speck

Josh Gowan with a stringer of big, black crappie from Reelfoot Lake

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Regional Hunting and Fishing
By Josh Gowan
Birthday Specks

I prayed for decent weather this past weekend, being that my wife was accompanying me to the lake, and man did the good Lord deliver! With my anniversary on Wednesday and my birthday on Saturday, I guess I had some extra mojo working, because the fish were jumping in the boat!

We got to the lake Friday afternoon, and since the cabin was full, we rented a room at Reelfoot Outdoors. With a full service bait and tackle store and within walking distance of one of the nicest ramps on the lake, it’s extremely convenient. The rooms are clean, comfortable, and offer all the amenities you’d expect, and being that most of the resorts require fishing packages that include a boat rental, which we obviously didn’t need, it was the perfect choice. Reelfoot Outdoors is also one of the most inexpensive lodges on the lake, at $60 per night for a double room. For booking information call (731) 253-3203.

With the temperature nearing 80 degrees by Friday, and the full moon coming on Monday, the long awaited crappie spawn had to be kicking off. I wanted to fish for white crappie in some of my honey holes, but with the 20 mph south wind, it wasn’t going to be an enjoyable experience, so I drove my boat into the depths of the swamp. I let the 200 year-old cypress groves provide a sturdy wind-block, and began vertically jigging the shallow trees.

I had a few spots in mind to try, but I know how elusive black crappie can be, and I’d be lying if I said I had high hopes. I stopped in a place Chippy and I busted them in a few years ago under similar conditions, although we’d went back there many times since then with no luck. The storm that came through Friday evening stained the water just enough that it wasn’t “black” clear, but didn’t muddy it up so bad that the fish had lockjaw.

I pitched into the first tree, and saw my 6 lb. hi-vis line “swimming” away from me, I set the hook and pulled in a 3/4 lb. speck. My heart rate jumped a bit with my first “jigging” fish of the year, but I was not at all convinced that we were on to something.

I eased up to the next tree and pitched in, and felt a familiar “tic”, I set the hook and brought in a 1 1/4 lb. speck. While I was taking that fish off the hook my wife, Staci, started yelling, and I looked up to see her pulling an identical fish in!

Now excitement and seriousness set in. We prepared ourselves to spend a beautiful, relaxing, sunny day on the water together, opting for comfort out of the wind rather than fighting it in more proven areas. Now we were on fish, good fish, and all that changed, it was time to go to work!

I got the video cameras out and did a quick intro, and then secured the GoPro to a rod holder. This kind of fishing is labor intensive and requires both hands, one to hold the pole and the other to hold the line. Many times we had to pull the jig to the tip of the pole and weave it through branches, and fishing under low hanging branches meant the only means of setting the hook was to snatch the line back, driving the hook into the fish’s mouth and the rod tip in the water.

After looking around and getting my bearings and choosing a route through the trees, we eased up to the first cypress with the video camera rolling and promptly caught a double from either side of the tree! It was just one of those days, the fish were extremely active and right were you’d expect them to be. The water needed to be 2 ½ to 3 ft. deep, and the crappie were holding right under the umbrella of the tree. We caught multiple fish off many trees, and one huge, squatty cypress provided 8 crappie throughout the day!

The footage from this trip is amazing, and I’ll have it edited and uploaded to my website, www.joshgowanoutdoors.com, in a few days. I also put a picture of the jig we were using and more specific location information up, enjoy!

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scott

Scott and Zach Downing with a few of their 2nd place stringer at the Sardis Lake Crappie.com tournament

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Regional Hunting and Fishing

By Josh Gowan

Spring Fishing Finally get’s Hot

The fishing has finally come full circle after our arctic winter and massive shad kill, and there are a ton of fishermen who have had to patiently wait much longer than we’d have liked! Next weekend is supposed to get near 80 degrees, which means the crappie who have been waiting as well, will begin spawning.

Reelfoot lake is on fire right now. The black crappie are spawning in the clear shallows and the guys that know how to find them are filling the coolers. The white crappie have finally migrated out of the deep water and are schooling up around shallower stumps. I’ve seen multiple limits caught in the last few days, and as reported a few weeks back, the shad kill has resulted in really big, heavy fish. The bass have moved into shallow areas chasing baitfish, and the catfish are jumping in the boat!

I talked to Slabber Dave Maddox over at Wappapello Lake and his report was similar to Reelfoot. The crappie are moving up and backing out with the temperatures. They are starting to catch males casting shallow, and he figures the temperatures over the weekend are going to do the same thing at “Wap” as they will at Reelfoot, turn the spawn wide open!

Guess what the report over on Kentucky Lake is?? The catfish are jumping in the boat, the bass are staging getting ready to spawn, and the male crappie are starting to crash the shallows! There are going to be a lot of pictures taken over the next few weeks!

Another fishing buddy of mine, Scott Downing from East Prairie had a heck of a weekend fishing the Crappie.com tournament at Sardis Lake, MS with his son, Zach.

The father and son team pre-fished on Friday and found good fish in three foot of water on the east end of the lake. The wind was blowing hard out of the northeast and the boat ride was treacherous. Scott decided to put in on the north side of the dam on tournament morning since the weigh-in was at Engineer’s Point, and he knew the Techville ramp would be extremely crowded on a Saturday.

They launched on Saturday morning before daylight and the northeast wind was already pushing big white-caps across the muddy water. It took 30 minutes of rough riding to get to their spot, but the ride paid off. Legal fishing for the tourney started at 6:30 and they had their seven-fish-limit by 7:30! By 10:30 they had their 30 fish lake limit and started culling smaller fish. Scott said he probably culled 15-20 fish trying to catch a big “kicker” fish.

Most of their fish came on pink Grizzly “Tip-its” (double-hook rigs with gold hooks and pink feather tied on the shank of the hook) and garlic infused Muddy Water plastics in “watermelon” (pink/white/chartreuse). By 1:30 the wind laid and the fishermen headed for the weigh-in.

Their smallest fish 1 lb. 11 oz. and their biggest was 2 lb. 4 oz. Scott knew they had a good weight, but he also knew that in a tournament, anything can happen, and there was a chance someone would find the big females. The weigh-in began and it didn’t take long for monster stringer of 15.7 lbs., including two 3+ lb. females, to move into 1st place. Scott and Zach’s stringer weighed 13.95 lbs. and they watched nervously as others bought their fish to the scales (no pun intended). Their weight held up and the Missouri boys took home 2nd place!

Scott was thrilled to be able to share this moment with his son Zach. It was Zach’s first tournament experience and won’t be his last, but Scott reminded him that they aren’t always going to be this successful!

The guys fished again on Sunday and limited out by noon. They had a blast fishing the tournament, but Scott reiterated that the best part was spending time with his son on the water. He wanted to thank the companies that sponsor and the guys that host the Mississippi Crappie.com tournaments who were all first class. Congratulations Scott and Zach!

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randle

Randle Flowers of the “Old Folk’s Fishing and Hunting Club” of Walnut Log, with a big Reelfoot Lake Bass

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Regional Hunting and Fishing

By Josh Gowan

Perfect Weather, Slow Bite

It is strange to think about what the crappie at Reelfoot must have seen Sunday, as they suspended a few feet off the bottom, snuggled up to their favorite stump with defiantly closed mouths. Peering up (the only way a crappie can peer) through the sunrays that were beaming deep into the lightly stained and perfectly calm water, watching the shadows of 1,000 giant, floating spiders easing around the surface! I suppose it wouldn’t have triggered an appetite in me either!

Regardless of the lack of success we had, Sunday was absolutely beautiful and every boat owner in the region seemed to have been out enjoying it. Chippy and I descended on Reelfoot Lake Sunday, a day we did not intend to fish until late in the week when we saw the peculiar forecast, bright sunshine and no wind, it was just too good to pass up. We met early in Portageville and were close to being on schedule until we crossed the bridge and a white curtain fell on us. The fog was so thick I contemplated getting my depthfinder out and plugging in the Navionics GPS chip so we could find our way.

I spent some time Saturday night bringing an idea I’ve had for a while to life, so that I could test it out Sunday morning. The SeaGull 9000 (patent pending), a precision flotation device engineered with the finest materials I could find in my shed, permanently bonded together using my wife’s best hot glue gun, and held in position by a fishing pole attached to another pole using NASA’s favorite pliable adhesive, duct tape. In laymen’s terms, a bunch of pieces of sheet foam glued together on a stick, with the intended purpose to hold a video camera out in front of the boat filming back at us.

Aside from being a bit more noticeable than I’d intended, it performed surprisingly well. I’ll post a few pictures on my website www.joshgowanoutdoors.com, as well as the video it captured. To say we got a few “looks” would be calling the mighty Mississippi River a gentle flowing stream. Everyone seemed to be drifting carelessly about in the same general area, and at times I pondered if stop lights might help the traffic move a bit smoother. Two “old-timers” came very close, and I gave the obligatory fisherman’s nod, and they said “hey, what’s that ya got out there?” I replied “it’s a camera”, and one of the gentleman said “well, is it seeing any fish, ‘cause we’re not catching crap!” I explained that it was filming us, and they asked if we were catching any, and I said no, and received a strange look and a “hmph”…

While the fishing was slow for us and the armada in the deep water, (we kept 12 fish and left at noon) like always at Reelfoot, someone, somewhere hammered ‘em. There are still black crappie being caught in the shallows if you can find them, but my buddy Larry Griffin spent the day searching unsuccessfully, however he talked to a guy at the ramp that had a cooler full of big specks. Chasing black crappie is tough at Reelfoot, because they prefer shallow water with lots of cover (which there is approximately 7,000 acres of) and stay bunched up. When you find one though, you will generally find many more.

I saw a report by Randle Flowers of the “Old Folks Fishing and Hunting Club” at Walnut Log, Reelfoot, that he caught a few big bass pitching a black and blue Strike King jig at the trees. He said the bite was slow, but what hit was big!

Slabber Dave Maddox said Wappapello Lake was slow over the weekend. The fish are leaving the flats and moving to their final staging areas in the creeks. Those that did catch fish we’re casting yellow/chartreuse, yellow/white, and lime/chartreuse jigs.

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jeffdd

Slabber Dave Maddox and Jeff Riddle with their 3.87 lb “Big Fish” from Grenada Lake

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Regional Hunting and Fishing

By Josh Gowan

March Madness

Don’t worry, I’m not doing an in-depth analysis of why your NCAA bracket is in shambles. If you want to know how to pick a perfect bracket, read the rest of the sports section, or follow my lead, and don’t start filling it out until after the first few rounds are over! My “March Madness” is due to the fact that I am again writing a springtime column while the mercury in the old thermometer is plummeting. I’m no scientist and don’t claim to be, but I have to tell you, this Global Warming pandemic is really confusing! But alas, spring or no spring, the show must go on!

I have no personal report, and I apologize for that, but working at the biggest crappie store on Earth has one glaring drawback, we are extremely busy during the early spring, and I’m saving my time for upcoming tournaments. Fortunately, my network of outdoors-folk are out there on the job and providing reports while I ship orders to the fishermen of the world!

Reelfoot Lake is getting better with every warm afternoon. The white crappie in the big part of the lake are finally catchable, however the gusting wind has kept most people off that part of the water for the last few days. I’ve had a few reports of people catching black crappie jigging, but these were on those rare warm days and in the afternoon after the sun had been on the water all day. The cold nights are keeping the fish on or near the bottom, regardless of the depth of water. The best way to catch fish is still spider-rigging the south end of the lake fishing pink and chartreuse, tipped with minnows near or on the bottom. Using a double hooked rig is important right now because of the fish laying on the bottom. When they move up in the water column, they all move up in the water column, and fishing under crappie is pointless. If you catch fish all morning on the bottom hook, but suddenly began to catch them on the top, it’s time to shallow your rigs some, but beware, they can move right back to where they were, depending on light penetration and the barometric pressure, among other things, which is again a good reason to have more than one hook on the line!

Kentucky Lake is near winter pool and the crappie fishing over there has been great. Fish are trying to move to shallower areas in the coves but really need warmer weather. The best fishing has been over submerged structure in 12-8 ft of water, and the best color has been chartreuse.

I talked to Slabber Dave over on Wappapello Lake and he said they’re in the same boat as us, wishing for warmer waters. Guys have been catching fish 5-8 ft deep, spider-rigging live bait over the shallow flats, as well as casting in the clearer water.

Chasing shad this time of year is what predatory fish do, and fishermen at all lakes would be wise to do the same!

Speaking of my good buddy Slabber Dave, he and his partner Jeff Riddle were down in Grenada Lake, Mississippi for the CrappieMaster’s Mississippi State Championship this past weekend. Everyone in the industry, or that follows tournament crappie fishing, knew that it was going to take a huge weight to win, but just how big was anyone’s guess. After the first day of fishing the two-day event, the top 7-fish weight was 20.46 lbs!!! At nearly 3 lbs per fish, that was a new tournament record, but day two would bring an even bigger weight at 20.52!! The winners combined two-day total was 38.92 lbs in their 14 fish limit, also a record. While it has not been officially confirmed yet, neither myself or anyone I’ve spoken to can remember a bigger “Big Fish” being weighed either, and that trophy belonged to one of the best tournament teams in the country, Slabber Dave Maddox and Jeff Riddle, with their 3.87 lb. monster white crappie!!

Remember, if you’re interested in fishing one of the many tournaments coming to our lakes, or if you want to watch fishing videos and read old columns, go to www.joshgowanoutdoors.com!

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tony

Tony Hughes and Bart Gillon with four of their winning stringer from the first Reelfoot Lake Crappie Club Tournament

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Regional Hunting and Fishing

By Josh Gowan

Spring Fishing Gets Hot

This past Saturday was the nicest morning I’ve spent on the water in a very long time, and I was not alone! A ton of anglers across the region took advantage of the weather, and while the bright sun and calm waters invigorated eager fishermen, the fish seemed to enjoy it even more!

Saturday marked the first tournament of the Reelfoot Lake Crappie Club, and everything went off without a hitch. Chippy and I had not been on the lake except for our icy foray a month ago, and he took off Friday to do some pre-fishing. Unfortunately, Friday was a typical early spring day, and the 30 mph southerly wind made the lake inaccessible.

The south end of the lake, or Lower Blue Basin on a map, is our stomping ground this time of year. As I reported last week, the fish had been impossible to catch on the south end due to the shad kill, but it was just a matter of time until they ran out of free food and had to begin foraging. I got a report Thursday night that Sam and Jason Sandage, guides on Reelfoot Lake, caught a good mess in the deep water that day. It was all I needed to hear!

I knew there were some big fish to be caught at the North End (Upper Blue Basin), and at Kirby’s Pocket, and most of the anglers in the tournament would be in those areas, but those spots have been hit or miss, and with a complete lack of wind we eased out into 16 ft. of water before sunrise with a gorgeous backdrop (Chippy snapped an awesome picture that’s up at my website).

At 7am we dropped the double minnow rigs down a few feet from the bottom, and by 10:30 we had 20 crappie in the livewell. Unfortunately, 1.4 lbs. was about the biggest fish we had, so with our base we decided to try some other spots to search for bigger fish. The wind kicked up to around 10 mph, and coming all the way across the lake churned up some pretty good waves, which made slow trolling rather difficult. We only picked up two more fish and they were under 1 lb.

As was expected, someone found some big fish. Tony Hughes, who has won the CrappieMaster’s tourney at Reelfoot before and is very tough this time of year, was fishing with Bart Gillon, another tournament angler and good fisherman, and they caught some monsters on the North End. They won the tournament and the “Big Fish” with a 2.2 lb. white crappie, and their second biggest fish would have won it as well, a 2.16 lb. black crappie!

Their ten fish weighed 16.09 lbs winning 1st place, 2nd place was Calhoun and Hopper with 13.64 lbs, and 3rd place was Seals and Bing with 12.58! Jeff Riddle and his wife Angie did a great job, and Bo’s was a perfect host. Chippy and I came in 4th and can’t wait for the next one on April 26th.

The Wappapello Crappie Club also held a tournament on Saturday. Walker and Walker won 1st with 10.4 lbs (the WCC weighs 7 fish), Chism and Chism took 2nd with 9.76 lbs, and Strobels and Stevens took 3rd with 9.55. Slabber Dave said most all of the fish came from spider-rigging the shallow flats. Tropf and Younger had the “Big Fish” with a 1.98 lb. slab!

Captain Rich Bay of Kick’n Bass Guide service over on Kentucky Lake have been piling up the crappie. Most of their fish are coming from drifting minnows or jigs over brush 10-15 ft. deep and at the mouth of the bays in deeper 18-20 ft. water. Spider-rigging and drifting during windy days with drift socks has been pretty effective as well.

The West Tn. Catfish Anglers are branching out to some new locations this year. Their next tournament is May 3rd at Caruthersville, Missouri. For more information, contact James Hemby at 731-413-4246.

With tournament season firing up across the region, and most of these local clubs only having a Facebook page, I’m going to put all the information and schedules up on my website, just click the “tournaments” page at the top. Chippy and I got some pretty good video Saturday, and I’ll have that up as well under the “videos” tab, all at www.joshgowanoutdoors.com.

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jeff

Pro Angler and Reelfoot Lake guide Jeff Riddle with a huge stringer of black crappie from the shallows of Reelfoot Lake

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By Josh Gowan

Warmer Weather Turns On Fish

Today would have been a fantastic day to own a carwash, apparently there are a ton of folks who not only share a peculiar affection to shiny vehicles, but also have an abundance of quarters without a job that requires them to be at work on Monday. Personally, waxing my pick-up was the furthest thing from my mind. I was more preoccupied with the water temperature at Reelfoot and if the run-off from the snow melt was muddying up the water. I’ll find out first-hand in a few days!

This abominable winter has been great for the crappie (and bass, catfish, etc…) for a couple of reasons. The first and most obvious reason is the lack of fishing pressure. Those of us living in close proximity to the Mason-Dixon Line have very limited experience with ice fishing, so most of the fish have remained unmolested for the last few months. The other factor that plays a big role and is effecting Reelfoot anglers right now, is the shad kill. When the water gets cold enough to ice over for extended periods of time, or when it drops fast, a shad kill will happen, and we’ve had a massive shad kill this year. The evidence is easy to see, with tons of birds flocking and diving to get the shad that float up. Only a percentage of the shad float, most of them sink or suspend, and this makes for a smorgasbord for predator fish like crappie.

The south end, or Blue Basin area if you’re on a map, where the only deep water on Reelfoot is found, is experiencing this very phenomenon. I know a lot of guys who have tried the “big water”, generally a go-to this time of year, with no luck. As long as the birds are hammering the top of the water, the crappie are laying on the bottom chewing their cud, and once the birds stop it may still be a week before the crappie become active and catchable. The only tactic in this situation is to use small baits, clear line, and barely move, making an offering no fish could refuse. The other tactic is to head over to Kirby’s Pocket with the other 100 boats and catch black crappie and occasional whites that are living in the 3-5 ft. water and not stuffed on dead shad.

Regardless of the issues keeping fishermen from catching, the fish are getting huge, and as this warm-up continues (and I believe we’re all praying it will continue), the fish are going to continue to get more active. I keep an eye on the fishing to the south of us, and last weekend we were catching fish in southern Mississippi, (by the way, our most popular video to date, “Crappie Fishing on Lake Washington, MS” is up at www.joshgowanoutdoors.com, enjoy!) throughout the week the northern Mississippi lakes turned on, and now Kentucky Lake is getting going, and as the water temperature rises, the fishing is going to get great!

This Saturday is the first Reelfoot Crappie Club tournament, and all you have to do is be at Bo’s early in the morning (they’ll have someone there at 5am for registration) and pay the $60 per boat, an optional $10 for big fish, and your one-time $25 per person membership fee. The only difference between this tournament and most is that you weigh 10 fish instead of 7. You have to stop fishing at 2pm and be in line at Bo’s by 3pm. I’ll be there and I look forward to seeing a lot of you all!

Slabber Dave Maddox said the crappie at Wappapello Lake are on fire right now, and he’s weighed four fish over 2 lbs. this past week! The fish are starting to go shallow and a lot are being caught in 4-5 ft. of water using minnows. The old lake bed has been productive, as well as the north end of the lake, which is clear and forcing guys to cast to stay off them. Minnows have been best, but yellow and chartreuse tubes and scaleheads when it’s cloudy have been good as well. The Wappapello Crappie Club are also having a tournament this Saturday, and Slabber Dave’s is the host sight.

Comb’s Lake in Kennett has been active with anglers over the last week. Dunklin County Conservation Agent Eric Heuring said that they would be sinking more cover this week, and fishermen have been taking advantage of the healthy crappie and catfish population. Smaller lakes such as Comb’s warm faster, and that means the spawn gets going sooner than in big lakes, so go get them!

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abrandon

Brandon Fulgham with a 3.32 lb. crappie from Lake Washington, Mississippi

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Regional Hunting and Fishing

By Josh Gowan

Heartlander Abroad

That’s right folks, my favorite title to write under, used when I chase fish or game out of our beautiful little chunk of America! I know many of you probably expected another elaborate plan with which to eradicate Satan’s favorite furbearer, Punxsutawney Phil, due to this arctic sleeper hold we’re all succumbing to, but not today! Late Saturday evening I left 76 degree weather in southern Mississippi and made it home just in time to chop a rank of firewood and put the chains back on the tires, but rather than be disgruntle, I’m going to spend these next few miserable snow days in a blissful ignorance, reminiscing about the Mississippi Delta!

Lake Washington, Mississippi is one of the most famous crappie fisheries in the country among anglers seeking huge fish. Located right beside the Mississippi River and a little further south than Grenada Lake (the most famous “huge crappie” lake in the country), this old river chute turned lake holds some giant fish.

Generally, BassPro Shop’s Crappie Master’s tournament trail is at Reelfoot the first weekend of March, but this year that date got switched to May, and when I saw Washington had replaced it, Chippy and I began making plans to be there. Neither of us had ever been there before, and we were excited to not only fish a big tournament, which is always a blast, but even more-so to visit a new lake and a new area, and the opportunity for a chance at catching crappie bigger than anything we see around here was just a bonus!

We arrived in Greenville late Wednesday night and were on the water on Thursday on one of the nicest days I’ve experienced this year. Whenever going to a new lake, especially for a tournament, gathering as much information as possible is a must. I reached out to everyone I knew that had been down there fishing, and after asking if they were fishing the tournament (because if they were my questions would only consist of where to stay and the best place to eat and buy minnows, which is how everyone entering a tournament should act, although it’s not always the case) I grilled them on everything I could think to ask.

The lake is very much like Reelfoot, most of the water is 4-8 ft. deep with a few areas of deep water, and it is mostly surrounded by cypress trees with some areas fairly thick with cypress groves. The one glaring difference that was hard to wrap my head around is that there are no “stumps” throughout the lake. You could be right in the middle of a few cypress trees and open your boat up and run wide open all over the lake!

A fellow fisherman and hunter I met through Facebook, Brandon Fulgham of North Mississippi Guide Service, contacted me when he saw that I was coming and told me to look him up. Although we are represented by rival sponsors and would be competing against each other in the tournament, he showed me the lay of the land and how he fished the lake, and was extremely helpful (maybe he sensed I wasn’t a threat and pitied me…)

After exploring the lake some on Thursday, and checking out the cypress groves (although we knew the water was too cold and the fish wouldn’t be there yet) we met up with Brandon who was already out on the main lake filling his livewell. We were spider-rigging side-by-side shooting the bull and had veered apart some to get around other fishermen, and he started yelling for us to come over. When a Mississippi crappie guide is yelling for you to come here when you’re crappie fishing, you waste no time! He caught the biggest crappie Chippy and I had ever seen, a 3.32 (that’s in tenths, so around 3 lb. 5 oz.) behemoth. The fish was only 16 ¾ inches long, but was shaped like a football!

Friday was pretty rough with high winds, rain, and a random hail storm that caught us right in the middle of the lake with 8, 16 ft. poles out, and nothing to do but wait it out! The seminar and meal was at the Trop Casino and they rolled out the red carpet for the 92 teams in the tournament.

Saturday was a pretty nice day, and got into the mid-70’s that afternoon. We spent the morning slow trolling with the armada on the vast flats with the rest of the boats, but the wind and the two tournament’s worth of bass fishermen flying all over the lake were rocking us more than I could stand. Most of the tournament guys have big glass boats, which are a lot heavier and sit lower in the water than my aluminum boat, and after watching some of those guys netting big fish while we were snagging ¾ lbers, I’d had all I could take and headed for shallow waters out of the wind and boat traffic.

As soon as we got there and put the poles out I hooked a 2 lb. 4 oz. fish, a giant by Midwestern standards and the biggest fish we’d caught yet. After adding a 1.75 and a 1.25 fish, everything else we caught were cookie-cutter pounders.

The weigh-in was on Main Street in downtown Greenville, and rather than get in line with your 7 fish in a cooler as usual, you pulled your boat through the line between the scales and the bleachers where a host of spectators looked on. Mike Vallentine and the crew from CrappieMaster’s really knocked it out of the park, and are working extremely hard to take the tournament trail and its television show to the next level.

My buddy Brandon was in front of us in line, and at one of the extended stops he waved for us to come up and look in the livewell. He had another monster crappie, this one weighing 2.99 lbs. and taking the coveted “Big Fish” prize!
The veteran tournament team of Whitey Outlaw and Mike Parrot won the tournament weighing 16.13 lbs. in 7 crappie, and Kyle Schoenherr and Rodney Neuhaus took 2nd with 16.04 lbs. As for us, well, we learned a lot and I filled five gallon bags with filets, and can’t wait to get back down there for the classic!

For a guided trip to the “land of the giants” with Brandon, call 662-417-9117, and if you’re looking for something further north, call Kyle Schoenherr, owner of All Season’s Guide Service one of the best tournament anglers in the country, at 618-314-2967.

Go to www.youtube.com/wylecat1 to see the video from the trip!

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aycockk

Jason Aycock and Hunter Jones with two of their five-fish winning stringer at the BassPro Shop’s Big Cat Quest in Paducah, KY

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Regional Hunting and Fishing

By Josh Gowan

Tournament Season Kicks Off

How about some beautiful weather to remind us all that spring is just around the corner! This past Saturday was gorgeous and a ton of fishermen got out and enjoyed it, myself included!

I still had more boat maintenance and updating to take care of over the weekend, and with a long drive to southern Mississippi for a tournament next week, everything needed to be in order. Chippy and I are headed down to Lake Washington, Mississippi on Wednesday for the BassPro Shop’s CrappieMaster’s tournament. This past weekend the Magnolia Crappie Club, a state-wide tournament trail in Mississippi held their tournament and the winning 7-fish weight was 16.67 lbs.! The “Big Fish” for the tournament was 3.17 lbs.! There are not many places on Earth that a 7-fish stringer of crappie average over 2 lbs. each (almost all of them are in Mississippi), and we cannot wait to get down there. As much as I’d like to be expecting a win, we’ve never been to the lake before and will be going up against the best tournament fishermen in the country, so just getting in the top ten would be great, that being said I generally have a “Ricky Bobby” mind frame when tournament fishing, first or last baby!

I (with the help and garage of my buddy Perry Jackson) installed a 12 volt aerator for both my livewell and minnow bucket, a pole rack for transporting, a set of individual Hi-Tek Stuff rod holders (not on the market yet but coming soon), and a FlexStep, among other things. The FlexStep, an ingenious little product by Megaware, is a multi-angle/extendable step system that attaches to your trailer frame giving you convenient access to virtually anywhere on your boat. For me, getting in and out of my boat when launching is not a problem, but getting fish out of the livewell was always a pain, so I mounted the FlexStep towards the front of my trailer so I could easily step up on it and reach my livewell without having to climb in my boat. The FlexStep would really be helpful for older fishermen or boaters who have trouble getting in and out of their boat. They are available at www.keelguard.com.

The Wappapello Crappie Club held their annual Classic tournament and Travis Causey and Michael Smart won the two-day event with a total weight of 17.44 lbs.! 2nd Place went to Brian Jines and Daniel Porter with 16.67 lbs. and 3rd was Chuck and James Chism with 13.72 lbs., and the “Big Fish” award went to Charlie Brotherton and Tom Frazier with a 1.97 lb. slab. Calling Wappapello Lake a “small fish lake” just isn’t legitimate anymore, if you know where to catch them, the big fish are there!

Speaking of crappie clubs, Reelfoot Lake is starting its own club in a few weeks. Jeff Riddle, a guide and one half of the team (along with Dave Maddox) that took second place in total points last year on the CrappieMaster’s tournament trail, started the Reelfoot Crappie Club, and the first meeting is at Samburg City Hall at 6:00 pm on March 7th. Membership I believe is $25 per year per person, and entry fees are $60 per boat with an optional $10 “Big Fish” pot. The first tournament is March 15th and the weigh-in is at Bo’s Landing. For more information contact Jeff Riddle at 731-446-7554.

B’n’M Catfish Pro Staffers Jason Aycock and Hunter Jones fished the first Bass Pro Shop’s Big Cat Quest tournament of the year at Paducah, KY, and took first place with 151 lbs. of big blue cats! They fished a ledge on the Tennessee River near where it meets the Ohio. They anchored with the Neversnag Anchor in 30 ft. of water and casted out into 50 ft. They located a lot of wood on the ledge and the fish were stacked in behind it.

It didn’t take long for a B’n’M SilverCat Magnum rod to get slammed down, and another did the same immediately after. It was their biggest double ever, reeling in a 46 and 32 pounder at the same time! They stayed put for a few hours catching three more good fish, then began bounding down, which is when you keep the same anchor hold but let out more rope. They made another move and with 30 minutes of legal fishing time they caught a 30 and a 25 pounder and knew they should be at least “in the money”.

The best thing about the win for Jason, was that they were fishing in a spot that Chris Stephens and Jerry Whitehead helped them out with. He said he felt like Chris was there with him in the boat, and I have no doubt he was smiling in heaven when the guys took the win!

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boat

Josh Gowan taking off on a cold morning at a an icy Reelfoot Lake

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Regional Hunting and Fishing

By Josh Gowan

Back on the Water

Finally, enough ice melted for Chippy and I to find a ramp open and get back out on Reelfoot for the first time this year. As is the case with the first trip of the year, it was not without challenges! I was amazed to see the amount of crazy’s at the carwash on Saturday shining their vehicles in 30 degree weather, absolutely nuts, I had to wait forever to get my boat in there…

First things first, I had to prepare for the Sunday trip, and being a poor writer without proper housing for my boat, that meant removing the tarp which was still covered in five inches of ice, as it had been for over a month. Fortunately everything looked to be in order, and I began the task of emptying out the boat. The 20 poles, tackle bags, trolling racks, various tools, and an errant iced honey bun were all fairly easy to pry up, but Chippy left his net laying in the bottom of the boat, and it was frozen in a few inches of ice. My drain hole was froze solid with a nice icicle hanging from it, and there was a big block of ice encapsulating my bilge and aerator pumps, these are the perils of not having a big shop!

I boiled water all day and took a little at a time out and dumped on the ice, I pulled on Chippy’s net and after a while, with a little elbow grease, I managed to get it out, with a softball sized hole in it! I put my “Mr. Buddy” propane heater under the drain hole and took my wife’s hair dryer to the top side, that along with occasionally pouring boiling water on the ice block, I managed to get it mostly thawed in about an hour. That was the end of the easy part…

The onboard charger was glowing red on both trolling batteries, which meant no connection, so I removed, cleaned, and checked every fuse and wire without any success. It turned out to be the worst case scenario, two bad batteries, so off to Walmart I went, where I got to stand in line at the automotive area behind people with shopping carts full of non-automotive stuff who were clearly disregarding the “20 items or less” sign.

After all that it was quite dark and I moved inside to re-spool new poles and reels and organize my tackle box and so-on, which was not without issues but we’ll move on!

We arrived late due to circumstances beyond my control and I realized that I’d left my sunglasses at home. The fourth store I stopped at had some very nice “Top Gun” style shades for $4, and we were at Champy’s Pocket by 8:00 am.

There was no ice on the ramp or in the immediate vicinity, and we enjoyed a beautiful morning slow-trolling around the ice sheets. Then around 9:30, the 3-6 mph wind that was predicted morphed into a steady 15-20, and with two 50 inch wind socks and my small chain I was still moving way to fast. We never got a bite, and neither did the other couple of boats we talked to, but it was nice to get back on the water and get everything operational again!

My buddy’s the Jackson brothers, Perry and Randy, kept 60 crappie on Friday and 40 on Sunday at Wappapello, casting into shad schools and working stinger style jigs really aggressively to get the fish to bite.

How we communicate and receive information is rapidly changing, and the outdoor industry is rolling right along with the changes. My friend Wally Marshall, or “Mr. Crappie”, has made a living promoting the sport he loves and bringing new products to the crappie fishing industry. One of his new marketing masterpieces is www.SlabBlaster.com, which is an awesome website that invites you to sign up, and they will send you a weekly newsletter with the biggest crappie stories of the week. It is not driven to any particular product and not a sales pitch at all, just awesome stories, pictures, and videos from the week in crappie fishing, and I really enjoy it.

Social media is simultaneously awesome and a pain in the rump, but it’s affective and necessary for what I do, so if this weekly column does not satisfy your need to know what I’m up to and you want to follow me on a daily basis, I’m on Facebook at www.facebook.com/josh.gowan.7, Twitter @joshmgowan, and Instagram at joshmgowan, fishing and hunting videos at www.youtube.com/wylecat1, and of course back-issues of this column are on my website at www.joshgowanoutdoors.com. If you really want a peak into a strange world, follow Chippy on Twitter @joshuachipman!

I have a couple spots open for business sponsors for this upcoming year, so if you’re interested in supporting some outdoor endeavors, shoot me an email at joshmgowan@yahoo.com!

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snowgeese

Lance Penn, Bud Hilburn, BJ & Blake Carr, Britt Haris and friends with 170 snow geese killed in Southeast Missouri

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Regional Hunting and Fishing

By Josh Gowan

Winter Persists, Writer Perils

This week on outdoors in Siberia, a big sale on snow shoes resulted in a traffic jam, and dogs had to be cut from their reigns to free up the trail. There was another yeti sighting behind the cabin Sylvester Stalone used in the filming of Rocky 4, and trail cameras have been placed around the area. The Norwegian cross-country skier that disappeared from the Sochi Olympic trial was found nearing the border of China, still skiing, and Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated him with an honorary medal for his effort and ordered that a stone statue be erected of the skier, and that a larger, bronze statue be erected of himself, congratulating the skier…

A year is not very long in the course of a lifetime, but when you write a column every week, what you wrote at the same time last year might had well of been 20 years ago. A gentleman who is bored enough to look forward to my column every week, and unfortunate enough to remember them remarkably well, informed me that I’ve been making the same groundhog/wack-a-mole joke for the last three years and I needed to find a new way to kill the little varmint. I looked back and he is correct, so to right this wrong, here is some new material.

Let’s fast-forward to the news report from Punxsutawney in February 2015 – “This is Bob Roberts (all Yankees have some form of Bob in their name) reporting live from what people are now calling the “Mania in Pennsylvania”. Last night, an assailant was spotted unloading various objects out of the back of a pick-up truck, and disappearing into the darkness just a few hundred yards from the hole that our dearest Punxsutawney Phil was to appear out of. At first light this morning, event organizers and spectators began arriving and noticed what appeared to be a 40 ft. pole wrapped in a multi-color, heavy vinyl material. As the crowd began to gather around the pole, there was a muffled explosion and someone screamed that smoke was coming from Phil’s hole. Within seconds, the vinyl wrapping ballooned into a giant umbrella, and a rushing water sound was heard coming from beneath the ground. The scene was chaotic, and suddenly, through the smoke still bellowing from the hole, Phil was pushed out in a tidal wave of water with a mouthful of what was later determined to be poison pellets. As Phil took one last, valiant look around to find what should have been his shadow had it not been for the giant umbrella, a man, who is still sought by police, ran through in what appeared to be a Mossy Oak ghillie suit and whacked poor Phil in the head with a dirty spade shovel and yelled in a southern accent “NO SHADOW!!” and disappeared into the nearby woods. The town mourns the loss of their dear mascot, and after reviewing the rules it appears that there are no exceptions, since Phil did not see his shadow, spring will begin.”

Well there it is, rock bottom folks, week after week of nothing going on in the outdoors has finally taken its toll. However, there is a glimmer of hope on the horizon with warmer temperatures and sunshine predicted for the weekend. I’ve already talked to some of my friends that are going fishing Sunday regardless, and I will probably be joining them! Reelfoot is pretty frozen right now, but hopefully by the time most of you are reading this we’ll be able to get out in the main lake.
There are a ton of snow geese in Tennessee and northeastern Arkansas, so I’m hoping someone was out blasting them, but I have only heard reports from my buddies in Missouri who are at the state line anxiously awaiting their return!

There are some guys out shooting rabbits, which are active right now and fairly plentiful. About the only other thing to do is shoot coyotes, and fortunately more and more folks are out hunting them, which is a direct contributor to the increased number of rabbits. The other important factor that has helped the rabbit population is the increased amount of fencerows due to the Conservation Reserve Program’s CP33 program, which pays farmers to essentially let fencerows grow up and out. If you pay attention you’ll see some of these wide, brushy fencerows that stand out in our heavily farmed neck of the woods. While intended to help bring quail populations back, they are also helping rabbits, which is a win-win for the wildlife, the hunters, and the farmers.

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