Plopper is an extremely versatile topwater bait that can cover water fast. The retrieve can be as simple as cast and reel it in or add some pauses to mix it up. The 130 size is most popular among bass anglers, but is also available in sizes 90 and 110. Monofilament or braided line is best. We recommend our Professional Series PSC 765-1 casting rod for the 130-size plopper. Rod length is the key to control at long distances. If you have yet to fish a Whopper Plopper, you may be missing out on the action! Larry, by the way, is a TFO advisory staffer.
This is the second part of our interview with TFO ambassador DJ Muller, who took the time to discuss his passion for surf fishing and his favorite species, stripers. Muller, a noted author and guide, is an expert on both topics. Here’s what he had to say:
TFO: Do you see the internet as a good thing because it gives people information, but it’s a bad thing because of the way it’s been used?
DJM: “It’s totally destroyed fishing. Totally destroyed it. I know because of marketing and sales it’s helped, but it’s totally destroyed fishing. Saltwater fishing is much different that freshwater. You have migration times and heightened times of really good fishing and times of not so-great fishing, but there’s fish to be caught. In terms of migration periods, it’s very good, when you can catch ten, twenty, thirty fish a day and some big fish, so on and so forth. Normally, if you catch a few fish a week you’re happy. The thing is with the reports, they’re instant. You get a bend in your rod, somebody sees it, takes a photo and it’s up on Facebook in fifteen minutes. All of a sudden, there are fifteen guys at that spot. Kind of sucks the life out of it. It takes the fun and excitement out of fishing. It’s killed it. Destroyed it. You work to catch a fish and then somebody posts a photo on Facebook, then there’s somebody there in minutes. Guys are driving around and they get a Facebook post, so let’s go fish (this area). Then there’s fifteen trucks on the beach in twenty minutes. Totally destroyed it. It’s terrible. That’s why I really enjoy night trips, where people can’t see you. In the daytime, guys sit up on the boardwalk or in their trucks or whatever, then they’re in motion. It’s really terrible. I always pray that we catch a lot of fish at night. It’s the stealthy way to go. In general, I’m talking about extreme migration periods. I really like fishing at night, where your partner might be two hundred yards away on the next rock over. That’s what I like the most, although blitz fishing is fun. You’ll see a million peanut bunker and a thousand bass on them.”
TFO: You started with your dad, but ultimately what lured you into surf fishing? You could have gone freshwater or a different route, but why the surf?
DJM: “I used to fish the ponds and almost every day we’d fish it. I’d go sometimes, but I found it boring. It wasn’t stimulating when you’re buying worms or a night crawlers and you go out there and catch a largemouth. That was fun, but it was very limiting. Then you get in saltwater. Things change by the hour. The tides. Different levels of water. Winds. Bait migrations. Fish migrations. Mix all that together and it can be very complicated. There’s much more brainwork. You have to do a lot more thinking and processing. I’ve always said it’s like doing a crossword puzzle. Every day it’s a puzzle. You look at the clues. You put them all the together and you try to come up with something and see what works. When you’re good at it, it does work. It is a lot of fun as far as the figuring and the variables. It’s much more of a mental game. There is a physical part. You’re getting hit by waves when you’re walking across sandbars. It’s the mental, anticipating where the fish will be and why. To me, that’s very stimulating. I enjoy that a lot.”
TFO: Where’s your favorite place to fish? I’m not asking for a specific spot, but in general, where do you like to go? Do you have a favorite area? Montauk? Somewhere in North Carolina?
DJM: “I like fishing in New England. I know that’s pretty general. Block Island (in Rhode Island), which is a playground for surf fishers. Cuttyhunk in Massachusetts is playground for stripers. There’s a lot of water and not many people. Cuttyhunk has had a bass club there since 1864. It’s legendary with allure with folk history. It’s a great place with great fishing and a lot of fun. It’s a desolate island out in the ocean. There’s not a lot there, but as far as fishing, it’s one of my favorite places. There are other places — Martha’s Vineyard, Montauk. There’s a ton of places to fish, but two notable ones that I like to fish are the ones I mentioned.”
TFO: Your favorite species in the surf? And why do you like pursuing them?
DJM: “Striped bass. A hundred percent. It’s a great fish. It goes everywhere. I don’t know what it is, but the call for striped bass is very loud. Pretty much that’s all I fish for. I do some freshwater, but when it’s time to get serious, I go for the stripers. I spend a lot of time and travel in pursuit of stripers, from March until January. We’re always moving somewhere, going somewhere. Where ever they are, I go. If they’re in the back bays, we fish the back bays. If they’re in the rivers, we fish the rivers. If they’re in New England, we go up there in the summertime. After Christmas, they’re in the Outer Banks in North Carolina. It’s a fish that means a lot. It’s an intriguing fish. We do a lot to pursue and catch them. Ninety-nine percent of our fishing is catch-and-release. Most of the guys that appreciate striper fishing don’t keep them because they understand it was a resource that was depleted in the ‘90s. A lot of the guys understand that and appreciate it. A striped bass is worth a lot more alive than it is dead. That’s how I feel about catch-and-release.”
TFO: Do you fish conventional gear or fly? Both?
DJM: “I fish full spin. Ninety-five percent spin.”
TFO: What do you like about the TFO line of rods?
DJM: “I use the TFO surf rods in different situations, depending of the size of the fish and conditions. I use their Surf Series rods. They’re very good rods for the money. I do fish other rods that cost five, six, seven hundred dollars apiece. But the TFO line is a very good rod for the working man’s dollar. I do a lot of guiding with entry-level people. Most of the guys starting out, I want them to have a good piece of equipment for the money. That’s one thing that’s drawn me to TFO, that appeal. Are there things I would change on some of them? Yes, absolutely. That’s why I’m in the position to help modify some of them.”
TFO: You guide a lot of people. What’s the biggest mistake people make? Any advice?
DJM: “Most guys don’t pay attention. They don’t look at the situation. They don’t pay attention to detail and what’s going on in front of them. A lot of that is all there for you in fishing. The fish reveal themselves. A situation unfolds. If guys would study the water and see what’s going on before they cast and have a good reason to cast, they would do much better. Nine out of ten guys walk out to the water and start casting and retrieving without looking at anything. I think that’s the problem most guys run into. As I’ve gotten older, I cast less. I study what’s in front of me much more than I used to. I make much fewer casts, but those casts are high-percentage casts. My proficiency rate is much better now than it once was. My recognition is much better. You see something. You know what to do. What to put on. Where to go. How to work it. That’s really important. I teach guys that. It’s sight recognition, seeing something, then knowing what to do. You may only get one shot, so you want to do the right thing. It’s not a freshwater situation where the bass are always there. The fish could be here one day and then tomorrow afternoon, they could be thirty miles from here. So you have to see it and react and do the right thing. It’s a very impulsive sport. A guy sees a guy catch a fish over there, so then he wants to go over there.”
Some anglers fish inshore, others offshore. Some like freshwater, some prefer the salt. DJ Muller’s first love is the surf. From Maine to Cape Hatteras, Muller guides for striped bass and is the author of a handful of books on stripers. His latest work is Striper Tales: A Collection of Surfcasting Stories. The TFO ambassador was gracious enough to take a few minutes from his writing and fishing schedule to talk to TFO blog editor Mike Hodge. Here’s what he had to say.
TFO: What are your earliest memories of fishing? Did you go out with your dad, your brother, another sibling or a friend? How did you get started fishing?
DJM: “My friends and I would get out in the neighborhood and do some freshwater fishing in the pond. Then my father would take my brother and me down to the municipal docks in the evenings, when we’d catch snappers, maybe bluefish. As we got older we’d start fishing out a bit, off jetties, inlets, stuff like that, which kinda whet my appetite. I really didn’t get into it until college when I got into the striper pursuit, as opposed to a love for fishing. It turned into a striper obsession. We pretty much hunt them nine months of the year now. I travel all over the northeast looking for trophy fish.”
TFO: Who was your mentor in surf fishing? Was there anyone who showed you the way in what you know?
DJM: “Funny question. My father always took us fishing. He wasn’t a mentor, even though we grew up learning together. I really say this because it made me a good fisherman — I’m self-taught. Nobody taught me what baits worked a certain way. Nobody gave me their opinions. I didn’t have a grandfather, friend of the family, nobody. I learned by fishing, learning and reading magazines. This was before the internet. I’d read articles and try to apply it. That’s basically it. I’m self-taught. It’s funny because when I I guide, I work with a lot of guys on a lot of different levels. Some of the guys will say, ‘Well, my grandfather taught me this. He said to do this and that.’ Well, it’s totally wrong. The guy’s trying to get into striper fishing, but his foundation is a little wobbly. It’s not really clear and it’s not really accurate, what he was told as a kid or as a young man. They’re locked into these bad habits. It pushes you to the other end. They’re trying to catch fish and having a hard time doing it because they’re doing stuff wrong. They believe it’s right, but it’s wrong.”
TFO: With that trial-and-error method of learning, what kept you going? You learned by making mistakes, so progress probably was pretty slow?
DJM: “When I first started pursuing striped bass, I didn’t catch my first one for a year-and-a-half. It was extremely frustrating. You could say the first one was extremely fulfilling, extremely gratifying. I was catching big blues, which was holding me over and keeping my appetite wet, but until I got my first striper, I was frustrated, but I was working hard. I’d work, work, work and read. Work, read. Work, read. There was no internet. There was nothing to draw from. Now you sign up for Facebook, you get a post, you go out and catch five fish. There’s no work ethic and the reward is minimal. It doesn’t mean that much to those people. They read a report and go fishing. That’s the overwhelming amount of people today. They don’t want to pay dues. They just want the result. It’s a very cheap quality of satisfaction.”
Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for part II!