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Backing Your Boat Into The Water

Bass fishing lures millions of anglers each year. Warm weather signals fishermen to grab their gear, hook up their boats and head to their favorite lake. Anyone who has been to a boat ramp at first light on a warm spring Saturday realizes that bass fishing is a VERY popular sport.

We’ve all been in line at the boat ramp only to find that one inexperienced boater can bring the boat launch process to a grinding halt. There are things that you can do to expedite the process…experienced or not.

Before You Head To The Lake

If you have not been on the water since last summer or fall, invest in a pair of “ear muffs” for your motor, and test your it before you leave your house. Make sure that your motor is working properly and starts quickly. When you get to the boat ramp, you can quickly launch your boat and get out of the way for the next person to launch.  Don’t wait until you are backed into the water only to find out that your motor won’t start.

If you have started your boat at home but find that it won’t start when you get to the lake, quickly check the following:

  • Kill switch; did it get pulled accidentally?
  • Battery connections; these sometimes loosen due to vibration from traveling.
  • Make sure the ball on your fuel line is hard and primed. If your motor is not getting fuel, it won’t start!

Before You Get In Line

If you are launching your boat at a State Park or private marina, you most likely will have to pay a fee. Fill out the information on the envelope and pay your fee prior to getting in line at the ramp.

Also, unhook your straps and remove your transom saver prior to getting to the water. Only leave your front strap hooked until you boat is in the water.

Backing Your Boat Down the Ramp

Inexperience boaters are often uneasy about backing their boat down straight down the ramp. Follow these techniques

  • Start by making sure your trailer is straight behind your truck. Keep your wheel in line with the side of your truck.
  • Place one hand on the bottom of the steering wheel to determine which way you want the trailer to move. If your boat needs to go to the left, move your bottom hand to the left.
  • Practice in a parking lot away from the lake until you are comfortable backing the trailer in a straight line.

Multi-Slot Boat Ramps

If the boat ramp you are using can accommodate more than one boat at a time, make sure you don’t take up more than one space. This seems like a pretty obvious thing to do, but it happens all the time.

No Partner?

  • If you are fishing without a partner, make sure your front deck is clean and easily accessible. This will make climbing into your boat when it’s backed down the ramp quick and easy.
  • Start your boat and quickly tie it off on the opposite side of the courtesy dock (if there is one) or pull your boat up onto the bank away from the ramp so you don’t block any other boaters once you move your tuck.

Courtesy Dock

The courtesy dock is for unloading your boat. If you have to get rods ready, change lures, re-spool your reel, motor out to the middle of the cove or the lake. Hanging around the courtesy dock will prevent others who ARE launching their boat from using it.

Don’t be the guy at the ramp that everyone hates to have in front of them. Putting your boat in the water should be quick and easy. Do you have any other tips for getting your boat in the water quickly and easily? Let me  know by leaving a comment!

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Spring fishing is almost here, and fishermen are coming out of hibernation. Early spring can be boom or bust depending on if you are on the good side of a cold front. This time of year, the weather patterns are somewhat cyclical. We will have three of four days of clear, mile-high skies followed by a low pressure front that pushes through, usually followed by either cold weather or rain…or both. Then the pattern repeats.

Most of us are not individually wealthy and have to work during the week. That leaves the weekend left for fishing. If the Fishing Gods are on your side, the cold fronts will push through on Sunday night leaving Saturday and Sunday day full of great fishing. If you have my luck, the front pushes through on Friday night leaving clear, blue-bird skies, chilly weather and a drop in fish activity.

There are some techniques that you can apply to help pry open the jaws of cold-front bass.

Scale Down
It’s important to scale down your lure presentation. Instead of picking up your baitcasting rod with 15-lb. test, go with a spinning rod with 6- or 8-lb. test.

Stay Tight and Slow Your Presentation
Fish are going to hold tight to cover under cold front conditions. Instead of blowing down a bank and hitting cover with one or two casts, slow down and dissect that cover with your casts. When you are finished, move your boat position and do the same thing from a different angle. The fish are going to be picky, and you are going to have to hit them in the head with your lure. By changing your boat position, you can increase your chances to getting your bait into strike range.

Go Deep
Bass in clear reservoirs like Bull Shoals Lake will move to deep water during high barometric pressure situations. If you were catching fish in five to 10 feet of water before a front, move to 15 or 20 feet.

Lures Selection
Drop Shotting has risen to the top of many fishermen’s lists in the past few years when the bite gets tough. Originally started on the west coast, drop shotting has made its way across the U.S., especially in clear water lakes and reservoirs.

4-inch Grubs are also a go-to lure for tough bass. Fished with an 1/8 oz. jig head, grubs have proven their existence for many years.

Suspending Jerk Baits are popular during early spring. These baits can be tweaked to suspend perfectly or fall very slowly. If your jerk bait rises, add weight by up-sizing the hooks, adding lead strips or adding additional O-rings to the hooks.

Don’t let a climbing barometer deter you from hitting the lake. Re-group, adjust and adapt your techniques to compliment the conditions, and you will have better success on the water.

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10 years ago, my new wife and I went to Marco Island, Florida for our honeymoon. We had the most of the trip paid for my awards points from my wife’s traveling through work. Her Marriott points paid for the hotel for the entire week. Her Diner’s Club points paid for the car rental and air fare. The only thing we had to pay for was fishing and cocktails by the pool.

I am a very lucky man because my wife loves to fish as well as just being on the water. Whenever we go on vacation, we like to hire a guide to take us fishing on the local waters. This trip, we chose Lake Okeechobee in central Florida.

I have always watched the Saturday morning fishing shows with legendary anglers like Bill Dance, Jimmy Houston, Virgil Ward (yes…that long ago) and Roland Martin. I had heard that Roland Martin had a resort on Lake Okeechobee and we decided to hire a guide search for one of the lunkers that these guys have promoted in their shows.

Once we arrived at our hotel in Marco, I did an internet search for guides at Lake O and found one that looked good. We made arrangements for one night at Roland’s place and told the guide we would be ready to go the following morning.

On our way to the lake, I tried to envision what the lake would be like. Most of my bass fishing has been done in Missouri reservoirs like Lake of the Ozarks, Bull Shoals, Table Rock, Norfork, etc. I guess my thoughts painted a better picture of the lake than reality did.

We hit central Florida and, man, what a disappointment. We drove through Clewiston and our jaws hit the floor. I was expecting something that resembled a resort town (Elden or Camdenton, MO). Instead, we found a very rural town with little development. I remember thinking that Roland’s resort must be in the good area. Again…I was wrong. The resort was a glorified Motel 8 but the rooms were cool and the sheets were clean. Even though I was disappointed with the accommodations, I still had hope of a great fishing experience.

The next morning, our guide met us at the boat ramp. Since we were there in September, the fishing was not predicted to be great, and Florida was in the middle of a draught and the shallow lake was even lower.

My goal on any fishing trip is to catch at least one fish. Not a lofty goal, but a realistic one. Some days are great and some days are tough. My captain said that our best chance of catching quality fish was by using shiners and a float. I have been fishing a long time, and live bait has never been an option for me. Since we were paying a lot of money, we agreed to using shiners and a bobber.

Our first stop was fairly close to the boat ramp. I was amazed at how shallow the lake was. Getting to our spot, our captain basically ran his lower unit through the sand to get there. I typically fish in lakes where six feet of water means shutting the motor off! What we did was the equivalent locking in the 4-wheel drive to get to our spot.

Our first spot was the best of the day. I caught a few 2+ lb. fish. The guide told us to watch the bobber. When a bass was getting close to the bait, the shiner would begin to panic and make the bobber go crazy. Within a few minutes, my wife’s bobber was going crazy…and then it disappeared. She set the hook and the battle was on. She did a great job of keeping the fish from jumping and throwing the hook. When she got it to the boat and the guide picked it up, her jaw hit the deck of the boat. It was a 7lb. 1oz. bass…the biggest bass of her life.

Dawn's biggest bass from Lake Okeechobee

10 years ago, I did not have a digital camera…just my Pentax K1000 35mm. I managed to take a one good of the nice bass. My wife was speechless and had the biggest smile on her face. She was so proud that she caught a fish her dad (who is also a big fisherman) would be proud of.

While we did not catch any more lunkers that day, we had a great time. That fish made our day…as well as the rest of our trip. We let the fish go and our captain gave us a lunker certificate which we still have to this day.

After we got back to the ramp, we packed our gear in the car and headed back to Marco for some poolside margaritas to celebrate a great day on the water as well as the beginning of our marriage.

One of my next blogs will cover our 5th anniversary trip to the Florida Keys in search of bone fish, permit and tarpon.

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There are a lot of great fishermen on the tour but one person consistently finishes in the top tier. That person is Kevin VanDam. This year’s Classic win is KVD’s third of his career, and it does not look like he is going to be slowing down any time soon.

Lay Lake in Alabama was the site of this year’s tournament as well as 2007’s Classic. Kevin won the tournament in Beeswax Creek, a spot he found during the 2007 tournament. His secret? Coontails in the backs of creeks and pockets. He found lots of fish that were feeding on gizzard shad so Kevin matched the food source. His secret was to knock his crankbait against the cover and let it fall back down. Most of his strikes came on the fall. Of course, he always had his wife’s homemade cookies on board for luck too!

VanDam’s total for three days was 51-6 followed by Jeff Kriet with 46-6 then Todd Faircloth with 44-3.

The thing I like most about Kevin is that he is a class act. Other fishermen have their gimmicks…yelling when a fish is caught; wearing hoop earrings inside the earlobe, etc. KVD’s gimmick is that he is simply an awesome fisherman. What’s more impressive is that it does not go to his head. He works hard, fishes hard and can accept loss gracefully…as well as winning.

Look for VanDam to be in the top tier in 2010!

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It’s been a long winter and the days are now getting longer, a sure sign that the granddaddy of all fishing tournaments is about to take place.

Starting Friday, February 19, the Bassmaster Classic begins on Alabama’s Lay Lake and runs through Sunday, February 21. ESPN takes the enjoyment to a higher level by beginning their Fantasy Fishing League on the same day.

My coworkers all get a chuckle when I tell them that my fantasy fishing league is starting this weekend. They always respond with comments like, “I WOULD play, but it might interfere with my fantasy tetherball league!” I always respond with the fact that fishing is a billion (with a “B”) dollar industry and is growing annually.

ESPN’s fantasy league is a great way to not only take a chance on some great prizes, but also to learn about the people on the circuit, how they fish, how they read the lake, how they adjust to weather conditions and how they choose the lures to match those conditions.

ESPN does a decent job of providing info and stats for helping with your picks, but there is room for improvement in my opinion. Currently, it is up each player to research the lake, learn each fisherman’s strengths and weaknesses as well as mixing in a bit of luck with their picks. What I HAVE learned though is that no matter how much time and effort I put into researching a tournament, there always seems to be someone who is not in the top 15 that has an awesome day on the water.

Click HERE to register for the Fantasy Fishing Game.

You will have to sign up and then make your picks before Friday afternoon. Once the deadline passes, your picks cannot be changed. After the tournament, your standings will be posted on the website.

Side Note: Congratulations to Pam Martin-Wells of Bainbridge, Ga., who scored the second berth ever for a female angler on the strength of her 2009 Toyota Tundra Women’s Bassmaster Angler of the Year title!

Watch the Bassmaster Classic on ESPN360.com

Check out ESPN Outdoor’s coverage of the Bassmaster Classic this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday on ESPN360.com.

WATCH: Friday ( 5:30pm-8:30pm ET) | Saturday (5:30pm-8:30pm ET) | Sunday (5:30pm-8:30pm ET)

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Below is an article I wrote for the Arkansas Game and Fish Magazine in 2006:

Fishing the clear water at Bull Shoals Lake on the Arkansas-Missouri border can be a challenge, especially in the warm summer months when fish move away from the banks and suspend over deep water. My preferred method for chasing fish is trolling during July, August and September. Trolling behind my pontoon boat allows me to cover a larger amount of water than by casting, and the lure constantly stays the strike zone.

July 4th started out much cooler that a typical summer day with intermittent storms forecasted. Looking like it might be a good day on the water, my in-laws agreed to watch our two children for a few hours while my wife and I went trolling.

We started on the flats directly in front of the Hwy. 125 campground and headed toward the ferry. My depth finder was showing the thermocline around 28 feet, so I put a Norman DD-22 on all three trolling rods with enough line out to hopefully reach depths of 25-27 feet. I was trying to keep the boat in 40 to 60 feet of water, but the contour of the land made it difficult.

Just as we were rounding the point by the ferry, my rod started jumping. My wife and I take turns reeling in fish when we fish together, and it was my turn. As I got the fish close to the boat, I thought to myself that it could be a yellow perch and that it might even be big enough for a state record. My father-in-law and I have caught five or six yellow perch in the last few years, but they have all been between six and eight inches long. The fish on the line was a bit over 14 inches long, and I did not know if they grew to be that big.

My wife, who has never seen a yellow perch before, said, “WOW…it’s a peacock bass!” When we are not actually fishing, we like to spend Saturday mornings watching fishing on television. These shows often feature peacock bass fishing trips to South America, and my wife is fascinated with them. I quickly told her that it definitely was not a peacock bass, but I could, see some color similarities between the two fish (just to make her feel better).

The fish’s air sack had expanded enough to protrude from its mouth since it was caught in deep water. I put him in the live well but the fish died almost immediately. We decided to head back to the dock and get the fish on ice.

Kevin Jones with the "biggest little fish" in Arkansas - 2006

When we got back to the house, I immediately did a search on the internet to see what the Arkansas state record was for yellow perch. To my surprise, there was no record listed on any of the sites I visited. I tried to call the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, but it was not open since it was a holiday.

When I called the next day, I spoke to Ken Shirley, District Supervisor – Fisheries Division for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. I told him that I thought that I had a large yellow perch, and that I could not find any indication of a state record. His response was, “If it’s a yellow perch, you have a record. No one has ever checked in a yellow perch in Arkansas.” He asked me questions about the fish in an effort to get a positive identification. With every question, I was getting more exited because I realized that my fish was in fact a yellow perch.

He told me that he was located in Mountain Home, Arkansas and that I needed to bring the fish in to be weighed on an official scale. The next morning, my wife and I got up early and hit the road hoping to arrive as soon as the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission opened. When we arrived, everyone at the facility was excited to see the fish, and upon inspection, they confirmed that it was a yellow perch. They were sincerely interested in my story asked all the typical questions anyone would ask about a nice fish like, “Where did you catch him? What did you catch him on?” etc.

We met Ken, and he was very eager to help us with our fish. It was nice to talk with him and ask all the questions that have been in my head about the fishing at Bull Shoals. He was very informative, and Dawn and I both enjoyed his stories.

Since Ken’s office did not have and official scale, we went to the local post office to use one of their scales. Given the events of 9/11, we had to get special permission to be admitted to the back area where the scale was located. While we were waiting, people in line were giving us some pretty funny looks since we were holding a cooler with a fish wrapped in newspaper.

Once we weighed the fish, Ken asked to see the documentation that stated that the scale was certified. Unfortunately, they could not find any paperwork, so we had to find another scale in town.

Since Mountain Home is not that big of a town, our choices were becoming limited. Ken made a few phone calls and found out that the local supermarket had an official scale that we could use. The scale was in the meat cutting department, so we were very cautious as to not let the fish touch anything except the butcher paper that was provided. The guys working in that department were excited to see that catch but quickly returned to work once the fish hit the scale.

The official weight was 1.24 lbs. Ken recorded the weight and thanked the store manager, and we headed back to Ken’s office where he submitted the information to make the record official. He said, “You will receive an official certificate from the state in the next few months, and your name will be in all of 2007 Arkansas fishing regulations handbooks.”

Many fishermen grow up having dreams of catching a state record fish, and usually it’s a largemouth or smallmouth bass or walleye. Yellow perch is rarely at the top of an anglers list (at least in Arkansas!) My boss affectionately refers to my fish as “the biggest little fish in Arkansas”. It’s not a 15 lb. largemouth, but it is a state record, and I will remember that 4th of July every time I look at that fish on my wall.

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Wow…this is a great parka!

I have had the opportunity to wear it on several hunts and have really enjoyed it. Most extreme weather jackets are too big and bulky to be effective in a tree stand. I found that this jacket is not bulky, and it keeps you warm and dry. Movement is easy, and shouldering a rifle or getting my bow up and ready is a breeze.

The parka is easy to put on and remove. The “slick” Scent-Lok material allows the arms to easily slide through the sleeves. Other jackets are tough to put on and take off, especially ones that are “two-in-one” jackets.

The fit is snug, but not constricting. I can sit down and not have the parka ride up and hit me in the chin. The weight of the parka is perfect – heavy enough to keep the wind from penetrating, and light enough not to interfere with activity.

While the parka is not as quiet as fleece, it is still extremely quiet. I was able to draw my bow back without being detected by a deer at 15 yards from my stand.

I also liked the flaps that cover all the zippers on the coat. I am guessing this feature helps keep the parka 100 percent waterproof. I believe it also cuts down on accidental noise.

Features and Benefits:

Gore-Tex Performance Shell
Once again, Gore-Tex comes through with an effective product that anyone who hunts or fishes should consider owning. Of the eight times I wore the jacket, three of those were in the rain. Not once did I get wet or even get the feeling that I was getting wet. Other water-proof jackets make me sweat, thus making my clothes wet which defeats the purpose of rain gear.

Thinsulate Supreme Insulation 
have always been a fan on Thinsulate, and my loyalty still stands strong. This insulation is extremely effective. The coldest temperature tested was 28 degrees, and I never got cold…or even chilled. My core stayed comfortable as did my arms.

Other parkas offer big, bulky insulation. While they might be warm, they are not effective for hunting because the thickness constricts movement. I have worn these bulky jackets in the past, and when I shouldered a rifle or shot gun, the gun was too far away from my arm pit to be effective or accurate. It was almost as if I was holding the gun straight out in front of me. This parka is heavy and warm, but is thin enough to not impede hunting activities.

Scent-Lok
This is the first piece of hunting clothing that I have used that utilizes Scent-Lok technology. I have always been skeptical of this product because, in my mind, it is not possible to eliminate 100% of my odor. Just breathing, alone, will put unwanted scent in the woods. I am, however, an optimist at heart and love the thought that some piece of clothing could reduce non-natural odors in the woods.

I did not follow the manufacturer’s instructions for activating/re-activating the Scent-Lok technology. I simply used the wind in determining my deer stand location.

Mossy Oak
Camo I have always been a big fan of Mossy Oak camo patterns. Just about every piece of clothing that I own has one of their realistic patterns on it. They are the industry standard for concealment in the woods or in a duck blind.

The Mossy Oak pattern on my jacket is Mossy Oak Break Up. It has enough green in the design to be effective in early bow season and sprint turkey season. The dark base makes the highlights really pop. The realistic limb and leaf patterns totally blend into the hunter’s environment. I love this stuff!

Other Features:

Pockets – It is evident that the makers of this parka have spent time in a tree stand! Not only are the pockets placed in easy-to-access places, but the zippers are easy to open and close with one hand. The pockets are also deep and wide to easily handle my hunting accessories.

Buttons – The rubber-coated buttons are a nice feature. I did not have to worry about hitting my bow or my release on metal anymore!

Velcro on Wrist – Another nice feature that helps avoid sleeve “creep”. My hands were always free of any sleeve obstruction.

Hood – The hood on this parka is fully functional. A very cool feature is the strap on the back of the hood. The benefit is that the hood can be adjusted so that it does not cover your face when up. If you wear a hat under the hood, you can let the strap out so that it fits easily over the hat. I have not seen this feature on other parkas. It is another example of the attention to detail seen in this design.

Unless it is extremely cold, I typically will not use the hood since it interferes with listening in the woods. Only when it is very cold am I willing to trade warmth for hearing. I will utilize the hood anytime I fish, however. I am looking forward to my late winter trip to Bull Shoals!

Elastic Waist Band – I liked this feature. The elastic kept the coat “connected” to my body. It also keeps cold air from entering through the bottom of the parka. It’s a very small detail that most manufacturers would overlook. Again, when asking a hunter to pay $340 for a parka, features like this help justify the cost.

Target Market:

The people that I think would be interested in the parka would include serious hunters, wealthy hunters and hunters who live in very cold climates. The price tag on this is pricey but well justified. I believe novice hunters would not buy a parka of this quality. Serious hunters (hunters who spend more than 30 days in the woods or on a lake) could easily justify the higher price.

Conclusion:

Hunters will spend money on two types of gear: gear that will keep them warm, dry and comfortable and gear that will help them take more game. I believe this parka does both!

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