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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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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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jackie

Snow-pocalypse 2015

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Reelfoot Guide Jackie VanCleave with a couple of big crappie

By Josh Gowan

Snow-pocalypse 2015

For the love of God, I am seriously considering moving south! This is ridiculous, and it doesn’t appear to be ending, and as many of you read this we may be in the midst of another monumental snow storm, but I will be 4 hours south where you’d think it would be safe. But alas, they’re calling for freezing rain almost to New Orleans!

Horrendous weather or not, I am leaving in a few days and had to get the boat ready, which was (still is) quite the task given the 10-inches of frozen snow encapsulating it. Not to be deterred, I began with a propane heater aimed at the drain hole and took a garden hoe to the top, whacking and pulling off snow until I could see parts of the tarp. I tried to roll the 1,000-pounds or so that was left on top of the tarp from the bow to the back, but the tarp was frozen to the boat carpet in most places, which caused the tarp to tear and leave blue strips and patches all over the deck.

I broke out the other propane heater and went to Lowes for a couple heat bulbs which I positioned in opportune places above the worst of it. Most of my poles were under the tarp, and I had to have new line and rigs and so on, and after 8 hours I was able to get them out and bring them inside, much to my wife’s delight.

I boiled water all day and took a pot at a time out and poured down on the massive block of ice encapsulating my bilge and aerator pumps. It’s always a surprise to see what’s under the boat tarp. A few honey buns, one of Chippy’s off-brand Mellow Yellows, my hammer which had been missing for months, among other things.

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.

It may seem like I am merely copying and pasting from last year’s article at around the same time, and last year may have seemed like I did the same from the year before, but unfortunately that is not the case. I am doomed and destined to repeat this process every year, and oddly enough be surprised at the outcome. These are the perils of not having a proper dwelling for my boat.

In a fit of rage and disgust about the situation when my wife asked why I was huffing and puffing, I told her, “My boat having to sit outside all year is like you having to get ready in the morning in an outhouse!” She does not enjoy being compared to my boat as much as you might think, but that also is a mistake I will probably repeat!

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!

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abrandon

Follow Me South

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Brandon Fulgham with a 3-pound 5-ounce crappie caught on a live minnow at Lake Washington, Mississippi

By Josh Gowan

Well folks, February has her icy cold fingers wrapped tightly around the throat of the Heartland, and as adept as I’ve become with my snow shovel, I still can’t seem to get her to let go. This is when an outdoor writer has to strap on his literary snow boots and earn those big checks, which aren’t actually oversized, but just appear that way in comparison to the tiny numbers written on them.

With the 9-inches of snow still in my yard and the wind chill nearing absolute zero, I can only fantasize about warmer climates and future plans. I have a trip coming up in a few weeks, and I’d like to invite any of the crappie fishing/boat owning readers of this column to join me, if for no other reason than to thaw out your toes.

Saturday, March 7th is the “Big Mama Open Tournament” at Lake Washington, Mississippi. This tournament is open to anyone, and the winner is determined by one crappie, the Big Mama! Southern Star RV & Cabins and Bait’n’Thangs Bait Shop is hosting their annual tournament and rolling out the red carpet to the participants and anyone who wants to come out and watch the weigh-in.

The cost is $50 per 2-person team, and a 15-year-old or younger child can join you for no additional cost. Registration starts at 6 AM and you can begin fishing at 7 AM. The weigh-in starts at 2 PM at the pavilion at Bait’n’Thangs and at least 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place will be paid. There will be a live band playing, and free food to all those in attendance compliments of Mike Jones, owner of Bait’n’Thangs. Now as if this tournament won’t be fun enough, Karl Kalonka, host of Krappie King’s TV on the Pursuit Channel will be there filming the event for his show!

Now why would I invite you all down? I’ll tell you, because not only is it going to be a blast, but it is a very inexpensive vacation to warmer temperatures and much bigger crappie! Last year during the same time of year I was fishing beside my buddy and local guide Brandon Fulgham (grenadalakecharters.com) and he caught a 3-pound 5-ounce monster crappie. Chippy and I caught multiple 2 to 2.5 pounders, and Lake Washington has become our favorite trip of the year.

The locale will look familiar at first, with vast flatlands where cotton is grown during the summer, and the levee within eyesight of the lake. What will differ from our home here in the Heartland are the old plantation homes and Spanish moss on the cypress trees, that and the size of the crappie!

Lake Washington is about 5 hours south of my house in Sikeston, Missouri, so it’s a bit of a drive, but a very picturesque one that I-55 has deprived most of us from. As soon as you cross the old bridge at Memphis, hang a right on Highway 61 south, and ease through the Mississippi Delta all the way to Lake Washington. I love the drive, and maybe the destination has a bit to do with it, but it truly is a beautiful trip.

Mike Jones at Bait’n’Thangs has extremely affordable lodging right beside the water. He has the bait shop, the boat ramp, the cleaning station, pavilion, laundry mat, and so on, all right on the water within walking distance of each other, and did I mention the size of the crappie?!

The lake is reminiscent of Reelfoot, except without the stumps. There are vast shallow flats, only one area of deep water, and plenty of cypress groves. The best way to fish for crappie during early March is to push multiple poles with a variety of jigs and live minnows and cover a lot of water. Some anglers are drawn to the deeper water with cold water temps, but most of us never get deeper than 8-foot and find plenty of success.

For the one-polers, there are plenty of cypress trees and a healthy population of black crappie that are spawning early, but the biggest fish are usually the white crappie caught out cruising the flats.

So in closing, if you’d like to join me for a couple days of warmer temps and bigger crappie in a historic setting, I’m heading down Wednesday, March 4th ahead of the tourney and will stay all week, so give Mike Jones a call at 662-822-2087 and book a room or a camper spot!

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martin

Justin Martin with a couple Lake D’arbonne slabs

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Snowpacolypse 2015

By Josh Gowan

Reporting live from the igloo that has become my house, I’d like to offer an idea to our friends at the local news channels. It’s evident that nothing tickles the meteorologists more than reporting live from outside in the weather, so how about we strap that microphone to the handle end of a snow shovel, and each segment can be filmed at someone else’s driveway. I could deal with a winded dialogue if it meant a clean driveway!

In all seriousness, I should give the fine folks at KFVS12 credit for nailing the forecast, at least for my house. There’s somewhere around 12-inches of snow out in my yard, and with the projected temperatures over the next week, I don’t believe it will be going anywhere. The one positive about snow is obviously playing in it, but this powdery stuff we have won’t make a good snowball, and the nearest hill is 15 miles from my house! However, the white, powdery fluff is ideal for one thing, snow cream! Here’s the recipe: 1 gallon of snow, 1 cup of sugar, 1 tablespoon of vanilla, and 2 cups of milk – put it in a bowl and stir and voila!! For best results, dump a hefty portion of snow cream on top of a couple warm brownies, and drizzle chocolate sauce on top.

February is just a tough time of year in the outdoors, and being that we’ve had it fairly easy up until now, I suppose it’s only fair that we all get pinned inside for a few days. Us outdoorsmen probably watch more television this time of year than any other, and while I’m not a big proponent of wasting away in front of the TV, thank God for hunting and fishing shows! G3 Sportsman has long been a family favorite, and the new Krappie Kings TV on the World Fishing Network is awesome. I’m one large financial benefactor away from having my own show, and when that happens I’ll expect all of you to tune in!

The crappie, at least prior to Snowmageddon 2015, were biting really well at all area lakes. The long term forecast is just ugly, with Wednesday dipping down to -9 degrees!? I don’t know what exactly that will do to the crappie bite, because I can’t recall it ever getting that cold before. The next 10 days will be well below freezing at night, so much of our water will be freezing. If you’ve never been over to Lake of Egypt in Illinois, now is as good of a time as any to try it out. The lake receives hot water from the power plant and won’t freeze, making it a great (possibly the only) lake to fish during extremely cold weather.

Fishing a power plant lake is different than fishing your average water. Professional angler and guide Kyle Schoenherr said, “At Lake of Egypt, a power plant lake in Southern Illinois, black crappie chase the warm water throughout the winter. As the days grow longer in middle to late February the black crappie will start migrating towards the weedlines, and when the water reaches 50 degrees they’ll move in. Between the power plant pushing hot water out, the wind moving it around, and the tumultuous air temperature swings, the spawn is scattered throughout the lake, but once you get consistent water temps in the upper 50’s the black crappie are done, and the whites are starting the same pattern.”

Chasing water temperature, a novel idea! Crappie are just like you and I though, they will stay where it is most comfortable to them. If someone heated one room of your house to 70 and left the rest at 50, you and your family would migrate to that room. If that temperature alternated around to other rooms in your house, you’d chase the most comfortable air temperature too. It makes sense that fish would do the same thing.

Spider-rigging, casting a jig or minnow under a float, and just casting and retrieving a jig are all viable methods of fishing at Egypt. Be sure to take your net and set your drag, as the lake is loaded with big largemouth bass too!

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perrytrout

Chasing Rainbows

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Picture is: Perry Jackson with a Rotary Lake rainbow trout

By Josh Gowan

Chasing Rainbows

I enjoy an early February warm front as much as the next guy, but the 20 mph south wind that accompanies it I could do without. But alas, that is the nature of early spring, which regardless of what that Pennsylvanian varmint sees or doesn’t see, starts for us outdoorsmen the day after duck season ends.

The golden opportunity for us weekend warriors came Saturday morning, before the wind gusts exceeded the speed limit on most city streets. Thanks to the wonders of social media and my vast array of friends, I was able to see monster crappie coming from every body of water between Lake Pontchartrain and Lake Erie! Reelfoot Lake is turning out some slabs in the shallow, stumpy parts of the lake, and Kentucky Lake is turning on as well. The caravan of Missouri boats arrived early enough at Lake of Egypt, IL to waylay the power plant specks, and a couple of locals at Wappapello caught their limits by 9am. From now until early April is the best time to target big crappie, as they are moving shallower and aggressively feeding, fattening up for the spawn.

As for me, I had floor seats Saturday morning to not one, but two elite level basketball games that I couldn’t pass up. The first was watching the highly touted and undefeated Sikeston 9-10 year old Red Team, which dominated again, and I’d say could take on any team of the same age-group in the Midwest and possibly the world. Standout second-string forward and defensive specialist Jameson Gowan did not disappoint! Then it was up to Jackson, MO to watch the also undefeated Jackson 2nd and 3rd grade girl’s Noon Optimist Yellow Team, who continued their streak as well. The other standout second-string forward in my immediate family, my niece Lynn-Avery Crowley, tied four other players for second-highest total points with two.

Being that I was already in Jackson and the wind prevented us from a Saturday afternoon trip out on the water, my old fishing buddy and step-dad Perry Jackson and I slipped down to Rotary Lake to target a few fat, rainbow trout. The MDC has been stocking Rotary Lake for years now every November, and after February 1st you can use scented or live bait and take home four trout per day, provided you have a Missouri fishing license and the $7 trout stamp.

I’m not sure the exact year when the program started, but my first trip was around 2005 and I was bound and determined to catch my first trout. February 1st arrived with frigid temperatures and a blizzard, and I showed up wearing my heaviest deer hunting gear, with a casting pole and a can of whole kernel corn. I wasn’t near the expert at stocked-pond trout fishing that I am now, but I felt if I could take the cold and outlast the other fishermen across the lake on the pier, the fishing Gods would surely smile on me. One by one my counterparts succumbed to the wet snow and howling wind and retired to their vehicles, and I stuck with it. Nearing frostbite and without feeling in many parts of my body, my old float sunk, and I set the hook on my first rainbow trout. I recall vividly trying to get the hook out of the fish’s mouth, but being unable to work my fingers, so I instead carried my fish, rod and reel still attached, up to the car and threw them all in!

I gutted the trout, seasoned it, and put it on the smoker at Port Cape Girardeau in downtown Cape, where I managed the bar. A group gathered around and “oohhed and aawweed” over the foreign fish, and we all sampled the white, flaky meat.

Being a salty veteran now, #12 treble hooks equipped with a wad of multi-color dough bait from Foutz’s Fishing and Hunting in Cape, fished about 10 inches behind a 1/4 –ounce sinker is my bait of choice. Cast out and tighten up your line, much like catfishing, and be ready to set the hook quick and hard, and you too can bring in a mess of tasty rainbow trout!

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