Road Trips

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  • 05/28/2018 10:54 AM | Ron Presley (Administrator)

    Southern hospitality at its best (and big fish too).

    by Ron Presley

    The big bass weighed 8 pounds, 7 ounces and was no surprise at all to Brian Prowant who was my guide for the day. Prowant is a tournament angler and well know in the area for his ability to catch big bass.

    The 8-pound plus bass was a great end to the morning's fishing.

    My road trips are normally six hours plus, but this one was just over two hours to Glades, County FL. I had never traveled that short of a distance to catch such a trophy fish. Odds are I will be returning, not only for the fishing but the hospitality.

    The occasion was the First Annual Glades County Sportswriters Invitational Tournament. A baker’s dozen of outdoor writers enjoyed two days of fishing on the celebrated waters of the area. In addition to the fishing we enjoyed many of the amenities that the Lakeport, FL area has to offer.

    The county borders the west side of Lake Okeechobee and includes about 60 miles of shoreline. I’ve often heard that the west side was the best side. The lake is famous for the size and quantity of its big bass, but its not the only reason to visit.   

    Highway 27 crosses the Caloosahatchee River at Moore Haven, Florida, just below the Moore Haven Lock and Dam. Near the lock and dam is a public boat ramp and access to 60 miles of Caloosahatchee River frontage and plenty of good fishing.

    Moore Haven Marina and a public boat ramp
    are located near the HWY 27 Bridge.

    As anglers motor out from the boat ramp they pass the Moore Haven Marina. It is a great place to stop on the way out for bait, gear, ice, etc. On the return trip it’s a great stop for a cold drink and clean restroom facilities.

    The New Haven Marina is operated by Capt. Robert Power. He also operates a guide service in the area. Stop by and he will share a little local knowledge and point you in the direction of the bite.

    Glades County fishing can only be described as awesome. Big bass and crappie are the name of the game, but a good number of catfish exists for those that are so inclined. When it comes to catfish, they don’t fish for trophies, they fish for the dinner table, and they been eating’ pretty good. Glades County is also one of those places where anglers catch tarpon and snook right alongside trophy bass and dinner sized catfish.

    Fishing the Monkey Box

    On day one all the sportswriters were paired up with a local angler to try their luck. The volunteers were made up of recreational anglers, guides, and tournament anglers. It was all about fun, but a little competition was thrown in to keep it interesting. Everyone was instructed to weigh and record the bass that they caught.

    Prowant navigated to a fishing area know as The Monkey Box. It is a shallow body of water with lots of natural grasses. The water was a little high and much of the vegatation was covered.

    “That looks like open water,” advised Prowant. “Believe me, its thick and grassy below the surface. At normal water levels you would see a lot more than we see today. It’s great habitat for the bass.”

    Prowant holds one of many nice bass of the morning.

    Since I don’t do bait casters he graciously prepared a spinning rig with a dark blue Senko worm. He offered a few instructions on how to fish it and returned to the deck to operate the trolling motor and fish.

    The bite was slow and steady. We caught bass up to 4 pounds plus all morning. As the scheduled time to meet for lunch approached a hard-hitting bass ate the Senko. I knew immediately it was bigger than anything we had caught so far.

    After a few minutes of fighting the large bass and keeping it out of standing structure it came alongside the boat. Prowant reached down and lifted the huge bass, and equal amount of grass, into the boat.

    “That’s gonna’ be at least a 7-pounder,” guessed Prowant as he reached for his scales. “What do you think it weighs?”

    “I will go with your guess of 7 pounds,” I replied.

    “It weighs 8 pounds 7 ounces,” offered Prowant as he read the scales.  

    The big bass was the final fish of the morning and gave us bragging rights for the lunch gathering back at Harney Pond Canal Boat Ramp.

    Fishing the Caloosahatchee River

    Fishing for day two was scheduled for the Caloosahatchee River out of the Moore Haven Marina. We had learned that the river would produce some good bass, but also offered the possibility of tarpon and snook.

    Personally, I chose to do a little catfishing. I was paired up with a local angler who had been catching a few of late. Devin Whidden is a fifth generation local with a plenty of knowledge of the area. I will chronical our morning catfishing adventure in a future issue of Catfish NOW.

    The remaining anglers hopped aboard a boat with a new guide for day two. A few tackled the river with fly rods while other used conventional gear.

    Brian Cope caught this 5 pound Caloosahatchee River bass on a 10-inch Gambler worn in Junebug color. Photo courtesy of Brian Cope

    South Carolina anglers, Brian Cope and Jeffery Burleson (South Carolina Sportsman), fished with Prowant, who I had fished with on day one. They reported a good day of fishing the river while taking advantage of recent rains.

    “We didn’t fish anything but the culverts,” reported Burleson. “The recent rains had them spilling into the river. We just ran from one culvert to another. We caught quite a few fish for the day.”

    Other anglers also reported good catches of bass on the river. In fact, Georgia angler Jimmy Jacobs reeled in an 8 pound 10 ounces monster. Jacobs was fishing with long time area anger Sam Heaton.

    That fish, along with others that Jacobs caught earned him the plaque for Top Angler of the event. His day one guide, Steve Daniel, was named Top Guide.

    Honnerlaw's snook bit a deep diving crankbait.
    Photo courtesy of Debbie Hanson

    Debbie Hanson (SheFishes2.com) was fishing the river with local guide Bryan Honnerlaw. He tossed a deep diving crankbait off a point and caught a nice snook. Hanson reported walkin’ the dog with top water baits to score some nice river bass. She even added a giant 8-pound plus tilapia.

    Each of the other writer/anglers reported good catches on the river. Other writers included Ray Markham, Larry Larsen, Polly Dean, Steve Waters, Ralph Allen, Tommy Thompson, and Butch Newell. All caught bass.

    Rain had threatened our fishing activities but never really hampered them. We did eat a catered lunch under a roof at the Moore Haven Marina as the rains decided to come. It was a great opportunity to relive the morning, tell some tales and enjoy the lunch provided by Cafe 27 of Moore Haven.

    Final Comments

    The first night in Glades County featured a welcome reception and dinner at the Seminole Casino Brighton. The hospitality and the food were awesome, and a few gamers even won some gas money. The casino was only a few miles from where we were staying at Rockport Lodge.

    Evenings two and three were spent at Northlake Estates and RV Resort. A fish fry with all the trimmings on the first night and a grilled steak dinner on the second night ended each day in style and gave everyone an opportunity to meet and greet local community leaders. The writers were welcomed by event organizer, Jeff Patterson and Moore Haven Mayor, Bret Whidden.

    You don’t have to be an angler to enjoy Glades County. The area offers miles of paddling trails on Fisheathing Creek and other nature-based tourism opportunities for birders, boaters, hunters, and other outdoor enthusiasts.

    For more information on Glades, County visit the website at visitglades.org.

    For more information on local guides you can contact them directly.

    Okeechobee Just 4 Bass
    Capt. Scott Kerslake, and Capt. Rob
    910-330-9821
    www.okeechobeejust4bass.com

    Lake Okeechobee Outdoors
    Capt. Brian Honnerlaw
    937-728-1344
    www.facebook.com/lakeokeechobeeoutdoors

    Steve Daniel
    863-885-2230 or 239-560-2704
    www.okeechobeeprostevedaniel.com

    Sam Heaton
    772-349-3007


  • 05/03/2018 4:39 PM | Ron Presley (Administrator)

    The Alabama River, one of catfishing’s best kept secrets
    by Ron Presley

    My first impression of Elmore County, AL was its beauty. During a pre-fishing meeting with a group of anglers and writers I had a high-level view from the Penthouse level of the Wind Creek Casino where I was staying. Rolling hills, the Coosa River, and a beautify sunset were the perfect backdrop to my introduction to the area.

    I had an early morning appointment with Joey Pounders, a well-known catfish angler, to check out the Alabama River for Joey’s favorite species, the wily flathead catfish. Joey had only one previous encounter with the river and he was chomping at the bit to get back on it.

    A drive to the river revealed more of the area’s charm and hospitality. The people were friendly and accommodating everywhere we stopped. Once on the river Pounders began to explain his strategy.

    “I want to find some fallen trees that extend out from the bank,” instructed Pounders. “Either that or some submerged timber. Then we will pull the boat straight into the bank and fish out the back with live shad and live bluegill. Flatheads like the wood, and there is plenty of wood in the Alabama River.”

    In a methodical routine Pounders used his Humminbird sonar and found his wood. He set six B’n’M Silver Cat Magnum rods in predetermined river locations, baited with live bait. He used side scanning sonar to pinpoint the target of his cast and measure the distance to it.

    “See that structure,” Pounders said as he pointed to the sonar. “That is exactly 54 feet from the boat. The idea is to cast beyond it and then pull the bait back gently to the target.”

    Pounders made the cast with the precision of a skilled technician and then proceeded to cast the remaining rods to his chosen spots. Amazingly, it did not take long to produce the first fish.

    “I have been anxious to get back here,” said Pounders. “The little fishing that I did last year made me think that this river is overlooked by catfishermen. Now, I am convinced. We have been here ten minutes and have this beautiful flathead.”

    The successful morning continued and the Alabama River produce six nice flatheads in only a couple hours of fishing.

    “This is somewhere I want to bring my family,” concluded Pounders. “I love my flatheads, and you don’t find this kind of bite in other places that I fish. I will be back when I can spend more time and really figure this river out.”

    Epilogue:

    The Wind Creek Casino turned out to be the perfect place to stay in Elmore County. My room was spacious, clean, comfortable, and good value. It also had a view of the Coosa River which made sipping my morning coffee a little more enjoyable.

    Wind Creek was also a good location with different kinds of fishing close at hand. I ventured out to fish the Alabama River for catfish while some of my collogues went crappie fishing on Lake Jordon, with great success I might add. And, Jordon is also known for its bass fishing.

    Gaming is available for those that choose it and Southern hospitality abounds. The food is great too. We had a couple of catered meals for the writers and anglers while we were there. The food was nothing short of outstanding. All types of food, from their gourmet steakhouse to grab-and-go deli, will delight your taste buds.

    I agree with Pounders on his conclusion. I am ready to go back to Elmore County when I can spend more time fishing and more time exploring the many attractions of the area.

  • 02/28/2018 2:22 PM | Ron Presley (Administrator)

    History, Culture, and Southern Hospitality

    As the sport of catfishing grows, so grows tournament trails and events like Catfish Conference. Louisville, KY was the location of Catfish Conference 2018 for the second year in a row. My return to the Derby City gave me an opportunity to recall a few of its many attractions. Catfish was the theme of the conference, but history, culture, and southern hospitality are the theme of this great American city.

    Louisville is one of the oldest cities west of the Appalachian Mountains. It was founded in 1778 by George Rogers Clark. The city was named after King Louis XVI of France. Never mind its actual age, because today, Louisville is a modern American city, looking to the future, with new construction all over the place.  

    Louisville offers plenty of interesting attractions, so bring the family and see the sights depending on your own personal interests. There is literally something for everyone. Personally, I can’t think about Louisville without thinking about the Kentucky Derby and Louisville Slugger baseball bats. I visited both of these attractions and recommend them to everyone. I also took in the Muhammad Ali Center, another top attractions you won't want to miss. 

    The Kentucky Derby

    The Kentucky Derby Museum/Churchill Downs is an amazing complex representing years of sports history. It is hard to imagine that the first race took place on May 17, 1875. That is 145 years of excitement. Somewhere in the 1960s extravagant lady’s hat became the fashion on derby day. Today’s TV viewers are treated to what now is a southern tradition of colorful hats and delicious mint juleps.  

    I recommend starting with “The Greatest Race.” It is a theater-in-the-round type of media event that tells the story of the Kentucky Derby. Participants set on swiveling stools while the story is told in greater than life-size proportions around the oval screen above the arena.

    Watching the movie sets the stage for a 30-minute walking tour that reveals the history and pageantry of Churchill Downs Racetrack. Following the tour, you can leisurely explore two floors of family-friendly interactive exhibits. All this is included in the admission to the facility.

    Louisville Slugger

    When I hear the name Louisville Slugger my thoughts drift back to my childhood. I fondly remember swinging a few wooden bats in those days growing up in Kansas. Everyone should take the tour of the factory where the legendary Louisville Slugger baseball bat is made. It is sure to conjure up some memories of baseball legends of your youth.

    Visitors can admire the world’s largest bat and discover a prehistoric baseball glove. You can also count the home run notches that Babe Ruth carved into his Louisville Slugger. I picked up a few bats that brought back memories of some of my baseball heroes. They included the actual bats used by such baseball legends as Micky Mantle and Johnny Bench. You will find baseball bats from your heroes as well. As a visitor you will receive your own baseball bat sample to remind you of one of Louisville’s most iconic attractions.

    I took a step back in time and took a few swings with one of Mickey Mantle’s bats. It felt good to be back in the batter’s box again. 

    Muhammad Ali Center

    I also recommend a stop at the Muhammad Ali Center. This award-winning museum celebrates the life and legacy of the world-class boxer. It is housed in a six-story multicultural center. Here too, I recommend starting with an orientation film. Take the escalator to the fifth floor for the video and then work your way back down to the entrance.  

    The museum features exhibits that spotlight the six core values Ali strived to live by throughout his life. Ali’s ethical norms included confidence, conviction, dedication, respect, giving and spirituality.

    Highlights of my visit included a mock boxing ring, Ali boxing memorabilia, a theater that screens a short film showcasing Ali’s life, and a full-sized boxing ring, where a large projector displays ‘The Greatest,’ his signature fight.

    I was highly impressed by the content of the many interactive displays that chronicle the life of Ali. You can spend as little or as much time as you want perusing the exhibits, many supported with historic video footage. Depending on your age, your visit will be either a walk down memory lane or an education related to the life of this incredible athlete and humanitarian.

    Places to Eat

    Don’t forget to take in a restaurant/bar on the famed Urban Bourbon Trail. As most folks know, Bourbon is a whiskey that has long been associated with Kentucky. The Urban Bourbon Trail consists of 34 bars and restaurants that showcase Kentucky’s best.

    You can also visit an actual distillery. There are several on Whiskey Row – Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, Peerless Distillery and Angel’s Envy, one of the newest one to open.

    Some of the Urban Bourbon Trail restaurants are located on “Whiskey Row.” They include the Bristol Bar & Grill, O’Shea’s Downtown, Sidebar @ Whiskey Row, Troll Pub Under the Bridge, Proof on Main, Jockey Silks, Down One Bourbon Bar and Doc Crow’s.  All of these are good. Check them out and you can decide which menu sounds the best to you.”

    The restaurant that caught our eye was Merle Haggard’s Whiskey Kitchen. We spotted it downtown on our way to the Ali Center. It had outside dinning and the place was packed. We decided that would be our lunch spot after our visit to the center. It was great food and constant streaming of Merle Haggard music didn’t hurt. We left very content and rested for our visit to the Catfish Conference, a story in itself, that I will save for another day.

    The numerous attractions available in the Louisville area make it a trip to be remembered. Although the Catfish Conference was my reason for being in Louisville, there are many other reasons to visit. I was taken by the atmosphere of friendliness and the amenities of the city. The truth is, you don’t need any other reason to visit, the city itself is reason enough!

    For more information on Louisville visit the website at https://www.gotolouisville.com.

    For more information on Catfish Conference visit their website or follow and like them on Facebook.


  • 11/03/2017 10:48 AM | Ron Presley (Administrator)

    Multi-species fishing
    by Ron Presley

    When I think of Kentucky, the Kentucky Derby, Louisville Slugger and Mahumad Ali come to mind. For many avid anglers, outstanding fishing opportunities come to mind. From crappie to catfish, Kentucky Lake and the surrounding area offers some outstanding fishing.

    A home base at Kentucky Dam Village or Moors Resort and Marina, both near Gilbertsville, will give you access to numerous fishing opportunities. And, both offer great lodging and restaurant opportunities. After all, anglers have to eat and sleep.

    Stripers

    Good striper fishing exists below Kentucky Dam. I recently joined Cabela’s King Kat Tournament Trail director Jeremy Coe for some tailrace striper fishing.

    One popular method of catching the scrappy stripers includes a simple three-way rig. Tie a three-way swivel to the main line of about 30- to 40-pound test braid. On the side of the three-way add about 12     inches of 20-pound mono and add a 2-ounce sinker. Finish the rig with 14 to 16 inches of 50-pound mono and a kahle hook.

    With rig in hand Coe maneuvers his Alumacraft boat up near the dam in the discharge water. He locates a seam formed in the current and drifts backwards while controlling the boat with the big motor. He noted the importance of safety while fishing the rapid currents.

    “We never turn the motor off,” said Coe. “If anything unexpected happens we want to be able to respond with the big motor. A trolling motor may not be enough.” 

    As the boat drifted backwards we kept the sinker bouncing along the bottom. If you can feel the bottom then you know you have the bait where the fish are.

    Coe would drift back to the last set of pilings before moving back up to the dam and repeating the process. His bait of choice is a white curly tailed jig threaded on the kahle hook. If that setup is not successful he replaces the plastic with a live shad or minnow.

    When I asked him how a striper bite felt he responded, “Don’t worry, you will know it.”

    The striper outing on this day was not successful. A cold front had moved in and put a damper on the striper bite so we moved on to catfish, hoping they might not be so sensitive to the weather.  

    Catfish

    Like the stripers, catfish can also be targeted in the tailrace below Kentucky Dam. Eater size fish are abundant and an occasional trophy cat is boated. Local guides use a bottom bouncing technique to tempt the tasty cats. 

    A medium action rod, a baitcaster reel and a three-way rig is all anglers need to catch a mess of cats. Coe uses the same rig he ties for stripers on the catfish. Typical baits include night crawlers, minnows and cut baitfish. It is really a matter of personal choice, or what the catfish want on any given day.

    To find the cats Coe moved out of the swifter current into some calmer water near a sunken piling. We were still near the dam, but the water was not moving as much. The new location resulted in several eatin’ size fish.

    We had witnessed a guide boat catch several catfish earlier in the day while we were striper fishing. Once we located near the piling it did not take long to hook up. Coe hooked up first and a few minutes later I had a nice cat on.

    We were strictly catch and release, but when we got back to the ramp there was more evidence of the good catfish fishery that exists below the Kentucky Dam. It was probably the guide boat that we saw earlier that had cleaned about a dozen or so cats for the cooler. Their filleted carcasses were left there in the shallow water.

    Catfish do not seem to be targeted as much as other species on Kentucky Lake, but there are plenty there for anyone that wants to catch them.

    Crappie

    Crappie are heavily targeted on Kentucky Lake. It is one of the best crappie lakes in the nation.

    One of the great attractions for crappie anglers on Kentucky Lake is the many brush piles that have been sunk and man-made stake beds that have been installed all over the lake. Long time angler and guide Don Schnuck (Big Kahuna’s Fishing Guide Service-270-559-1366) is one example of many, that have been instrumental in building and sinking brush piles on the popular lake.

    Crappie love any kind of structure that provides them with cover. More importantly, the brush piles provide a source of microscopic treats that baitfish feed on. Once the shad, minnows, and other baitfish show up, so do the crappie.

    Brush piles help congregate the crappie and make them easier targets for anglers. And the stakebeds, because everything is vertical makes it easier for anglers to fish without getting hung up. Many anglers prefer the stake beds over the brush piles for that reason.

    With many crappies in one spot, anglers can target them with the popular technique known as one pole fishing. There is nothing better than holding the pole, presenting the bait, and feeling the bite. Whether you call it one poling, jigging, or dipping, crappie anglers used the technique because they like to “feel the thump!”

    With over 160,000 acres of water, Kentucky Lake is loaded with these man-made crappie hotels. Local and regular anglers on the lake are likely to have hundreds of waypoints marked where they can target crappie on brush piles. Occasional anglers don’t have much trouble finding some piles to fish by using their sonar.

    Schnuck recommends a along crappie pole with a limber tip, because crappie don’t always slam it. “I like a sensitive tip to feel the light bites,” said Schnuck. “Sometimes your pole just straightens out when the fish takes the bait and swims up. You have to be able to see that.”

    A light wire gold hook, a small sinker and a lively minnow is Schnuck’s rig of choice. He uses sonar to pinpoint the brush and determine the depth. If the fish are suspended at 10 feet he presents the bait just above them.

    Savvy crappie anglers like Schnuck know that crappie are always looking up for their next meal and they will seldom go down to eat a minnow. Keep the bait above the fish and you will catch more slabs for the dinner table.

    The fishing is great, but add in the beautiful scenery and hospitality of the Kentucky Dam area and it’s a bucket list destination for sure.  

    Lodging and Fishing

    Lodging opportunities exist all over the Kentucky Dam area. I stayed at the Kentucky Dam Village State Park and Moors Resort and Marina during my visit. Both provided excellent lodging and food. More information can be found on their respective websites or you can follow them on Facebook.

    Don Schnuck is a multi-species guide on Kentucky Lake. He operates the Big Kahuna’s Fishing Guide Service out of Moors Resort. Don goes above and beyond to put you on some fish. He can be reached at 270-559-1366 or visit him on Facebook.


  • 08/31/2017 10:10 AM | Ron Presley (Administrator)
    Catch Springs Fever in Ocala

    Known as the Horse Capital of the World, Ocala, FL has plenty to offer us outdoor enthusiasts. High among the possibilities for visitors to enjoy is Silver Springs State Park.

    Just about a year ago, October 10, 2016, Silver Springs was inducted into the Florida Tourism Hall of Fame. As a long-celebrated destination for travelers, locals, movie makers, artists and more, Silver Springs has received the recognition it deserves. It was inducted into the Florida Tourism Hall of Fame during the 2016 Florida Governor’s Conference on Tourism.

    In 1924, Walter Carl Ray, Sr. and W.M. “Shorty” Davidson grew a beautiful, natural spring from a local spot serving 1,000 travelers to an international attraction visited by 1.5 million visitors over the course of thirty years. Silver Springs became one of the most visited tourist destinations in Florida by 1962, and it remains a top choice amongst travelers visiting Central Florida.

    Another innovative addition envisioned by Mr. Ray, Sr. was the development of the first fleet of gasoline-powered glass bottom boats, which would soon become powered by electricity. Today’s modern travelers still enjoy this wholesome family attraction, which offers the perfect setting to capture a memorable “selfie” or family photo.  

    Silver Springs’ picturesque surroundings have also been featured in a number of Hollywood hits, starting with the 1930s movie Tarzan. Over the next 50 years, several other motion pictures would be made in and around Silver Springs in Ocala/Marion County, featuring celebrated actors like: Sean Connery, Tom Cruise, Kim Bassinger, Sally Field, Gary Cooper, Burt Reynolds and many others. 

    The natural attraction isn’t the only renowned outdoor activity in Ocala/Marion County. A true paradise for any outdoor enthusiast, the County is home to many other experiences, including:

    Horseback riding—Known as the Horse Capital of the World, Ocala and its surrounding regions feature many horseback-riding trails and guided tours offer a unique perspective on the area’s scenery. Visitors can navigate through the cool forest underneath the canopy of centuries old trees as the sounds of streams and springs bubble nearby and experience the wild, untouched side of Florida. During your ride, you may see some of the state’s unique wildlife, including the great horned owl, Sherman’s fox squirrel, red tail hawk, barred owl, and coyote.

    Mountain biking—The Santos Mountain Bike Trails have received the prestigious designation of a bronze-level Ride Center by the International Mountain Bicycling Association, one of only six designated Ride Centers in the nation. Riders of all skill levels can find a fun challenge through the 80 miles of unpaved Santos trails, with color-coded difficulty levels ranging from yellow (easy) to red (extreme).

    Zip line—Sky-high thrills can be found at the Canyons Zip Line and Canopy Tours, a can’t-miss attraction in the heart of Ocala/Marion County. These zip lines are the longest, highest and fastest in Florida and the longest zip lines over water in the U.S. While most of Florida is flat terrain, Ocala/Marion County is home to massive limestone canyons within a vast wooded wonderland, providing an epic setting and extreme elevation for adventure enthusiasts.

    For additional information on other natural attractions, eco-adventures, equine events or upcoming festivals please visit For more information on Ocala/Marion County, visit their website, follow them on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter, or call toll-free 1.888.FL.OCALA. 

  • 07/31/2017 2:52 PM | Ron Presley (Administrator)
    Variety is the spice of life

    Sometimes adventure awaits in your own back yard. I lived in Florida for eight years before I discovered the St. Johns River as a fishing destination. It was my friend and Florida Guides Association guide, Tom Van Horn, that introduced me to the St. Johns. He was promoting the Coastal Angler Magazine-Orlando Shad and Crappie Derby. 

    Shad, I thought. That’s bait fish, right? Then Tom gave me the story of how the American shad make their way from the Atlantic Ocean at Jacksonville all the way up to Volusia county and beyond to spawn. This migration takes place every year and produces some unusually good light tackle fishing on the St. Johns River. Fly casters are also swooned by the shad’s arrival. The feisty fish are hard pulling and high-flying targets for small colorful offerings. 

    With the American shad discovered, I was hooked. My shad fishing trips to the St. Johns also uncovered a special beauty of its own. Wildlife was abundant, from shorebirds to alligators to eagles. Every day was a new adventure on the St. Johns. 

    My next discovery was the terrific crappie fishing available on the river. Covering a crappie tournament as a member of the media unveiled just how good it was. Angler after angler came to the scales at weigh-in with a seven-fish limit of crappie. Big, beautiful, black crappie. No fish is more photogenic than Florida black crappie.

    Naturally, after firsthand witnessing the bounty of the river at that tournament, I had to try the crappie fishing myself. I was not disappointed. I discovered that about any method of crappie fishing you would want to try would work on the St. Johns River. Longline trolling, spider rigging (pushing), casting, and my favorite one-pole jigging all produced nice crappie.

    Given the numerous lily pads on the river it is just two inviting not to try dipping some jigs in the pads. With this method of crappie fishing the angler holds a single or longer pole in his hand and moves from spot to spot dipping a jig vertically down among the lily pads. Thump! When you feel the thump, set the hook. Crappie anglers are often heard to say, “I live for the thump!” 

    Bass are also abundant on the river. I don’t think I have ever been out on the St. Johns without running across a bass angler or two. Just like with the crappie, almost any method of bass fishing works. Most that I have witnessed are casting plugs and swimbaits around the numerous pads and fallen timber. Others are casting live shiners under a bobber to catch some monster bass.

    One St. Johns angler, Broc Foley, has a special penchant for fishing with artificial frogs. His covert methods of waging war on bass have earned him the nickname – The Frog Ninja.

    “The best time to throw a frog is every day,” says Foley. “It is all about risk and reward for me. I can put on a worm and catch a lot more bass, but when I throw my frogs I know I am going to catch quality fish.”

    Froggin’ is Foley’s go to technique for catching big bass. “Whether it is skipping under overhangs, fishing open water or targeting specific structure, I like to fish frogs,” elaborates Foley. “I fish frogs 12 months of the year. I personally carry over 100 frogs in my boat. I have at least three rods rigged with a different frog very time I fish. Who doesn't love a big fish blowing up on a frog?”

    Foley is so into frog fishing he has developed his own frog. He spent about 18 months field testing and developing his Vexan Ninja Frog. It will be available soon for other froggers to use.

    The St. Johns River is also a great place to catch catfish. Van Horn also introduced me to the catfish in the river while shad fishing. He would always bait up a rod and throw it out on the bottom while he was fishing for shad. Once again, the proof was in the pudding. Catfish after catfish came using this method.

    Now, I make trips to the river to target catfish. Interestingly, the first nice catfish I caught, I thought was a blue cat. After a little investigation, I discovered that the blues don’t range this far south. It was a nice big channel cat.

    Catfishing is easy and anyone can do it. A simple Carolina rig and some worms is really all you need. Catfish will eat other baits too. I have good luck on shrimp and just about any kind of cut bait. The bridge where HWY 44 crosses the St. Johns is one of my favorite launch sites. There is shoreline fishing available, nice boat ramps, a nice restaurant and bait shop.

    I still enjoy travelling to fish other locations, but once I discovered the St. Johns River it has become a favored destination, not just for the fishing, but for its beauty too. 

    For more information visit http://visitwestvolusia.com

  • 07/02/2017 9:35 AM | Ron Presley (Administrator)
    Return to Pickwick Lake

    Colbert County, Alabama has a special attraction to anglers of all kinds. Bass anglers, striper anglers, catfish anglers, you name it. All those popular species can be caught from a base camp in the area referred to as “The Shoals.” The area includes Muscle Shoals, Tuscumbia, Sheffield and Florence.”

    Local fishing guide, Captain Brian Barton (256-412-0969), regularly hosts recreational anglers in search of locally abundant fish. He often targets multiple species in the same day on Pickwick Lake and its 490 miles of winding shoreline and 43,100 acres of water surface.

    On this particular day, we would be targeting saltwater stripers and Barton’s favorite, smallmouth bass. The plan was to motor up a tributary to search for stripes, and later in the day move out to the main lake and fish river bluff walls for smallmouth.

    When smallmouth bass are on the bucket list, Barton starts by catching live bait. The fresher the better is his motto, and the bait he nets in the morning will have you catching fish all day long. He has a large bait tank on board to be sure the bait stays lively and fresh. “I always want fresh river water in my tank,” advised Barton. “I always add a little bit of salt to it (See Video). Livelier baits translate into more fish in the boat.”

    With plenty of bait on board, we started in search of the stripers by moving out of the lake and up a small tributary. Based on his experience, Barton explained that the fish we were targeting would run from 16 to 28 pounds with an average fish being 18 to 24 pounds. That average alone got me excited. He noted that his boat record was 28 pounds 12 ounces.

    The whole process went just like Barton predicted. We stabilized his War Eagle boat on one side to the creek and cast chunks and heads of skipjack herring to the opposite side, which was the deep side.

    “It is all about water temperature,” explained Barton. “When the river hits 78 to 80 degrees the stripers start coming in and they will stay in the tributaries until the water temperatures cool down. Tributaries like Pond, Cypress, Spring, Dry, and Little Bear are all fishable targets.”

    Barton’s Shimano Sahara spinning reels were spooled with 30-pound test Vicious Braid and mounted on B’n’M Silver Cat rods. “I use the rods for striper and catfish,” stated Barton. “That’s why I spool with braid.”

    “I have used every brand of catfish rod on the market over the last 30 years,” said Barton. “I have seen a lot of good and bad ones. The B’n’M rods are the best I have ever used. The Silver Cat series is perfect for the everyday cat fisherman.”

    The terminal tackle began with a barrel swivel tied to the tag end of the mainline. About 16 to18 inches of 20-pound Vicious mono ended with a Daiichi 3/0 bleeding bait hook.

    Barton’s bait of choice for the stripers is skipjack herring. He normally cut each skipjack into a head and two cuts out of the body sections. Occasionally he would use a fillet or just a smaller size, if the bite was slow.

    When those stripers hit there is no doubt that you are in a fish fight. It seems like simple fishing, but it is rewarding and recreational to tie into one of those big fish. You are never quite sure you will get it to the boat until it’s in the net. Once caught, Barton insists on a quick photo and release.

    As the afternoon wore on, the tributary started stirring with surface action, mostly white bass. It was Barton’s signal to leave the tributary. “That looks inviting said Barton. “Wait until about 6:30 or 7:00. Those white bass just come alive back in here. If I ever lose my love for live-baiting the smallmouth I am going to try some Road Runners on them.”

    We made our striper memories and moved on to satisfy Barton’s passion for live-baiting smallmouth bass. With a livewell full of shad we motored out of the creek and into Pickwick Lake.

    With our targeted fish moving from stripers to smallmouth Barton began explaining the possibilities. “When fishing for smallmouth or other bass for that matter, there are several different places or locations you want to look. Anyplace the current hits the bank directly and creates an eddy pool is good. The mouths of tributary creeks are always good, particularly the downstream point where you have current breaking off the upstream point. Pickwick has over 250 shell mounds or Indian mounds which are also good smallie country.”

    “Any of those structures, rock walls, any of the old Muscle Shoals River Canal structure, are good,” continued Barton. “Basically, anything that has a hard bottom like rock, shell or pea gravel bottom where you have a contour break or a current break is going to hold smallmouth in the fall and the spring and summer.”  

    We were fishing what Barton called a “typical afternoon” on Pickwick. The dam was running about 40 to 50 thousand cubic feet per second of current. Barton chose a straight wall bluff to begin our afternoon adventure.

    “The current is pushing into the bank,” explained Barton. “That current is pushing shad into the bank. We want to cast our baits up against the bluff and let it float down the bluff wall. We should catch largemouth, small mouth, spotted bass and probably a few fresh water drum and catfish along the way.”

    Thinking about the old axiom, “variety is the spice of life,” I followed Barton’s instructions to cast 10 to 15 degrees upstream and allow my bait to float downstream alongside the wall.

    “As you hit the bottom just gently lift the weight up off the bottom like you would a plastic worm,” advised Barton. “Just float your gizzard shad over the structure.”

    We were still using B’n’M rods, but for the live bait fishing we were using the 8-foot B’n’M Float-n-Fly Rod equipped with a spinning reel.  Our line was 8-pound Vicious mono  and a split shot weight.

    “Weight is always a variable,” said Barton. “We will start with a split shot weight of about a 1/4 ounce. You may have to go up or down between 1/16 to 1/2 ounce, depending on the speed of the current. If I were fishing still water I would normally have no weight or very little weight. I would hook that shad right under the dorsal fin and let him swim. I like a size 1 or 2 baitholder hook to pin the shad through the bottom of the lip and come out through the nostril.”

    Just like with the stripers, Barton’s strategy worked to perfection. The first bait drifted along the wall produced a nice largemouth. The remainder of the day produced plenty of both smallmouth and the predicted largemouth bass, freshwater drum and catfish thrown in.  

    The smallies were best for me, because living in Florida I seldom get to target the bronzeback beauties. The thrill of holding that rod in your hand and floating live shad along a beautiful bluff wall on Pickwick Lake in Alabama is pretty hard to beat.

    The fishing opportunities in the area are endless and fishing guides like Barton know where to go for the different species. Pickwick is about 46 miles long, dam to dam, so there is a lot of places the fish can be. When you have that much water it is a good idea to hire a guide like Barton unless you have several days to fish and discover on your own where they are.

    Barton is owner operator at Brian Barton Outdoors. You can view his website at brianbartonoutdoors.com.

    Sidebar - 
    Colbert County

    Colbert County, Alabama is a special place. A place that is especially attractive to anglers, but also to tourists in general. Anglers are attracted to the great fishing and tourists are attracted to the area’s beauty and a rich history in the music culture.

    Barton lives in Muscle Shoals, AL, an area referred to as “The Shoals.” Muscle Shoals, Tuscumbia, Sheffield and Florence make up this area that has a long history in the music industry. It was, in fact, the birthplace of the famous Muscle Shoals Sound.

    “There was a sound here called the Muscle Shoals Sound,” explained Barton. “You know that song, ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ by Lynyrd Skynyrd? There is a line in the song that says, Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers. The Swampers were a group of five men and they had a unique sound that couldn’t be reproduce anywhere else,” continued Barton. “That sound brought all these musical cats in here to do their recording. People like Aretha Franklin, Wilson Picket, Little Richard and a whole lot more came here to record.”

    Now, visitors to “The Shoals” have the opportunity to investigate some of that music history by visiting such places as the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, the W.C. Handy Home and Museum, the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio Museum and the famous FAME Recording Studios.

    You can easily find suitable accommodations for the trip to Pickwick. I stayed at the Cold Water Inn in Tuscumbia. It has everything you need, all set in an antebellum theme that will knock your eyes out. Service, rooms and breakfast were all outstanding. 

    On a personal note, there are plenty of fine eateries in the Shoals area. One I liked in particular was a place called Champy’s. It is one of those places that is so good you want to tell everyone about it. They are known for their chicken, but everything we had, including the onion rings and, believe it or not, the tamales we had as starters. Just mosey on in when you got a little time. The chicken is prepared fresh while you wait and it is worth the wait! Don’t miss it if you are in the area.

    The other place that came out on top was a little Mexican diner that Brian Barton told us about. It is a family run place and the food is outstanding. If you need a Mexican food fix, Casa Mexicana is the place to get it. I guess I should confess, we went to Casa Mexicana twice during our short stay in the Shoals. It was that good.


  • 05/31/2017 11:18 AM | Ron Presley (Administrator)
    Change of Pace – The beasts below the dam

    When you visit Florence, AL there are a couple species of really big fish you can target. I visit the Florence area mostly in search of catfish. I have a sentimental attachment to Wilson Lake because a fishing trip there with Muscle Shoals fishing guide, Brian Barton, landed me my personal best blue catfish in 2016. A trip in 2017 resulted in a then personal best 37-pound flathead. You can see why I have a fondness for the area.Florence, AL, Stripers, fishing

    On a recent trip to Florence I decided I needed a change of pace, but still wanted to tangle with something big, a saltwater striper to be precise. I have heard the stories about mammoth stripers that congregate below Pickwick Dam and I wanted to give them a shot.

    A little research turned up a local guide by the name of David Allen (270-205-9380). As a tournament angler, Allen loves bass fishing for about any species. Because of the popularity of Pickwick as a smallmouth destination a lot of his clients come in search of personal best smallies. He has helped those anglers reach their goals in many instances. 

    Better yet, he has been chasing the saltwater stripers for a lot of years growing up on the Pickwick waters. Allen was willing and able to give me the change of pace I was looking for. We set a time to hit the water out of McFarland Park in Florence, AL. The park sets at the base of the Highway 72 bridge crossing the Tennessee River and gives direct access to Pickwick Lake.fishing, Florence, Alabama, Pickwick Lake

    I should say the park gives outstanding access to Pickwick. Extra wide ramps make ramping easy and floating docks make it easy to board the boat. The facilities are topnotch and only a short idle out to the lake where our targeted species would be found in the current below Wilson Dam.

    Allen explained that this time of year (early April) we were likely to find some stripers in the heavy current produced by the generating activity at the dam. It was a short ride from McFarland Park to the dam where Allen started navigating towards his fishing spot.

    As we worked our way into the area he wanted to fish, he offered a warning. “It can be a little tricky in here,” said Allen. “There are lots of submerged rocks and boulders that can do serious damage to a lower unit if you’re not careful.” About that time, he pointed down towards the water and said, “See that boulder. It has been the ruination of many a prop. There was a huge boulder just under the water that could easily be missed by an inexperienced angler navigating the tailrace waters.fishing, Florence, Alabama, Pickwick Lake

    Allen’s local knowledge and patience maneuvered us to his chosen spot. “We will be using single swimbaits and Alabama Rigs this morning,” instructed Allen. “See where that current makes the seam right there alongside the calmer water? That’s where they are gonn’ be.”fishing, Florence, Alabama, Pickwick Lake

    As we worked the fast-moving water along the seam it did not take long to hook up. “There’s one,” shouted Allen, as his rod doubled over under the strike. He had offered a standard “store-bought Alabama Rig to the mighty striper and the fish consumed it. Less than a minute later Allen was reeling in a limp line and an Alabama Rig with a straightened snap swivel.

    “I should have known better,” admitted Allen. “These beasts will tear up a normal Alabama rig. They come with 30-pound test snap swivels. It’s just not enough. An Alabama rig is already a big beefy, bulky, heavy-duty wire bait, but a big saltwater striper will play with it like it was a bath toy and turn it into a million pieces.”fishing, Florence, Alabama, Pickwick Lake

    As Allen grabbed his tackle box and pliers to repair his rig he explained that he normally beefs up the store-bought rigs considerably, but would rather use a rig produced by a local tackle guy.

    “The Alabama Rig that I like to use is made right here in Florence,” said Allen. “His name is Brad Gooch. He makes one with heavier wire and swivels. His 100-pound test swivels have no chance of straightening on that powerful initial strike or run. The eyes are not going to pull out of the head or break when you are fighting a big one.”

    Allen starts with Gooch’s rig and adds heavy-duty mushroom jigheads and Skinny Dipper plastic swim baits from Reaction Innovations. “I recommend 2x strong or 3x strong hooks,” instructed Allen. “If I am fishing current up under the dam I put all 1/8 ounce heads on the outside of my rig, and in the center, is a 1/4-ounce head.”

     “I just go with the regular size Skinny Dipper,” continued Allen. “Given the castablilty of the Alabama rig you do not have to go to the big 6- or 7-inch swimbaits. Those big stripers will hit the smaller ones. I like the White Trash bodies with chartreuse tails. On the center one I use a dye marker to add a little more chartreuse, just to get that little bit of extra flash in that dingy water.”

    Allen suggests using fluorocarbon or braid for the mainline. “Which ever you prefer,” said Allen. “If I am fishing in a hangy place I like 25-pound Segar Yellow Label fluorocarbon, just for the fact that if I get hung I can break it off easier. And, it does not have that tendency to bury into the spool like braid.”

    With the new beefed up Alabama rig assembled, Allen maneuvered the boat again to where he could prospect cast the current seam. Again, it did not take long until the rod was bent like willow tree in a windstorm.

    Allen’s striper techniques worked to perfection that morning and my search for a big striper was successful. The pull of these big fish in the current is beyond description, you just need to visit Florence and experience it for yourself.fishing, Florence, Alabama, Pickwick Lake

    Sleepin’ and Eatin’ in Florence

    The Hampton Inn & Suites Florence-Downtown (256-767-8282) was our abode for the visit. Friendly staff at the desk were welcoming and helpful and the rooms were clean and nice. The free breakfast got me started right each morning before hitting the water. The selection was huge and the quality superb. I never left hungry.

    Importantly for me, the Wi-Fi was excellent. Strong signals allow me to get plenty of necessary work completed when I was not on the water (Not to mention being able to download my camera and post a huge striper to my Facebook page).

    Maybe the best part of staying at the Hampton was its proximity to McFarland Park. The hotel is less than 5 minutes from the boat ramp. That is a situation I will take anytime I can get it.

    If you have non-anglers in the party there are plenty of other things you can do in Florence. Not only is McFarland Park only 5 minutes from the Hampton Inn, the Florence Tourism Visitors Center is right there in the park with plenty of helpful ideas for your visit.   

    Plenty of good eats are available in Florence, really, anything you might like. In our case, having lived in Texas for a good many years, we get an urge for good Mexican food. We found it in Florence at Rosie’s Mexican Cantina and I recommend that you try it.  


  • 05/01/2017 6:24 PM | Ron Presley (Administrator)
    Trout, trout and more trout

    Spring in the Ozark Mountains is pretty hard to beat. The dogwoods are in blossom and flowers of all shapes and sizes are making their colors known. The wildlife is happy, the birds are singing and the countryside is coming to life as Mother Nature demonstrates her magnificent pallet for all to see.

    Water level in the river depends on generation activity at the dam.

    A great place to experience the wonders of the Ozarks is Gaston’s White River Resort at Lakeview, AR. This trout fishing destination is found along the world famous White River below Bull Shoals Dam.

    The White River is known for its trout fishing and Gaston’s is known as the place to go if you want to experience excellent trout fishing. It’s not just the fishing though. Gaston’s is a first-class resort with something for the whole family. From the clean comfortable cabins to the outstanding restaurant overlooking the river, Gaston’s is a bucket list destination.

    I had the opportunity to visit Gaston’s recently and was immediately hooked on the fishing. While trout fishing and fly casting go hand in hand, I was pleased to discover that I could use with my trusty spinning gear to challenge the brown trout that swim in the river.

    Daily fishing excursions depend heavily on the amount of generation at the dam. As more power is generated, more water comes down the river to offer expanded opportunities to trout fish. Believe me, the experienced guides at Gaston’s have fished every possible level of power generation and know exactly what they can and cannot do. As the river rises they expand their trips further from the resort. As the water falls they return to safe waters closer to the resort. Just like the fish, they don’t want to get trapped when the water falls.

    Guide Frank Saksa's favorite stick bait is a bone/white version and he is happy to show you how to use it.

    Frank Saksa is a Gaston’s guide that specializes in using spinning tackle for brown trout on the White River. “Fishing for browns with stick baits is just like bass fishing,” instructed Saksa. “Throw it out there and let it set for a second. You want that bait to flash. Make that slow retrieve with a variable twitch as you let it set again. That’s when they see the flash. That’s when they normally hit. You gotta’ generate the pause.”

    Generate the pause to catch beautiful brownies like this.

    “If you do this long enough, and the water stays up long enough, it is just a matter of time until you get it in front of one,” continued Saksa. “You cover a lot of ground with this method. It doesn’t pay to fish the same bank over and over again.”

    Saksa pushes his anglers to focus on the task. On this day I was accompanied in the boat with fellow outdoor writer Charles Bridwell. “You need to catch that first one so you have confidence in what you are doing,” Saksa told us both. “Otherwise you are thinking this isn’t working, you are not paying attention and you don’t make good presentations. Remember, you are just pulling that stick bait for the flash. It is when it pauses that they are gonna’ hit it.”

    Saksa continued to instruct as he maneuvered the boat downstream at the same speed as the current. “You can’t slow down like a drift boat. You gotta’ be moving  the same speed as the current.”

    “Once we hit a deeper run it is usually the front and back of the hole that holds most of the fish. Sometimes we are fishing on the outside of a run. This time we are fishing on the inside. Right now we are coming up on a high spot that should be good.”

    Saksa had no more than spoke those words when a nice brownie hit Bridwell’s lure. It is an unbelievable strike when they hit a stick bait and then come flying out of the water. You definitely know that you are in a fish fight. Sometimes they walk on their tail like a smallie and if you are not careful that’s when they will be gone.

    “Once them brownies hit there is no doubt,” declared Saksa. “They hit it hard. Just keep pressure on them and lead them to the net.”

    Sometimes lure color will make a difference, but Saksa’s favorite is a plain bone/white stick bait. He says he will mix it up a bit if they are not hitting his favorite.

    He held up a plastic tackle box with numerous baits inside. “That box right there is $500 worth of baits,” joked Saksa. “My wife and I have a deal. She goes and buys shinny rocks, I go and buy shiny lures. There is not one bait in there that has not caught a brown. It’s all about how you use it and when you use it.”

    “If you get the right water flow, the right sky and the right bait, it is just a matter of getting that presentation right,” offered Saksa. “We have the flow and these clouds will give some distortion for the lure. In this clear water you need distortion so they don’t see it so well. Now, add the right presentation and you just need to get it in front of one.”

    Saksa knows every inch of the river and offered different instructions for different situations. As we started fishing an outside bank he instructed us on the cast. “When you first throw up there don’t retrieve to fast. It is real shallow and you will get in the grass. In fact, when I first cast up in there I like to pull the rod tip up instead of down so it doesn’t go so deep.”

    “The same thing is true when you fish a high spot out in the river,” continued Saksa. “You don’t want to throw up on that hump and pull it too fast. Wait until you get away from the hump a little and then do your normal retrieve.”

    We were experiencing Saksas’ favorite method to catch brown trout. “Stick baits are more fun for me,” revealed Saksa. “You control what you do. You control the boat, control the cast, and control the presentation. If you do it right you catch fish.”  

    A Gaston's shore lunch is nothing short of fantastic. Fresh fried rainbow trout with all the fixin's, topped off with dessert of fruit cobbler, also cooked over an open fire.  

    About this time Saksa noted that we need to be back to our designated location for our shore lunch at noon. We were supposed to provide six rainbows for the skillet and we had been chasing brownies all morning. He rigged some lighter spinning gear with small jigs and tipped them with red worms or Power Eggs.

    It took less than 30 minutes to catch our rainbows and we headed for the shore lunch to end a productive morning on a beautiful river. 

    Epilogue:

    Gaston's guide boats are comfortable and efficient and they are operated by knowledgeable fishing guides. 

    The following history of Gaston’s White River Resort is posted on their website. It also outlines the many activities available to all that come. It’s not just the fishing, there really is something for everyone!

    Gaston's White River Resort began 59 years ago when Al Gaston, Jim Gaston's father, purchased 20 acres of White River frontage with six small cottages and six boats...the year was 1958. Present day, Jim’s grandson - Clint Gaston - will carry on the family legacy for many years to come. The resort now covers over 400 acres, and has 79 cottages ranging in size from two double beds to ten private bedrooms. The airstrip has grown from 1,800 feet to 3,200 feet. The six boats are now over 70, and with a state of the art dock to hold them all. The years have brought an award winning restaurant, private club, gift shop, tennis court, playground, game room, duck pond, three nature trails, swimming pool, conference lodge, and fly fishing school.

    For more information on an incredible destination, visit their website at www.gastons.com and like/follow them on Facebook


  • 04/03/2017 6:52 PM | Ron Presley (Administrator)

    There are aquariums and then there are aquariums. A transplant from Florida helped make the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, TN a world class facility. The poor guy actually had to catch fish on rod and reel to help stock the growing attraction.

    Rob Mottice is a senior aquarist at the Tennessee Aquarium. “I was working at Sea World of Florida in Orlando when I received a phone call from my former boss,” offered Mottice. “He was the director of the National Aquarium in Baltimore where I helped with the biological design on the startup team. He says, ‘I just got the presidency of the Tennessee Aquarium and you were one of the first people I thought of to come up here and help put this thing together.’”

    Mottice’s response was a resounding yes. “I said, Bill, my bag is packed,” reported Mottice. “The timing was perfect and I joined the team in 91, one year before the aquarium opened to the general public.”

    Rob was mostly in charge of catching and stocking a lot of the native freshwater fish that would be placed on display. “We used all kinds of methods,” said Mottice. “We used rods and reels, nets and even electro fishing. I was getting paid to go fishing.”

    An aquarist is a fancy terminology for a fish biologist,” explained Mottice. “Officially we are aquatic biologists, which covers both fish and vertebra. Because we work for an aquarium we are labeled as aquarist instead of biologist. It’s just industry terminology.”

    Of interest to anglers is the things they can learn about fish from a visit to the aquarium and viewing them in the tanks. “Anglers can learn about fish by observing their general behavior in the tanks,” instructed Mottice. “Especially during feeding time, you can get a good feel for how the native freshwater fish that we have on display here behave under certain conditions.”

    He gave an example related to blue catfish. “For instance, you read in the scientific literature that blues will mostly stay hold up during the day and come out at night to hunt and forage. However, what I see here on display, is that our blue catfish are always swimming, always on the move. They don’t hold up anywhere like flatheads do.”

    “A flathead will just stay on the bottom,” continued the aquarist. “Flatheads will find a brush pile, dig themselves in and stay there until they come out to feed. I suspect it’s no different in their native environment.”

    Mottice was actually quite surprised when he observed flatheads in the aquarium. He was recalling the myths from the literature that he had read which said you have to fish for flatheads at night and you have to use live bait.

    “On the flatheads, I was shocked to see their behavior,” stated Mottice. “It contradicted a lot of what I had read and it does not hold up in the aquarium. When it is feeding time, they smell the chunks of food and they come out. No matter how much light is above them or around them, the flatheads respond to the food.”

    “In natural habitat, the big cats know that most of the smaller species of fish seek cover at night near the shoreline,” explained Mottice. “That is where they were born and they are imprinted on that area of their environment. They know there is some good cover where they can go at night to feel safe and rest. The big flatheads will come out at night because the food is there. They head for the shores and adjacent flats, leaving the brush piles and log jams where they hold up during the day. They know those small fish are in there sleeping. They know where their food source is.”

    Mottice cannot say if his observations are a learned behavior or instinct, but it may be the scientific explanation for why the myth of fishing for catfish at night began.

    Savvy flathead anglers validate Mottice’s observations. Joey Pounders and Jay Gallop follow the tournament trails in search of the whiskered critters. They are considered by their peers as expert flathead anglers. They do not believe the old adage that flatheads must be fished at night.

     “It's just that at night they tend to shallow up and bite in areas where there is a high concentration of shad,” offered Pounders. “Many people that run trot lines and set poles do very well at night because of this. These methods are usually used in shallow water; therefore, people believe the ‘night bite’ is better, but in truth it's just better for them due to their strategy.”

    “I have heard flatheads feed at night all my life,” added Gallop. “I have caught a few at night, but I don't think the bite is any better than during the day. They will eat when they get ready.”

    When you observe, flatheads tucked down under a log, on the bottom, in the aquarium, you know that is where you need to present your bait when you’re fishing. Seeing the blues roaming all over the tank, at different depths in the water column, is an indication that you should use variable presentations to pattern them on any given day.

    Mottice also served up a pretty good tip for catfish anglers targeting one species or the other near tailwaters. “Maybe the best opportunity is at night, but you can catch them in the daylight hours too. It is more of a locational thing than day or night.”

    “The blues like the tailwaters of dams because there is a lot of bait being churned up in the turbines and distributed below the dam. Flatheads don’t like fast moving water so they will seek out areas close to the spillway, the tailwaters, because they know the food source is greatest there. However, unlike the blues, they seek out the quieter pools close to the spillway. They do not want to be affected by the current.”

    Learning by observing applies to panfish too. “Anglers can learn a lot just by seeing what goes on during the course of a day,” said Mottice. “If you are going for crappie or anything else in the panfish family, you can observe them in the aquarium. You can watch the crappie in the aquarium and see them go up to a piling or brush pile and just set there. It looks like they are staring at the structure. So, when you’re crappie fishing and find a dock or a brush pile you want to cast up close to the cover. That’s where they are likely to be.”

    “When we feed these guys, their behavior will change dramatically,” concluded Mottice. “You can see them starting to circle the wagons about 30 minutes before the diver enters the tank to feed. They know the food bag is coming, they are going to get fed. Circling the wagons is a learned behavior, but catfish have chemo receptors where they pick up the scent through their whiskers. When there is food around, they know it. They are going to get their groceries!”

    Learn more about the Tennessee Aquarium by visiting their website at http://www.tnaqua.org.

    Learn more about the Chattanooga area by visiting www.chattanoogafun.com


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