mackerell

LTC Scott Allen, Josh Gowan and Josh “Crow” Crowley with a king mackerel from the Gulf of Mexico

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Heartlander Abroad Part II: Mexico Beach

By Josh Gowan

The iconic family vacation, an escape from the familiar scenery and brain-numbing doldrums of our day jobs, when we lock up the home front and pack enough food and luggage (and in my case fishing gear) to start a new civilization on a deserted tropical island. Of course, any hopes of starting anew and populating our own little piece of paradise were dashed when we realized we were all related, so procreation was out of the question, and we burned through (pun intended) all 8 bottles of 50 SPF sunscreen by Wednesday!

Mexico Beach, part of the “Forgotten Coast” on the inner stretch of the Florida Panhandle is truly a gem. Thinking back, I’m not quite sure how we happened upon the locale last year, but we’d been to Gulf Shores and Destin, and we’re looking for something different, and we certainly found it! My sister wanted to drive into Panama City one night and eat and shop because she’d never been there, and we were all reminded of why we liked Mexico Beach so much!

It is the equivalent of taking one of our small towns in the region, Portageville for instance, and stretching it along the beach. No high rises, no stoplights, and most importantly no crowds. The only negative trait of this particular destination is that it’s only about five miles from the next time zone, causing our iPhones to switch back and forth regularly, and at least once activating my 5am alarm an hour early!

While my travel companions look forward to the R&R side of vacation, I was there to fish, and fish I did! After four years of fishing the Gulf of Mexico from various places, one week per year, I fall into the “veteran tourist” category of fishermen. My rapid climb up the ranks is due to persistence and application, and more trial and error than the Manhattan Project!

I love to shore fish, and brought everything needed to keep four lines in the water at all times. Unfortunately, the majority of my catch consisted of saltwater catfish. The locals say they are not good to eat, and I didn’t keep any to try, a mistake I will not repeat next year. You see, I have come to understand something about the locals. They are privy to a ton of unbelievably white, meaty fish that does not exist outside of saltwater, and therefore deem fish that us lowly mid-westerners/southerners find delicious not worth the trouble of cleaning! I have been told by multiple locals that shark is not worth feeding to your dog, and let me tell you something my friends, it is phenomenal to my landlocked palette! It filets just like catfish, and pan-fried in cornmeal it tastes better than crappie, and you all know my love for fried crappie! Next year I will definitely try the catfish for myself, and make my own judgment!

Soon after arriving at our townhome, I met Lieutenant Colonel Scott Allen, who worked at Tyndall Air Force Base (right next door) and lived there full time. Not only did Scott send us to the best restaurant we’ve ever been to and let us borrow his array of ocean toys (long board, kayak, etc…) while he was at work, but he took Wednesday off to take myself and my brother-in-law Crow out in his boat fishing. The fishing was slow and Scott was apologetic, but we had a blast, especially Crow who reeled in a 27 inch king mackerel which I grilled the next night! We were surrounded by dolphins at one point, and jumped some of the biggest, bluest waves I’ve ever seen!

On Thursday my mother and stepdad/fishing buddy Perry showed up, and Friday morning found us on the pier and me intently trying to get Perry on some ocean fish! It didn’t take long, and he was bringing in an array of small fish with the Sabiki rigs that we cut up for bait, and once we found the right spot we reeled in shark after shark after shark! We kept our limit and I filleted and pan-fried them for lunch, the plate was clean in a matter of minutes!

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shore

Josh Gowan shore fishing at Mexico Beach, Fl.

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By Josh Gowan

Heartlander Abroad: Mexico Beach, Fl.

An eerie calmness lay about the sea, the waves ceased to break, and the water temperature dropped 10 degrees in a matter of minutes. The Gulf of Mexico and all its’ inhabitants felt the presence of their greatest threat, the dreaded return of the one predator that could not be defeated, evaded, or defended against…

This is how my arrival played out in my mind, the entire Gulf and all its’ fish and crabs shivering in fear as I walked onto the beach, in slow motion, and accompanied by dramatic music. The reality was less cinematic, unless you consider “The Three Stooges” cinematic! Within a few hours of getting settled into our house, I walked out to the beach to check on my old honey-holes. I eased down to the rock jetty that was the source of my massive blue crab haul last year, and promptly received a push from a rogue wave, causing me to lose balance and slide off the moss-covered rock I was standing on and into a few more, each one more sharp and jagged than the last.

Like most people, I’m actively involved in social media, and recently saw the story about the man who was in the Gulf with an open wound and contracted some sort of brain-eating ameba, and died within a few days of coming home. My wife, sister, and 1,000 or so other people I know saw the video as well and warned me to steer clear of the water, being that the rocks cut me up pretty good. I used peroxide and triple-antibiotic cream every few hours, and had decided to stay out of the water for 24 hrs. My entire family was down at the beach, and I was sitting out on the deck watching them, when my neighbor got home and we started to chit-chat.

This gorgeous, sparsely populated stretch of beach is located right down the road from a large military base, and my neighbor Scott, lives here full time and is a helicopter pilot, specializing in flying rescue missions. He asked what I was doing up here alone, and I showed him my injuries. He said “you know what the best cure for cuts and scrapes is? Salt water!” He swears by the healing power of the ocean, and being that he’s lived on the beach for longer than I’ve been alive and is the picture of health, I put my trunks on and headed to the water!

This morning (Monday) was the first day I fished. I was up at 5am looking for my fishing partner, my brother-in-law “Crow”. He was nowhere to be found, so I loaded up my four surf rods, four 4’ PVC shore rod holders, tripod, 40 lb backpack style tackle box, the five-gallon bucket that held water and the bait I caught last night, and my coffee and made the 50 yard walk through the sand in my flip flops. I no more than got the first stake in the ground, and here comes my partner…

Unfortunately, the wind was blowing around 40 mph and the waves were both enormous and relentless, slamming small patches of seaweed into my lines, and creating constant havoc. I managed a few catfish, and Crow caught a small flounder. In the morning we are heading to the pier, and Wednesday we’re going out fishing with a friend, from then on, who knows!

The best part of this particular locale, and why we drive past much more popular tourist traps, is the lack of people. Yesterday afternoon, we shared 150 yards of beach with one other family, and today is not much different. Now if go-karts and waterparks are your thing, this isn’t the place for you, but if spending time on the beach is your number one priority, the “Forgotten Coast” as they call it, is hard to beat.

The most interesting part of our trip thus far was our meal last night, but that story will have to wait, as I am nearly out of room and am being summoned down to the beach to see the latest seashell the kids harvested!

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acat

Kyle Duke with a 40 lb. blue catfish

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By Josh Gowan

Gorgeous Weekend in the Outdoors

At least I assume it was a gorgeous weekend in the outdoors, it was a gorgeous weekend in my backyard! July/August is a tough time in the outdoors writer’s circles, as most of us are consumed with family vacations and gardening, there’s nothing to hunt, and it is generally too hot for most folks to fish, and for most fish to bite. I have found a few new hobbies while taking some time off from the lake, which was necessary in order to preserve my pennies for vacation!

My son and I have been doing quite a bit of woodworking, repurposing old pallets and turning them into old pallets, but in different shapes and colors! We were contemplating going worldwide with our business, but had a massive corporate fallout when our Director of New Product Development (my son) got a splinter, and our Industrial Pallet Separation Machine (my jigsaw) burned up on the same day, but we’ll be back! My other newfound hobby that provides zero fish or game to the freezer is volleyball. I know, and I have no explanation other than my entire family plays, we all need the exercise, and darn it, it’s fun! Fun that is, right up until Saturday evening when I jumped as high as I could (my wife said I couldn’t have been more than 10-11 inches off the ground, but I’m quite sure I recall looking down and seeing the top of the net just below my feet..) and hit a magnificent shot, consequently twisting my spine into a pretzel. So this week’s article is brought to you by Ibuprofen, Flexereal, and Ziplocks (in the gallon size.) After all, when pressing a bag of ice against your back, it’s best not to skimp on cheap, unreliably sealing bags!!

Now for some actual outdoor news! The bite over on Reelfoot is slow by all accounts I’ve heard. I had a few different guys give me reports of catching anywhere from one, and up to as much as two, crappie! The number one activity going on at the lake is catfishing, and you can catch all you want! Some anglers are jugging, or floating the Black Swans out across the big part of the lake and catching boatloads of cats, and the rod and reel guys are catching even more. The key is using Sonny’s Stink Bait smeared on to Doc’s Worm with a 1/2 oz. to 3/4 oz. sinker. Cast out, wait for a bite, and set the hook, then the fun begins!!

Over on Kentucky Lake the bass fishing has been tough, and according to Kick’n Bass Guide service the high pressure system we’ve had over the last week has been the reason. The bite should dramatically improve as the cool air moves out and we return to normal summer weather patterns. Captain Rich has been catching good numbers of crappie pulling crankbaits in 16-19 ft of water out of the Kick’n Bass pontoon, for more information on what these guys are hauling in go to www.kentuckylake.com and click on the Kick’n Bass fishing report.

The bullfrogs have been both large and plentiful, and it’s a shame more folks don’t pursue them. Missouri has a regulated season, and is scheduled by tradition rather than common sense, opening on June 30th (a Monday this year) rather than the last Saturday in June. Frog gigging is a lot like dove season, it has no competition from other seasons and is mostly taken advantage of on opening weekend. With the conservation departments of all states putting increased participation at the top of their list of goals, a bit of logic would go a long way when it comes to scheduling the seasons.

The hottest bite and biggest game is still, and will continue to be monster blue cats on the river, in this case, the Ohio River. My old buddy Justin Berry from East Prairie, MO has been piling up the big blue cats. He’s still using fresh caught skipjack, drift-fishing in 38 ft. of water. He depends heavily on his Humminbird 1199 depthfinder, where he can actually see the fish biting the bait! I’m going to get out there with him soon!

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greg

Greg Kriedler of Portageville, MO with his first fish!

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By Josh Gowan

Cool Front and Bowfishing

We’ve all heard the old saying, “you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.” While this may be accurate, sometimes an overwhelmingly positive second impression can completely overturn the first. I’m talking of course about our dear friend the polar vortex (DUN DUN DUNNNN!!) I lambasted the weather media for exploiting a doomsday-ish term they found lurking in the first printing of the Encyclopedia Britannica, used simply for sensationalism and attracting viewers, back in January when it first appeared. Now my tune has changed, drastically, and after the type of weather we endured this past weekend, I’m celebrating the coming of another polar vortex!

Although it was so hot and humid it made your knees sweat on Saturday, we are allegedly on the verge of much cooler weather, with lows in the 50′s and high’s in the 70′s! Wednesday looks to be the best day to take advantage of the weather, with the barometer well over 30. Although I spent the weekend in the pool, manning the grill, and playing game after game of volleyball (I have no explanation for my new-found love of America’s 17th favorite sport, but dang it it’s fun!) there were some among us who got out and caught and/or shot some fish!

My buddy Kevin Murphy was back at Kentucky Lake pulling crankbaits, and put up decent numbers of crappie again, although he dealt with some serious trials and tribulations in the process. The tactic of pulling crankbaits, as I have described in this article previously, requires baits to be 100+ ft. behind the boat and moving at a speed of 1.5 mph respectively. Pulling eight crankbaits is the norm, and even with poles spreading them out as much as possible, incidents arise. Kevin found crappie in 12 ft. of water, right off a 10 ft. flat. The problem was that the 10 ft. flat was loaded with catfish, largemouth bass, stripers, and so on. The only way to get to the crappie was by making big, wide turns over the flat the cross back through the target area. One 10 lb. catfish took it upon himself (or herself, I didn’t ask for specifics) to engulf one crankbait and fight through the other seven lines, providing one of the biggest clusters Kevin had ever seen. The color that worked the best, was once again “Awesome Pink” in a Bandit 300 series.

Jon Hunter from Southeast Missouri is the founder of SEMO Bowfishing, a bowfishing team that travels and fishes, or shoots, tournaments. Jon got into bowfishing in 2010, and started fishing tournaments shortly thereafter. He hooked up with another avid bowfisherman, Corey Bates in 2012, and SEMO Bowfishing was officially started.

For those of you who know nothing of the sport (and I am only slightly more informed), these guys rig up a boat with more lights than a Def Leapord concert, stand up on platforms on the deck of the boat, and quietly ease through the shallow waters looking for “rough fish” to shoot with a bow and arrow. The arrow is attached to a string, and once shot the fish is reeled in with a reel attached to the bow. This is not a hunt for food, but for game, which is why the conservation departments of most states limit their quarry to only rough fish, i.e. Asian carp, grass carp, common carp, buffalo, and gar. These species are not sought after by conventional anglers, and are therefor overpopulated and under-harvested, and the limits are quite liberal.

Jon’s equipment is extensive, but starts with an AMS Power Eagle bow with AMS Tiger Shark arrows. He fishes out of a 2070 Express rigged with eight, 50 watt Air Ranger Allwater LED’s, and ten, 27 watt LED’s. All the lights run off a 24 volt system, and when the power gets low, an onboard generator kicks on to recharge the batteries. He uses a 101 lb. Minn Kota tiller handle trolling motor, an 899 Humminbird Depthfinder, and a Yamaha 90 horsepower outboard. He built his own raised deck that puts the angler (or hunter, to be honest I’m not sure how to categorize the predator in this setup) up above the glare of the sun or the lights. The line is 200 lb. Decron braid.

The tournaments differ in that some are rewarded for a team’s biggest 20 fish, biggest 30 fish, most fish, or total weight. There is always a “Big Fish” prize, and there is always a side-pot for most fish shot. This past weekend was the First Annual Flying Carp tournament at Peoria, Il. on the Illinois River. The problem was, the carp were not flying. The tournament directors had to deal with high water that kept the airborne and invasive fish from showing up, so they opened the contest to all rough fish. This played right into Jon’s hands, as he quickly gave up on the Asians and went to more familiar tactics targeting grass carp and buffalo.

Team SEMO Bowfishing, which can vary in team members but consisted of Jon Hunter, Luke Hunter, Josh Harding, and Max Clark from Outdoors in the Delta, won 1st place with their 20 fish haul weighing in at 179.3 lbs., and won 1st place Big Fish with a 19.73 lb. grass carp. They earned $1,825 for the win, and this marks SEMO Bowfishing’s 3rd win of the year, with other two coming at Wappapello and Reelfoot Lake. The next tournament is at the Bowfishing Association of America’s World Championship next weekend at Kentucky/Barkley Lake. Jon wanted to thank his sponsors, Viscious Fishing and Outdoors in the Delta.

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bass

Audra Pixley from Cape Girardeau, MO with a 13 lb. 7 oz. largemouth bass she caught out of Rotary Lake in the park while catfishing with chicken livers

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Heartlander Abroad: Kinkaid Lake, IL

By Josh Gowan

For those of us that work a regular 5-day a week job, a 3-day holiday weekend is a magical thing. It’s hard to wrap your head around what it must have been like for a bunch of brave, adventurous Europeans, building a new life in a strange land while being oppressed by taxation from across the Atlantic, to rise up and fight. To proclaim that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were worth dying for, and then to prove it. Our independence is celebrated with fireworks and barbeques, but it was won with blood and bravery. So while dropping a “Benjamin” on fireworks to appease our children, a little insight on who the man was and his connection with the holiday wouldn’t hurt (maybe dig out a $1, $10, and $20 as well!)

Alright, on to the great outdoors! So the truth is, I was only slightly “abroad”, but with towering cliffs and crystal clear water, I might had well of been in the Galapagos Islands! There aren’t many crappie fishermen that travel north for a fishing trip. Most folks go south where the fish are generally bigger, but some lakes are exceptions.

Being that I was already in Jackson, Mo for the holiday, Kinkaid Lake was only an hour away, and the reports from there lately have been phenomenal. It always has a good summertime bite, but there is an issue which I am not accustomed to dealing with that arises around 10am. At only 2,400 acres, the lake is not very big, but its deep, clear waters attract a monumental number of invasive species, I’m of course talking about the dreaded recreational boaters!

My buddy Perry Jackson and I knew about the party crowd, so we were determined to get there as early as possible and take advantage of the first calm, unmolested five hours of fishing. The problem we encountered was acquiring bait. Kyle Schoenherr, one of the best tournament fisherman in the country and a guide on Kincaid Lake, among others, told me that minnows were out-catching straight jigs 10-1, and those are not odds I take lightly! I called the only bait shop I could find in the area, and they told me they opened at 7am… That is the equivalent to a church only being open on Tuesday or a bar only opening for breakfast, depending on your religion.

Fortunately one amongst my wide network of friends is Gary Seabough, who owns Jackson Bait and Tackle in Jackson, Mo, and while he regularly opens at 5am, said he’d meet me at the shop at 4:30am so we could get an early start. We were a few minutes late due to circumstances beyond our control, but still on the road with bait by 4:45am, only to cross the Emerson Bridge in Cape Girardeau into a wall of dense fog that didn’t let up until we were nearly at the lake.

We put in and planed Perry’s War Eagle out, taking in the beautiful surroundings while heading towards a cove of standing timber. I brought 1/32 oz. jig heads with extra-light hooks, which we tipped with a minnow, and lowered slowly down the stick-ups. We picked up a few fish here and there, and were still trying to pinpoint exactly where the fish were when I got a huge “thump”, I set the hook, and brought in (with the help of a good net-man) a big hybrid crappie. Kyle told me he’d been catching some natural hybrids, which are a rare mix of a white and black crappie, so I was on the look-out. The crappie resembled a white, but the vertical bars were somewhat offset, and faded into specks, and while her mouth, measurements, and body type were indicative of a white, she had seven dorsal spines, which is a sure sign of a black, unless of course, it’s a hybrid! A few trees later and Perry hooked into one just as big, and I slid the net under her! That was about the time the ski boats came out in full force and ended our day! It was a great trip and I can’t wait to go again!

Clients with their catch from 7-9-14 fishing with Kyle Schoenherr and All Seasons Guide Service

Clients with their catch from 7-9-14 fishing with Kyle Schoenherr and All Seasons Guide Service

Kyle Schoenherr owns and operates All Season’s Guide Service in Southern Illinois, and is one of the best in the business. To contact Kyle call 618-314-2967 or go to www.allseasonsguideservice.com.

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loganandjason

Father and son team Logan and Jason Saltzman with a few of their winning stringer from the Reelfoot Crappie Club’s tournament on Saturday

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Dark Skies and a Tough Beat

By Josh Gowan

With my yard manicured and my family happily content with their own activities, I was able to drag the boat into the great outdoors and produce a story worthy of the “big screen,” so long as you enjoy less-than-romantic tragedies! (If anyone is pondering the funding and casting of this script, I believe I could best be portrayed by Mark Wahlberg, and Chippy would like to be played by Girard Butler, the guy who was King Leonidas in the movie 300!)

We drove over Friday after work, very anxious to get on the water and do a little pre-fishing for the Reelfoot Crappie Club Tournament on Saturday. The skies were suspect, and about the time we pulled up to the cabin the bottom fell out, and it poured for the next two hours.

Finally, about 30 minutes before dark, the skies cleared and we were able to put the boat in the water. We didn’t have time to go fish were we wanted, so we piddled around the south bank, and Chippy managed to catch a small black crappie right at dark.

Our plan was to slow-troll Bell Stumps, which is right in front of our cabin, and not only had it been holding a few good fish, it was close enough that we could get in if a storm popped up. We signed up at Reelfoot Outdoors that morning and were out in the stumps by the 6:30 start time, only to find a mudhole. The heavy rains from the night before caused a ton of drainage and turned the area we planned on fishing into chocolate milk. We gave it an hour or so, and I’d had all I could take, and headed down the bank towards Bluebank until the water cleared.

We put the poles back out and let the wind push us out towards Green Island Point in the center of the south end of the lake. We picked up a couple good fish, and a few not so good, and turned to head back and do it again. Having an aluminum boat and spending most of my time in shallow water, I never spider-rig into the wind due to the noise the waves make hitting my boat, however, I recently acquired a product that fixed the problem.

The Silent Stalker, which can best be described as a thick, vinyl material that straps onto the front of your boat, much like a “bra” on a car, and is the equivalent of putting a silencer on a rifle. It completely eliminated the slapping sound, so I trolled back into the wind for the first time ever, and picked up the most of our fish for the day! You can go to www.thesilentstalker.com for more info, it’s the most important tool I’ve added to my arsenal in years!

While we were fishing, our biggest fish was dying. I’ve never lost a fish (in a tournament you weigh seven fish, and they must be alive) but this one seemed to be on his way out from the time he hit the livewell. I did everything I knew to do, doubling the aeration, cooling the water, constant recirculation of the livewell, and even hanging four ¼ oz. jig heads in his bottom fin to keep him upright, but all to no avail. The rest of the fish were as lively as any you’ve ever seen, and by 2pm at the weigh-in, this fish was hammer dead.

deadfish
Me and my dead fish!

It was unfortunate, but I really didn’t think we were in contention with some of the teams in the tournament, so I wasn’t too tore up about it. Losing a 1.5 lb. fish meant we had to weigh a .7 lb. fish, and our total weight was 6.65 lbs. The winning weight was 6.67 lbs… Oh well, nothin’ wrong with silver! What really made it alright with me was the winning team was Jason Saltzman, a friend of mine and really good fisherman, and his son Logan, who probably caught as many fish as his Dad! Seeing Logan’s smiling face holding those fish makes it awfully hard to be upset!

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cam king

14 yr. old Cam King with a stringer of Sardis Lake crappie he caught with his grandpa, Bill James

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Regional Hunting and Fishing

By Josh Gowan

Summertime Fishing and Frog Prepping

Well, summer has definitely wrapped it’s muggy arms around the neck of the Heartland, but after that abominable winter, I’m making a conscience effort not to complain about the blistering sun, choking humidity, and the late return of everyone’s least favorite member of the culicidae family, the mosquito. So far so good…

Being that I spent my weekend researching an article for Southern Living Magazine I’m working on, I wasn’t able to fish. If you do happen to subscribe to that publication, look for my spread entitled “Yardwork: Being Pushed to the Brink of a Heat Stroke by the Ones you Love…” It’s a great read.

The heat is definitely on, which means the crappie fishing at Reelfoot Lake is getting tougher by the day. There are however, still fish to be caught early in the morning and late in the evening slow trolling. Lance Mansfield and Jeremy Watkins caught a decent mess pushing minnows and Ol’ Shoot Bank custom jigs in 9 ft. of water right on the bottom, targeting submerged logs. They also caught a ton of catfish who are probably post spawn and starting to actively feed again. This Saturday is the monthly Reelfoot Crappie Club tournament and Chippy and I will be there, hopefully with a decent stringer of fish! Normally we wouldn’t even be crappie fishing over there this time of year because it gets so tough, and I was really excited when I saw the Crappie Club would be holding tournaments every month all year, forcing us to learn more about the summertime bite. For more info on the tournament call Jeff Riddle at 731-446-7554.

I got a report from Tennessee that the backwater and ditches around Reelfoot were getting full of big, long-legged bullfrogs. Missouri’s season opener comes in a week and I’m ready. Frog hunting is not a vanity sport, and all the UnderArmour RealTree Max-4 in the world won’t improve your chances. If there were ever a time to tuck your jeans inside your boots, this is it! The most important tactical gear for any serious frogger is simple, light and spear, just like the Romans! I use a 16 ft. aluminum pole with a five prong spear, lovingly named the “Fist of Death” (available at Grizzly Jig!) and a big spotlight. The third and most vital element to a frog hunter, and anyone who wants to spend time near stagnant water in the dark with a spotlight in July, is OFF! I like to spray my clothes down with DEET the day before, use Skin-So-Soft as a base layer, and then lather up in Deep Woods Off! It’s all well worth it for a night of fun and a dinner of fried frog legs!

One place were the fishing is great in the summer is Mississippi. My buddy Bill James from over in Miner, Mo loaded up his grandson, 14 yr. old Cam King and headed south to Sardis Lake. The big, southern crappie are fairly abundant, but it takes a special tactic to catch them in the heat of the summer. While the warm water temperature keeps them from actively feeding, they are still predators, and much like a dog can’t help but chase a car, a crappie can’t help but chase a fast-moving bait. Bill was pulling 3 inch Bandit Crankbaits in light and dark colors 100 ft. behind the boat, and had most of his success at 3.1 mph! It’s a shame we can’t use this technique at Reelfoot!

The catfish out on the Mississippi River continue to bite. Justin Berry managed to pull in a few hogs over the weekend, and many smaller fish, drift fishing and bottom bouncing fresh cutbait in deep water near the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi.

The Wappapello Crappie Club held their annual adult/youth tournament and Younger and Younger took 1st. Slabber Dave said he was fishing right beside them in 6-7 ft. of water and although he kept 37 crappie, he couldn’t compete with them! Dave said fish were caught anywhere from 5 ft. of water to 30 ft. of water, the key was just going slow.

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Brad Whitehead with a big Pickwick Lake crappie caught on a pink Bandit 300

Brad Whitehead with a big Pickwick Lake crappie caught on a pink Bandit 300

Top Colors for Pulling Crankbaits

By Josh Gowan

By now it’s no secret that pulling big Crankbaits is the best way to fill a live well with crappie in the hot, summer months. The Bandit 300 series dominates the market because of it’s quality, consistency, and patented wiggle, and no single store sells more Bandits to crappie fanatics than Grizzly Jig Company in Caruthersville, MO.

Wade Mansfield, who owns and operates the store along with his dad, Louie, handles the Bandit account and has not only watched the baits emerge from a bass lure to a very popular crappie bait, but has also been influential in designing and bringing them to the market.

“Crappie Fishermen have been using Crankbaits for decades, but back then, everything was cheap. We’d have a box of various cranks for $1 a piece all the time. While a lot of these baits would catch fish, nothing matched the Bandits.” Said Mansfield.

“We couldn’t wrap our heads around how a crappie fisherman, who is accustomed to getting 20 baits for $2, would spend $5 on a single bait. We figured out that we were wrong, that quality can trump quantity, even to a panfisherman! Then it was a matter of getting Bandit, who was a die-hard bass company, on board with crappie fishing, and that took some time.”

“When they decided to start a line just for crappie fishing, myself and a few other guys in the industry got a big ring of hookless Bandits to choose from. We all pretty much picked the same colors, and that was the beginning of the crappie line.”

mistake (2) A 3 inch Crappie Bandit called “Mistake” deep in Mississippi crappie’s throat. Photo courtesy of Kenyon Huggins

“A lot of the guys in Mississippi, and I think Kent Driscoll was the most influential in this, were exchanging the bronze hooks for red hooks, so that and packaging was the only difference. The new “Crappie Bandits” sold well immediately.”

“Then we started seeing guys hand-painting the back half or front half of the baits, giving them a two-tone look like a tube jig, so I asked Bandit to make a run of them, and picked out six colors. The “Crappie Splash Bandits” are now our #1 seller. Next came the Glow series, and now the Double Splash, and as the choices increase, so do the sales!”

*It’s impossible to know who was the first person to paint their own Bandits in this style, but through my research, John Woods was the earliest I could find. He hand-painted his to use at the first Crappie USA Classic at Grenada, MS in 2000, and he said he’d never heard or seen of anyone doing it at the time. Then he asked if I wanted him to take a picture of them and send it to me… He still has them!

bandits Crankbaits John Woods hand-painted with fingernail polish for the 2000 Crappie USA Classic at Grenada, MS. He put a clear coat on top of the red and yellow polish, and he and his partner ended up 5th in the event. This is most likely the birth of the “splash” Bandit.

splash Pink/Black Splash Crappie Bandit

“Currently our top selling Bandits are Splash 02, or pink/chartreuse, Mistake, Mad Cow, and Black Bubblegum. While most of our sales are still sent south to Mississippi, we’re seeing more and more baits going to places like Piercy Priest, Old Hickory, Lake of the Ozarks, Kincaid, Norfolk, Heber Springs, and as far north as Rathburn, Iowa.”

Here are the top picks from some full-time guides and fisherman.

Brad Whitehead – Brad Whitehead Guide Service, fishing Pickwick Lake, AL, best color is Awesome Pink and Black Bubblegum. To contact Brad call (256) 483-0834.

John Woods – John Woods Guide Service, fishing Sardis Lake, MS, best colors are Awesome Pink, Black Bubblegum, Fire Tiger, and Orange Crush. To contact John call (731) 334-9669.

Brandon Fulgham – North Mississippi Guide Service, fishing Sardis Lake, MS, best color is Awesome Pink. To contact Brandon call (662) 417-9117.

Carl Painter – Carl Painter’s Guide Sevice, fishing Sardis Lake, MS, best colors are Solid Black, Mistake, and Red Craw. To contact Carl call (901) 734-7536.

Mike Jones – Owner of Bait’n’Thangs, Lake Washington, MS, Black/Chartreuse Splash, Black/Pink Splash, Awesome Pink. To contact Mike call (662) 822-2087.

Kenyon Huggins – tournament fisherman, fishing Enid Lake, MS, best colors are Sardis Gold, Orange Crush, Mistake, Sour Apple, and Chartruese Sparkle on sunny days, and Solid Black, Black Bubblegum, and Cranberry on cloudy days.

David Roach – Gator’s Guide Service, fishing Enid Lake, best colors are Splash Pink/Black, Awesome Pink, Popsicle, Mistake, Sardis Gold and Plum Point. To contact Dave call (662) 812-7121.

Wayne Inman – MS Guide Service, fishing Pickwick and Bay Springs, best colors are Black Bubblegum, Awesome Pink, Black Chrome, and Fire Tiger. To contact Wayne call (662) 416-1296.

In a few days I’ll review how these guys are fishing their cranks, from terminal tackle to speed and line length.

The entire line of Bandit Crappie Crankbaits in the 300 series are available at Grizzly Jig, order from their website www.grizzlyjig.com or call 1-800-305-9866 for a free catalog.

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cats

B’n’M Pro Staffers Jason Aycock and Hunter Jones with a couple big catfish

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Regional Hunting and Fishing

By Josh Gowan

Father’s Day and a Super Moon

Another beautiful weekend in the heartland, punctuated by one of my favorite holidays, Father’s Day! While my quest for equality between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day is still a work in progress, I think the message is getting out. The endgame is for there to be as many fishing poles and shotguns bought as there are diamonds and flowers, because we earn it!

My gift was a day to myself, to fish and be free, without the hindrance of curfew or looming yard work. I awoke around 1 AM and was already thinking about the first place I was going to fish. I picked up the Jules Verne novel I’ve been working my way through in an attempt to lull myself back to sleep before the 3:45 alarm went off. I was nearly out when my phone beeped, and I flipped through a few emails and perused Facebook for a minute when I saw an article about the “super moon” and the positive effect it could have on fish, well, that was it, I was up!
Having some extra time in the morning was nice and it allowed me to make sure all the necessary preparations were taken care of. I followed an intensely bright moon south down I-55, much like the 3 Wise Men followed the North Star, except I was not seeking the King of the Jews, and was without incense, myrrh, and certainly gold. I was after crappie, and bringing gifts of nibbles, sharp hooks, and a spacious livewell! I arrived at the lake in time to watch the warm, orange and pink hues of a Tennessee sunrise compete with the luminescence of a lunar perigee. I could only imagine what effect this would have on the fish!

I put the boat in, drove a half-mile and promptly ran out of gas… Preparation has never really been my strong suit, regardless of the amount of time given!

Apparently the super moon kept the fish up all night gorging themselves on disoriented bugs and baitfish, because the bite was retched! The crappie I did catch were just on the line, and had I not had some places I knew the fish were, and was able to literally put my jig on their nose, I probably would have been skunked. But alas, a stress free day on the water is still nothing to complain about.

My buddy and fellow Grizzly Jig Pro Staffer Kevin Murphy has been spending his weekends at his homestead on Kentucky Lake, and catching crappie with a method foreign to most of the country. Kevin has been pulling crankbaits, 3 inch Bandit crankbaits to be exact, a technique popularized in Mississippi that has been spreading for the last few years. Summertime crappie are not active feeders, but they are instinctual predators none the less, and a big, loud bait swam fast by them garners reaction strikes. The other advantage to this technique is that it allows you to cover a lot of water, with an average of six baits being pulled in a 40 ft. swath (two 8 ft. rods on the corners, two 12 ft. rods past them, and two 16 ft. rods on either side closest to the front) and an average speed of 1.3 mph. Kevin said the fish have been in a different place every weekend, and this past weekend it was a 13 ft. flat. When I asked him about color, there was no hesitation, PINK! I’m going to try and get over them with him before long and get in on some of it myself!

Local catfish Pro’s Jason Aycock and Hunter Jones from East Prairie, MO traveled down to Tunica, MS for the BassProShops Big Cat Quest over the weekend. The catfish were spawning, and while most people think the spawn is a great time to fish, catfish are extremely tough to catch as they don’t forage for food at all during the spawn. They traveled 30 miles upriver to Memphis and found some fish in a deep hole, their biggest being a 25 lb. blue cat. They weighed in 53 lbs. and ended up in 9th place. Their next tournament is the World Championship in Savannah, TN, good luck guys!

 

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billyb

Billy Blakely, head guide at BlueBank Resort on Reelfoot Lake, and Connor Hutcherson with a couple big blue gill

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Regional Hunting and Fishing

By Josh Gowan

Wet Weather Slows Bite

Well, it’s not so much the fish that are being slowed down by the rain, but the fishermen! It certainly isn’t news that it’s been a wet June so far, and while I hope our farmers get all the rain they need, personally I’ve had enough for a while. My grass is growing so fast it looks like my house is shrinking!

I have no personal report this week, and while erecting a pool, tilling a garden (finally), and doing enough yardwork to make the neighbors question if my wife had traded me in for a botanist certainly produced a few stories worth telling, they don’t pay me the big bucks for my lawn and garden expertise, on to the fish!

Reelfoot’s late bloom this year is still rolling, and I talked to a few of my friends at the lake who caught some good fish. The ticket was to shallow up and spider-rig over the top of the stumps. The numbers weren’t outstanding, but the size of the crappie was. There are still black crappie waded up in areas if you can find them, and hopefully Father’s Day finds me right on top of them! Louie Mansfield, who quite literally wrote the book on bream (blue gill) fishing at Reelfoot, caught a good mess of huge gills jigging a 1/80 oz. Grizzly tipped with a waxworm around trees. Billy Blakely is still putting clients on big bream, and will be for the next month or so. If you’re interested in booking a guided blue gill trip at the lake, call BlueBank Resort at (877) 258-3226.

As usual, the catfishing is wide open. Steve Atwill was over in the middle of the week floating Black Swans, a very cool, unique type of jug that was designed and built in Kennett, Mo by none other than Mr. Charlie Hilburn. You really have to see these in action to fully understand their name, but they are essentially a circle of black pvc, with an arm going up into the middle, and a yo-yo hanging from it. From a distance they literally look like a group of black swans floating across the water. Steve was using shrimp as bait, and caught 12 catfish in just a few hours before the wind blew him off the lake. You can check them out www.blackswans.com.

The best fishing in our area however, has been on that tiny, trickling stream that separates Missouri from Tennessee! The huge, blue catfish on the mighty Mississippi River are gorging themselves right now, and the guys that know how to catch them are hammering them. One of my fishing buddies from East Prairie, Mo has been piling up the big blues lately. Justin Berry, who you saw along with Hunter Jones last week if your newspaper runs the picture that accompanies this article (if not, go to www.joshgowanoutdoors.com to see what I’m talking about) is on ‘em, and here’s how he’s doing it.

Justin says the river is at a good level right now, and drift fishing and bottom bouncing is the key. He’s using freshly caught skipjack and moon-eye and having a lot of success. The fish are scattered, but there are a lot of them, starting from 30 ft. down. The bigger fish, according to Berry, are holding up in 40-50 ft. depths, and drifting slowly in the right place with the right bait and at the right depth, results in your rods slamming down! He’s using 8/0-10/0 circle hooks on 50 lb. monofilament leaders tied to a 3-way swivel, with a 6 oz. sinker if he’s drifting or a 4-5 oz. if he’s bumping the bottom. The main line is 100 lb. braid on Abu Garcia Ambassador Alphamar 12 on a 7 ft. Team Catfish Warrior Rod.

Kentucky Lake is turning out big stringers as well. The bass are hitting on big crankbaits, big creature baits, and 10 inch worms on a Carolina Rig. The crappie are piling up on stake beds in 10-12 ft. of water, as well as being caught long-lining and pulling crankbaits over main ledges.

 

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