david

Heartlander Abroad: Reelfoot Lake, TN

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Blue Bank guides David Blakely and Nelson Northern with a stringer-full of big, Reelfoot Lake bream

By Josh Gowan

Heartlander Abroad: Reelfoot Lake, TN

I was back on the “Foot” this past week, where the weather was hot and the fishing was slow, at least for my target species, the majestic crappie! Now every other type of fish in the lake was jumping in the boat, and a less stubborn man would have altered his tactics and target to attain success, but while I may not be very patient, I am bull-headed!

I always see the weather-folks warning people of the heat, “stay inside,” “carry plenty of water,” “avoid the midday sun,” and so on. Being a moderately young and extremely tough (it’s my column, and I can describe myself how I see fit) outdoorsman, I pay no attention to such trivial warnings. This past week I was taught a rather poignant lesson about both the “trivial” warnings and my own physical limits.

After attaining a magnificent sunburn last Saturday on Kentucky Lake, I spent Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday on Reelfoot, fishing through the heat of the day to find concentrations of black crappie seeking shade. It was perhaps I who should have been seeking shade!

After catching over 60 specks on Monday (54 of which were between 4-8 inches,) and a disappointing day on Tuesday, Wednesday I opted for a long ride from the cabin to the swamp on the north end of the lake. The crappie bite was slow, although I was inadvertently catching a good mess of big bream on the cypress trees, which was enough excitement to keep plucking away at it.

At around 2pm I was jigging yet another cypress tree, when I started feeling a bit woozy. I sat down and fired up the outboard, figuring I should start the very long ride back to the house. I’d neglected to drink any water over the previous few days, an oversight on my part, and the heat was getting the best of me.

Within 30 minutes I was coming across the “log-yard” in the middle basin, looking for Willow Bar Ditch, which would bring me into the south end of the lake and the last leg of my journey. I got up to 5 mph, which is faster than I like to go across the stump-laden lake, especially with a new lower unit. Although I’d traversed this stretch (and every other stretch) of the lake a million times, I had to use my depthfinder’s map to locate the ditch.

I finally pulled into the cove and stumbled up to the cabin, stripped down and sat in a cold shower while pummeling bottles of water. I spent the next few days at home in the AC and must have drank 20 gallons of water, and I wasn’t really myself until the weekend. It was a stupid mistake that I will not make again!

Now although the crappie fishing was tough for me, at least as far as “keeper” fish are concerned, the amount of small crappie I caught was staggering, which is very promising for the future of the lake. If ever there were a time to put a 9-inch length limit on the lake, it is now. While most people would never keep a 4-inch crappie, there is no doubt some of the tourists visiting the lake clean many 7-8 inchers, and these fish need to grow.

While the bream (or blue gill depending on your dialect,) bite is consistent and there are plenty of those tenacious panfish available in the trees, the lily pads, and along the shore, the most active and plentiful of gamefish is still the catfish.

It is unbelievable how many catfish there are, and if there is anyone going hungry that owns even the most rudimentary of fishing poles and can find their way to the lake, it is their own fault.

A bit of stink bait (Sonny’s being the preferred flavor) smeared on anything at all, and flipped under a cork or on the bottom, will result in 2-5 pound channel cats in practically any water on the lake. An occasional blue catfish, which run bigger on the lake, is not uncommon, and if you’re very lucky the prized flathead will vary from its menu of live fish and indulge in a bit of the stinky cheese, and dinner my friends, is served!

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johnhunter1

Heartlander Abroad: Kentucky Lake, TN

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Jon Hunter from Portageville/New Madrid, MO with his new bowfishing state record big mouth buffalo

By Josh Gowan

Heartlander Abroad: Kentucky Lake, TN

Well, my rampant abroad-ness has been continued yet another week, and so brings another action-packed adventure from just outside the Heartland, kind of.

I spent the last three days on the “big water”, which of course is Kentucky Lake. Stretching 184 miles and covering 160,000 acres, Kentucky Lake is the largest manmade lake in the Eastern United States. The Tennessee River runs through the lake and is controlled at the 1-mile-long Kentucky Dam.

Oddly enough, I had never fished the lake before Thursday, but when something else fell through and I had the chance to go fish the Crappie Master’s Tennessee State Championship, I called up my old fishing buddy/stepdad Perry Jackson and made plans in a hurry! Chippy was covered up at work, and I had an ulterior motive in both going to the lake and inviting Perry.

This year’s Crappie Master’s National Championship will be held at Kentucky Lake, and I needed to familiarize myself with at least some of the lake, AND Perry has fished there quite a bit and has a ton of waypoints and knows his way around. So although the two-day tourney started on Friday and we weren’t leaving until Thursday morning, I still felt like we could make a good showing.

Thursday afternoon the wind was blowing around 30 mph and I was able to put my 18-foot Lowe to the test in some serious whitecaps! Although we both got pretty wet, my aluminum, burgundy tank had no issues on the big water. We quickly located some of Perry’s GPS spots and caught a few fish, and were optimistic about the morning.

The “Host Hotel” for the event was the Quality Inn in Paris, Tennessee, and we were both pleasantly surprised at our accommodations for the weekend. I always take care of the lodging, and my track record is suspect at times, and Perry questioned me more than once about the hotel. I really had no idea how it would be, but as soon as we pulled up there was huge banner hanging outside that read “Platinum Award Winner”, and although I had no idea what that meant, it had to be a good sign, right?!

The room was above and beyond my expectations of even a high-end hotel, and the Quality Inn starts at $85 per night! Aside from a double vanity, walk-in shower, oversized bath tub, and all the other comforts of home, there were multiple covered areas outside with picnic benches and tables and chairs to just hang out and enjoy the weather, and the free breakfast was phenomenal! Now you may be wondering why I would dote on this particular hotel so much, so I’ll tell you, the Quality Inn is American owned and operated, the GM Robin Whitt and her staff are proud of their hotel and it shows in every detail, and here’s what really sold me, fishermen and hunters ALWAYS get the corporate rate, (which is $77 per night) all you have to do is let them know! That’s just awesome, and that banner about the Platinum Award, that was for being voted in the top 3% of hotels!

Now unfortunately the fishing was not quite as “beyond my expectations,” but that was mostly due to an unfortunate incident early Friday morning that resulted in frying Perry’s depthfinder (losing all 600 waypoints) and leaving us to fish blind. Fortunately Perry remembered the general area of some of the spots in the creek we decided to fish, and we were able to use my Humminbird to locate some stake beds where we subsequently threw buoys and backed away and casted to the fish.

This particular style of fishing is not something I’ve done much of, and detecting extremely light bites on a 2-inch float from 20-30 feet away was nearly impossible for my eyes, but Perry was zoned in and caught most of the fish we weighed the first day. The second day was a little better being that we marked multiple spots the day before, and while we still were no threat to the top ten, we improved 1.5-pounds from the first day and had a blast doing it!

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davce

Heartlander Abroad: Reelfoot Lake, TN

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Jeff Riddle and Dave Maddux with their 1st Place trophies from the CrappieMaster’s at Beaver Lake, AR

By Josh Gowan

Heartlander Abroad: Reelfoot Lake, TN

Alright, I know Reelfoot really isn’t very “abroad”, but I’m leaning towards moving the name of this article to “Heartlander Abroad” full-time, and with a small donation from every reader I may be able to fund being constantly abroad!

Being on the road a lot has its pros and cons, and one of those cons is not fishing my home lake in the northwest corner of Tennessee. Reelfoot Lake had a tough year for white crappie in 2014, and a lot of anglers had difficulty catching fish. What people have to remember is that all lakes are cyclical and have up and down years.

Crappie in our part of the world (lower Midwest/upper south) live to be 5-6 years old. When you have a bad spawn, like we did in two of the last six years, the crappie population will be heavily affected. Larger bodies of water, like Kentucky Lake for instance, are much less susceptible to poor spawns seriously hurting populations because there are so many different areas for crappie to spawn in, and all crappie do not spawn at the same time or in the same place. With Reelfoot being a shallow basin lake with minimal fluctuations in water levels, the spawn is much more tightly located, as well as the window it happens in.

Rapid rising or falling water, as well as unexpected extreme temperature changes and storms corresponding with the exact window of the spawn can have a devastating effect, and that was the cause of the poor population last year. Here’s another tidbit to consider, crappie spawn in places they were spawned from or have successfully spawned in the past. Having fished Reelfoot since the 80’s, it is clear that crappie have adapted and relocated to different spawning grounds.

The trees in Buck Basin known locally as Palestine Timber were dynamite for early April jig fishing right up until the ice storm of 2009. All the branches that fell changed the under-water landscape and the crappie have not been back since. However they didn’t disappear, they just relocated to different areas. The cycle is just that, a cycle, and the lake is rebounding right now. One female crappie can lay 250,000 eggs, a few consecutive successful spawns changes everything, and Reelfoot is about to return to its hayday!

I spent the days on the water and the evenings at BlueBank Resort, enjoying the phenomenal food at the restaurant while watching the sunsets and hand-feeding the eager resident ducks scraps from my plate. BlueBank not only houses the best restaurant, lodging, and a enormous fleet of rental boats, they also have the largest guide service, headed up by the one and only Mr. Billy Blakely.

Billy and the rest of the guides have been catching good numbers of big fish, but more importantly they’ve been catching a ton of 4-8 inch crappie. The last two years have resulted in great spawns, and over the next couple years the fishing is going to be great.

Chippy and I fished a local tournament over the weekend and took 3rd with nearly 9-pounds, and my old buddy Larry Griffin edged us out by a few ounces for 2nd place. The fishing was tough but there were big, male crappie that the top teams came in with. As the temperature warms and becomes more consistent the spawn should level out and the jig fishing should get better.

On a separate note, my friends and one of the best pro crappie fishing teams in the country, Jeff Riddle and Slabber Dave Maddox, won the Bass Pro Shop’s Crappie Master’s Tournament on Beaver Lake over the weekend. These guys are as good as they come, and they’re good guys to boot, so a big congratulations on the win to our local pros!

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cm

Heartlander Abroad: Lake D’arbonne, LA

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Josh Gowan and Josh Chipman with a few Lake D’arbonne slabs

By Josh Gowan

Heartlander Abroad: Lake D’arbonne, LA

I always figured I’d end up on a stage in LA, and this past weekend it came to fruition. Of course the big city lights were replaced by sunrises and sunsets, the movie stars were instead friendly Cajuns, and Santa Monica Boulevard was a cypress laden bayou. Northern Louisiana is home to one of, if not the best, crappie fishing lakes I’ve ever visited.

Lake D’arbonne is reminiscent of Reelfoot in that it is full of stumps, but where it varies is the bottom contours and channels, among other things. Looking at a detailed map of the lake shows dips, rises, ridges, ditches, flats, channels and so on. There are plainly marked boat lanes that allow you to run wide open from one spot to the next, but the second you pull out of the lane it’s easy going unless you dislike your lower unit.

My wife and I arrived Monday night to our accommodations at D’arbonne Pointe, a newly constructed resort that promises to cater to the women while overlooking some of the finest crappie fishing in the nation. There is a boat ramp on site and what must be nearly a half-mile of deck to tie your boat up.

The lodge itself was immaculate. It was the type of place that made you want to take your shoes off before walking in. An open floor plan equipped with leather furniture, flat screens, fireplace, and literally every amenity you can imagine on the bank of a gorgeous lake, with large windows and vaulted ceilings that absorbed the sunrise over the water into the living room and kitchen. The Pointe is also equipped with multiple RV hookups, a beach, a 3,000 square foot deck, and an in-ground swimming pool. For more information on booking or photos of the resort go to www.darbonnepointe.com.

Now on to the fishing! My first day on the lake was spent utilizing the Humminbird Sidescan and investigating what was under the water rather than above it. I didn’t have to drive far to see fish stacked on a ledge, and stopped and gave my box of anxious shiners an opportunity. The next five days were spent dragging slab after big-mouthed slab to the boat!

On Wednesday Chippy arrived and I acquired a much needed net man. I just don’t have it in me not to use every pole holder, and pushing 8 poles through shallow water with a plethora of angry crappie resulted in a lot of lost fish. He was as amazed at the sheer numbers of big crappie as I was, and the slaughter began.

Mind you, this week would culminate in the first Bass Pro Shop’s CrappieMaster’s tournament ever in the state of Louisiana, so we weren’t fishing to catch a ton of fish, just to pre-fish and locate ideal spots. That was a difficult task, being that everywhere we stopped we caught crappie. We caught fish in 2-foot of water and 25-foot of water, and everywhere in between. Saturday’s weather report called for storms, but throughout the week the report had been perpetually wrong, so we were less concerned than normal.

We began the tournament morning in a spot we’d caught good fish all week, spider-rigging through scattered cypress trees on the edge of shallower, thicker cypress grove. The crappie had just finished spawning and were moving out, and we’d caught some pigs there the day before. Unfortunately, during the night the big crappie moved further out and the catfish moved in by the 1,000’s!

By noon we’d caught around 30 crappie and 30 catfish, but nothing over 1.4-pounds (crappie that is). We decided to pull out and head across the lake to a deep ledge loaded with stumps. Around 1:30 the rain started, and the bite turned on full force. We caught 6 of our 7 fish that we weighed at the tournament from 1:30 to 2:30, even after running out of minnows! I put a black and pink CrappieMagnet on my #2 Tru-Turn minnow hooks and a pink crappie nibble, and the crappie ate them up!

We knew we had a good bag of crappie, but when it comes to tournaments, you never know what everyone else has, especially with a massive field of locals in the tourney. Our 7-fish limit weighed 10.75-pounds, which garnered 3rd place (and a nice check) in the 61 boat field and qualified us for the National Championship. We were only beat out by the Duck Commanders themselves, John Godwin and Jay Stone, and last year’s Anglers of the Year Whitey Outlaw and Mike Parrot! It was an amazing trip to an amazing lake and I can’t wait to get back!

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whiteyj

Hearlander Abroad: St. John’s River, Florida

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Josh Gowan and Whitey Outlaw with a couple big Florida specks

By Josh Gowan

Hearlander Abroad: St. John’s River, Florida

Possibly the most abroad this Heartlander has ever been (it’s difficult to count the miles with your eyes clinched shut, gripped in fear because the jet-propelled, patchwork, rust-bucket you’re crammed in is convulsing through the whatsos-sphere like a Chinese bottle rocket with a broken stick,) the St. John’s River might had well of been on another continent.

The pristine, inter-coastal swamp offered a backdrop that would have been enough to make the trip worthwhile on its own, but the wildlife that inhabited the tranquil current, both above and below the water’s surface, was easily the main attraction.

I was tucked in a quaint cottage overlooking the river at the Hontoon Landing Resort and Marina in beautiful West Volusia, Florida, and while the scenery was certainly breathtaking, I wasn’t there to sight-see. My game is panfish, and the St. John’s River is jam-packed with some of the most tenacious crappie and bream I’ve ever had the pleasure of hooking.

One of the first trips I ventured out on was for big, bull bream with B’n’M and Lucas Oil/Hydroforce Pro Staffer Mathew Outlaw and his young apprentice Justin Black. Mathew recently won the Bass Pro Shop’s Crappie Master’s tourney at Lake Marion, South Carolina, and is no stranger to catching both big crappie and big bream.

Although I’ve boated many bream jigging the cypress trees of Reelfoot Lake, this was an entirely different approach. We were using the new B’n’M Double Duty rod by Whitey Outlaw, Mathew’s dad, although Mathew said he had plenty of input on the pole as well. The rod is essentially a high-end, graphite cane pole that weighs next to nothing but offers a ton of backbone.

The set-up utilized around 12-foot of 8-pound Viscious monofilament tied to the tip of the 10-foot pole, rigged with a small toothpick float, splitshot, and #4 Tru-Turn hook armed with a lively Florida cricket. The tactic was to either flip or swing your bait up to the edge of the vegetation and let the current ease it along, but it never eased far! The action was fast and furious and the bream were monstrous and black, and none too happy about the unexpected lip piercing.

Unfortunately the active bite was shut down just before the YETI Cooler was completely full, which happens, but the culprit in this case was new to me. Mathew said, “Oh crap, that manatee is coming straight at our spot.” That’s right, a manatee. Roughly the size of the compact rental car I was driving, manatees are strict vegetarians, but apparently just the sight of the enormous sea-monster is enough to make the bream tuck tail, and I don’t blame them!

The next morning, the legend himself, Mr. Whitey Outlaw picked me up in a new camouflage War Eagle, rigged with Humminbird depth finders and a Minn Kota trolling motor, and we went out to use a new-to-me tactic for big, black crappie. Whitey ran the aluminum tank right up on top of a heavy vegetation mat surrounding a downed tree off the bank of the river.

He pulled out an 8-foot metal pole with a 90 degree bend and another 2-foot off the end. This homemade device was built for a specific reason, to make a hole in vegetation too thick to drop a jig through. This was not a dainty process. He thrashed a trashcan-sized hole in the mat and dropped a silver 1/16-ounce Rockport Rattler jighead armed with a white Midsouth tube jig, and within a matter of minutes was busy pulling in slab Florida specks. It was an absolute blast and a tactic I’m going to try back in my part of the country.

My last endeavor was at the mercy of the Lucas Marine Products and B’n’M team of Matt Morgan and Kent Watson, also recent Crappie Master’s victors. Matt put the 14-foot B’n’M’s in the single Driftmaster rod holders, and we pushed a variety of live minnows on Blakemore Roadrunner heads. Putting out multiple poles with live bait, in a fishery as fertile and active as the St. John’s River, results in a whole lot of action from a whole lot of different fish! Aside from the crappie, we caught gar, catfish, bass, and a wide variety of bream.

The trip was an amazing experience. From crappie to bream, manatees to alligators, lily pads, palm trees, and cypress adorned with Spanish moss, the Hontoon Landing on the St. John’s River in West Valusia, Florida holds something for everyone, and is a destination that should not be missed!

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scott

The Spawn

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Scott Stafford from Portageville, MO with a couple Reelfoot Lake slabs

By Josh Gowan

The Spawn

There are two things that absolutely get my heart pumping more than anything else in the outdoors, the whitetail rut and the crappie spawn. The Lord clearly knew that most stand-up, logical outdoorsmen would prefer crappie and deer over all other fish and game, so he put these two glorious seasons at opposite times of the year, so that we mighty outdoorsmen might also be able to enjoy a happy marriage! Now is the time my friends, the moon is full, we’ve had plenty of warm days, and stringers of male crappie are already starting to appear on my Facebook feed. Here are some tips and tactics that will help you be more successful during the spawn.

The crappie spawn attracts more anglers to the water than any other time of year. The opportunity to locate large numbers of aggressive crappie in close quarters, along with the hand-to-hand combat that ensues between shallow fish and ultra-light tackle, is just too much to pass up.

Most successful spawn fishing is spent plucking males from their nest. Male crappie fan the nests and essentially make the bed while the females stage out from the nest. Depending on the lake and progression of the spawn, females may be farther out and much deeper than the males, or within 6 feet and at the same depth, but both sexes will be feeding aggressively up to the last stages of the female moving in and dropping Regional Hunting and Fishing

her eggs. Females are then in and out rather briefly, and once they’ve dropped all of their eggs are very difficult to pinpoint and catch.

Male crappie are emphatic guards of their up and coming fry, which is why the spawn bite is the best “thump” most anglers feel all year. However it’s important to remember that the males are not actively feeding after the females have left, they are merely trying to run off any predator of the tender eggs. While the initial bite is ferocious, male crappie are only trying to kill or wound baitfish that pose a threat, and will “chomp” once or twice and then spit the bait. They are genetically geared to feed heavily prior to the spawn to prepare for the fasting that accompanies it. A quick hook-set is key, otherwise your bait will be outside of the crappie’s mouth in a matter of seconds.

Crappie move shallow to spawn and do so on firm bottoms, which can range from rocks to logs, but is usually performed on the lake floor surrounded by cover, which is primarily for protection against predators and mother nature’s wrath. Any shallow cover over a hard bottom is an excellent place to look for spawning crappie.

Crappie are creatures of habit, and will return to spawn in the same areas that yielded success in the past given similar water levels. Keeping track of previous spawns can prove very effective in targeting the next year’s crappie. It’s also important to note that an unsuccessful spawn will often result in a change of habitat during the next year’s spawn. Water levels dropping quickly during the spawn can wreak havoc on eggs, and crappie will in turn find safer areas to make beds for the next year.

When dealing with heavy cover such as brush, standing timber, and thick vegetation, vertical jigging is the best method to effectively fish an area. A long, light jig pole allows anglers to reach into, above, or around cover and drop a bait right in the crappie’s home. Active males rarely require much action from a bait, and even color can be a non-issue as long as the crappie can see the bait. A moderately slow fall and bit of up and down jigging will usually do the trick if the fish are there.

Lakes with gravel or riprap banks will often hold spawning fish extremely shallow and without much cover. Casting a jig to the bank and dragging it back, staying just off or bouncing the bottom will trigger strikes from these fish. Utilizing a float above the jig will allow you to maintain exact control of lure depth, but an eagle-eye and lightning fast reflexes, along with a stiff 6 or 7-foot rod is necessary to make quick, strong hook-sets on fish that have no intention of eating the bait.

Regardless of your preferred method or tactic, now is the time to get out and fish the crappie spawn!

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IMG_0053

Fishing for a Cause

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Staci Gowan with a big crappie

By Josh Gowan

Fishing for a Cause

How about a little spring weather my friends! Bright sunshine and warm afternoons has turned the crappie on across the lower Midwest, and according to my various social media outlets, a lot of anglers are getting in on the action. There’s a big tournament coming up on Kentucky Lake that is going to land right on some of the best crappie fishing of the year.

The Henry County Carl Perkins Center for the Prevention of Child Abuse has planned the Second Annual Carl Perkins Center-Tosh Farm Annual Crappie tournament for April 25, 2015 at Paris Landing on Kentucky Lake

Entry fee will be $55 per person. 100% of the application fee goes to fight child abuse and aid in the healing process. Applications can be found at local stores and online at www.carlperkinscenter.org, the tournament Facebook page or at the Center at 204 N. Brewer St. Applications must be postmarked by April 17, 2015 ($10 late fee per person after that).

The Center is partnering with Tosh Farms again and various sponsors to host this year’s crappie tournament to raise money to benefit the prevention of child abuse in this community and aid in the healing process after abuse has occurred. Fishermen will begin by having their hooks in the water at 6:30 A.M. and are allowed to fish until 3 P.M. The weigh in will take place at Paris Landing.

Entry fee includes the Big Fish Contest for a prize of $250. There will be a payout total of $1000 payable to 1st, 5th, 8th, 10th, and last place. There will be other prizes as well from Southern Pro, Minn-Kota, Humminbird, Kroger, and the Crappie Wizard to name a few. These will be distributed at the weigh in. See a board member to donate for a chance to win a $1000 tackle box, trolling motor or depth finder. There will be a guide trip given away by the Crappie Wizard, and there will also be a guide trip donated by Bruce Mayfield for a child and his/her parent.

County Director, Catherine Herrera said, “Last year the fishermen and the community were awesome, and we had 35 teams participate. It was a lot of fun and we raised over $8500 to work with our county’s abused children and their families. This year fishing teams can fish with a minor fisherman to help encourage children to be outdoors.”

The mission of the Carl Perkins Center is to provide support to families in preventing and dealing with child abuse in West Tennessee and to help both parents and children meet the practical needs of preserving and improving the quality of family life. The Center’s goals are two-fold. They provide services to strengthen families to prevent abuse and provide services to put families back together and literally save the lives of children. The overall objective is to break the cycle of abuse now and for future generations thus treating the cause rather than just the symptoms of the problem. The center collaborates with many agencies in the community including the DCS and law enforcement.

Services they currently offer are victim advocacy, forensic interviews, evidence-based national parenting programs, relative care provider services(in home and support groups), Stewards of Children (national sexual abuse prevention training), Forever Parents Divorcing Parent classes, hygiene closet, parent aid/mentor programs(in home), 24-hour crisis hotline, and community awareness programs. Their goal is to take their current services and assist the many organizations that Henry County already has in place to expand their work with families to give them the tools to be strong and successful.

The Center is excited to help host this tournament with Event Sponsor: Tosh Farms, our Reel Sponsor: Edward Jones Financial and Take Me Back Café, and our Big Fish Sponsors: Lakeway IGA, East Wood Clinic, Foundation Bank, HCMC, Quality Inn, Kreg Kyle, and Commercial Bank and Trust.

This is a great cause and an excellent time to be on the water chasing big crappie! For more information contact Catherine Herrara at 731-513-0574 or by email at henry@carlperkinscenter.org.

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lance

Heartlander Abroad: Kinkaid Lake, IL

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Lance Mansfield with a big Reelfoot Lake crappie

By Josh Gowan

Heartlander Abroad: Kinkaid Lake, IL

I believe I may change the title of this column to “Heartlander Abroad”, and maybe start using a moniker or pen name like, I don’t know, “Hunter Fishman”? What do you think? You can’t really expect me to stay home during the spring, so I’m kind of always “abroad” anyway. I do have a local report this week though, so stay tuned!
As you can imagine, I don’t see much of my family this time of year outside of my wife and son, with all the traveling and working and whatnot. My mother and step-dad, Charlotte and Perry Jackson, are always generous hosts up in Jackson, MO, so we figured we should take a weekend and go visit. Completely unbeknownst to me, Perry planned a fishing trip for us over in the Land of Lincoln, and I thought it would be rude to refuse!

Fishermen often ask me how to go to new lakes and be successful, and I always tell them the same thing, start by researching as much as you can. While Kinkaid is not a new lake to me, I probably only fish it 4-5 times per year. My research started by calling my buddy Kyle Schoenherr, tournament fisherman and owner/operator of All Season’s Guide Service in Southern Illinois. Although Kyle hadn’t been on the lake lately, he knew the crappie were moving up to spawn, and his only concern was if the lake had cleared up since last week’s rains. Kinkaid is a clear-water lake, and when clear-water lakes get muddy it gets very difficult make crappie bite.

We put in “up the creek” at Johnsonville Ramp and the water looked like chocolate milk. I told Perry that if we headed farther up it would eventually clear up, so up the creek we went, making sure that we had a paddle just in case! We eventually found the mudline and green water a country mile or two upriver, but there were no fish in sight.

With today’s electronics finding crappie is much easier, and finding places without crappie is even easier than that. Perry has a Humminbird 999 with Side Imaging, and the creek was obviously empty. We traversed the narrow waterway until coming to a dead end at a massive beaver dam, and after fishing the dam extensively decided to head back to the chocolate milk and try our luck.

After passing the point where we turned upriver initially, it didn’t take long for the depthfinder to light up. The crappie were stacked on the ledges in 10-15 foot of water, but making them eat was a different story! I believe that had we been in my boat with a bucket of minnows we could have put the spider-rig on them and caught a decent mess, but with just plastics and holding a few poles it was tough. We did manage to scratch out enough to clean whole and enjoy some fried crappie tails along with the filets we left to thaw out just in case!

Kinkaid, along with all lakes in the lower Midwest are on the precipice of the spawn, and a few consecutive nights in the 60’s should see the crappie bite bust wide open at the end of a jig pole. Everyone down south is already catching males on the bed, which means the females aren’t far behind.

Reelfoot Lake looks to have rebounded nicely from last year’s tough spring. All lakes are cyclical, and shallow basin lakes like Reelfoot are much more prone to experiencing widespread effects from poor spawning years. Crappie at Reelfoot and below only live to be 5-6 years old, so having two poor spawns due to weather in the last 6 years took its toll. That being said, a female crappie lays 250,000 eggs, so it doesn’t take much to turn it around.
Many anglers caught big, white crappie spider-rigging on the south end of the lake over the weekend. The numbers weren’t huge, but solid, and the size of the fish was really impressive. The common theme was to fish in 10-15 foot of water, 2-5 foot down, and go slow. I’ll be out after them soon!

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Heartlander Abroad: Lake Washington, Mississippi

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Josh Gowan with a big Lake Washington crappie

By Josh Gowan

Heartlander Abroad: Lake Washington, Mississippi

I promise that this is the last time my report comes from Mississippi, that is of course unless I get another opportunity to go, in which case I apologize ahead of time, because I’ll be down I-55 faster than you can say “Man that’s a huge crappie!”

This past weekend was the Bass Pro Shop’s Crappie Master’s tournament on my home away from home, Lake Washington, Mississippi. You’d think that after having been there the prior week, and with three more days to pre-fish for the tournament, I’d have the crappie absolutely pinned down, but you’d be wrong!

It is called fishing, not catching, and there is a reason for that my friends. We couldn’t sell thousands of different colored jigs, every length, feel, and action of rod on earth, different diameter lines and so on and so on if it was always easy. All that being said, the actual fishing was fantastic, the problem I ran into on tournament day was locating seven BIG fish, or any BIG fish for that matter!

Chippy and I descended upon Bait’n’Thangs where my boat was still parked and my room was still full of tackle and clothes, and fortunately the temperature had risen dramatically. Wednesday was a gorgeous day on the water, and as the sun came out and the water calmed in the afternoon, the fish turned on. I have around 150 GPS spots on the lake, some of them marking a tiny protrusion from the bottom (outside of the cypress trees there is very little cover on the lake) and some marking a spot where I’d caught big crappie before.

We went from point to point with 8 16-foot rods holding two minnows each spread 180 degrees in front of the boat. The light breeze was perfect, and keeping it in my face I’d get a running start with the trolling motor and let off so as to drift silently across the spot, ideally stopping just past it and letting the breeze push us back across. My favorite spot that has relinquished 2, 2-pound+ crappie and many between 1 and 2-pounds is old number 60, and it didn’t disappoint! We caught 5 crappie with the biggest being just under 2-pounds in a matter of minutes, and the next 25 spots all seemed to hold at least one crappie. The sun set on the Mississippi oxbow and we were still pulling in slabs, causing us to fantasize about what the tournament would bring.

The next morning I was looking for new spots to add to my list of choices, and one place did just that. While the lake has very little cover, there are tons of points and old creeks that make for very interesting contours along the lake bottom. We pulled in past a row of cypress trees into an opening and the depth went from 2 to 5-feet very quickly. What was more intrigueing was that the 5-foot water held right up to the thin line of cypress trees on the bank. This is an ideal location for big crappie staging near spawning grounds, and the second pass through Chippy caught a crappie that was almost 2-pounds. I marked the spot and we swung around and went back over it and I caught a behemoth 2.55-pounder was shaped like a football!

Being that we were pre-fishing, we backed out and left the spot alone as another viable choice, releasing the big fish in hopes of catching them again on Saturday. Friday brought a constant downpour that lasted until 2pm, and we sat out in it all day without catching much at all.

By this point it was clear that most of the teams would be drifting over one of two flats on opposite sides of the lake where fish were scattered but consistent, and the occasional big slab was possible. I hate aimlessly fishing catching random fish, and opted to fish all of the productive spots on the GPS we could. We caught around 40 crappie on tournament day, but none of them were big, 1 to 1.5-pounds, and 7 of those won’t do much good during a tourney on that lake!

My friends and fellow B’n’M Pro Staffers from Reelfoot Lake, Tim Blackley and Jackie VanCleave absolutely waylaid them, bringing in a 7-crappie stringer that weighed 17.95-pounds to beat out the other 90 boats in the tournament!!

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Heartlander Abroad: Lake Washington, MS

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Eric Parris and Donnie Foster with their winning “Big Momma” crappie from Lake Washington, MS

By Josh Gowan

Heartlander Abroad: Lake Washington, MS

That’s right, I’m still giving fishing reports from 300 miles away, I’d give a local report but my momma always said that if I didn’t have anything nice to say I should say nothing at all! Actually, that’s not entirely true, we have a bit of good news in that our lakes are no longer froze solid! Furthermore, I saw a few pictures of anglers holding some big crappie from Wappapello Lake, so there is hope.

This trip was my 4th to Lake Washington, and I made arrangements to take my lovely wife with me. she’d never been there, but has heard me talk about it at great length, and I wanted her to experience my second favorite lake in the country after Reelfoot. Another bonus, at least I thought months ago when planning this, was that 300 miles south is generally much warmer in early March. “Generally” being the key word here.

We left a day early to beat Snowmageddon 2, and made almost the entire trip in a torrential downpour, which for any of you men who have driven in such conditions with your wife riding shotgun, you know is a good time. We made it to the lake in time for a Mississippi sunset, which was the last of Mother Natures pleasantries for a few days. The temperature plummeted, the sleet fell and packed, and we woke up to a skating rink that closed Mississippi for most of the day.

I whined last week about rescuing my boat from the igloo that had formed around it, and in doing so tore my boat cover to pieces. The inch of sleet that covered the ground also covered my boat, and half the day Friday was spent in the boat with a hammer busting the ice.

We swung by bait n thangs and picked up some minnows and headed out Friday afternoon. The fish were still lethargic from the cold shock and the bite was slow, but what did bite was very big, which is the case with this lake. It’s wild to go down there and catch these crappie, they are just freaks of nature. A 15-inch fish throughout most of the country will weigh 1.5 to 1.75-pounds, and down there they will be 2.25 to 2.5-pounds. A healthy, fat Reelfoot Lake crappie that is 16 inches will weigh between 1.9 and 2.2-pounds, and down there a 16-inch female will be between 2.75 and 3.5-pounds. They are shaped liked footballs, and meaner than a linebacker!

Most of the lake is from 5 to 8-feet deep, and has very little cover in it. These massive crappie just suspend randomly throughout the water column in the always murky water. Spider-rigging is the best way to target them, and if you have a side imaging depth finder you are at an advantage. Driving around and scanning the area is the best way to find fish this time of year. They are generally feeding actively and chasing shad, which stay in “balls” to protect themselves are easy to see on today’s electronics.

After finding crappie, there are two remaining obstacles, not spooking them and landing them after they bite. I use 8, 16-foot B’n’M BGJP’s, which is a long rod, but it keeps my baits as far away from my boat and trolling motor as I can handle. Another tool I employ is the Silent Stalker, which is a thick, vinyl material that straps tightly under the bow of my boat. It’s like putting a silencer on a rifle and has changed how I fish, check them out at thesilentstalker.com.

Landing the big, mean crappie in shallow water is the next obstacle, and a good spinning reel with a loose drag is key, along with a good net-man. These fish run hard and without a smooth drag you’ll end up pulling hooks loose and watching that trophy disappear!

A couple guys who have figured out how to catch and land big crappie are Eric Parris from Dexter, MO and his fishing partner Donnie Foster from Essex. They were at Lake Washington and won the Bait’n’Thangs “Big Momma” Tournament with a 2.32-pound slab!

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