TFO’s redesigned Professional rod series is designed for the versatile angler of any skill level and is perfectly suited for a wide variety of species and environments.
Highly durable, standard modulus, and moderate fast action blanks with powerful butt sections, come together to create one of the best values of any rod on the market.
New to the Professional series are down-locking reel seats with hidden threads for increased comfort, Fuji Concept O-ring guides, and cork grips all combine to give you a fabulous rod, safe for use in both fresh and saltwater. The Professional series continues to use the popular TFO color coded power system so you can quickly identify which action you are grabbing when the bite is hot.
Full length grips on 7’ & 7’6” spinning rods, split grips on all remaining models.
The newly redesigned Tactical Inshore series, are specialized inshore saltwater rods, built and designed for the accomplished inshore angler looking to find a series that will fit every need they have regardless of geography.
Compared to previous models, the new Tactical Inshore features a slight reduction in the blank weight, improved balance resulting in increased sensitivity, and new down-locking reel seats with hidden threads for enhanced comfort.
The series features TFO’s sky blue finish, Fuji K Guides with corrosion control and Fazlite inserts, premium cork grips with EVA accents and butts – along with shorter split grips on rods less than 7’. Full length grips on all other models.
New to the Trout-Panfish series are two new light power models: the TPS 662-1 (6’6″ Light Power) and the TPS 702-1 (7′ Light Power). Anglers familiar with this series will appreciate these new additions for throwing larger baits, and having more hook set power. Both new models feature the same components and look as the others in the Trout-Panfish family.
Summer is upon us, and topwater season is in full swing, with big blow-ups in store! Here’s a unique approach from TFO Ambassador Jeremy Francis, to tackling three topwater techniques, and getting the most out of your rods for the topwater bite (and more)!
1). Hollow Body Frogs.
There’s not much in the world of bass fishing that yields heart-pumping topwater blow-ups like a bass crashing in on a topwater frog. While there are different frogs to consider (walking, popping, buzzing), the gear and set-up you should use are mostly the same. For starters, you need line that will float, and not stretch. Hollow Body Frogs are equipped with 2 very strong heavy gauge hooks, therefore you need strong line and a heavy rod to match. Consider 50-60 braid, especially if you like fishing a frog in and around heavy cover. The braid will give you very responsive action with zero stretch, while also cutting through any grass and vegetation a fish may try to dive into after the hookset.
For the rod, the Tactical Elite 7’4 XH (TLE SC 747-1) gets the job done. While this rod is labeled as “Moderate,” the XH power gives it a strong backbone which makes for great hooksets. The moderate action and softer tip also allows for super accurate casts when you’re trying to pick apart holes in grass mats or lily pads. For the reel, consider a model with heavier drag to pull those fish out of the thick stuff, with a high gear speed. Since you’re working the frog with the rod and not the reel, the reel speed will only come into play once you set the hook, and you’ll need and want that higher speed to keep the fish from running into the cover you just brought her out of.
Unfortunately, the frog bite can sometimes die off in mid-day with a high, bright sun. For those times, I’ll use the same 7’4 TLE SC rod, but turn to a jig, Texas rig, or big shaky head worm instead. This rod blank still gives you the great sensitivity you love from the Tactical Elite line-up, which makes for a great bottom-contact rod for dragging baits around in deeper water. If you’re fishing stained water then you can still use braid. However, if the water is clearer, consider switching out reels to 17 lb fluorocarbon. It obviously doesn’t need to float (which flouro doesn’t), and flouro still gives you great feel and very little stretch for your hooksets. This is how I turn this rod into a 2 for 1, and we’ll discuss the same methodology for the next two topwater set-ups.
2.) Big Walking Baits and Ploppers
We’re going to lump a few baits into one, as we discuss the next topwater technique that is highly effective and a lot of fun to fish! Big topwater baits equipped with treble hooks (key component here) that include: Big walking baits, the good ‘ol Whopper Plopper, or the Berkley Choppo. While each of these baits come in a smaller version of themselves, we are currently talking about the big brothers here. These baits are highly effective on shallow flats, main lake points, or fishing parallel to the bank on long casts. To help you get the most out of your casts, hook-sets, and landing ratios, the rod and line you choose make all the difference in the world!
Let’s first discuss the line. You really have two options here, and many personal preferences come into play – monofilament or braid, or a combination of the two for a third option. Both mono and braid float, but depending on how much side to side walking action you are getting or wanting out of your walking baits, braided line can sometimes fall back into the treble hooks and kill the cast/action of the lure. Mono will help prevent this. For those die-hard braid fans out there, you can still use your favorite here, just consider a monofilament leader which is a little stiffer and stays out of the way of your hooks during the walking motion. For your Whopper Ploppers or Berkley Choppo, it really comes down to personal preference between braid and mono, but I’d go with braid IF you’re also using the right rod for this application.
For rod selection, if you’re not using the Tactical Glass 7’4 MH, you should really give it a try. I can’t speak highly enough about this new glass rod (TAC GB CB 745-1). The parabolic bend in this blank allows you to cast a country-mile, but more importantly, the rod is phenomenal for hooksets with these baits. The moderate action prevents you from ripping the bait away from a fish after it explodes on your bait. After the great hookset you bestow upon this fish, you are able to keep the fish pinned with a slower response rate compared to a fast action rod, which prevents fish from throwing your bait on head shakes and brings more fish in the boat. And once the sun gets high and the topwater bite dies off, this rod makes for a great bladed jig set-up. Switch to the reel/line of your choice, but you will still experience the same benefits mid-day with this rod and a bladed jig!
3. Smaller Spooks, Poppers, and Wake Baits
Now that we’ve covered the larger variety of these baits, let’s move to the smaller versions. As much as we all love big bass on big baits, there are times that we have to come to terms with the fact that bass are keyed in on smaller bait fish. For these moments, smaller spooks or walking baits, poppers, and even smaller wake baits can really excel, especially along grass lines or under overhanging trees.
Much like above, your line needs to float here. For the same reasons mentioned above, you can choose monofilament or braid. 20-30 lb braid seems to work well with these baits, except for super clear water when monofilament may work better on a slower retrieve and with pressured fish. Reel speed doesn’t matter much so I prefer the higher/faster ratios, unless it’s for a smaller wake bait, then a slower ratio reel helps me slow down the retrieve. For rod selection, we also like to step slightly down in size and power, and use the 7’2 Tactical Glass Bass (TAC GB CB 724-1). This is still a manageable rod length for imparting walking action on these baits, and the hook-up ratio is hard to beat with this rod’s action! Both the 7’2 and 7’4 Tactical Glass Bass rods are great for topwater treble hook style baits, and you won’t want to put them down.
Last thing to mention is that the 7’2 Tactical Glass Bass rod also makes for a great crankbait rod with your favorite squarebill or lipless crank. So in between the morning and evening topwater sessions when you’re slaying ‘em, switch over to a crankbait on this rod and keep sticking them mid-day!
These three topwater techniques and rods stay on the deck of my boat at all times during the Summer months. I now actually have 2 of each so I don’t have to switch reels, and can get the exact action I need and want out of the line and reel speed. You can’t go wrong with these rods, and you if haven’t tried the Tactical Glass series yet, you really need to. The quality, benefits, and price point all come together for high performance fishing to help you land more fish and get the most out of your time on the water!
Blog written by TFO Ambassador Jeremy Francis. You can find out more at his YouTube channel Fishing The LoneStar, or follow him on Instagram here.
Often thought of as one of the toughest times to consistently catch quality bass, the late spring to early summer transition can be a challenge at times – but can also be extremely rewarding! The key is truly being versatile and not getting stuck with just one game plan in mind.
When bass finish up with their annual spawning rituals, there is a lot going on in their tiny little brains. First off is recovery – the spawn is a stressful time for a bass where they are particularly vulnerable, and are often caught by the lucky angler that lands the perfect cast on their bed. With this being said, the recovery period where a post spawn fish just truly won’t bite doesn’t last long!
Within a matter of days, a typical shallow water spawning bass will make its way offshore looking for the most healthy environment to post up in, where feeding opportunities come easy, and the water quality is the best. In most lake situations, deep water is the key to consistently catching post spawn bass.
How deep those post spawn bass might go is greatly dependent on water clarity. In muddy water situations, such as current oriented rivers and reservoirs, “deep” might be 8 to 12 feet, whereas on clear water lakes, bass might spend their post spawn days in 15 to 35 feet of water. The clarity truly makes a big difference.
Knowing where bass spawn is also very important to finding where they hang out post spawn. It’s very important that an angler must understand that different species of bass will spawn in different locations! While largemouth typically spawn in shallow protected pockets and creek arms, spotted bass and smallmouth bass often spawn on main lake banks, points, humps, and road beds. The key is finding deep water such as a point, a ledge, a brush pile, or a grass line! These places provide a safe environment that is normally rich with oxygen and baitfish where the bass can begin to feed and regain strength!
Your bait selection is the final key to catching post spawn bass, and a lot of that depends on the main forage base and the type of deep water your lake of choice has to offer. As a rule of thumb, I like to keep fast moving reaction baits and slower baits ready to go in my arsenal.
For your reaction baits, as the fish begin to recover, chatterbaits and swimbaits can be great fish catching tools. For my personal Chatterbait setup I rely on the 7’4” Medium Heavy TFO Tactical Glass Bass Rod (TAC GB CB 745-1). The balance between tip and backbone on this rod is absolutely perfect, and with light weight high quality components, I rarely miss a bite.
For my swimbait, I love the 7’4” Medium Heavy TFO Tactical Elite Bass Rod (TLE LW 74CB-1). While also being perfectly balanced, this rod has just a touch more sensitivity that allows me to detect and capitalize on light bites in deep water. For my post spawn slow moving techniques, I also keep things pretty simple rotating between a Ned Rig, a Drop Shot, and a Carolina Rig.
With all of this deep water talk, you truly do need to keep an open mind when targeting bass in any season. Remember the principal that not all bass do the same thing or behave the same at the same time! On any given day, there are tons of different ways to catch a bass and while typical post spawn fishing revolves around deep water fishing, the shallow bite should never be ignored!
When bass are finishing up their spawn, many other species such as bluegill and shad are just beginning their annual spawning rituals! With that in mind, baits such as topwater walking baits, frogs, swimjigs, and flipped soft plastics can be used with success for post spawn bass. The key for the shallow bite is low light. This traditionally means early in the morning or late in the evening but cover such as docks, grass beds, and over hanging trees can hold post spawn bass throughout the course of the day.
Keep an open mind and never kick a dead horse too long. If you do these things and rotate through all of the possible options, you will greatly reduce your bad days on the water!
By now, spring has set in for most of the US. With the longer day light hours and warmer temperatures, its arguably every angler’s favorite season to bass fish. Why? Well, your chances at catching a personal best are at its highest in the pre-spawn. Secondly, the bass go shallow and who doesn’t like to fish shallow?
Spring is also probably the only season that you can simplify by breaking down in to three phases; pre-spawn, spawn, and post spawn. This transitional time of the year can be incredible with both quantity and quality, but it can also be frustrating and downright confusing due to early spring cold fronts, some fish in all three phases, and the post-spawn “funk”.
Generally speaking, for most of the lower 48 states the spawn takes place from late March through early June. It starts earlier the further south you go and a little later the further north you go. Pre spawn fish will be at their biggest all year because the females are full of eggs, spawning fish are on beds and are tricky to catch with a lot of “sight fishing”, and during the post-spawn period you’ll have fish eager to eat but sometimes they’ll be in what a lot of anglers like to call the “post spawn funk” for a short while after spawning where the bass aren’t spawning or feeding heavily.
The way I approach this time of year is to be versatile and prepared. I fish out of a kayak, so I have to be mindful and really dial in what I bring on the water because my storage capacity is fairly small. Even with the storage options on my Hobie Pro Angler 12 MD360, things can get crowded QUICK! That said, I typically bring 10 to 12 rod and reel combo’s, 6-7 3700 series Plano tackle boxes, and enough soft plastics to cover the basics of flipping, worms and trailer options. The amount of rods allows me to pre-rig different techniques in multiple sizes and/or colors so that I’m better prepared for the water conditions and situations that may arise.
The bite windows this time of year are typically small, so I get on the water as early as possible and I stay late so that I can pay attention to the times of the day when the fish are biting. To help clue me in to when and where I should be fishing, I focus on the following factors:
Length of day
Longer day time hours = more sun warming the water. Bass really start to get active when the water reaches 50 degrees and generally spawn in water temps between 55-75 degrees water temperature.
Weather trend 2-3 days prior
The early spring can be volatile with cold fronts, so ideally I want stable weather in the days leading up to my time on the water.
Hard bottom areas of the lake
During this time of year, they like to congregate around hard bottom areas so they can move up to feed up and spawn when the time is right. I’ve seen beds on top of lay downs, next to stumps, on rocks, and on cypress knee root systems.
Southern facing shallow pockets, bays, coves, flats and creek arms are high-percentage areas protected from North winds. However, I don’t mind a South wind as it can sometimes help turn on the bite. I’ve had some very special days in the pre-spawn with a south wind.
This time of year, being versatile is a big factor while ultimately, the conditions will dictate what I’m throwing. I’m focusing a lot on reaction baits like a chatterbait or crankbait, but im also prepared with the slower techniques, like a jig, Texas-rigged creature and yes, the ol’ trusty Yamamoto Senko ready to go.
Once the water is above 50 degrees, I’ll start covering water with a chatterbait or a top water like a buzzbait. If I start with a topwater like a buzzbait, I like throwing a 3/8 oz with a buzz frog instead of a skirt and I’ll throw that until the sun gets over the horizon or until the bite goes away. Then I’ll switch to a chatterbait since it’s an incredibly versatile lure and catches big fish. Up shallow, I’ll throw a 3/8 oz with a Yamamoto Zako trailer and if I’m fishing in water 5-10 feet, I’ll throw a ½ oz and let it sink to the bottom before I start to retrieve. With both the buzzbait and chatterbait, the one thing I see a lot of people do is “chuck-&-wind”, which will catch fish, but it sort of takes away from the versatility of each lure. Instead of just casting and reeling, try doing short twitches of the rod during the retrieve when the lure gets near an object. Also try different retrieve speeds like slow-rolling or burning.
I keep a spinnerbait and swimjig ready as pinch-hitters for the chatterbait. If there is a lot of snags or heavy vegetation, I’ll switch to a swimjig or if the wind is heavy then ill go to a spinnerbait. Though I will say, I don’t have any hard rules and I’ll swap in between the three at any moment I feel I may need to.
If I approach some stumps or a laydown, I’ll swap out with a squarebill crankbait and work it along the edges, bouncing it off every stump, stick and branch I can.
If these techniques don’t elicit a reactive strike, then I will start picking apart every lay down and piece of wood I come across with a jig, creature or worm in no specific order. Bass love to use wood as cover and they’re known to spawn on and around wood, since it offers a form of hard bottom and also protection.
If I come across bass on beds, these slower presentations are the ticket. I’m not big on bed-fishing because you can often waste a lot of your day trying to catch one fish, but I also don’t want to cause more stress on the fish. However, even blind casting you are bound to catch spawning fish so take it for what its worth.
The frog and big glidebait/soft swimbait are my “special teams” lures. For example, if I come up on a random clump of grass along the bank or there is a thick tangle of wood. I’ll work a frog over and through it. Or say I find a brushpile on my side imaging sonar, I’ll throw the glide bait over it or bring the big soft swimbait through it hoping to find a monster female bass looking for a big lazy meal. That isn’t to say these baits are ONLY good for these scenarios, you could definitely fish them both all day. I just choose to reserve them for high-percentage areas during the pre and post-spawn.
This rod performs exceptionally well with chatterbaits, offering enough tip flex to let the fish eat the bait better and to keep the hook pinned, while also having enough backbone to drive a hard hookset and also helps snap your lure free of grass. You get all this in a very light and sensitive rod.
Flipping and bottom baits like a jig, t-rigged creature, and worms, I use the Tactical Elite Bass 7’4” Heavy (TLE SC 746-1). This is a great all-around rod and I’ll have one rigged for both heavy and light applications. Lite applications is the Shimano Antares 7.4:1 for light weight applications with 17 lb fluorocarbon. Heavier applications is the Shimano SLX MGL 70, 7.1:1 with 40 lb braid.
Frogs & Swimbaits:
My clean-up hitters get the heavy rod treatment. For frogs, I like the Tactical Elite Bass 7’2” Heavy (TLE SB 726-1) paired to an 8.4:1 speed Shimano Exsence 8×5 DC, spooled with 50lb braid. For big glidebaits and soft swimbaits, I call on the Mag Heavy 7’11” GTS Swimbait (GTS BBC 7116-1) paired with a Shimano Tranx 301 5.8:1 speed reel and 20-25 lb fluorocarbon. This rod works beautifully with hard and soft baits between 6-10” with a soft enough tip to cast these heavy lures long distances, paired with a stout backbone to really drive the hook hard and cranking big fish in.
Blog written by TFO Pro Staffer Rob Kretsch. You can find out more about Rob here.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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 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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Stay tuned for Part 2 of this blog for early Spring tactics!
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 Bassseries 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
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 ™
Not many 19 year olds can say they’ve won three Bassmaster High School National Championships, but TFO Ambassador Tucker Smith can proudly say he has. Last weekend, Tucker and his teammate Hayden Marbut won the Mossy Oak Fishing Bassmaster High School National Championship presented by Academy Sports + Outdoors on Kentucky Lake with a final three-day total of 47-5. It was Tucker’s third-straight title win, and the first for his teammate Hayden.
The tournament was not a cakewalk by any means for Tucker and Hayden. Originally scheduled to be in August, the tournament was rescheduled due to COVID to late October. Although Tucker had fished Kentucky Lake before, fishing it at a very different time of year brought many challenges – including cooler water and air temperatures, heavier winds, different holding spots for fish, and a change in eating patterns/behaviors. Tucker and his teammate were able to have very productive practices to adjust to these changes, but also had the right tools to get the job done.
This week we caught up with Tucker while he took a break from his virtual freshman year classes at Auburn University to get the scoop on the Championship win, the TFO rods that helped him bring home the gold, but also to get some backstory on Tucker on how he got into competitive fishing, and how he became a part of the TFO family.
Where did you grow up and how long have you been fishing?
I grew up in Birmingham, Alabama fishing around the Coosa River. I’ve been fishing for as long as I could remember. My Dad, Uncle, and my grandfather really got me into fishing. Eventually, I met local competitive angler, guide, and TFO Ambassador Joey Nania. Joey was kind of a mentor to me growing up.
How did you and Joey meet?
Mutual friends. My Dad had a friend that recommended we fish with Joey for a guided trip when I was 14 or 15 years old. We did a trip with Joey and caught a ton of fish and had a great time. I started fishing with Joey a lot more after that. We became buddies and he started taking me out fishing just for fun outside of guide trips. He kind of showed me the ropes. We’re still good friends today.
When did you start fishing competitively?
I started fishing competitively in high school when I was a freshman. I did a few tournaments in middle school, but didn’t really start fishing the “bigger” tournaments until I got on the high school fishing team.
How long have you been fishing TFO?
I’ve been fishing with TFO as long as I’ve been fishing with Joey. He was a huge supporter of TFO rods when I started fishing with him. I got comfortable using the rods competitively in my high school tournaments. I wanted to get more involved with TFO, and thankfully not long after I won my first championship my sophomore year, I became a Youth Ambassador for TFO.
Let’s talk about the tournament. When was it originally supposed to happen?
It was supposed to be in August at the same location the tournament has been the last two years – Kentucky Lake. When it got postponed due to COVID, it was definitely a challenge because we were fishing this lake at a totally different time of year. The fish were focused on completely different baits and holding in different spots as well. We had to adapt and catch them outside of what we had done historically there.
What were conditions like throughout the tournament in late October, compared to what they would have likely been in August? How did you adjust and adapt to this change?
Typically in August, its 95 degrees and you’re having to take your sunglasses off every five minutes because they’re getting fogged up with sweat. Late October, the first couple of days were nice in the high 60s/70s, but the last day it really dropped – mid 30s with high winds. It was pretty miserable that last day.
For the most part we were throwing topwater the whole tournament, but on the last day when it was windy and got down in the 30s, we had to get a little deeper.
What TFO rods were you using? Why did you choose that rod and stick with it versus using others?
I was using the 6’10” Medium Tactical Elite Bass almost the entire time. I was throwing topwater most of the tournament. That 6’10” is perfect for working a spook. I was using that most of the tournament. For this type of topwater fishing, you really want a shorter rod so you can work the bait not hit the water with your rod every time you jerk it. The Medium Action has enough to give to load up with those treble hooks, so they don’t sling it when they jump.
We were catching 3-7 pound fish. When they have a big topwater in their mouth jumping with treble hooks, you need that rod to bend and give them some space to jump. That’s why I went with the 6’10 Medium Tactical Elite Bass. For the rest of my setup, I was using 40 lb. braid to a Shimano Curado K (7:1).
Would you have used this same setup (topwater) in August?
In August, we were throwing a lot of chatterbaits and I was using the 7’3” Medium HeavyTactical Elite Bass. That’s actually my favorite rod because of the versatility of it – you can throw so many things on it. It’s a great chatterbait rod.
Give us a breakdown of the days of the tournament. Sounds like you guys had a pretty successful first day out.
A few weeks prior to the tournament, we were fortunate enough to get some practice time on the lake. We fished five days, daylight to dark before we got cut off to practicing. When it came to be the official tournament practice days, we went back and checked all the baits that worked for us during those five days of scouting practice, and cut the hooks off so that we wouldn’t catch the tournament fish, but we could see where they were.
We were throwing topwater, so you could easily see when they’d come up and eat. We’d work down these long main river flats and bars until we’d get bit. Whenever we’d get a bite, there’d be a few others as the fish were usually schooled up. Once we’d find these spots, we mark it down for actual tournament days.
On Day 1, the conditions were perfect – calm, no wind. We hit up a few of the spots that we had marked during practice, but we weren’t getting into any big numbers. We eventually moved to another spot we had marked. After a few casts of no bites, I noticed an indention in the flat that looked really good about a hundred yards down the flat. After I got on the trolling motor and got close enough, I made a cast and caught a 4 lb. smallmouth. My buddy picked up his rod, made a cast in there, and caught a 7.5 largemouth (which was the biggest fish of the tournament). I threw back in there again and caught another 4lb smallmouth, he threw in after me and caught a 4lb smallmouth, then I followed up again and caught a 3 lb smallmouth. So after all that, we had 22 pounds in five casts in five minutes. It was the craziest five minutes of fishing in my life. We ended up getting biggest bag and biggest bass of the tournament on that first day.
Day 2 – We started with the spot where we caught the big bag from the day before. The wind had picked up making the water really choppy and they just weren’t hitting topwater. We were able to get eight 3+ lb bites, but they just wouldn’t eat it. My buddy snagged a 4lb smallmouth with a spook in the back of the head cause they were just basically slapping at our bait at that point.
We decided to switch up our tactics. I grabbed a 7’3” Medium Heavy Tactical Elite Bass with a rattle trap and caught a 4lb smallmouth, and then the next cast I caught one over three pounds – so at that point we had three good ones in the box.
We tried another spot later in the day where I caught another bass pushing 4 pounds on the 6’10” Medium Tactical Elite Bass. We ended up getting two more at that spot and filled our limit for the day. We ended up with a bag of 17.5 for that second day.
Day 3 – This was a super rough day with 20-degree temperature drop and very strong winds. They actually almost didn’t let us go out, but after a 45-minute delay, they ended up letting us go. Right out of the marina we were hitting 4-foot waves. It was rough.
We knew we had a good lead amongst the other teams from our previous two days, but still needed to get fish in the boat. We ended up getting two 4 lb. fish, but it was really tough.
We ended up winning by 10 pounds, but it was funny the way we found out. We were the last ones to pull up to the weigh in because the judges typically put the people they think are going to win in the back. When it came to be our turn, they called out “Alright boys, you want to come on up here and weigh your fish, or do you want to just come get your trophy because you’ve already won without weighing in your fish.” We would have won by 3 pounds if we haven’t weighed our fish in from that last day, but after we did weigh in, we ended up winning by 10 pounds.
Now that the tournament is over, you’re back at school for your freshman semester at Auburn now. What’s next for you in terms of fishing and life?
I’m on the Auburn Bass Fishing team right now, and I’m currently majoring in Business. My goal is to fish all these college tournaments and make it to the National Championship. If you make it to that and get in the top four, you can make it to the Classic Bracket. If you win in the Classic Bracket, then you get to fish in the Bassmaster Classic – which is the biggest tournament in bass fishing. That’s my dream.
Other than that, I’ll fish some Opens, and maybe fish some Toyota events as well. Try to qualify for the Bassmaster Classic through that as well.
Have you thought about guiding some? I’m sure you’ll want to focus on your competitive fishing first, but have you thought about doing some guiding down the road?
I’ve definitely thought about it, but you’re right – mainly focusing on fishing competitively right now. I might pick up some guiding in the summer when I’m back home. We’ll see..
If you could only take one TFO rod with you – doesn’t matter what time of year or the conditions – what TFO rod would you take and why?
If I could take one, I’d probably take the 7’3” Heavy Tactical Elite Bass. I think it’s the most versatile. I like the Medium Heavy too, but if you have that Heavy, you can do flipping, frogging, throw a jig, chatterbaits, big swimbaits, A-rig. You can throw most of what you need to make it work.