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A Few Tips for the Hearty Smallmouth Bass Angler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Things to Know Before Your Guided Fishing Trip

I’ve taken dozens of guided fishing trips – from as far west as Montana to as far south as the Virgin Islands. Most of the trips have been good. A few, have not.

I have guided and been guided, so I’ve been on both sides of the skiff. I’ve worked in a fly shop. I’ve been a customer. There hasn’t been much I haven’t seen in more than 30-plus years of fly fishing.

There’s no way to ensure a great fishing trip. There are simply too many variables to control. However, there are a handful of things you, as an angler, can do to help avoid those forgettable guided fishing trips.

Practice Makes Perfect

Fishing requires different skill sets. It doesn’t matter if it’s fly or spin.

Bonefishing requires a double haul. Freshwater trout require precision and line control. Smallmouth bass require long casts with big poppers.

Very few anglers have every skill mastered, so the key is to focus on the type of fishing you will most likely encounter and master that scenario, over and over. In your backyard, or on your local stream or pond.

Failure to Prepare Is Preparing to Fail

Pack early. Not the night before. Start packing at least a week out. Of course, you can’t have everything packed, but at least start organizing your tackle, clothes and gear. Chip away, so when the night before the trip arrives, you’re merely tying up loose ends — and not starting from scratch.

If you wait until the night before, you’ll be stressed. You’ll either run late or forget a key piece of gear, which leads to even more stress, which means you won’t enjoy your trip.

One last thing: Be on time. Timing is everything, fishing. I know a saltwater guide, whose clients arrived an hour and a half late without rigged rods and reels. Fortunately, a breeze sustained an incoming tide that saved the day, but it’s best not to rely on mother nature for a bailout.

Honesty is the Best Policy

Tell your guide what you want — from the type of fish you want to catch, and how you want to catch them. Part of that equation is a realistic assessment of your skill level. It’s best to low-ball your ability. Double hauling 70 feet of line in your yard on a windless weekend afternoon is not the same as being able to duplicate that feat while trying to maintain your balance on the bow of a skiff with a swell. If your guide knows your skill level ahead of time, he or she should be able to put your in situations where you can be successful.

Do Your Homework

You and the guide, to some extent, are a team. It’s a working relationship. To fortify that relationship, personalities have to mesh. No one can change their personality. That’s why it’s important to find a guide that matches your personality and needs.

If you want a guide who’s patient with beginners, state that goal before you agree to a trip. If you want a high-octane guide who can put you on big fish, that’s different. Ask for references. Check at the local fly shop. More often than not, you’ll be glad you did.

Be Realistic ON YOUR GUIDED TRIp

Many clients assume that hiring a guide ensures success. It does not. There’s no question that hiring a good guide can increase the likelihood of catching fish. Good guides know where the fish are and how to catch them, but typically that’s under standard conditions. Sometimes conditions change. Weather patterns can be tough to predict. Tailwater releases can be random. Sometimes the fish don’t want to eat, even when conditions are favorable.

I don’t evaluate a guide on the quality of fishing. I evaluate on the quality of effort and professionalism. Guides can’t control the former. They can control the latter, and I tip accordingly, usually 20 percent.

One last thing: Bring cash for the tip. It’s much easier than a check or debit card at the end of a long day on the water.

 

Any other suggestions for getting ready for a guided trip, let us know on one of TFO’s social media pages.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TFO: What appeals to you about bass fishing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Pace Qualifies for the Bassmaster Classic, but hopes for a Better 2019

The 2018 Bassmaster Elite series is nearly over. For Cliff Pace, it’s time to take inventory of the season, what went right, what went wrong and what could have been.

Bottom line: There were some good tournaments, just not enough of them.

“I had some bumps in the road,” Pace said during a phone interview from his Petal, Miss. home earlier this week. “I didn’t have the year I wanted to have. I definitely fell short (of my expectations).”

The TFO advisor logged two top 10 finishes, but clearly left the water wanting more. Even though Pace didn’t string together enough quality catches to win an event, he did grind out enough placements to finish 26th  (out of a field of 110) in the Bassmaster Angler of the Year race, which propelled him to a coveted spot in the 2019 Bassmaster Classic, an affair that’s considered the Super Bowl of competitive bass fishing.

Fifty of the world’s premier anglers will gather in Knoxville, Tenn. next March to compete for $1 million in prize money. The winner of the 2019 Classic earns $300,000.

Pace won the 2013 Classic. So far he’s competed in seven Classics. Knoxville will make No. 8.

“That’s something we always look at all year long,” Pace said. “It’s always a goal. To qualify for the Classic is always a big deal. That’s always a goal going in.”

Pace finished a respectable 25th at the Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championship last month in Hiawassee, Ga. Other 2018 highlights were a third-place effort at Texas Fest and a seventh-place showing at the Bassmaster Elite/Mississippi River.

His primary weakness, in retrospect, stemmed from a lack of consistency. Competitive anglers often have to make quick decisions during the course of a weekend tournament. If Plan A doesn’t work, what do you for Plan B and equally important, how long do you wait before implementing Plan B?

“The tournaments I did well in the game plan, played out the way I planned it,” said Pace, who helped design TFO’s Pacemaker series. “Where I struggled this year was where I had to scramble. I didn’t scramble very well this year. Same thing happened at Lake Oahe. Same thing at St. Lawrence Seaway.  The good tournaments are easy. Everything goes to plan. The bad ones are the ones that are hard. If I could have scrambled in the tournaments I did bad in and figure out how to get from the back of the pack toward the middle, that would have made a huge difference in the (Angler of the Year) points. To me going into next year, (scrambling) is what I need to work on. Knowing when to throw away (what you saw) in practice and start over and being able to piecemeal together (a solid tournament) is something we all face as fishermen.

“Every day we fish, there are always changing conditions. I have to be able to put two and two together faster and get something going; it’s critical to the success of the tournament fisherman. I had some opportunities to accomplish that this year and I didn’t.”

With several months before the start of the 2019 Bassmaster Elite season, Pace, 38, will use the downtime to recharge, get organized, wrap up some off-water commitments and maybe find a little time to hunt.

“At the end of the season, my tackle is in disarray and scattered all over,” Pace said. “I need to reorganize my boat and things of that nature. And I like to spend some time away from fishing. I love to archery hunt. I may get some fishing in there, too. I may not always bass fish. We’re close to the gulf here in Mississippi. I love to saltwater fish for fun. I love to catch redfish. That helps with the competitive grind of professional fishing.”

As the months pass and the start of the professional tournament circuit draws closer, Pace will be prepping for what he hopes will be a more productive 2019.

“Any new equipment I’m going to fish with, I like to get that in my hands as soon as possible and fish with it,” Pace said. “I want to be ready and satisfied with everything. Also, it’s a time to work on something that I’m struggling with, a technique or whatever. That’s pretty what I like to do. Sometimes I’ll travel to a body of water that I know is on the schedule next year to familiarize myself with it.”

Rod Repair 101: The Basics of TFO’s Warranty Program

TFO has offered the same no-fault lifetime warranty on all its fishing rods since being founded in 1995. Today, the warranty program is a core part of our business and an area that we’re constantly working to improve, so that it represents another value-based reason to be a TFO angler.

When a TFO rod is broken, we always want to get a TFO angler back on the water with as little hassle as possible. And with this goal in mind, our warranty program is built on two simple principles: First, we run it as a break-even part of our business – no profit. This means we charge the least amount possible to quickly repair or replace rods to get them back in the hands of TFO anglers. Second, we always try to be fair or in the angler’s favor when we make a warranty decision.

Sustaining these principles is getting more difficult for a few interesting reasons. First, all the major fishing rod manufacturers make very good rods. As a result, it is extremely rare that a rod breaks because of manufacturing or material defects. Tom Kirkman’s article Rod Failure does a great job of exploring the subject and provides easy-to-use examples to determine why a rod broke. We never like to be the bearer of bad news to our anglers, and the “why-your-rod-really broke” conversation can sometimes feel unfair.

Second, about 10 percent of the rods sent to us include no information about the owners. Nothing – no phone number, no address, no email. We just get a broken rod. Over the course of few months, this can quickly add up to many “orphaned” rods at TFO. We take great care of each one, but reuniting angler and rod doesn’t always go as smoothly as we’d like.

A related tragedy is when anglers don’t know that shipping companies have invented machines that survive by consuming unsuspecting fishing rods returned for warranty. Trust me, high-speed conveyor belts and fishing rods do not mix well. Last month a warranty rod arrived wrapped in cellophane with a shipping label stuck on it! It was not in good shape!! Always follow the warranty return instructions, and think defensively when shipping your fishing rod!

However, the above problems pale in comparison to a new reality – counterfeit and used rods sold as new. When we warranty a rod that was purchased “used” (and damaged) or replace a fake rod with a real TFO rod, the cost of warranty for every TFO angler goes up. We are deeply committed to the principles of fairness and minimized costs. Both of these principles are in jeopardy when anglers buy rods from folks other than our dealers and expect us to provide warranty service. While we will always go out of our way to help any angler, at the end of the day our loyalty will be to TFO anglers and the dealers that support them.

Lastly, a remark recently on our social media feed said, “if that’s the warranty program, then I’ll never need to buy another rod?” Exactly.

The Axiom II Switch Steals the Show

As a college athlete, Nicholas Conklin celebrated the joy of victory. Nearly a half dozen years later, he realized of one of the fundamental tenets of human nature.

Winning never gets old.

It still feels good, regardless of the stage. It doesn’t matter whether you play lacrosse or whether you market fly rods.

So it was nearly two weeks ago at 2018 ICAST, when Conklin heard the announcement that the Axiom II Switch, the rod that Conklin helped design and now promotes, won best-in-show honors for 2-handed/Spey rods at IFTD (International Fly Tackle Dealer), one of the premier fly-fishing trade shows.

“There’s definitely a lot of satisfaction, a lot of happiness with the award,” Conklin, TFO’s director of two-handed fly rods, said. “Awards are awards, right? It’s good because now people will be talking about TFO more.”

Moments before the IFTD awards were announced, Conklin paced the Orlando (Fla.) Orange County Convention Center floor in anticipation. When he heard the news, he could barely compose himself enough to text the good news to fellow TFO coworkers back in Dallas.

“It far surpasses anything that I did athletically or professionally,” Conklin said. “It means a lot more because there are so many people here at TFO that are passionate about the company and the sport. Their passion helped me get to this point.  It’s important to so many other people.”

The honor was the second this summer for the Axiom II Switch, which also won best new product (in the fly rod category) honors at EFTTEX (European Fishing Tackle Trade Exhibition) last month in Amsterdam.

“It’s definitely rewarding to get some outside attention,” Conklin said. “Both (the EFTTEX) and IFTD are rewarding. We’ve recently made an effort to better understand our international distributors’ needs and how to better orient our products to their markets. It definitely gives us a leg up going into 2019, (at EFTTEX).”

The ICAST/IFTD win was the first time in Temple Fork Outfitters’ history that a TFO rod received best-in-show recognition.

“We’ve won awards for a reel before, not a rod,” Conklin said. “Awards from both (EFTTEX) and (IFTD) have their place. Both are very exciting. It’s hard to put one over the other.”

Awards are gratifying, but the opinions that count the most come from the anglers who cast the rods, and the feedback, Conklin said, has been flattering.

“There’s been a lot of excitement,” Conklin said. “We’ve had success with the Deer Creek series. People were waiting for something new. We’ve had a lot of positive comments, just because of what it can do.”

The Axiom II Switch’s appeal is its versatility. You can throw lead, fish with an indicator or swing flies — and do so efficiently.

“The rod’s ability to cast different variations of weight has really excited people,” Conklin said. “It’s something new and exciting. That’s always big. The ability to do several different things with it lets people start to understand where they can put a two-handed rod in their arsenal. They certainly understand the different benefits of it in areas that they’re fishing.”