Kayak trolling

Kevin Nakada of Hobie holds a hefty smallmouth caught trolling on an offshore reef on Lake of the Woods.

Add systematic trolling to your kayak angling skills

By Mike Pehanich

Kayak anglers would do well to adopt one of fishing’s most misunderstood, underrated and underutilized approaches to mapping structure and finding fish. And Torqeedo motors can make the practice many times more effective!

Trolling is an angling art probably as old as the dugout canoe.

Today, however, some anglers view it with a jaundiced eye.

Rob Wendel trolls for giant Lake Michigan steelhead, brown trout and salmon out of a Hobie Pro Angler 14 and 17 outfitted for big fish.

Attitudes toward trolling generally stem from waters fished and species pursued. Tournament bass anglers tend to snub the practice. Fishermen pursuing species like trout, salmon or walleye over the broad expanses of the Great Lakes and other spacious waters regard it as a critical means of finding fish spread across vast watery acreages.

Opinions vary, but kayak anglers in general have been fairly open-minded about trolling. For many, however, it is simply a way to keep a lure working while traveling to the next target location. Relatively few treat it as a technique worthy of practice and refinement.

Too bad! Knowledge, ambition and experience can transform trolling from a passive practice to a fine angling art. What’s more, refined trolling techniques can make anyone a better angler and shorten the learning curve on new waters, large and small.

Why troll?

Authors of the trolling “hate mail” cite reasons that don’t always mesh. They may view trolling as too boring or too easy or second cousin to “snagging.” Some complain that it takes no skill, that it is a game of dumb luck, then later argue that it is unfair or too deadly. Some simply dismiss it on aesthetic or philosophical grounds, scolding the practice for its detachment.

Wilderness Systems markets a Helix electric motor tailor-made for its kayaks.

But advanced trolling is a blend of science and art, success hinging on knowledge, strategy and repeated practice and refinement.

Buck Perry, the father of structure fishing, taught anglers how to find fish and map bottom structure with the use of versatile lures, called “spoonplugs,” that excelled as trolling and mapping tools. He developed these baits in 1946 – years before Lowrance put popular sonar units into fishing boats. Designed to run at very specific depth ranges, spoonplugs communicated to Buck and his followers structural contours, drop-offs, points, grasslines, and bottom content. When used in the right way with Perry’s systematic approach, they caught fish – big offshore fish that other anglers missed.

The 1 HP Torqeedo Ultralight 403 is a lightweight electric motor designed specifically for kayaks. It enables precise speed control, a critical variable in successful trolling.

Modern bass boat fishermen have the advantage of electronics and fishing platforms that Buck Perry never dreamed of. For better or worse, few today include in their arsenals the precision trolling approach that was the linchpin to Perry’s success.

But, for all their beauty, convenience and functionality, bass boats are not well suited to the kind of precision trolling Perry did or modern day successors do today. Smaller and more agile craft are far more effective under the guidance of a well-schooled troller.

The kayak advantage

Kayaks, on the other hand, comprise a category of very agile watercraft, and kayak anglers would do well to factor sophisticated trolling practices into their angling strategies whether tournament money, a better day’s fishing, or simply better knowledge of a new lake are at stake. Done with skill and deliberation, trolling can help one learn and map water quickly and find concentrations of fish that might otherwise never see your lure.

Here are a few good reasons to add advanced trolling techniques to your skill set.

  • Trolling enables the angler to fish large structural elements, eliminate unproductive water, and locate prime structure in a short period of time.
  • Knowledge gained about a body of water from systematic trolling can help anticipate fish movement.
  • Kevin Nakada of Hobie holds a hefty smallmouth caught trolling on an offshore reef on Lake of the Woods.

    Trolling is useful in finding active suspended fish.

  • The trolling tools available today are the best to date, and you can tailor them to specific needs.
  • The variety and range of trolling lures available today is extensive, and a number of lure manufacturers and trolling experts now provide guidelines for running specific lures at precise depths.
  • With rifle sighting and marker buoys, a skilled troller can overcome the limitations of lower end electronics – or even no electronics at all.
  • And, yes, trolling still gives you a shot at catching fish when you are simply dragging the bait behind you on your way to a target location.

Advantage of electric motors

Trolling effectiveness hangs on the tools in play and the angler’s ability to use them.

Well-selected rod, reel and line combinations enable lures to run with desired action at selected depths and even telegraph bottom content.

Craft and propulsion variables matter, too.

These durable Ram rod holders are made to tackle big fish.

Increasingly in play in KBF tournaments, electric motors offer the kayak angler the advantage of highly accurate speed control.

The lithium battery-based motors of Torqeedo, title sponsor of the 2018 KBF National Championship and its landmark $100,000 first place purse, lift control capabilities to a new level.

  1. Precise speed control– Lure speed is a critical variable — second only to depth control in importance – in triggering strikes. The Torqeedo Ultralight 403 motor, Hobie Evolve and Wilderness Systems Helix kayak motors provide real-time digital speed readout measured to 0.1 mph accuracy.
  2. Hands-on rod control– With rod in hand, an experienced troller can read bottom content (soft bottom, rock, gravel, shells) and lure action and detect short strikes through lure vibration. Paddle propulsion forces a troller to leave the active rod in a rod holder.
  3. Speed– Contrary to popular belief, lures do not always have to be trolled slowly to be effective. In fact, trolling at speeds well upward of five mph often trigger strikes in warm water conditions.
  4. Map App and add-ons – A free Torqeedo app employs a Bluetooth transmitter module (Apple and Android only) for wireless link between onboard computer and smartphone. Phone display includes analogue speedometer, a GPS map screen showing real-time boat location, waypoint and zoom-in capability and other navigational and battery life information. Mapping and waypoint marking capability enable an angler to pinpoint productive areas and return to them easily.
  5. Light weight–The Torqeedo, Hobie and Wilderness Systems motors and their power sources were designed specifically for kayak propulsion. They add little to the total weight of the craft and do not compromise safety or maneuverability.
The author took this big largemouth trolling a sunken road bed.

Embrace trolling or let it go, but before you dismiss it from your game plan, consider it as an approach to map and learn water quickly, pinpoint fish-holding structure, and add more fish – often big fish – to your catch.

Strategic trolling can catapult your on-the-water education and multiply your fish totals. Embrace the art and science of the practice and see what happens!

Kayak angling for sturgeon brings new sport to the Northwoods

Barb Carey, founder of WI Women Fish shows off the day’s first sturgeon, caught from a Hobie Pro Angler.

By Mike Pehanich

Sturgeon ancestry dates back to the dinosaurs. But catching these giants from a kayak, is a fresh new sport!

For us outdoor folks, Northwoods travel comes with great expectations. Anticipation grows feverish when the destination is a renowned fishery.

My destination this August was the Rainy River, fabled for its seasonal runs of walleye, cherished as the fertile connecting water to the diverse fisheries of Rainy Lake, its source to the east, and Lake of the Woods, the million-acre drainage to the west.

I arrived at River Bend’s Resort (www.riverbendsresorts.com)on the Rainy River, a short boat ride from the river’s mouth at the southeast corner of Lake of the Woods. My imagination waxed rosy with visions of walleye gobbling jigs, cartwheeling smallmouth bass, and lightning-quick attacks from northern pike and musky.

However, my hosts from Hobie Cat, the resort and Lake of the Woods Tourism had added a new wrinkle. They had relegated the game species the area is noted for to back-up roles. First we would challenge lake sturgeon, known more as a fish of mystery and an evolutionary survivor than as a target for sport fishermen.

My hosts had added another twist to the hunt. We would take the ancient brutes on from Hobie kayaks.

A sturgeon relies on the complex set of sensory and feeding organs in its nose including barbels to locate desirable forage and a highly functional snout made to stir up lake bottom and suck in food like a vacuum.

Anatomy of a sturgeon

One look at even an artist’s rendering of a sturgeon is enough to tell you that its family roots reach deep into the geological past. Credit its gift for survival to crude yet efficient characteristics acquired early in its evolution — a streamlined body built on bone and cartilage; a tail strangely fashioned for speed and maneuvering; an oddly tapered snout; an armor-like exoskeleton highlighted in younger specimens by a jutting serrated backbone; a complex set of sensory and feeding organs in its nose including barbels to locate desirable forage; and a highly functional snout made to stir up lake bottom and suck in food like a vacuum.

Sturgeon grow BIG, too, a trait that makes any species more desirable. Paul Johnson, the resort owner who served as both our guide and host, has witnessed catches of sturgeon up to 62 inches in length and 75 pounds. The river’s hook and line record, caught just this past May (2018), measured 75 inches in length and weighed well over 100 pounds.

Our Rainy River sturgeon had a comeback story to tell as well. Before the middle of the 20thcentury, overharvest and pulp mill pollution had endangered sturgeon populations in the region. Common sense initiatives set the stage for a mighty comeback. Environmental regulations led to improved water quality, and enlightened conservation measures and catch-and-release practice ushered in the robust, invigorated population found in the Rainy River and adjacent waters today.

It is a species more than worthy of protection. Sturgeon can live to a ripe old age, with some able to live 150 years or more and reach weights in excess of 200 pounds.

Pursuit

A sturgeon breached 50 yards offshore within minutes of my arrival at River Bend’s Resort, leaving no doubt that this was sturgeon country.

“In peak season in April, it’s boat-to-boat across the river along the Minnesota portion of the Rainy River,” explained Paul Johnson, who with wife Brandi owns River Bend’s and Walleye Inn resorts in Baudette, Minn.

Minnesota opens limited “keep” seasons for sturgeon in spring and summer, but most fishermen are content to release their quarry after doing battle. “A lot of sturgeon fishing’s popularity has to do with the size of the fish,” continued Johnson. “Most anglers aren’t targeting sturgeon to keep them. They just want the opportunity to catch these prehistoric monsters.”

Despite the clear presence of sturgeon in the area, local guides opined that we would find bigger numbers upstream near the town of Birchdale.

Catching sturgeon from Hobie kayaks offered a new challenge to anglers.

We launched our kayaks — a couple of Hobie Pro Angler 14s and i11S inflatable models along with several of the new Hobie Compass kayaks —  above Birchdale. Two sets of rapids made for a scenic and modestly adventurous start. From there, we eased our way toward prime sturgeon haunts, catching smallmouth bass, walleye, sauger and northern pike along the way.

Breaching sturgeon gave our party of eight a fair hint of where to anchor, though we wished we had had sonar units to pinpoint holes and other key feeding areas. We spread out along the river, and settled in for the game of patience known as sturgeon fishing.

Tackle and technique

We geared up with tackle tailored to a big fish brawl – mostly medium heavy to heavy rods and reels spooled with 50- to 65-pound braid.

Terminal tackle consisted of a swivel, short monofilament or fluorocarbon leader of no less than 20-pound test, a #2 to #4 circle hook and adjustable bell sinkers from one to four ounces in weight.

Our bait selection was an unglamorous mix of two to three nightcrawlers and recently thawed emerald shiners, the latter added “extra scent for the sturgeon to find the bait,” in Johnson’s words.

Jody Rae shows off her prize catch, a lake sturgeon, a throwback to prehistory.

The art of anchoring

We learned quickly that anchoring a kayak for sturgeon fishing in a moderately swift stream like the Rainy River is damn near an art form all its own.

“We use a breakaway buoy anchor and an anchor trolley system,” explained Kevin Nakada, the Hobie pro who guided us through the paces of this new skill. “With the system, you can position the kayak to fish comfortably in the current yet detach the kayak quickly from the anchor to fight the fish.”

The buoy anchor consisted of a 3.5-pound anchor and several feet of heavy anchor chain that more than doubled the anchoring weight. Sixty feet of anchor rope ran from the chain to the buoy, a conventional bumper buoy generally used to protect moored boats from banging into a dock. A 7-foot tagline, terminated with a bowline loop, ran from the buoy to the anchor trolley, a pulley system positioned on the starboard sides of our kayaks. The trolley allowed us to position the anchor tagline at the starboard stern of the kayak. Anchored thus, we could fish comfortably downstream without our kayaks struggling sideways in the current.

Fish on!

Barb Carey, founder of WI Women Fish, a Wisconsin-based organization dedicated to teaching women to fish with skill and confidence, earned the first hook-up. Sturgeon on, she freed her kayak from the buoy anchor and took off on a summer sleigh ride.

All of us within earshot rallied to her shout, detaching, too, from our anchor tethers and pedaling the Mirage Drives to close the quarter mile or more distances between us. The sturgeon made sure we had time to witness Barb’s battle and photograph the prehistoric fish.

Sturgeon are bulldogs in battle. They dive deep, pull drag and put serious strain on tackle. The highlight of many sturgeon battles, however, is a surprising aerial display.

Barb’s fish obliged with a writhing perpendicular leap. The sturgeon’s hang time drew cries of excitement from the convergence of kayakers. The fish’s size and profile doubled the excitement.

For anglers like Barb Carey, sturgeon fishing is all about the catch…and safe release!

Even a modestly proportioned sturgeon possesses considerable strength, evidenced in the tugboat rides it took the kayaks upstream and down. Interestingly, the drag of the kayak allows the angler to battle these big fish even with limited line capacity.

Paul slugged it out with another sturgeon an hour later. Then action lagged for the rest of the afternoon.

Evening was closing in when writer Jody Rae’s rod bent into a throbbing arc. Whoops and hollers signaled a special fish, and we all converged on the day’s closing action. When the fish finally tired after a long battle, Kevin Nakada snared it with a tail noose. He carefully led the subdued fish the short distance to shore where Jody and fish posed for photos.

It was a fitting end to a fabulous adventure, a meeting with a fish from prehistory on legendary water during the dawn of a new sport.

Paul and Brandi Johnson, owners of River Bend’s and Walleye Inn (www.riverbendsresorts.com)resorts in Baudette, MN, run guided fishing trips for sturgeon as well as for other Lake of the Woods and Rainy River sport fish (walleye, northern pike, sauger, perch, smallmouth bass and crappie). Hobie kayak rentals are available as well. Contact Lake of the Woods Tourism (www.LakeoftheWoodsMN.com ; 1-800-382-FISH ) for additional information on sport fishing, lodging and area activities.

 

Don’t spin your wheels! Hobie offers guide to kayak cart selection

Without a set of wheels, a loaded kayak can be tough to transport a long ways to the water.

By Mike Pehanich

Getting a kayak from your vehicle to the water can sometimes be the toughest challenge of the day. Save time and energy for the fish by outfitting your kayak with a set of wheels!

One of the kayak angler’s most important accessories seldom reaches the water.

The kayak cart!

Wheeled kayak carts enable the angler to transport the craft from vehicle to remote launch areas with tackle and accessories already aboard.

Three “Plug-in” kayak carts from Hobie (L to R): 1) Hobie’s Trax 2-30 is an inflatable style ideal for transport over soft ground such as sand or mud; 2) Hobie’s Heavy Duty Cart (225-pound load capacity) is durable and best suited to pavement and coarse gravel or rock terrain; 3) Hobie’s Standard Plug-in cart is economical and offers a 150-pound load capacity.

Tire options enable the kayak owner to match cart selection to land surface. Carriage design will vary, too. Some carts are specifically made for kayaks while others double as transport devices for canoes and other small craft as well.

Some kayak manufacturers design or recommend specific carts to fit scupper holes in their kayaks. This style of cart generally simplifies mounting and transport.

Some carts require straps to secure the kayak during transport.

A cart functions as a fulcrum. If you select a cart designed for variable positioning, you may have to adjust cart location to the size, weight and locations of your load for best results. Positioning the cart near the center of the cumulative kayak mass is a safe and generally effective strategy.

2017 Hobie Bass Open champion Jay Wallen wheels his way to prime launch areas with Plug-in carts, including the Heavy Duty Plug-in Cart stored behind the seat of his Pro Angler in this photo.

Wheeling ‘em in

Airless wheels eliminate a major cart maintenance concern, but inflatable wheels offer advantage over soft terrain.

“The inflatable style wheels are great for soft mediums, especially sand and mud,” notes Kevin Nakada of Hobie. “They spread the kayak’s weight and load over a larger surface area. You may want some bounce to your wheels when you are hauling a loaded kayak over sand dunes.”

Hobie’s Trax 2-30 Plug-in Kayak Cart has pneumatic tires and small diameter rims that prevent pinching and valve damage under heavy loads. The cart has a 242-pound capacity. Tires can be deflated, too, for better performance on soft terrain.

Hobie’s Plug-in kayak carts fit the scupper holes of most of the manufacturer’s craft. They are easy to install and remove and facilitate transport from vehicle to water – even when weighted with a tackle and accessories.

Hobie’s standard cart is economical and efficient when hauling the kayak over a range of ground conditions. But hardcore kayakers concerned with durability and reliability over paved launch areas or hard, coarse gravel or rock terrain might opt for a tougher, more durable set of wheels. Hobie’s Heavy Duty Plug-in Cart fills the bill and offers a 225-pound load capacity, too.

Kevin Nakada uses Plug-in kayak carts to transport kayaks from motor vehicle to water’s edge, where adventures with smallmouth bass like this bronze specimen sometimes begin.

“We also have a stowable fold-up style called the Hobie Fold and Stow Plug-in Cart,” says Nakada. “It’s compact, so you can take it on the water with you. It comes with a storage bag you can fit in your front hatch so you don’t have to walk your wheels all the way back to your vehicle if you’ve had a long haul to reach water.”

The Fold & Stow Plug-in Cart from Hobie, held here by Hobie’s Steve Oxenford, breaks down easily to fit into a carrying bag or the large front cargo hatch featured on a variety of Hobie kayak models.

The Plug-in carts are all designed to fit the scupper holes of Hobie kayaks for quick and easy set-up and transport. Wheels are detachable on all models.

Some specialty manufacturers also make carts to fit kayak scuppers. Make sure any such cart choice adapts to your kayak before making the purchase.

Odds are you’ll love your set of wheels!

MONSTER CATCH puts spotlight on Illinois Lake Trout COMEBACK

Capt. Shawn Keulen’s monster lake trout, held here by Jordan Keulen, was within short reach of the Illinois state record. It also drew attention to the remarkable restoration of successful lake trout spawning on the reefs off the Illinois shoreline.

By Mike Pehanich

  • Shawn Keulen’s 36-pound laker reported as 2nd largest fish taken from Lake Michigan so far this season
  • Lake trout reproduction on Illinois reefs best on all Lake Michigan
  • Goby addition to diet touted as key to natural laker reproduction

 Capt. Shawn Keulen’s 36-pound lake trout was a big fish that shed light on an even bigger story — that lake trout are spawning successfully off Illinois shore and creating another world-class fishery.

On Sunday, July 29, Lake Michigan guide Capt. Shawn Keulen brought a giant lake trout to boat. The head looked menacing and atavistic, a throwback to some species of prehistory. Its weight registered over 36 pounds on at least one scale, according to local reports.

But to long-time followers of the Lake Michigan fishery saga, the catch was big beyond its physical dimensions.

Keulen’s laker is believed to be the second largest salmonid caught by hook and line this season, and it came within short reach of the Illinois state record lake trout of 38 pounds, 4 ounces, caught by Theodore Rullman in August of 1999.

More significantly, the catch highlights the revival of successful lake trout reproduction in Lake Michigan following decades of failure and disappointment.

“Illinois waters are loaded with lake trout,” said Rob Wendel, manager of the Lake Michigan Angler bait and tackle shop in Winthrop Harbor (www.lakemichiganangler.com ; phone 224-789-7627). “You can catch as many as you wish. It’s that good.”

First mate Jordan Keulen holds Capt. Shawn Keulen’s monster lake trout. The 36-pounder is believed to be the second largest salmonid taken from Lake Michigan this season.

Laker comeback

The monster laker, the largest reported from Lake Michigan this season, stirred recollections of the bold efforts of Great Lakes biologists, anglers and volunteers to establish or reestablish viable populations of salmon and trout to Lake Michigan 60 years ago. The lake trout was the species impacted most heavily by a devastating sea lamprey invasion and locust-like alewife propagation in the middle of the 20th century.

Angler conservation with catch and release can help populations survive.

The resultant program brought exciting Coho and Chinook salmon populations to the lake and buttressed fading steelhead numbers. But extensive efforts by Great Lakes states to bring back a self-sustaining population of the lake trout, a native predator, showed little success for almost half a century despite substantial annual stockings by the four Lake Michigan border states and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

That story line has changed dramatically in recent years, and, to the amazement of most, Illinois waters have staged the greatest lake trout comeback on the entire lake.

Careful release and life continues for a once endangered Lake Michigan population.

“We’re seeing high rates of non-stocked fish, wild lake trout, in our samples,” explained Vic Santucci, a Lake Michigan biologist for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. “Anglers are also seeing more wild fish showing up in their catch due to our mass marking project in which we mark stocked fish with adipose clips and coated wire tags. We are seeing probably on average over 40 percent wild fish in our population since 2012.”

Reef madness

Lake trout are spawning successfully on reefs located off Illinois shores, most notably Julian’s Reef and Waukegan Reef. In fact, reefs from Chicago to the Wisconsin state line may host the most active and successful lake trout spawning grounds on the entire lake.

“As far as we know from annual samples, our percentage of wild fish is highest here in the southern basin,” continued Santucci. “We are seeing the highest percentage of wild trout in our samples. There are a lot of trout on the Midlake Reef in Wisconsin…but the last numbers I saw were in the high teens and 20- to 25-percent range (for wild fish). They go lower than that as you survey waters farther north.”

Light tackle lake trout angling is becoming popular sport throughout the Great Lakes. That’s Jeff Slater of Seaguar showing off a handsome specimen.

For bedding lakers, the cobble composition of the reefs is part of their charm. The chunk rock and small boulders comprise a lake bottom “where eggs can get into interstitial spaces and be protected from predators yet still get oxygen,” according to Santucci. Ironically, shells of dead quagga mussels, an invasive mollusc, may also factor to lake trout favor in the evolving structure of the reefs.

Going goby!

Forage mix also seems to be working to lake trout favor. And the lowly round goby, long viewed as an ecological nemesis, may be the unheralded hero of the wild lake trout revival.

“The prevailing theory is that our lake trout suffered from a dietary deficiency when they were eating alewives almost exclusively,” noted Wendel. “Now their diet has switched over to goby and other forage species as well. The diverse diet is healthier for the lakers, and the results are evident in lake trout catches today.”

Santucci acknowledges the theory and finds it credible. He noted that gobies are rich in thiamine, believed to be the long-missing yet critical nutrient for successful lake trout reproduction.

“Lake trout feed on just about anything they can catch,” he said. “In past decades, their diet consisted primarily of smelt and alewives, especially alewives. The gobies they consume today are quite possibly adding more vitamin B, thiamine, to their diet.”

Wendel reports fabulous and consistent lake trout fishing off Illinois shores, though anglers often need to plumb triple-digit depths to catch them in late summer. But ballooning lake trout numbers in Illinois waters have reinvigorated angler interest in the species. Spring shore fishing along the Chicago lakefront is now popular sport, and light tackle techniques have brought out the fighting best in a species often berated for its performance at the end of a lead core line in 100-foot depths. Many are finding the fish can fight!

So, welcome to Illinois, lake trout mecca!

Follow the Illinois pages of Share the Outdoors for more Lake Michigan news and how-to fishing information throughout the year.

Turn August ‘dog days’ into ‘frog days’ on Illinois lakes, pits and ponds

Big bass often situate themselves in shade provided by thick, sloppy surface vegetation. The author used a frog to lure this hog from hiding.

  • Hollow-bodied frogs draw bites from bass in thick cover even during the hottest weeks of the season
  • Find fine froggin’ areas on natural lakes, reservoirs, ponds, strip pits, backwaters, development lakes and more
  • Tackle match-ups and frog selection improve hook-up ratio

By Mike Pehanich

Sure, bass fishing in Illinois can get iffy during the August doldrums, but big fish are still there for the frogmen of summer!

Illinois waters have met the dreaded Dog Days. That’s the excuse many anglers use to binge-watch Netflix series in an air-conditioned family room and ponder the coming football season rather than try their luck with doldrums bass. But for those willing to contend with the elements and buck their lethargy, August can produce some surprisingly good catches. And you don’t necessarily have to plumb deep water for structure-oriented bass to cash in on the action!

Some shallow water bass are there for the taking all through late summer on most bass waters. Many sit unmolested and far from a fish hook for weeks on end by hiding in dense, impenetrable cover where few lures can travel – with the exception of members of the faux frog family!

And, just to dump more cold water on any lingering “too-hot-for-bass” sentiments, I harken back to the Nories Frogfest events that I covered and competed in a few years ago. The bass on the Chattahoochee River tournament waters — Eufaula and Seminole — had no problem rising to the occasion during that hot and steamy month of August. In fact, many 6- to 9-pound largemouth came to weigh-in. And if you think Illinois is hot and steamy in August, spend some time on those Alabama/Georgia/Florida boundary waters!

The slop flies when a bass hits a frog in classic froggin’ habitat. I brought all the right tools to this battle.

Hollow-bodied frogs were designed to ride across the roof of the matted vegetation and pad beds that house summer bass. Their dual-hook configuration creates a cradle for the frog body. Designed and weighted to ride with the hook points up and tucked tight to the plastic, artificial frogs amaze and delight with their ability to travel snag-free through the jungle.

I took my faux frogs out for a doldrums test run two weeks ago on a central Illinois strip mine lake with water temperatures already well into the 80s. The fake amphibians did not disappoint. Fishing a duckweed-lined strip pit with a Jackall Iobee frog, I watched the moss fly on a number of explosive strikes. More importantly, I managed to convert nearly all those strikes into landed fish.

Frog fish almost anywhere

Part of the beauty of this late season frog fishing is that you can catch bass frequently from the most unassuming of waters.

I find fish ready to gulp a frog on Illinois waters from the Wisconsin state line to the Ohio River.

Ken Frank employed a Nories NF 60 frog to lure this thick-bodied bass from a small northern Illinois community development lake.

Fishing with angling buddy Ken Frank on a small housing development lake, we enjoyed exciting and, at times, even frantic froggin’ action in and around nasty vegetation that grew to the surface. One largemouth literally knocked my Nories NF 60 frog nearly two feet into the air. But that was just the beginning of the high-flying act.  The bass followed the bait through the air in an arcing leap and somehow nailed that frog on the way down! A short time later, Ken took a five-pound-plus bass — his largest frog bass to date — on another Nories NF 60.

Natural lakes nearly always feature bays and flats with emergent vegetation, pads, matted aquatic vegetation and other prime areas for frogging.

Scout out the back bays and creek arms of reservoirs as well as thick beds of milfoil and other thick-growing vegetation on main lake flats.

Farm ponds and golf course water hazards are prime froggin’ waters, too. (Get permission to fish first.)

I’ve chronicled some of my best frogging days in central Illinois before including outings with Chef Todd Kent on strip mines and Illinois River backwaters. Fertile strip mine lakes, quarries and draw pits with emergent vegetation like cattails and reeds or with overhanging trees and deadfall can be prime locations for frogging.

The key on all of these waters is to find suitable habitat – usually lily pads, matted jungles of dense aquatic growth, duck weed or brush cover — and to cast your frog into the most inviting locations within that stretch or patch of habitat. Target edges and pockets and unusual mixes of cover such as stumps or transitions from one type of aquatic plant to another. As matted vegetation begins to decay later in the season, target any “cheesy” area marking decay. Bass position themselves in the hollows they create.

Jackall’s Iobee Frog is an excellent walking frog and claims a high hook-up ratio, too.

On some lakes, even “habitat” becomes optional. I’ve fished a number of small lakes and ponds where bass holding tight to bank or sea wall will take a frog placed right against the shoreline or even eased into the water from the bank.

Retrieves

Frog retrieves vary in speed, style and cadence. Try to develop at least two basic retrieves:

1) a chugging/lunging stylethat imitates a frog working his way through the grass, and

2) a back-and-forth walking stylethat enables you to work the frog enticingly in open water or, better yet, keep a struggling frog in front of the bass’s face in a hole or pocket within a grass bed.

As a general rule, I fish a frog relatively quickly to cover water and find fish but slow my retrieve if I draw a strike or see other signs of active fish. Over time, however, you will learn to interpret the fish’s “sign” language and dial in quickly on what frog retrieve the bass want.

Tackle and timing

Tackle and timing are key! Employ a rod with muscle and backbone but with a tip soft enough to allow you to work the lure – and the fish to grab and hold on – before a mighty “heave-ho” hookset.

As for line, braid is the only way to go. Mine generally ranges from 50- to 65-pound test. Braid of that measure is strong enough to drive a hook home in thick cover and drag 10 pounds-plus of vegetation and fat bass to boat.

Conventional frog patterns can be “confidence” baits to froggin’ newcomers. And they catch plenty of bass!

Avoid the temptation to strike at the first sign of surface commotion. Often a bass will miss the bait entirely on its first swipe or merely pull the lure down by its skirted legs. It often needs a second gulp to get the bait securely into its mouth.

Make sure the bass has hold of the frog before you set the hook. Consider that moss and vegetation and water will hit the air before the bass has the lure in its mouth. The temptation to strike immediately can be overwhelming, but control your nerves and wait for evidence that the fish has taken the frog before you pull the trigger.

Still, I don’t recommend the “Count to three” or “Count to 10” advice that many fishermen suggest. The chances of the fish either rejecting the faux frog or taking it down dangerously into its gills and gullet are just too great for me to recommend the practice.

My approach requires some practice and experience, but the rule is simple. When the frog disappears, drop the rod tip and reel just enough to feel some sign of the fish’s presence. Then set the hook. Hard!

Frog fashion

Frogs come in a lot of tantalizing colors these days. No doubt, you will develop your favorites, but the only critical decision to make here is to have a mix of light-bellied frogs and dark-bellied frogs. Keep in mind that the fish rarely sees more than half the frog at any given time, and the view is from below. Often the view of the lure is filtered by matted vegetation that masks everything but the frog’s profile.

I divide my frog colors into three categories: 1) conventional green patterns, 2) other white or light-bellied baits, and 3) brown, black and other dark bellied baits. If I have at least one frog from each category with me on a good “froggin’” day, I am confident at least one of them will catch bass.

Up the hook-ups

Missed strikes and lost fish can make frog fishing one of the most frustrating of angling pursuits. That’s why frog fishermen are on a never-ending quest to improve their hook-up ratio.

A good guide to frog color selection is to arm yourself with white or light-bellied frogs, dark-bodied frogs, and conventional “frog” colors.

I outlined some bare tackle basics earlier. While more and more anglers have caught on to the importance of rod, reel and line selection to frog fishing success, many still don’t realize that the type of frog they use matters, too.

Many good frogs have hit the market in recent years, but I’ve found my best hook-up ratio comes by far when I am using the Nories NF 60and Jackall Iobee frogs. Their Japanese creators clearly factored “improving hook-ups” into their design task. Both are premium-priced lures, but well worth the investment.

Among more popularly priced frogs, the Booyah Pad Crasher delivers a high percentage of hook-ups. If you like to modify your frogs by placing BBs in the body cavity for better frog visibility in really thick slop, you may feel more comfortable doing so with this economical but quite effective frog.

Note: The Nories NF60 had almost disappeared from the American market in recent years, but Munenori Kajiwara, owner of Japan Import Tackle (https://www.japanimporttackle.com) in Wheaton, Illinois, informs me that Nories is bringing back the NF 60 this coming month and that he will be well-stocked for the late summer/fall frogging season and 2019. Lee’s Bait & Tackle (www.leesglobaltackle.com; phone 847-593-6424) in Elk Grove Village, Illinois, will be among Illinois dealers carrying these and other baits in the Nories line.

“Living on the Ledge” with Jay Wallen at Kentucky and Barkley lakes

Topwater bites early in the morning and on overcast days are “bonus fish” to the versatile Tennessee angler.

 

  • Kayak bass fishing star Jay Wallen provides ledge fishing tips
  • Texas rig and Carolina rig worms and heavy jigs are key deep water tools
  • Foot-controlled Mirage Drive on Hobie Pro Angler aids boat control
Jay Wallen, who competed in the Hobie Fishing World Championship 7 this spring, is a force to be reckoned with wherever he launches his Hobie Pro Angler 14.

By Mike Pehanich

To WIN summer tournaments often means mining big bass from deep-water “ledges.” Here kayak pro Jay Wallen reveals some of the secrets to “living on the ledge.”

Jay Wallen is a force to be reckoned with in kayak fishing wherever he launches his Pro Angler 14.  But nowhere is the Tennessee angler more feared than at the annual Hobie Bass Open held on Kentucky and Barkley Lakes each June.

His stellar kayak bass tournament record had included two third-place finishes in the Hobie Bass Open on Kentucky Lake already before his HBO victory in 2017. This past June, he notched another Top Ten finish at the event, sponsored by Hobie Cat and the Kentucky Lake Convention & Visitors Bureau, placing sixth with a 105.25-inch total.

Kentucky and Barkley lakes have tutored him well. Last year’s lessons earned him a $4,000 winner’s purse and a trip to the Hobie Fishing World Championship-7 event, held in April at Lake Vanern in Amal, Sweden.

Wallen is quick to cash in on any hot bite these classic TVA waters might offer, but year-in and year-out, the deep water “ledge” bite on the classic river-bed  and creek-bed structure separates the men from the boys in this tournament competition.

The pattern is familiar on all of the Tennessee River impoundments. Following the spawn – largemouth, smallmouth and spotted bass gradually retreat to this prime structure. There they feed on roving schools of shad.

“A lot of guys like to fire up a school with a deep-diving crankbait. A swimbait can go with that, too, because you can control its depth,” says Wallen. “But my favorite ways to catch ledge bass are with a jig or a large worm, Texas-rigged or Carolina-rigged. There’s just something about feeling that bite!”

Texas-rigged and Carolina-rigged worms fished with heavy football jigs are among Jay Wallen’s key baits for ledge bass.

Worms and jigs so rigged give him a shot at bass even when the fish are not in a chasing mood. The beauty is that they will produce during an aggressive bite as well.

At the 2017 Hobie Bass Open championship, Wallen fished a 12-inch Texas-rigged worm behind a ½-ounce bullet sinker on his G. Loomis rods to get his ledge bite going. The bite transitioned to a ¾-ounce football jig with a Zoom Fat Albert soft plastic trailer on Day Two.  For added attraction, he dunked the tail into a garlic flavored Spike-It dip.

“A ½-ounce jig falls more slowly and seems to work better in the 15- to 20-foot range,” says Wallen. “When the sun is up and fish are holding tighter to the bottom, I go to the ¾-ounce jig.”

Kayak fishing has long been associated with shallow water techniques, but anglers like Wallen have brought the kind of deep-water savvy and sophistication to the game generally associated with elite levels of bass boat competition.

Wallen emphasizes the importance of boat control when working the 10- to 30-foot depths common to ledge fishing.  The challenge gets significantly tougher in open water when reservoir wind and current can influence movement of boat and bait. Wallen relies heavily on Hobie’s foot-controlled Mirage Drive for boat control.

“If it weren’t for the Mirage Drive, I wouldn’t be fishing out of a kayak,” he says. “I’ve fished other styles of kayak and drive systems, and I spent too much time controlling my boat and not enough time fishing.”

Back-up plan

Wallen’s strength as a tournament angler stems as much from versatility and ability to adapt, as from mastery of tough techniques.

He looks for secondary ledges along the beds of the Tennessee River tributary creeks when wind and current blow him off favored main lake ledges.

And he is ever ready to cash in on skinny water opportunities in the countless arms and bays of the big impoundments.

“You can’t overlook shallow water opportunities,” he advises, noting that topwater bites early in the morning and on overcast days frequently lead to big fish. “Those are bonus fish. Any fish I can catch shallow in the morning amounts to work I don’t need to do later in the day.”

Topwater bites early in the morning and on overcast days are “bonus fish” to the versatile Tennessee angler.

A “Sneak Peek” at the 10 BERKLEY TOPWATER LURES introduced at ICAST-2018

Berkley Cane Walker has a weighted tail and is easy to cast.

  • New moderately priced line from Berkley includes walking baits, waking baits, poppers, ploppers and prop baits
  • Ten lure types in 16 size variants and 23 colors
  • Designed by Bassmaster Elite Angler Justin Lucas and Forrest Wood Cup Champ Scott Suggs

By Mike Pehanich

The new Berkley topwater line introduced at ICAST 2018 straddles the surface lure spectrum, from ploppers and poppers to walkers and wakers! 

Pure Fishing has been the subject of sales and contraction rumors since Newell Brands completed purchase of its then-parent Jarden Corp. in spring of 2016. Much of the speculation focused on whether Newell would sell Pure Fishing intact or allow buyers to cherry pick from a stable of venerable tackle brands that includes Berkley, PowerBait, Abu Garcia, Gulp, Pflueger, Shakespeare, Penn, Stren, Fenwick and more.

A big flow of new products appeared highly unlikely, but such was not the case at ICAST 2018 last week, at least not for PF’s flagship Berkley brand. Pure Fishing paraded 1,100 new products for the coming season under the Berkley banner in Orlando.

Topwater line

Berkley is better known for fishing lines and its soft bait supply, a reputation that tends to shroud the success of products like the Flicker Shad and Flicker Minnow.

For the new topwater line, Berkley looked for fresh pro staff inspiration, recruiting Bassmaster Elite pro Justin Lucas for input on eight designs and Forrest Wood Cup champ and MLF/FLW pro Scott Suggs for the other two bait styles. The line includes 10 lure types in 16 size and design variants and 23 colors. All baits are equipped with sticky Fusion 19 hooks.

Poppers

Berkley Bullet Pop comes in three sizes and performs well in both popping and walking presentations.

Bullet Pop 60, 70, 80 – Popper/chugger-style baits have been springboard lures for countless anglers. They compel focus on presentation and invite experimentation, often bringing the first touch of true artistry to a budding angler’s game. Justin Lucas may have had this thought in mind when he designed this trio of popping lures to facilitate popping, spitting and walking retrieves. With three Bullet Pop sizes ranging from 60 to 80 mm in length and 14 colors, there’s a Bullet Pop to match any hatch. Feathered treble hooks tail all three sizes.

Bullet Pop 60: 2-1/4 inches (60 mm); 1/5 ounce (6 g)

Bullet Pop 70: 2-3/4  inches (70mm); 2/5 ounce (11 g)

Bullet Pop 80: 3-1/4 inches (80 mm); ½ ounce (15g)

MSRP: $6.99

Berkley Choppo Lure is a Plopper that generates strikes from a wide range of predator species.

Ploppers

Choppo 90, 120 – You can’t help but anticipate action from the Choppo from the first “plop” of its tail prop! Berkley’s entry into the “plopper” category generates a powerful fish-attracting chop as it churns the water, attracting bass, stripers, pike, musky and other husky predators. Try the smaller Choppo 90 for smallmouth bass and smaller game fish, as well as the usual suspects. Available in 10 colors.

Choppo 90:  3-2/7 inches (90 mm); ½ ounce (15 g)

Choppo 120: 4-5/7 inches (120 mm); 1 ounce (28 g)

MSRP: $9.99

Berkley Drift Walker has a long stride action, perfect for those fish that have seen everything else…till now.

Walking Baits

J-Walker 100  – Justin Lucas made subtle changes to the original cigar-shaped walking bait design to welcome newcomers to the bait walking art. The J-Walker is weighted and fitted with rattles. Available in 14 colors.

J-Walker 100:  4 inches (100 mm); ½ ounce (15 g)

J-Walker 120: 4-3/4 inches (120 mm); 2/3 ounce (20 g)

MSRP: $7.99

Drift Walker 110 – With its broad back and keel design, the Drift Walker is a walking bait with a long-stride finesse style. Three Fusion 19 treble hooks up the hook-up ratio.

Drift Walker 110:  4-1/4 inches (110 mm); ½ ounce (14 g)

MSRP: $7.99

HighJacker 100 – The “fishiest” of the walking baits in the series, the HighJacker’s hydrodynamic tail-weighted fish-shaped body casts long and produces tantalizing tail-down walking action, even when worked at a rapid cadence. Lucas counts it a key tool with schooling bass busting baitfish at the surface. Available in 10 colors.

High Jacker 100: 4 inches (100 mm); 3/5 ounce (18 g)

MSRP: $7.99

The weighted tail and tapered body of the Berkley Cane Walker makes it easy to cast.

Cane Walker 125 – Big fish like big mouthfuls, and large bass, stripers, hybrid stripers and toothy pike and musky are all likely to awaken to the commotion of the tail-weighted Cane Walker. With three sizes of weights confined to separate body cavity compartments, this “pencil” style walking bait delivers a distinctive rattle. Comes with feathered tail treble and in 12 colors.

Cane Walker 125: 5 inches (125mm); 5/6 ounce (24 g)

MSRP: $7.99

Prop Baits

Spin Rocket 110 – Prop bait aficionados may find a new love crush in the Spin Rocket. With its slim profile and flat back, the Spin Rocket draws strikes from a wider range of fish than conventional prop baits. Three Fusion 19 treble hooks promise a high hook-up ratio. Plastic propellers fore and aft generate the surface commotion.

Spin Rocket 110: 4-1/4 inches (100mm); ½ ounce (13 g)

MSRP: $7.99

Spin Bomb 60 – Count on this compact prop bait to count coup when predators are feasting on small forage. A conventional twitch-and-pause retrieve should get ‘er done. Comes with skirted tail treble. Watch the spray fly from this little bait.

Spin Bomb 60: 2-2/5 inches (60 mm); 2/5 ounce (12 g)

MSRP: $7.99

Berkley topwater baits, like this Berkley HighJacker in “Perfect Ghost” color, attract fish from a distance and bring vicious strikes .

Wake Baits

Wake Bull 60, 70 –Crankbait-style wake baits were once well-kept secrets. No more! The Wake Bull’s spacious body cavity emits a deep one-knocker rattle that draws fish from a distance. A Scott Suggs creation.

Wake Bull 60: 2-2/5 inches (60 mm); 2/5 ounce (12 g)

Wake Bull 70: 2-3/4 inches (70 mm); 3/5 ounce (18 g)

MSRP: $6.99

Surge Shad 130, Jointed 130 – Berkley took special pride in presenting its Surge Shad duo. Scott Suggs, who no doubt spent a lot of hours tweaking ancestors of this long minnow-style waker, directed both high-riding wake bait designs. The bait’s patent-pending weight system helped deliver the “exaggerated wobbling action” he was after. The single-bodied Surge Shad, only entry in Berkley’s topwater line-up without rattles, is a stealth tool, ideal for calm conditions and spooky fish. The jointed model produces a more aggressive action and sports rattle attraction as well, making it a better choice in murky water and windy conditions. Both the Surge Shad and the Surge Shad Jointed models come in eight custom-paint finishes, all with FlashDisc attractors on the belly.

Surge Shad 130: 5-1/5 inches (130 mm); 3/5 ounce (17 g)

Surge Shad Jointed 130: 5-1/5 inches (130 mm); 2/3 ounce (19 g)

MSRP: $7.99

Tags: Berkley, ICAST, 2018, Choppo, Bullet Pop, J-Walker, J Walker, Drift Walker, Cane Walker, High Jacker, Spin Rocket, Spin Bomb, Wake Bull, Wakebull, Surge Shad. Justin Lucas, Scott Suggs, Pure Fishing, Mike Pehanich, Small Waters Fishing, Share the Outdoors, Small Waters Outdoors, poppers, chuggers, propeller, lures, bait, walking lure, wakebait, wake bait, prop,

 

Hobie Bass Open 2018: Tyson Peterson first to repeat as Hobie Bass Open champion, returns to Hobie World Event

Tyson Peterson became the first repeat winner at the Hobie Bass Open on Kentucky and Barkley lakes.

  • 2015 Hobie Bass Open winner Tyson Peterson takes 2018 crown
  • Peterson and Komyati to fish Hobie World Fishing Championship 8
  • Eric Siddiqi takes back one-day tournament record
  • Kristine Fischer (3rd place) earns first Top Five finish by female angler
Big fish can bring a big smile at tournament time.

By Mike Pehanich

The 2018 Hobie Bass Open on Kentucky Lake, won by Tyson Peterson, featured a plethora of records and firsts.

Gilbertsville, Ky — Tyson Peterson rode out rough water and a heavy charge from the field to post a 121.75-inch total and a wire-to-wire win at the 2018 Hobie Bass Open on Kentucky and Barkley lakes.

“Being the first to win the Hobie Bass Open twice and returning to the Hobie Worlds is amazing,” said Peterson who took home a $5,000 winner’s purse from the event, sponsored by Hobie Cat and the Kentucky Lake Convention & Visitors Bureau.

(L to R) Kristine Fischer (3rd Place) became the first female kayak angler to earn a Top Five finish at the event. Tyson Peterson hoists his $5,000 winner’s check. Joe Komyati, competing in only his second kayak bass tournament, took home $3,000 and runner-up honors.

The Hobie Bass Open is a Catch/Photo/Release event with scores based on the best cumulative length drawn from three-fish daily limits. This year’s tourney featured other noteworthy performances and highlights:

  • Joe Komyati’s second place finish, coming in only his second kayak bass tournament, earned him a spot on the Hobie World Fishing Championship roster with winner Tyson Peterson.
  • Kristine Fischer became the first female to place in the Top Five. Her 114.75-inch total earned her third place and $2,000.
  • Cincinnati area angler Eric Siddiqi saw his Hobie Bass Open one-day tournament record topped by leader Tyson Peterson on Day One, but he regained that record on Day Two with a 65-inch total.
  • Defending champion Jay Wallen, also from Lexington, KY, earned a sixth place finish with a 105.25-inch total.
  • Perennial contender Ron Champion (fifth place) caught 19- and 18-inch bass casting crankbaits in the final minutes of the tournament to notch a 110-inch total and another Top Five finish.
  • Anthony Shingler’s 11th hour decision to fish the tournament paid off when dropshot and Carolina rigs took him to a 114-5-inch total and fourth place.
  • Cole Kleffman recorded one of the tournament’s largest smallmouth, a 19-incher, to win the youth division.
  • Matt Scotch, from Ft. Worth, Texas, captured the overall Big Fish crown with a 22.5-inch largemouth that edged out Eric Siddiqi’s 22.25-inch fish for top honors.

Joshua Stewart, Drew Russell, Guillermo Gonzalez and Joe Meno filled out the Top 10.

First to repeat at Hobie World Event

Tyson Peterson became the first repeat winner at the Hobie Bass Open on Kentucky and Barkley Lakes.

Peterson, who won the tournament on the same waters in 2015, is the first repeat winner in the event’s five-year history. He and runner-up Joe Komyati (117 inches) qualified for the 2019 Hobie World Fishing Championship as the tournament’s top two finishers.

Eric Siddiqi (left) lost his one-day Hobie Bass Open tournament record to Tyson Peterson on Day One, only to regain the record with a 65-inch Day Two total. Siddiqi, who also had the second largest bass of the tournament, here shakes hands with Big Fish winner Matt Scotch (22.5 inches).

Hobie will announce the site of Hobie World Championship 8 later this year.

Tyson Peterson is looking forward to his return to the event, which pits top anglers from around the world on waters few of them have fished.

“The Hobie Worlds are amazing,” said Peterson. “You pick up so much from other anglers and from fishing new waters and species.”

Does the new champ have a preferred location?

“Australia would be cool,” said Peterson. “But fishing the World’s itself is enough. The destination doesn’t matter.”

Berkley® Choppo is Smash Hit Topwater Lure

Chef Todd’s first Choppo bass could be an Illinois first!

  • Strip Pit Largemouth Bass LOVE ‘EM
  • Choppo Plopper Action is NEW and DEADLY
  • Designed by Bassmaster Elite angler Justin Lucas

The Berkley® Choppo, one of 10 lures introduced with Berkley’s new topwater line at ICAST 2018, played to smashing reviews from Illinois strip mine bass…and a prominent Peoria angler/chef.

The Berkley® Choppo is an easy-to-use top water lure with a durable, cupped, propeller tail that produces maximum surface disturbance and swims straight at a variety of speeds. This is the MF Frog finish.

By Mike Pehanich

The “Plopper” lure concept took the fishing world by storm a few years ago when River2Sea’s 2008 introduction, the Whopper Plopper, suddenly factored into big tournament and TV-host catches. The excitement it generated hasn’t dimmed yet.

Ploppers feature a thick single-arm propeller that produces a plopping gurgle that drives fish nuts and, better yet, draws them from a distance.

If there’s a downside to ploppers, it is price. Original River2Sea Whopper Ploppers generally cost from $12 to $22. That’s why tackle junkies with an ear to the rail got itchy with rumors that Berkley would enter the plopper category with their own iteration.

Berkley’s hardbait strategy has been relatively cautious, but quite successful to date. The simple formula is this: take a proven concept, let pro anglers modify and tweak it to proven performance, and then finally produce and market it at an angler-friendly price.

That marketing formula is in evidence again with the Choppo 90 and 120 – the two sizes of topwater lures filling the “plopper” niche in Berkley’s new 10-item topwater line that made its debut at ICAST 2018 (Orlando July 11-13). The Choppo will retail for $9.99 in both sizes.

Choppo Works the Pits

A coveted Choppo bait arrived at my door under cardboard cover in advance of ICAST 2018. Would it prove to be the real deal? I headed to central Illinois to test it on strip pit bass.

Chef Todd launches at Lake X, the perfect spot to test a topwater lure.

I consulted with Chef Todd Kent, multi-species angler and head chef at Jim’s Downtown Steakhouse in Peoria. For Choppo’s Illinois debut, he suggested Lake X, an unmanaged private lake accessible only with purloined map, secret handshake and promise of first-born grandchild, or in this case, agreement to let him fish the Choppo that day.

I opted for the latter.

“I’ll catch a bass on the Choppo within the first 15 minutes on the water,” Chef Todd predicted.

A weak cold front had pushed through the night before, but I took the bubble trail in the wake of Chef Todd’s first cast with the Choppo to be a good omen.

“I like it,” said the chef, a few casts into the day. “The propeller produces a little deeper ‘plop’ than R2Sea. It’s a little different.”

The strip pit featured a long, steep-sided, main lake with two narrow arms running perpendicular to the main lake. Deadfall and sunken timber provided cover shallow and deep. Algae mats sat in protected pockets between wood.

It seemed a prime topwater setting, so good, in fact, that we were surprised when our first 10 or so casts drew no response.

A washtub explosion ended the drought. Todd leaned back on the bite and his fish went airborne.

“Ten minutes,” he said as he hefted his fish, just a tad under three pounds. “I said I’d have a bass on the Choppo within 15 minutes. Amen.”

The chef let the thought simmer for a few casts. Then the prospect of fame – however fleeting, took hold.

“I’ll bet that was the first bass taken on a Choppo in Illinois,” he said. “Yeah. I’ll stake my claim to that,” I responded.

The worm bite we expected to flourish that morning never developed, but finesse jigs and flippin’ jigs with craw-style and beaver-style plastic trailers drew a flurry of action. A swim jig with swimbait produced nice fish as well.

But we missed the topwater bite and despite the bad omen of high cloudless skies, we pulled out the high-riders again at 11:00 A.M.

The Choppo went down in an angry spray within minutes. Another well-muscled bass hit it a few casts after that. The unexpected mid-day topwater bite was on. Choppo would prove to be the day’s MVP.

Chef Todd’s first Choppo bass could be an Illinois first!

“I’m really impressed with this Choppo 120,” said Chef Todd, high praise from an angler with a healthy stockpile of the lure that pioneered the category. “It has a more defined plopper tail sound. The head design is a little narrower, and it has a nice side-to-side roll. The tail rides a little higher, too. And it has great hooks.”

Designed by Bassmaster Elite angler Justin Lucas, the Choppo 120 is just under 5-inches (120 mm) long. Weighing a full ounce, it casts a mile, allowing the angler to cover water quickly. Six weights in two belly chambers and a tapered nose deliver the tantalizing roll that helps convert tail-plopping fish attraction into hard strikes.

And, yes, it has extremely sharp Fusion 19 hooks.

The Choppo 90 is the 120’s little brother. Its smaller dimensions of 3-1/2 inches (90 mm) and ½ ounce weight, add to its versatility.  It makes for an easier meal for a wider range of predators. Justin Lucas testifies to its effectiveness on smallmouth bass in particular.

Current colors are Sexy Back, Perfect Ghost, MF Shad, MF Frog, MF Bluegill, Maverick, Ghost White, Ghost Bluegill, Bone and Black Chrome.

Unlike many topwater lures, the Choppo does most of the work for you. Just cast and wind with rod tip raised to maintain a high-riding, waking movement. Vary your speed until you dial in the fish’s preference for the day.

You’ll likely be mesmerized by that plopping sound and tantalizing spray until the inevitable explosion awakens you from the spell!

Read more at http://www.berkley-fishing.com/berkley-bait-hard-bait-berkley/berkley-choppo/1454439.html.

Still jacked! How the Chatterbait Jack Hammer led Dwayne Taff to $100K KBF championship payday

After Dwayne Taff celebrated his historic $100,000 win at the 2018 KBF National Championship awards ceremony, he thanked many people, but only one lure — the Chatterbait Jack Hammer.

It took awhile for Dwayne Taff to put his win over 751 competitors on Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley during the 2018 Kayak Bass Fishing (KBF) National Championship into perspective. Acknowledging his own place in bass tournament history was almost as overwhelming as his win.

“I looked at the payout at the Bassmaster Classic at Lake Hartwell the week before, and after Jordan Lee’s $300,000 winner’s check, the second place award dropped to $50,000,” said Taff following the the March 23-24 tourney. “The KBF National Championship is right up there now with the biggest events in the sport.”

Not only was his winner’s purse of $100,000, courtesy of electric motor maker and title sponsor Torqeedo, almost triple that of any prior kayak victor’s take, but it will rank among the largest first place tournament awards slated for the 2018 bass fishing season, equaling the first place checks to winning pros at Bassmaster Elite and FLW Tour events.

 

 

Jacked!

The magnum winner’s purse wasn’t Taff’s only takeaway. He caught his two 5-fish limits over the two-day event on one lure, the Chatterbait Jack Hammer.

“It was a totally new addition to my tackle arsenal. I hit the jackpot with it, too!” he laughed.

Through magazine articles and You Tube videos, Taff had tracked Brett Hite’s FLW and Bassmaster success with the Jack Hammer, a high-end Chatterbait variation that Hite himself had co-designed with Japanese lure designer Morizo Shimizu. The bait, a top-of-the-category product distinguished by its hunting action, premium components and lightning-quick responsiveness, is marketed in the U.S. through a joint effort between Z-Man and EverGreen International of Japan.

Z-Man’s Chatterbait has mushroomed into a family of lures that have expanded the utility and fish-catching capability of the bladed jig concept.  With models like the Chatterbait Freedom, Diezel Chatterbait, Chatterbait Flashback, Chatterbait Mini, Chatterbait Elite and Chatterbait Jack Hammer, Z-Man has Chatterbait varieties available at five price levels and distinguished by variations in components, features, and sizes.

The Chatterbait Jack Hammer, the Cadillac of the line, features premium components including a stainless steel blade for better vibration, a heavy wire Gamakatsu hook, double wire bait keeper, and premium snap. A blade protector design feature, flat bottom and low center of gravity highlight some of its subtle design distinctions.

 

 

The hunt is on!

Taff went through a frustrating odyssey trying to find the lure. He finally found the Jack Hammer in a Dick’s store in Houston and bought one.

One.

A la Hite, he added a Yamamoto Zako trailer. He had tracked the soft plastic trailer down in a tackle store in Paducah, Kentucky, just prior to the tournament.

Taff failed to find fish “doing the Kentucky Lake thing” on deep ledges during the unseasonably cold pre-fish days, so he decided to fish the way he knew best. “I didn’t have any confidence in what I was doing so I told my buddies, ’I’m fishing shallow. I’m going Texas!’” Taff recalled. “We rarely fish deeper than 10 feet in Texas.”

He tied on the Chatterbait Jack Hammer.

“I planned to used it as a search bait, thinking I could cover a lot of water with it,” he said. “Unlike other bladed jigs, it doesn’t come up to the surface on you or stop vibrating. You don’t have to jerk it or pop it to get started again in the middle of your retrieve. When the Jack Hammer hits the water it starts pulsing right away, and it doesn’t stop. I don’t care how fast or slow you retrieve it. It outperforms every bait in the category.”

Taff had a five-fish limit by 9:00 A.M. on Day One. He fished a 100-yard stretch of bank only 1- to 2-feet deep with an adjacent ditch 4- to 6-feet deep.

“In the early morning, the bass were on the ledge, tight to the bank,” he explained. “But they dropped into the ditch when the sun came up.”

Nearly all his fish came from the relatively sparse hard cover in the area, primarily fallen trees and stick-ups.

He left the area early on Day One, knowing he was in contention for the big prize. He hoped that he had not spooked all the bass there and that the area would replenish itself with new fish as well.

He was right.

But Day Two was not without suspense.

Taff hung his lone Jack Hammer on his very first cast!

“I had already caught two fish off that tree, and I am thinking ‘I am going to hit that tree just to the left…and I am going to catch a fish,’” he recalled. “It’s my first cast in the dark, and I throw it right in the middle of the tree. I hung my Chatterbait (Jack Hammer) on my first cast! I am thinking that I screwed it up, scared all the fish. I jerk it again, trying to get it out of the tree…Right then, the line moves off to the left, and I set the hook. The fish had just come in and grabbed it out of the tree! That’s how I started my morning.”

The fish measured 22.5 inches, the largest fish reported that hour and among the largest caught in the entire tournament.

“She was full of eggs, probably weighed 6 or 7 pounds,” he said, basking in the recollection.

He moved 20 feet down the bank and landed another bass, a 19-3/4-incher.  Minutes later, he added a 15-3/4-inch fish to his tally.

Only a half hour into Day Two, he had three quality keepers to his credit.

 

Tackle talk

Taff emphasized the importance of the role tackle match-ups played in his $100,000 payday. The combination consisted of a strong medium power rod from the McCain kayak series, an Abu Garcia Revo reel with 5:1 gear ratio, and 12-pound Seaguar fluorocarbon line.

“I used mostly a straight retrieve. The 5:1 gear ratio enabled me to keep the retrieve slow in that 51-degree water,” assessed Taff. “The rod enabled me to get a good hookset. When I felt the bait stop chattering, I knew a fish had hit and was coming toward me. With that McCain rod, I could still get a good hookset.”

The Jack Hammer he used was the BHite Delight; the trailer color was green pumpkin.

 

A game of quarter inches

But the game changed on Day Two after Taff’s 30-minute opening gambit. The wind changed direction, and the morning’s mist turned to steady rain.

“I couldn’t get Numbers Four and Five to bite over the next few hours,” recalled Taff. “So I left the area for another bank with a few stick-ups. There I got a 12- and a 12-3/4 inch fish. But I knew I probably wouldn’t remain at the top with those fish, so I just kept grinding.”

Unable to upgrade his catch, he began to paddle back to the bank where he had started the day’s fishing. Rounding a point, he ran into one of his angling buddies who told him the camera crew was looking for him.

He cringed at the added pressure of fishing in front of the camera.

 

“I considered going the other way, but I was heading back to my Honey Hole, my Money Hole!” he said.

He worked up and down that bank an estimated 30 times with the eyes of camera and onlookers upon him. At one point, the cameraman lamented that he had a lot of fish on film but had yet to capture a hookset on camera.

“Five minutes later the Jack Hammer took a 14-inch fish,” Taff recalled. “The camera man asked me how critical I thought that 14-incher was. I said, ‘That could be the difference in winning $100,000. I just upgraded by two inches.’”

And it was! Taff topped his closest competitor, Joshua Stewart, by 1-3/4 inches with a 10-fish total of 173.5 inches.

“That 14-incher wasn’t the most impressive fish on film,” said Taff, sporting a $100,000 grin. “But he WAS the money fish!”

OUTDOOR GEAR: The Hunt for 4-Season Weather Gear

  • Hodgman H5 Storm Jacket and H5 Storm Bib
  • Hodgman Core INS Jacket and Core INS Bib Liner Pants
  • No-Nonsense, Easy to Use
  • Comfortable, Essential, Affordable and Effective

By Mike Pehanich

To choose the right gear…if you’re an avid four-season outdoorsman, the hunt for foul weather outerwear is never-ending.

Hence we return to the sportsman’s eternal quest for reliable weather protection in a selection of relatively lightweight apparel that satisfies a range of temperatures and conditions – and fits in a single suitcase or travel bag!

In late winter, Hodgman released an ambitious 4-piece mix of outerwear that just might simplify the packing decisions of many outdoorsmen.

Hodgman designed its new H5 Storm Jacket and matching H5 Storm Bib to team as needed with the new Hodgman Core INS Jacket and Hodgman Core INS Bib Liner Pants.

  • The 3-layer V-Tech™ H5combination provides comfort and versatility as an effective shell layer in inclement cold and delivers free movement and breathability as temperatures rise.
  • The latter Core INSjacket and bib combination comprises an extremely lightweight quilt style Thinsulate layer designed to zip and snap into the Storm Jacket and Bibs.

The modular foursome offers sportsmen comfort through a wide range of temperatures and storm conditions and the option, too, of wearing each item separately.

My first run with the H5 Storm Jacket proved ideal for testing basic comfort and design features. I ice-fished on a day that began below the freezing mark but warmed to the lower 50s before day’s end. With the H5, I wore the Hodgman Core INS Jacket and the matching Hodgman Core INS Bib Liner Pants. (The H5 Storm Bib arrived later, so I substituted a bib of comparable thickness to the H5 Jacket during this initial trial.)

The H5/INS combination was ideal that winter morning. I lugged gear and cut and cleared ice holes without chill or sweat.

Hodgman H5 Technology and Design 

My H5 Storm team still awaits the ultimate test of a brutal all-day rain. But simulated storm tests have given credence to Hodgman’s tech claims.

Will it keep you dry in a downpour without generating so much sweat that it negates the value of a “waterproof” outer layer altogether? Every protective garment has its tipping point, but Hodgman likes how it has tipped the odds in the wearer’s favor with the H5’s 3-layer V-Tech material and salient design features.

Hodgman states that its 3-layer V-Tech™ material employs “ultra-breathable vapor transfer technology with a hydrophilic membrane to pull moisture aware from the body.” The outcome is an outer layer with “breathability, abrasion resistance and waterproof protection.” Hodgman credits a “durable water repellant” (DWR) outer coating for one-way moisture passage – from the inside out. Simply put, sweat escapes to the external surface of the garments, but, like the rain, snow, and sleet trying to enter, it can’t seep back in.

Hodgman H5 Storm Jacket Features

Weather exposes the best and worst in outerwear. Flaws in design, material or manufacturing execution at pressure points, pockets, seams, zippers, and openings can create tiny leakage funnels. Hodgman’s design safeguards these junctures with fully taped seams, watertight cinch cuffs, and an adjustable dual draw-cord hem. The most critical design component is the 500-denier Cordura seat and sleeves.

Disclaimer: Our assessment of this new storm wear comes without the test of time and the effects of many wear and wash cycles on the garment.

The new Hodgman storm set provides some nice angler-friendly features that walk the line between functionality and amenity.

Face Shield Hood

Chief among these is the ventilated adjustable wire-brimmed hood and “easy stow” face and nose guard. The former facilitates air passage in the face of wind or 60 mph boat speeds without turning the hood into a ship sail; the latter provides effective face protection with a unique and secure design that permits unobstructed vision.

During a storm years ago, the zipper failed on what was then the most stormproof jacket in my outdoor wardrobe. The storm exposed that otherwise faithful garment’s – excuse the metaphor – “Achilles heel,” the absence of a back-up means of closure. My single-handed grip on my jacket was not up to the task of keeping me dry against a blinding sideways rain and desperate boat run to shelter.

The 3-layer V-Tech™ H5 combination provides comfort and versatility as an effective shell layer in inclement cold and delivers free movement and breathability as temperatures rise

Hodgman heads off such crises by adding a critical redundancy. The YKK Aqua Guard center front zip has a double rain guard, a series of effective loop-and-hook fasteners.

What’s a YKK zipper?

YKK stands for the company founded by Tadao Yoshida, Yoshida Kogyo Kabushikikaisha. Yoshida earned his fame creating customized zipper machines. YKK reportedly manufactures in excess of 7 billion zippers each year.

Hodgman designed its new H5 Storm Jacket and matching H5 Storm Bib to team as needed with the new Hodgman Core INS Jacket and Hodgman Core INS Bib Liner Pants.

Other features include low chest-positioned tool accessory D-rings for forceps, pliers, line clippers, etc.; a soft low profile anchor point for kill switch or small tools; a pair of YKK zip hand pockets that offer easy access to underlayers; two YKK Aqua Guard vertical zip chest pockets; and an inner security pocket.

MSRP Hodgman H5 Storm Jacket: $299.95

http://www.hodgman.com/hodgman-outerwear-jackets/hodgman-h5-storm-shell-jacket/1447400.html

Hodgman H5 Storm Bib Features

In its H5 Bib, Hodgman aimed to reduce or eliminate water seepage to inner clothing and the skin when sitting on a wet carpet or boat seat or kneeling on wet ice.  The bib incorporates a waterproof shell fabric with a 20k waterproof rating, selected to be effective in all-day rains. The 500 denier Cordura material used in the seat, knees and hem protects against leakage or absorption. The same hydrophilic laminate used for the jacket draws sweat away from the body.

What does a 20K waterproof rating mean?

In static-column waterproof testing, a one-inch tube filled with water stands vertically over the test material. The water’s height in millimeters when leakage begins determines the rating. A 20K rating indicates that the fabric can withstand a pressure of up to 20,000 mm before leaking.

I wear bibs most of the time in cold weather whether precipitation is in the forecast or not! (I’m a strong believer that keeping the lower back warm is critical to maintaining comfort when wind and a short column of mercury are in your forecast.) That’s why I place a premium on a bib that is easy to don, remove and wear all day.

I was impressed with the “articulated R.O.M. fit” that Hodgman boasts. In fact, I wore the bib at my desk and around home and office to test range of motion. I even did some high knee lifts and other calisthenics. Credit a tailored blend of breathable 3-layer waterproof/windproof V-Tech fabric and 500 denier Cordura material for seat, knees and hem for comfort and protection against the elements.

Two-way YKK leg zippers make access to pockets for phone, wallet, and car keys a breeze. These are particularly important features in this age of minute-by-minute photos, videos, text messages and business calls. The H-back elastic suspenders with Duraflex buckles are there for standard bib adjustment. But right and left draw-elastic waist adjustment straps secured by (“Super Grip”) hook-and-loop fasteners all but eliminate shoulder fatigue. Snap leg hems offer three adjustments.

A welcome feature in the Hodgman H5 Bib is its relief zipper. Ancient wisdom holds that when you’ve got to go, you gotta go! A bib that binds you like a straightjacket and takes more time than a mummy’s wrap to unpeel when the bladder is begging for mercy is hard to befriend. Thankfully, the way to relief is simple with the H5. No need to remove jacket, unhinge suspenders, and perform a balancing act on accordion legs when Nature calls. A series of quick zips and…hey, you’re good.

MSRP Hodgman H5 Storm Bib: $299.95

http://www.hodgman.com/hodgman-outerwear-bibs/hodgman-h5-storm-bib/1447399.html

Both the H5 Jacket and Bibs are currently available in Digi Camo Charcoal color in six sizes ranging from Small to 3XL.

The latter Core INS jacket and bib combination comprises an extremely lightweight quilt style Thinsulate layer designed to zip and snap into the Storm Jacket and Bibs.

A note on Hodgman Core INS Jacket and Bib Liner Pant

The cold weather versatility of this outerwear combination comes to fruition with the addition of the Core INS Jacket and Bib Liner Pant to the basic H5 Storm Jacket and Bib combination. These lightweight quilted layers, which can also be worn separately, feature Thinsulate Platinum Insulation fibers that Hodgman claims “are up to 10x smaller than fibers of other synthetic insulations,” and deliver double the warmth. Tune in for a detailed review of these companion garments.

MSRP Hodgman Core INS Jacket: $129.99

MSRP Hodgman Core Bib Liner Pant ; $129.99           

In its H5 literature, Hodgman invokes its “Grit Gear Commitment” – “Gear with grit and an iron clad development process that yields performance day after day for years to come and adds “…we don’t sell our gear until we’ve field tested it and beat it up to the point we’re absolutely sure that you can’t find a better protective garment.”

 

Hodgman gear is now being shipped to retailers across the nation and is also available online for ordering.  To learn more about new Hodgman gear now available, please click to visit http://www.hodgman.com.