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It is almost October in Missouri. For fisherman, that means that it is time for the annual Fall Big Bash Bash (BBB) at Lake of the Ozarks. The fall tourney is always the first full weekend of October and draws thousands of fisherman in search of one great bite that will mean pay day.

Big Bass Bash

7.04 largemouth

The Big Bash Bash is an excellent tournament because it gives everyday fisherman the chance to compete for real money like the big boys of the FLW or Bassmasters do on their circuits. This tournament is different, however, from regular fishing tournaments. In the BBB, fisherman are really only looking for one good bite. Big fish for the day will win someone $100,000. Second place will take home $20,000, third is $10,000 and fourth is $5,000. More than $105,000 guaranteed in bi-hourly payouts with a total of 240 places paid. 30 places will are paid for each of the four time slots (7-9, 9-11, 11-1, 1-3). Typically, fisherman are looking to weigh five fish for the heaviest weight.

I have had several friends fish recent Big Bash Bashes on Lake of the Ozarks, and I have always been curious about their strategy. A few of them have taken checks in recent Bashes which is really quite an accomplishment given the number and quality of anglers. After listening to them as well as formulating my own plan of action, I have my own roadmap to hopefully take a check at this year’s BBB.

1 – Just fish
I know this sounds funny, but how many times have you been pre-fishing for a tournament and hook into a nice 4 lb.+ bass. I believe that I fish better when I am not under pressure to win. Take your time and enjoy the day. Fish like you want to fish, and don’t be inundated with information from anyone and everyone on the Internet and friends of friends. Go out and fish the way that is comfortable to you, and gives you the best confidence in catching fish.

2- Do something different than the rest of the crowd
There are going to be a ton of boats on the Lake for this tournament. Chances are that at some point in the day, I will be following someone down a bank. When that happens, I am going to be very aware of what the people in the boat in front of us are throwing. My plan will be to show the fish something different. If they are fishing, jigs, I am going to switch to a large swim bait or spinnerbaits and search for fishing in a different part of the water column. I could also use a different type of bottom bouncer to present to the fish something different. If they are fishing show and picking apart a piece of structure, I might try a faster presentation and go for a reaction strike.

3 – Use big-bass lures
While I will have a few “regular” lures tied on my line, the majority will be large jigs, swim baits or other large-profile baits. I am looking for one bite all day. If a fish hits one of these baits, it will most likely be a money fish.

4 – Target out-of-the-way brush piles
If you have had the chance to place your own brush piles in the Lake, then you are in luck. If not (like me), you have to rely on the handy work of others. When pre fishing for any tournament, I am always very aware of other fishermen on the water. I pay special  attention to those boats who are camped on a bank that would not be a “typical” bank. A good example would be someone who is fishing a do-nothing bank, and they are not moving very fast. Chances are, they are fishing some out-of-the-way brush. Once they leave, I go check out what was making stay in that spot for such a long period of time.

5 – Hope for some serious luck
Someone is going to win, it might as well be you. There are always a lot of anglers on the Lake. Luck goes a long way when searching for big fish. I always tell my partner that we have a 50/50 chance to win…either we will or we won’t. I never did well at statistics…





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I showed up at Tim Schulte’s farm to turkey hunt and go jug fishing. Unfortunately, neither the turkeys nor the catfish were aware of the weekend’s game plan. Mother Nature was also on the side of the animals because it rained just about the entire weekend.

I got to the farm late Thursday night. I figured it would be better to get there late and sleep in till 4:45 a.m. than get up at 3 a.m. and head to the farm. As usual, I slept well. Tim and Ben Cole showed up just after 5 a.m. and we headed into the woods. They headed to the back of the farm while I went to the field and sat in the ground blind (that would eventually provide great cover from the rain).

I have been hunting at the Schulte farm since 1993. Spring turkey season always provides great hunts with lots of gobbling by the toms. Unfortunately, this year was different. I did not hear one gobble all weekend. Tim and Ben heard some in the distance, but none was close to the farm.

I did get to see dogs chase four deer about 35 yards from my blind. There is nothing more relaxing than having two dogs start barking and howling at the exact time the turkeys should start flying down from their roost. We have had problems with these dogs in the past and this weekend was no different. They noisily made their way through the neighbor’s farm and eventually to Tim’s farm. I actually spotted the small dog twice. I sure hope those dogs don’t get hit by a passing car or truck.

After the barking and chasing dog episode, I spotted another deer that emerged from the cedar patch across from me. The deer went to the creek for a drink and then headed back into the woods to eventually pop back out into the field exactly in the same spot where the other four deer emerged about a half hour earlier. He/she eventually made his/her way around the edge of the field and out of site.

It wasn’t’ long after the deer left that it started raining. My plan to hunt in the pop-up blind was finally paying off. Tim and Ben headed to the back of the farm…and they “got their panties wet”! While I did not see any turkeys, I did see deer and stayed dry. The guys emerged from the woods about an hour after the rain started, and they picked me up and we headed back to the cabin for a quick high ball and a nap.

Jug Fishing

Turkey season closes every day in Missouri at one o’clock p.m. That leaves the rest of the day to do what ever we want. The activity of choice this year was jug fishing on the Missouri and Gasconade Rivers. I have never jug fished for catfish before, but it has always interested me.

Catfishing usually includes a stout rod and reel with heavy line and heavy sinkers followed by lots of snags and fighting a strong current and really, really stinky bait. Jug fishing is different. The “sport” consists of a jug (two coffee cans soldered together, a half of a “noodle” float, an old duck decoy or even an empty paint can), a heavy line, a weight and a hook.

The line is tied to one side of the jug so the jug stands on end when a fish takes the bait that hangs anywhere from 1 ft. to 4 feet below the jug.

The basic technique for jug fishing is this:

  • Put a hot dog on the hook
  • Place the jug in the water
  • Repeat 15 times with the remaining jugs
  • Move the boat above, below or to the side of the jugs
  • Watch the jugs and drink beer.

That’s about it.

It is definitely not a physically demanding sport, but it does get interesting when a jug gets hung up in a wing or trail dike that is located just below the surface of the rising river. Releasing the jug takes some pretty savvy boat maneuvering.

We fished for about three hours each day, and we only caught one channel catfish that weighed about three pounds. The great news is that it rained on us both days…and we got our panties wet…again. Here is a great photo (from my Blackberry) of the back of my truck to show how much rain fell from Thursday night through Saturday afternoon. It’s basically a poor man’s rain gauge.

Poor Man's Rain Gauge

Poor Man's Rain Gauge

We had some great food and even better company. Nick Zagarri, Zach Cole, Ben, Tim and I had a fantastic weekend and are going to miss the cabin until late September when bow hunting season starts.

Watching the Rain...Waiting for Dinner

Nick Zagarri cooking wings and Tim Schulte watching the rain from the front porch of the deer cabin.

I sure hope those dogs don’t get hit by a truck while we are gone.

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I was watching the Bassmaster Elite Series tournament in the California Delta on ESPN2 a few weeks ago. They were highlighting Mike Iaconelli on the opening morning of the tournament. When Mike got to his first bank, someone who was not in the tournament was already there fishing. Mike started to talk to the guys in the boat. Their conversation went something like this (I’m paraphrasing):

Ike – “How’s it going?”

Other Boat – “Fine.”

Ike – “Are you guys tournament fishing?”

Other Boat – “Nope…Aren’t you Mike Iaconelli?”

Ike – “Yes – I’ve been fishing this bank for four days.”

Other Boat – *silent*

Ike – “Can I go ahead and jump in front of you?”

Other Boat – *silent*

Mike then went ahead and started fishing in front of these guys because he thought that, since he was fishing a tournament, he was somehow more important and more deserving to fish that particular bank at that time.

I have seen this many times, especially on Lake of the Ozarks (LOZ) in Missouri. LOZ is pounded by both recreational and tournament fisherman on a daily basis. I have had MANY boats cut in on me on many occasions, and it infuriates me when it happens.

I wish I could have been the guy in the “other boat” from the conversation above. If so, the conversation would have gone something like this:

Ike – “I’ve been fishing this bank for four days.”

Me – “You must have done pretty good to fish it for four days…what were you catching them on?”

Ike – “I’m fishing a tournament, can I jump in front of you?”

Me – “No…I worked all week and this is the only time I get to fish for the next three weeks. You have fished for four days straight. I was here first and you can jump in behind me if you like, but please don’t crowd me because I’m getting some great fish.”

Ike – *kicks breaks his rear running light and throws it in the water while screaming,* “But I’m Mike Iaconelli…Elite Series Tournament Pro.”

Me – “Never give up, Mike…never give up.”

I feel etiquette should dictate that a boater, if he/she is going to fish a bank that is already occupied by someone else, should jump in BEHIND the existing boat. Most tournament rules require that a distance of 50 yards should separate boaters, but it says nothing about which side of an existing boat is acceptable (to my knowledge).

It seems that tournament fisherman think that, since there is money on the line, they somehow get bank priority over recreational fisherman. Fishermen weigh many factors when developing a “game plan” for a tournament…even for just a day of recreational fishing. Wind, temperature, barometric pressure, channel location, water color, cloudy vs. clear skies, etc. all factor how and where you should fish. In my mind, having other boaters on the water is simply another factor you have to weigh to determine fishing location.

Do I want to fish a bank that has been pounded for three weeks straight? Probably not. I would get out but not an obvious place for fisherman to find. If I get to a bank, and it already has someone on it, my first response is, “I should have hit this bank first and I could have had it to myself.” If I absolutely HAD to fish that bank, I would hop over to a nearby bank and wait until that fisherman was done and THEN go to the bank.

Maybe I am wrong and am reading too much into this. How many of you have been fishing on a bank and had a boat jump in front of you? I would love to know your thoughts on this.

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One of my Twitter followers, @mnangler, read my last blog post on boat ramp etiquette and noticed that I forgot to mention tips for getting your boat back on the trailer after a day of fishing. Excellent point, thank you MNAngler!

Getting your boat back on the trailer is an easy process. Simply repeat in reverse the process of putting it INTO the water.

When you approach the courtesy dock (or bank), park your boat on the opposite side of the ramp as to not block anyone else from backing into the water while you are walking to your truck. If there is not courtesy dock and you have to park on the bank, park well away from the ramp. Turn your engine off and remove your boat keys. This step will help prevent anyone from taking your boat.

Typically, a boat ramp is not as busy as the day progresses. Everyone tends to show up all at once at first light, but the “end of the day” varies for each fisherman. Consequently, you may have less traffic to deal with when pulling your boat.

Back your trailer down the ramp to where the water is at the top of your wheels. How far you back your trailer into the water will vary from boat to boat. When you find your trailer’s “sweet spot”, make a mental note of how far your wheels stick out of (or how far they are in) the water.

If you back the trailer in too far, you boat will not hit the running boards and your hull will slam into the trailer. Your boat should contact the running boards enough for you to have to either give it a little gas or simply crank it on. Turn your engine off and trim your motor up so you don’t make contact with the ground.

If you are fishing with a partner, they can attach the boat to the trailer. If you are fishing alone, you do that yourself.

Once the boat is secured to the trailer, single boaters can climb off the front of the boat on to the trailer. Having your deck clear of rods and lures will help this process.

Depending on the slope of the trailer, you might have to get your feet wet if the bumper of your truck is past the water line. If you don’t have a shell on your truck, you can climb into your truck’s bed and jump off the side onto dry land. If you drive an SUV, you can open the back hatch and crawl through the vehicle.

During cold weather, I like to carry a pair of rubber boots that can easily be slipped on so my feet don’t get wet when I go from the trailer to the truck.

You can now pull your boat out of the water and finish strapping the boat to the trailer putting on the transom saver. Make sure you pull far enough away from the boat ramp so others can easily access the ramp. Blocking the ramp to clean up your boat or put your rods away or to put on your transom saver is a big NO NO.

Drain all live wells completely. Some states are having trouble with zebra mussels, which can be transported from one body or water to another by water left in the live wells. If you have been in water that you KNOW has zebra mussels and you are heading to a new lake, wipe down your hull and check your motor and trailer for any unwanted zebra mussel hitchhikers too. Manual car washes are a quick way to remove them.

Pulling your boat is a process that gets easier the more you do it.

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Another spring cold front day so it was another day to chase white bass on Bull Shoals.

My wife, daughter and father-in-law went as far back as they could get his boat in Shoal Creek. There were only a few other boats at the back of Shoal, the rest of the crowd was at the back of Big Creek, which is accessible by both boat and car.

The fish really did not start biting until 2 p.m. There really is no science to catching these fish this time of year. They are stacked at the back of flowing creeks…getting ready to spawn.

Everyone was catching fish, but eventually, my daughter got tired of casting. She was content on letting her poppy cast and hook the fish so she could then take the rod and reel in the fish. Poppy took the fish off the hook and she would run it back to the live well. By the time she came back to the front of the boat, poppy had another fish on the line.

White Bass Fishing on Bull Shoals

Brenna and one of her white bass from Bull Shoals

While the few other boats were in what they thought was the back of the creek, Tom found the creek channel and went up another 100 yards or so, into about two feet of water. That is where the majority of the fish were located.

The lure of choice was a white Bang Tail…1/2 oz. They had a great day on the water and landed 38 fish total. They missed a bunch as well. Brenna caught 15, Tom caught 15 and Dawn caught eight. That’s a pretty good day on the water.

White Bass Fishing on Bull Shoals

Catch of the Day - White Bass

As for me, I had the opportunity to take my boy fishing…just us…in my boat. This was the first time we have done this, and it was truly a fantastic trip. We only fished for about two hours.

Colin really got into casting his rod and did so for about 20 minutes. I was smart enough to take his Nintendo DS and some food and drink to keep him busy while I fished from the front of the boat.

When he had finally had enough fishing, he wanted to go for a boat ride. He got to drive…

Truly a great day on the water, and one that I will never forget. Fish or no fish.

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The water is in the low 40’s. The extreme cold is gone (hopefully), and they days are getting longer. These conditions are perfect for suspending jerkbait fishing on your favorite lake or reservoir.

Smithwick Rogue

Smithwick Rogue Suspending Jerkbait

March is a great month to be on the water. Fish are filling up with eggs which means the chances of catching a lunker are greater now that at any other time of year. The way I like to chase these lunkers is with a suspending jerkbait.

When the water is cold, bass do not want to expend a lot of energy catching their dinner. Spinnerbaits and crankbaits are effective search baits in warmer water, but in the cold water, bass will often wait for an easier feast.

A jerkbait can be fished many ways. Finding the cadence of jerks and pauses is simply a matter of trial and error. When the water is colder, I like to let the bait rest for at least 15 to 20 seconds between jerks. As the water temperature rises, I quicken the pace.

Don’t be afraid to try different retrieves: jerk-jerk-pause; jerk-pause-jerk; jerk-jerk-jerk-pause; Let the fish tell you how they want it. Once they tell you, you can stick with that pattern for the rest of the day.

The most important aspect of jerkbait fishing is to make sure the bait is neutrally buoyant or rising VERY slowly. Above all, you do not want your bait to sink.

If your bait does not suspend correctly, you can add weight to it several ways. The first way is to add larger hooks. If the bait raises with #6 hooks, switch one or all of the hooks to #4 hooks. A second way to weight the bait is to add additional O-rings to the hooks. This should be done only when the bait is slightly too lite. The third way is to add lead strips or dots to the bait.

Stgorm Suspend Dots

Storm Suspend Dots are great tools for fine-tuning your suspending jerkbait.

These strips or dots can be purchased at your local tackle shop and are placed on the front or middle of the lure so that it rests horizontally or with its head down.

There are many brands of suspending jerkbaits on the market today. Perhaps the best-known is the Smithwick Rogue. The Rogue comes in many different colors and sizes. I primarily fish clear water reservoirs, so I like to fish natural shad colors. Darker water calls for brighter colors like chartreuse and orange.

Whatever brand and color you choose, a suspending jerkbait is an extremely effective way to put fish in the boat during early spring. Contact me via the comments section if you are interested in custom-painted jerkbaits.

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