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Summer Fishing and Campfires

Summer is prime time for campfires. Here's a memory of my first, when I was 12 and on my first overnight fishing, which included my first time in a boat and my first time drinking coffee:

Until then, I had been allowed to “camp out” only in our back yard and only when the temperature was predicted to stay above 70 degrees. But when I was twelve, my father’s friend took me to fish for catfish below Bagnell Dam at Lake of the Ozarks.

We didn’t do much catching.  In the cool, early morning hours below the dam, I managed to boat a small white catfish and Joe didn’t catch anything. The coffee seemed bitter to taste buds accustomed to the sweet taste of Coca Cola, but I welcomed its heat on my insides as I shivered in the mist and watched for a bite.

We arrived the night before and Joe immediately built a fire to ward off the chill of air cooled by water cascading through the hydropower dam. I don’t recall anything about how he did it or whether I helped. But I do remember how warm and cozy the fire made me feel as I lay in my sleeping bag and drifted off to sleep, listening to the nearby turbulence.

And I remember what I saw when I awakened sometime in the pre-dawn: A mother skunk and two little ones. With tails held high, they strolled brazenly between me and the dying embers. Like window shoppers, they inspected rocks, fishing tackle, and even my shoes . . .

*     *     *     *

What happened? Find out by reading "Campfire Cooking" in Fish, Frogs, and Fireflies: Growing Up with Nature.


Hot-water Stress a Killer for Big Fish, Whether Sharks or Bass

The great hammerhead shark is a magnificent animal. It's also one of 24 shark species illegal to harvest in Florida waters, up to 9 miles off the coast.

Sadly,  four of them washed up on Sarasota beaches in late June and July, according to the Bradenton Herald.

What happened to them? Most likely, they were caught and released, but didn't survive the trauma of the fight and handling.

"This particular species of hammerhead is just so fragile that they go into physiological stress," said Robert Hueter, director of shark research at Mote Marine Laboratory.

One of those stressors during this time of year is the temperature.

Whether shark, catfish, or bass, a fish's metabolism  speeds up in warm water because it is cold-blooded. That means it burns more energy and, as a consequence, must consume  more food to fuel sustain itself. It also means that its oxygen needs are intensified. But . . .

"The hotter the water is, the less oxygen it can hold," Hueter said.

Now factor in the energy and oxygen expended in a struggle to escape once hooked,  and fish die, especially larger fish, which simply cannot recover no matter how carefully they are handled once they are brought to the shore or boat. In essence, they die of exhaustion, unable to gain the oxygen they need to recover.

That's why delayed mortality increases for bass tournaments during summer. And that's why those great hammerheads did not survive.

This dead great hammerhead was hauled back out to sea after recently washing up on a Sarasota beach.Hueter added that hammerheads  likely are especially vulnerable because their mouths are so small in comparison to their bodies.

 “As soon as it’s obvious that it is a hammerhead, the better thing to do would be just to cut the line or cut the leader, get as close as you can to the animal without spending a lot of time pulling it in,” he said. “Cut it and let it go.”

Dragging a shark, or any other large fish, such as a Goliath grouper, onto shore always is stressful for the animal, but especially so during summer. Meanwhile, inshore and beach fishing for sharks is more popular than ever.

"We're seeing more (sharks) than we've seen before washing up on beaches," Hueter said.

The fish is much more likely to survive if kept in shallow water for dehooking and photos.

In addition to hammerheads, bull and black tip sharks also are especially vulnerable to stress. At the other extreme, nurse and lemon sharks are among the hardiest.

Here are some handling tips to help ensure survival. They apply specifically to sharks, but are good tips for handling big fish of many species when caught on bait.

  • Use heavy tackle and non-stainless circle hooks
  • Use a dehooker
  • Cut the leader or line quickly, leaving as little as possible attached to the hook
  • Do not bring sharks out of water
  • Leave shark in enough water so that it can breathe through its mouth and gills
  • Shoot photos in process of releasing



Secrets That You Should Know About 'The Bite'--- Part 3

These are but a few of the secrets in "The Bite" from Better Bass Fishing: Secrets From the Headwaters by a Bassmaster Senior Writer. Here's a link to the book at Barnes & Noble. Also, Amazon carries it, but often is sold out. As of 7/29, it had two left in stock.

Secret: Many anglers believe that Florida strain largemouth bass are more difficult to catch than northern strain. If that’s true, it’s probably because most of the waters in the Florida strain’s natural range are shallow. That can make for some awesome fishing when conditions are right.

           But it also means you’ll get the cold shoulder when trying to catch them during or just after a cold front. Without deep-water refuges where they might be more inclined to bite, Florida bass often move in tight to protective shallow cover during cold weather and become very lethargic. Just about the only way to provoke a bite during such times is to drop a jig or soft plastic bait on the fish’s nose.

          Even in deeper waters of Texas, Louisiana, California, and other places where they have been introduced, Florida strain largemouths still tend to “shut off” more completely during cold weather than do their northern counterparts.

Secret: Sight is the most important sense for a bass in finding food. That’s why, when given a choice, it will move to clearer water to feed. And that’s why you should seek it out too, especially in fisheries where most of the water is stained or muddy.

          The late bass pro Ken Cook, a former fisheries biologist, has this to say about how bass see: “Underwater, a bass’ eye is far superior to the human eye, probably so much better that we can only imagine what its capabilities are. Some studies have indicated that bass can see up to 12 times as well in muddy water as the human eye can in the same conditions.”

Secret: But also check out muddy or stained water pouring into a lake, especially if it is warmer than the main body of water. The runoff contains insects, which attract forage fish and, they, in turn, attract bass.

Secret: Bass often will follow this discharge of warmer, stained water out into the lake, and you should too.

Secret: Sometimes, muddy water is just on the surface, with clear water below. For instance, that can happen when a smaller, rain-filled tributary empties into a larger stream. Sometimes you can catch bass that are using the surface mud as ambush cover.     

More "secrets" about the bite upcoming at Activist Angler.

Check out all my books at Amazon.



Tournament Winnings Help Bass Pro Whitmire Provide Clean Water for Those in Need

Bruce Whitmire, father of five, grandfather of nine and U.S. Air Force veteran, has one purpose when it comes to fishing -- and it’s not collecting trophies. Whitmire has dedicated his life and his fishing career to raise money to provide clean, safe water for people in East Africa.

Twenty-two years ago, Whitmire and his wife traveled to East Africa on several mission trips. That's when he realized how many families relied on women and children to travel many miles carrying  buckets on their heads so that they could have water. The bucket that is supposed to bring health and life to families, however, is often the bucket that also brings disease and death, because that water often is contaminated.

This reality was a shock to Whitmire, who grew up in East Texas.

“When you see children sick and hurting from water-related diseases and you know how to help them, you must invest yourself in the remedy of their suffering,” Whitmire said.

And that’s exactly where his journey began.

In 2009, Whitmire founded Global Water Partners, a non-profit organization that provides clean, safe water to people in need living in developing countries. That water is provided by drilling wells, at no cost, for millions of people living in the underprivileged areas throughout East Africa.

The organization, which drills wells, is funded by individual and corporate donations, as well as the profits Whitmire receives from fishing the B.A.S.S. Open circuit and Fishers of Men tournaments. He chose fishing as the vehicle for fundraising because of his pure passion of the sport.

Today, Whitmire tells the Global Water Partners story before each tournament and during weigh-ins.

 He is aided in his mission by Mercury, one of his sponsors.  

“I have fished all over the USA and I can always count on my Mercury Pro XS to work hard, sip fuel, produce the power to get me out of the hole, and the speed to get me there and back on time,” Whitmire said.

“Mercury plays a vital role in providing clean water to the people who need it most."


Too Many Mouths to Feed and Not Enough Food

Sometimes, a fishery can have too much of a good thing--- including bass and other predators

That's the case for Greers Ferry Lake, prompting the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) to provide a supplemental feeding for all those hungry mouths.

“It was evident in the crappie, largemouth bass, walleye and hybrid striped bass we sampled that there was not enough forage to support the predator population,” said Tom Bly, fisheries supervisor at the AGFC’s Mayflower office.

 “There are many minnows and bream species in Greers Ferry, but gizzard shad and threadfin shad are the dominant forage species. Just about everything eats them.”

And there were not enough of them.

As a consequence, AGFC stocked 37,000 threadfin shad this past spring, both as an immediate food source and as brood stock for rebuilding the population of the baitfish. Cold winters during 2014 and 2015 caused high mortalities of these smaller shad, which die when water temperatures drop to the low 40s.

"Threadfin shad are a subtropical and southern temperate fish that prefer warm water," Bly added.

Often, threadfin can find refuge in deeper water, that but that wasn't the case this time. Biologists failed to find a single fish while sampling during 2015.

The biologist added that management strategy for Greers Ferry has shifted to bolstering the forage base, with threadfin stocking continuing from a commercial hatchery until the population shows signs of recovery. Additionally, nursery ponds will be used to grow minnows and bluegill, as well as threadfin.

"We also will not stock any predators until the forage population recovers," he said. "This includes largemouth, spotted, and smallmouth bass, walleye and hybrid striped bass. Once forage recovers, we will stock these species in a manner that lends itself to a more sustainable fishery."