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Big 'O' Yields Big Numbers, But No Trophy This Time

Sam Griffin is a master at seducing bass with a topwater bait. Photo by Robert Montgomery

Fishing was great at Lake Okeechobee --- at least for numbers of bass.

In a day and a half, Dave Burkhardt, Sam Griffin, and I caught about 100 fish.

But, sad to say, largest was just a little more than 4 pounds. Last year, I managed an 8-8, which would have qualified me for Florida’s new TrophyCatch program (see more information below).

This 4-pounder held by Dave Burkhardt was our largest fish of the trip. Photo by Robert Montgomery

Still, we caught plenty of 2- and 3-pound fish, and they were great fun.

We caught them on swimbaits, swimming jigs, and a wooden topwater bait made by Sam, the Lil’ Richard.

Sam, who was born on the Big O, has been making wooden topwaters for decades, and they’re my favorites. I’ve caught hundreds of bass on the Lil’ Richard, a subtle twitch bait, as well as some huge bass on the Offset Sam, a ripping bait.

Watching Sam use the Lil’ Richard to seduce bass into striking is truly a humbling experience. And that’s just was he was doing during mid day, under a bright sun, on our second day of fishing. (You can learn many of Sam’s secrets for topwater success in my book, Better Bass Fishing.)

But he also showed us a productive swimming jig pattern that he said he learned from pro angler Mark Rose. “It’s a great way to cover lots of water,” he said. “It’s like throwing a weedless Rat-L-Trap.”

And he’s right, the weedless jig, tipped with a crayfish trailer, swims right through hydrilla and pepper grass, catching lots of bass in the process.

Because of the high water and because of the areas that we were fishing, we didn’t see many birds, alligators, or other wildlife on this trip. Great blue herons were the exception.

Lake Okeechobee's "big bird" takes fight. Photo by Robert Montgomery

And here’s the latest on TrophyCatch from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission:

TrophyCatch includes three tiers to encourage reporting and live-releasing bass heavier than 8 pounds that are caught in Florida waters. Bass 8 to 9.9 pounds (Lunker Club), or those 10 to 12.9 pounds (Trophy Club) that are caught, documented and released can be reported online anytime of the year.

All that is required to qualify for great prizes are photos of the entire fish on a scale with the weight visible, and one of the fish on a tape measure, showing the length. Bass that are heavier than 13 pounds and are caught between Oct 1 and April 30 each year must be certified by FWC staff to verify their weight and take genetic samples. Certified catches that are released or provided to FWC for research will be entered into the Hall of Fame Club, making the angler eligible for great prizes. The World Fishing Network is partnering with the FWC to promote and manage the trophy bass website.

“TrophyCatch will enable biologists to manage lakes and rivers better by providing valuable incentives to anglers for reporting and releasing their catches of trophy bass,” said Tom Champeau, director of the FWC’s Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management. The information will be used to evaluate and improve management strategies that produce more and larger bass.

Numerous industry sponsors are providing prizes to encourage conservation of these valuable fish. Phoenix Boats is offering a boat and trailer to a randomly selected angler who registers for the program. Anglers who legally catch, photo-document and attest to releasing trophy bass in Florida are eligible for prizes. Bass Pro Shops and Dick’s Sporting Goods are providing gift cards, Rapala Lures is providing coupons to redeem on their website, and Bass King Clothing is giving away custom fishing gear. Other sponsors such as Pro Line Custom Rods, US Reels and are providing extra incentives for Hall of Fame anglers, who also receive a free fiberglass replica of their catch produced by New Wave Taxidermy.

The biggest bass of the year will earn a Super Bowl-like ring, from the American Outdoors Fund, for the angler who catches it. If it is caught in Osceola County, the Kissimmee Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) will award the lucky angler $10,000. In addition, if the angler is on a guided fishing trip, the guide will receive $2,500 from the CVB.


Day of Rest for Activist Angler

Even the Activist Angler requires a day off from fishing, especially when in Florida. Breezy and warm here today. Perfect pool weather.


More DNA Evidence Raises Odds That Carp Have Invaded Great Lakes

More damning evidence has just been revealed that Asian carp might already have invaded Lake Michigan via a manmade connection to the Mississippi River basin and it’s only a matter of time until numbers reach critical mass, spawning occurs, and we start seeing huge numbers of the prolific exotics.

That’s exactly what happened with snakeheads in the Potomac River. For several years, anglers caught just enough of them to remind us that they were there. Then someone found a mass of them spawning in a creek, and the population seemed to explode almost overnight.

In the case of Asian carp and Lake Michigan, researchers report that 17 of 171 samples taken from the North Shore Channel tested positive for silver carp DNA. Additionally, 17 of 57 from the Chicago River also proved positive for the genetic material.

Meanwhile, the Corps still is studying the situation.

"Asian carp are knocking at the front door of the Great Lakes, and we cannot afford to wait on a federal government that fails to act,” said Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette.

Read more here.



'Thumbtimes' the Pain Is Worth It

Dave took big-fish honors with this Florida largemouth.

My thumb is scratched, raw, and even bruised. That’s a good thing.

As most bass anglers can tell you, thumb condition is one of the best ways of determining a fisherman’s success on the water.

While anglers are known to stretch the truth a bit, thumbs don’t lie.

When a bass is lipped for landing, its sandpaper teeth can damage flesh, especially if the fish carries some weight. And the more quality fish an angler lands, the more he and his thumb “suffer.”

Thus, my grievous injury from fishing with my friend Dave Burkhardt, owner of Trik Fish/Triple Fish fishing lines, and  guide Ed Grunloh on a chain of lakes near Orlando.

My largest bass was a bit smaller than Dave's catch of the day.

We all caught bass of 5 pounds and better, but I was the luckiest, taking a dozen or more 3- to 5-pounders by making long casts to grass edges with a Bass Pro Shops Swim Stik-O-Worm.

Dave took the day’s biggest bass with a Zoom Super Fluke soft jerkbait, while Ed took good numbers of smaller fish with a hard jerkbait fished in open water.

Sunday, Dave and I are heading down to Lake Okeechobee to fish with Florida legend Sam Griffin, who makes my favorite wooden topwater baits. Many of Sam’s secrets for catching bass on topwaters are revealed in my book, Better Bass Fishing.


Activist Angler Finds Better Luck at Lake Eufaula

Troy Gibson with Lake Eufaula largemouth. Photo by Robert Montgomery

My friend Troy Gibson was disappointed that we didn’t catch more fish when he showed me Alabama’s Lake Eufaula Tuesday.

But considering the slow fishing that I had experienced for several days in Arkansas, I was delighted. Our largest five weighed 15 pounds or better. Plus, we caught several chunky spotted bass in the 1- to 2-pound range.

Additionally, Troy caught a white bass/striped bass hybrid and a channel catfish, which I solemnly promised to reveal to no one. As a tournament angler and one of the nation’s foremost designers of soft plastic baits for bass, he didn’t want that information to get out.

We caught most of our fish on Strike King XD Sexy Shad crankbaits, as we positioned in channels and ditches and threw up onto submerged points and flats in 6 to 17 feet. This was the first time that I had used the Strike King crankbaits, and I was impressed by their action in deeper water and retrieve consistency.

Before we fished Eufaula, Troy took me to Southern Plastics (SP), where he is marketing and sales manager. SP has been making plastic baits for about 40 years, and, since my friend joined Terry Spence’s team, its role as a major player in the fishing industry has grown even more. Terry said fiscal 2012 was their best year ever for the company that produces about 50 million pieces annually, with Bass Pro Shops among its clients.

Here’s an interesting observation from Terry, who knows as much about soft plastic baits as anyone:

“We sell more green pumpkin than anything. Previously, it was pumpkinseed and before that it was electric grape.”

I’ll post more about Southern Plastics later.