The First Fish of Spring

Picture this.

It’s thirty-four degrees. The sky is a light grey, clouds rolling in and the ground is covered in yesterday’s flurries. There’s a crisp breeze at your neck, and the double layer you have on isn’t enough to keep it from biting. The trees are void of leaves and buds, and the grass is dead all around you.

Where are you? When are you?

The answer should never be Missouri in April.

However in the year 2018, this is the state of the world. It’s bitter cold, there seem to have been more snowfall days than in February, and the low temperature of most days is ten degrees lower than the historical average. Yet with any set of data, there are outliers that even the playing field, and create the average. April 12th was such a day.

With a forecast high into the eighties, I sent a message to a buddy named Coach.

“Montauk Thursday?”

I didn’t get a reply, but I knew I would see him the next day at work. His name’s Jake, but at work he’s know as Coach. At work, I’m Tanto, but both of those are beside the point. Jake is thirty years or more my elder, but when you have a love for fish, everybody speaks the same language. After dropping off my visiting mother at the airport, I flew about nintety down highway fourty-four to the Phillips 66 in St. Clair. Jumping in Jake’s truck, we made the near two hour trek to Montauk State Park, where the trout were sure to be biting. As we bought our daily tags, we asked a fellow angler what they were biting today.

“Everything.” He said. “Now I just have to find out what the big ones are eating.”

Neither Jake or I care to catch the biggest fish in the river. We would never turn it down, but we would rather catch thirty fish a day than one monster fish.

We started on the water just up from the dam in the fly-only zone. Jake hooked into a fish on his third cast, and I was upstream one hundred yards missing the hook set on five different takes. I walked back down to the dam, and began casting. We stayed in the area for about half an hour, and after a pair of fish each, we figured we should try out some new-to-us water.

Jake walked ahead, and I spent some time drifting some nymphs through some faster runs. I only hooked into one fish there, almost completely on accident. I knew the cast was good, and as I stumbled through the rocks I glanced up just in time to find my griffith’s gnat disappearing beneath the surface. I set the hook, fully expecting to be hung up in the sticks and rocks littering the bottom. To my surprise, a nice rainbow was pulling back, darting in and out of current and under the rocks in the deep blue pool. I’m fated to never know how nice of a rainbow though, he tossed the hook just after I found my feet and pulled out my net.

A few yards down river, I see a nice fish suspended just in front of a boulder, riding the pillow of water and relaxing as food filtered straight into it’s waiting mouth. I placed my fly a few feet upstream, and after numerous refusals, I heard Jake shout.

“Josiah, come over here!”

I walked over to see Jake standing at the edge of a sandy drop-off, just short of a schooled up ball of trout.

“Come cast in here, they’re eating good.”

I make two false casts, and drop my triple rigged flies into the pool. First cast, fish on. Delivering a nice fish to hand, I moved down stream to the next pool and started fishing my own school. We stayed in the pool for a long while, both bringing more than a handful of fish to hand.

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Jake with a quick release

Check back tomorrow for the final, most productive fishing run of our day.

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Rippin’ Sticks for Rippin’ Lips

Two weeks after I started this website, I received an email. It was from a guy I had never heard of, never met, with a company I knew nothing about. He did, however, say that he represented Rapala baits. He wanted to know if I would be willing to feature some articles and events, and possibly test out some baits. I of course agreed, still thinking in my mind that this was a scam. There’s no way I could be fortunate enough to start a website, and get an offer to write and review baits for the most well known company in hard baits.

Well, I was.

Around the middle of March, I received a box in the mail. Not uncommon, I order things and forget all the time. What caught my attention was the address, Minnesota. The same area where my contact at Rapala worked. In a matter of 4 days, I had went from thinking everything was still a scam, to having a box of 10 baits to work and fish with. So, I set out to review.

There was an unboxing video posted on our Facebook page, taken live. The problem is, Missouri weather has been terrible. Only a couple of days have seen the 70s, and all of our water is still icy cold. Nonetheless, baits need to be thrown, and fish caught.

First up, the jerkbaits. Rapala makes a few in their Shadow Rap series, and they sent me both the Shadow Rap and the Shadow Rap deep. Due to the cold water temperatures, they have been the only baits that are producing fish. The rip-stop motion, with the long floating pause have been huge strike producers, even though the fish have been small.

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Let’s start with the Shadow Rap. It’s about 4 1/2″ long, and the Albino Shiner color is awesome. Bright on an overcast day, the rattles inside trigger violent strikes, even from smaller fish. As shown in the picture above, this fish is just under twice the length of the bait, and it hit like a 14lb bowling ball.

Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. The actual review, and results of this stellar bait.

Good:

This bait swims flawlessly. Every cast, every rip, the bait swims in a very erratic pattern, and the slow sinking motion holds the bait suspended very nicely. The bait is very smooth as well, making every motion in a very deliberate manner without looking unnatural.

Great:

The strikes. The lifelike colors on the body, and the rattles inside create a sound that is irresistible to bass, even when the water is cold. Every fish felt like it had come straight out of a refrigerator, but hit the bait like it had never eaten before.

Not So:

Inevitably, all baits have something lacking. In a company like Rapala, there are engineers and pro staff far more knowledgeable and skilled that I. No matter what, there will always be some issues. I wish this bait dove more. When it says “Slow Sinking”, it truly means it. When left to sit on the water, it moves about an inch a minute. This is awesome for triggering strikes, but not so great when the fish are cold and deep.

Rapala fixed this problem by creating the Shadow Rap Deep. (Notice the flawless transition there? I did.)

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Where the Shadow Rap Succeeds, the Deep also succeeds. Mostly.

Good:

Unlike the shallow version of this bait, it has a very high sink rate. Being the same length, this is awesome for creating versatility in a tackle box without sacrificing the specifics that you need. All too often baits get bigger as they get deeper, and that’s not always what you need.

Great:

Again, the strikes on this bait are second to none. Hit hard, hit fast, and never missing a hook-up. The triple treble hooks mean that no matter where the fish strikes, there’s suer to be something razor sharp waiting to grab on and hold tight.

Not So:

Not mentioned above, but present in both models of Shadow Rap are the three treble hooks. While marvelous for hook ups, they can be a nightmare for anglers and fish alike. Call me picky, but I prefer to miss one fish a day than get stabbed by a hook, or have a rear hook flip around and accidentally find the eye or dorsal of the fish. In the past I have fished the Shadow Rap Shad, and the two hooks present are more than enough to hold any strike to the body, head and tail of the bait.

Final thoughts:

This bait will never leave my box. Great on rivers, great on lakes, and absolutely killer on the ponds I tested these baits. Between the shallow running Shadow Rap, and the further sinking Deep, this bait covers the entire water column and then some, triggering strikes all across the country. If you find yourself fishing early spring or any time post summer, do yourself a favor and put a couple of these into your box.

April Fly: Meaty Morsel

Ah, Spring.

The leaves are starting to come in. The flowers are budding and trees are beginning to brighten. Fish are spawning, turkeys are gobbling, and the life is returning to nature.

Unless, you live in Missouri.

Water is high and stained and it snowed twice in the last 4 days. Temperatures fluctuate from 25 degrees for the youth turkey opener to mid 70s later this week. Nothing about this is spring. This is undoubtedly a confused, late blooming winter.

But in these dark, dreary cold times, trout are alive. Alive, thriving, and hungry for a large piece of meat after a winter of midges, nymphs, and small emergers. Thus, the Woolly Bugger. Bass, crappie, catfish, gar, salmon, char, and a variety of saltwater species have all fallen for the fly that imitates nothing, and everything. For my purposes in the next month, this fly is for trout. It’s a perfect streamer pattern that gives a large target, and entices big fish as a meal that will hold them over for a little longer than a scud.

Tying this fly, I used a size 4 hook. It’s maybe a little bigger than necessary, but I wanted a large fly for large rainbows during spring turkey camp. Starting with black thread and black chenille, I decided to tie the first one without a maribou tail. Smaller without the tail, I decided to add a rib of peacock hearl to add a bit of flash to the body. The second, third and fourth ties used a black maribou tail, and they turned out much better. DSC08117.JPG

I realized very quickly that I haven’t tied a woolly bugger in a long time, but it was one of the first flies I ever tied. My grandparents gifted me a small fly tying box kit, and inside were all the ingredients for tying a woolly, a grasshopper, and a few other basic flies. Admittedly, I was terrible at it. My heads were terrible, my knots thick and garbage, and my wraps sloppy. In fact, I wasn’t too big of a fan.

Fast forward a couple 10 years, and here we are. I tied this fly completely from memory, and after the first two I really found the stride. Starting with the thread wraps along the body, I secured the maribou, hackle and chenille. Chenille wraps first, towards the bend in the shank and then back up to the hook eye. Creating the body first, residual gaps in the wraps leave perfect slots for the hackle to sit in as the wraps work forwards. DSC08119By far, my favorite fly of the day was the only non-black one I made, and the body was different from the others as well. Instead of chenille, I decided to make the body out of rabbit dubbing, with a multi-color mix of orange, yellow, white, and grey.DSC08123.JPG

With an olive maribou tail, this fly is non-conventional and perfect. In my mind, most flies will work, as long as you are confident in the fly itself.

I’ve got a fantastic trip coming up. A media camp running camera and hunting turkeys. Our cabin sits on pristine trophy trout waters, and Missouri doesn’t allow hunting after 1pm. You can be sure that as soon as the morning hunt ends, I’ll spend my evenings on the water slinging big flies at the fish of a lifetime.

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Bassmaster Classic 2018 Angler Spotlight

Part three of our Angler spotlight starts now!

Seth Feider is a relative newbie on the Bassmaster Elite series, and this will be his first ever Classic. He’s got the mindset of a veteran though, and is hopeful that he’ll be coming out on top. As far as being a favorite, he’s a little farther down on the list that our other two anglers. That comes mainly from the type of bass being targeted in this Classic. If the fish were bronze-backed smallmouth instead of large, Feider would no doubt be a clear choice for top honors

With all of this in mind, Seth is taking a very open minded approach to the weekend.

“I’m going to be rigged up for everything,” he says. “We could be anywhere from a pre-pre-spawn tournament to there might even be bed fish when we get there. So it’s key to have a wide arsenal of baits. With Rapala, Storm and Terminator, I’ve got that. I’ll have everything I need to tackle any depth, water temperature or cover.”

First off, he’ll be throwing Rapala DT crankbaits, Storm 360GT searchbaits, and Rapala Shadow Rap Deep jerkbaits. If the weather and water meet Seth’s expectations, these baits show produce some good numbers, and hopefully some great fish. If the water warms up, the game plan may change a bit. Topwater action could be called to the mound. The Arashi Cover Pop and the Terminator Walking Frog would be the main players looking to score.

If there’s anything going for this rookie, it’s adaptability. He’s got a wide variety of baits, a variety of tactics, and a desire for the trophy. He’s throwing a lot of the same baits as the seasoned veterans covered in part one and two, and a couple extra that he’s hoping will give him the edge. Stay tuned this weekend as we post leaderboard updates on our Facebook page!

Bassmaster Classic 2018 Angler Spotlight

Welcome to part two of our Bassmaster Angler spotlights. Today we focus on Ott Defoe, a six time competitor and never out of the top twenty-five. Ott has a handful of wins, and just under ten podium finishes on the Bassmaster series. He’s considered a favorite to win, though not as highly as some other big players.

While looking to the lake, Ott has taken notice of the warm, rising water and chosen to take advantage. “Right off the giddyap, I expect the Rapala DT-6 will be a player.” says Defoe. He’ll also lean heavily on a couple other staples in his box, the Terminator Pro Jig and Terminator Spinner bait.

However, if the water temps stay lower, which could be the case with the impending rain, he may look for a change in baits. If that’s the case, look for him to be throwing Rapala Shadow Rap and Shadow Rap Deep jerkbaits. If the water does turn out to be warmer than average, Ott thinks that the Rapala BX Waking Minnow could be a bait that “that might surprise a lot of people”.

Ott knows his stuff, and his consistent finishing in the top 25 is a huge indicator of his potential for the weekend. He’s considered all the water possibilities, and seems to have a solid, unwavering game plan in all scenarios. Stay tuned to our Facebook page for more updates as the weekend progresses!

Bassmaster Classic 2018 Angler Spotlight

The 2018 Bassmaster Classic is upon us! Over the next two days, I’ll be giving some insight on three Classic anglers and the baits they will be using over the weekend.

The Classic takes place this year on Lake Hartwell in Greenville, South Carolina. The forecast for the weekend isn’t stellar, and the anglers may find themselves in the rain a couple of days if the predictions hold true.

The first angler we’ll showcase is Brandon Palaniuk. He’s the 2017 Angler of the year, and a favorite to take top honors this weekend. He’s had 8 tries at the Classic, and he’s looking to make this his best finish yet.

For baits on the weekend, Brandon will be throwing a good number of crankbaits and jerkbaits. “There will be guys that catch them in 30 feet of water and there will be guys that catch them in three feet of water – and everything in between,” says Brandon “So you need an arsenal of baits that allows you to target a lot of different depth zones.”

Throwing the Rapala DT, Storm Arashi crankbaits, and the Rapala Shadow Rap jerkbait gives him plenty of options. If all else fails, he’s looking to the Arashi Top walker as a dark horse “wild-card”.

“Those baits allow me to fish at a lot of different depth zones and a lot of different types of cover,” he explains. “You get into that time of year where it’s still early spring and you’re going to have fish spread out all across the board. It’s just going to be a matter of a guy figuring out where the little bit better fish are.”

If anything is sure, Brandon is a top contender this week. He’s practiced the lake, he’s figured out his baits, and he’s chomping at the bit for the big W. Check back over the weekend, we’ll be posting updates on our facebook page!