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Bigger Bait, Bigger Fish

Bigger Bait, Bigger Fish

Poppers, spinnerbaits, lipless crankbaits, and the soft plastic worm on occasion. This is what I threw… every trip... every time! I always classified myself as a "Power Fisherman". The baits I always threw covered a lot of water very quickly. Now these methods worked, and when they didn't, I threw the worm. I almost always caught fish, but the size of these fish-that is an entirely different story. I decided it was time to expand on my techniques and go out of my comfort zone; I wanted to go "Bigger"! I have always read stories about anglers who threw big swimbaits and had success catching bigger fish. Now I had my reservations, but I was off...WAY OFF. Let me explain...

Bigger baits to many mean bigger fish. Now, my first reservation was "bigger fish means catching quality, not quantity", which in turn could mean increasing my chances of a catching a "skunk" instead of a "hawg". Was I willing to do that? Let's face it, telling my buddy that I caught 14 bass instead of 6 bass sounds like a "WOW" day (if I leave out some details such as the size, right)? That doesn't make me a liar, I am just leaving out the details that the average size of these bass was 12"-13" because I threw a 1/4 oz. spinnerbait all day or perhaps a 1/2 oz. lipless crankbait. Sure, I did catch the occasional big bass here and there, but often, I was catching average sized fish. I wanted to do better than that. I decided it was time to go big or go home, so I posted on a social media page, asked a few friends about some gear details, and my research began. Here is what I found out and to my surprise, I was way off in my thinking.

My first thought was that I was going to need a broomstick of a rod and a massive reel. I was thinking that this setup combined with these big lures was going to weigh a ton and my arm would fall of at the end of the day. That was my absolute first mistake. After seeking information from a variety of sources, most anglers recommended a rod over 7'6" long, heavy action, and not too fast of a taper. Most of the anglers stated a heavy action rod would give you the backbone to horse a big fish if needed as well as allowing you to "lob" the lure rather than casting it to eliminate shoulder stress. In addition, they recommended a moderate to moderate fast taper for keeping a fish hooked; if the taper was too fast, it would rip the hooks right out of the fish’s mouth. As far as the reel, a 300 sized casting reel would do the trick, and the only advantage of a conventional round reel over a low profile was line capacity.

Now, I just did not want to jump right into the deep end and start throwing 8-9" baits so I decided to start with a 6" Triton Mike Bucca Bull Shad in the Gizzard color. I picked up a 7'9" Falcon Lowrider rod with a moderate action and a Daiwa Millionaire Classic reel and I was off to become a swimbait angler. Now, this is where I had my epiphany. My first day out with this rod and reel, it sat in my BlackPak for most of the trip because I was hesitant to throw it. The bite was hot and I actually caught 15 Bass on that particular trip so I did not want to jinx myself. Finally, during my paddle back to the launch I decided to give it a cast or two before I loaded up. So, I paddled towards a dock situated near some cover. My first cast was a complete dud! I accidentally hit the bait clicker and my cast went half the distance so that doesn't really count. My next cast (my first real cast, HAHA) fell just short of the front of the dock and as soon as I started to retrieve the bait, I saw the fish roll on it and I had hooked! I landed my first swimbait bass on my first cast! I thought it was supposed to be harder to catch bass on swimbaits due to their larger size. Catching a bass on my “second” cast was not the norm and I felt super lucky.

 Bill Sikora Bullshad Largemouth Bass 

   Here in South Florida the weather has greatly fluctuated. We have had several cold fronts move in and days of rain (which to be honest, we needed). Now let's fast forward to my next trip out after popping my swimbait cherry. I decided to give this lure some more time on the water this trip. Like I previously thought, my main concern was having difficulty catching bass on a bigger lure, but I made the commitment and was off to the races. I paddled to an area where there was a creek that opened into the lake. There were docks on both sides and large boulders along the bottom. To my surprise, about 6-7 casts into working the area, I had hooked another bass using this technique. I continued to use this lure throughout the day and I had caught and landed another 6 bass. I lost a 7th fish due to me fumbling the hookset in the rain, but this is where the thought hit me. I really did not sacrifice quantity with a bigger bait, but the bass WERE bigger! Except for one bass that was maybe 12", who was obviously ambitious hitting a bait half his size haha! But this bait worked just as well as a bait half its size. Granted, this is not the huge 8" or 11" Bull Shads, but I definitely doubled the size of my offering and did not see any fall-off in catch rate. 

 Bull Shad Bass Fishing

   All this time, I have thought that using heavier tackle and larger baits would only provide me with a catch "here and there" and that I had to be fishing somewhere where big bass lurked or I would be going home skunked. I was wrong! By throwing a bigger bait, I was imitating a bigger "offering" and larger bass were coming after it! In turn, I was now catching more rewarding fish. In addition, I also have another technique to use when the bite is off. I have not yet caught that double-digit bass on this technique, but believe me, every time my Bull Shad is hit, the possibility is there, and I can’t wait for that moment! So, if you have had the same thoughts as I did when it comes to throwing bigger baits, give it a try! Trust me, you may just catch that bass you have been waiting for! 

-Bill Sikora

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Kayak Fishing Tips - How to Organize for Success

Kayak Fishing Tips - How to Organize for Success

As a kayak tournament angler, preparation is one of the keys to success. Often overlooked is the gear preparation that can save you time and frustration when traveling to the early morning launch on tournament morning. The team at Cal Coast Fishing has developed some great products that can give you that organizational advantage and set you up for tournament day success.
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Fishing Online's 2018 Holiday Gift Guide

Fishing Online's 2018 Holiday Gift Guide

It's that time of year! Not sure what to get the angler in your life? Look no further. Fishing Online's 2018 Holiday Gift Guide is here!
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Snakehead Fishing In South Florida

Snakehead Fishing In South Florida

Snakehead Fishing In South Florida

Snakeheads...an exotic fish that has all of us running for our lives. This invasive "Lake Monster" can live up to four hours out of water and can consume small children left unattended while playing outdoors. These fish should be killed as soon as they are caught! The Snakeheads are taking over our waters, I say we should NUKE 'EM!... or let's just fish for them, less messy that way. 

   Now, let's get serious for a moment. Years back, it was believed that Snakeheads should be destroyed once caught as there was a fear that they would kill off any species that shared the water with these predatory beasts. Over the years, the Snakehead has in fact become a targeted game fish and big fish are being reported in the Potomac River in Washington, as well as my home area in South Florida. Now, while I can't speak for how to target them up in Washington, I know how to catch them down here and let me tell you, they are fun to catch and fight like crazy when hooked. Now I am going to get into a few ways I love to get them to strike. 

Snakehead fishing

   Here in South Florida, from Wellington down through Coral Springs, I have found Snakeheads to frequent tight canals, and normally where there are thick weed lines, "Matted Muck", docks, or timber, there is a Snakehead lying in wait for prey to swim past. They will often stay in shallow water, so working deeper water won't necessarily be the best way to get them. A Spinnerbait or Chatterbait can be a great way to get them to come out from under-cover if the water is deep enough to work these baits. I run the bait parallel to where I think they will be. I normally use a Medium Heavy Baitcasting outfit with 12-pound test and a 20-pound fluorocarbon leader (similar to my bass fishing setups). The leader helps with preventing break-offs, especially when fishing near submerged timber. My absolute favorite way to catch them is by casting a weedless rigged frog "parallel" to this cover, just like I do with the skirted baits. For this technique, the frogs I use are dark in color and my favorite one is the Bruiser Baits Kickin' Frog in Houdini color. I rig it up with a 5/0 VMC Swimbait Hook. I use a Medium Heavy Spinning Combo with 15-pound braid tied directly to the hook. I find it easier to cast soft plastics with spinning gear. I cast the frog about a foot away from the cover/structure and I reel it just fast enough to keep the bait along the surface and let the paddle feet do their job, which produces a wake similar to that of a Buzzbait. When the moment comes, you will see the wake come from under the cover and "strike" the frog. I wait for a second or two to ensure the fish has the bait, then I set the hook and the fight has begun. Now, this is no ordinary fight. One of the Snakeheads favorite moves is the alligator "death roll". They fight very similar to a Redfish, as they charge downward as much as possible! Their death roll can make things interesting and has been known to claim the life of a spinnerbait from time to time. They will continue to fight even once you get them into your net and get the gripper in their mouth. Make sure you always have your gripper leashed to your kayak!! I have had a Snakehead "death roll" with my Fish Grip Lock and it pulled right out of my hand! These fish fight you with everything they have, and their size and strength is what makes them a sought-after game fish. Catching Snakeheads in the 25" range is somewhat of a letdown when they are reaching lengths close to 40". However, the few 35"+ ones that I have caught were fights I won’t soon forget.

Fishing For Snakehead

    Now like I mentioned earlier, there was a belief a few years ago that you should kill these fish because they were invasive. However, in speaking with the FWC, I was informed that there was a common misconception that the FWC rules prohibit traditional catch and release of exotic fish species. In their current interpretation of the rules, as confirmed by FWC council’s office, there is no prohibition against catching and immediately releasing an exotic fish. It is critical to note that you may not possess Bullseye Snakehead alive. If you’re going to retain the fish, it must be dead -- no putting the fish in the live well for pictures later or anything like that. FWC encourages anglers to harvest exotic fish, including Bullseye Snakehead.  Many exotic fish taste delicious, and Snakeheads lead the way on that front. Anglers not wanting to eat the fish could simply give them to friends or neighbors. However, the FWC does not support just throwing Snakeheads, or other exotic fish, on the bank to die. The FWC has not documented any impacts on native sportfish populations from the presence or introduction of Bullseye Snakeheads.  However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a recognition that they aren’t consuming energy in the systems where they occur or playing a role in the aquatic communities they inhabit. The potential for impacts always remains. This is a key reason that they constantly reinforce the message that new exotic species should not be released into the wild and existing species should not be moved outside current ranges.  

how to catch snakehead

   Now, if you like to eat your day's catch, from what I have been told, the Bullseye Snakehead makes good table fare and catching these fish is not difficult. Keep the bait moving, keep it moving quickly, work it near cover and hold on...because once you hook one, you are in for a fight!  

-Bill Sikora

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GIANT PA Northern Pike Caught from Kayak

GIANT PA Northern Pike Caught from Kayak

Every year I head to the Allegheny National forest for a few days of camping and fishing. This year my trip was at the end of September, as opposed to the normal timing of July. The water in the Allegheny Reservoir was still up and the weather was perfect, so I was feeling good about the fishing conditions. I headed out in my Bonafide SS127 with the mindset of targeting Smallmouth Bass. Early into the trip I heard a very large splash behind me, so I quickly launched a 412 Bait Co spinner bait (3/8 oz. Chartreuse Shad) with a 2.75” SmallJaw Craw trailer into the wake of the splash and it was bitten as soon as it hit the water! I could tell right away that this was not a Bass and the fear of losing this fish crossed my mind multiple times knowing that I didn't have a wire leader. I felt a huge rush of adrenaline when the Pike made its first jump and I saw the size of it for the first time. After fighting for several minutes, I was able to net the fish and get it into the kayak. I quickly noticed that my spinnerbait was destroyed! On top of that, I somehow managed to catch my hand on its gills so I was bleeding badly, but the fish was landed!

Mangled spinnerbait from Pike

I took some pictures and quickly released the big girl back into the water and watched her swim off strong. This was a new personal best Northern Pike for me by a long shot. I don't target Pike often, so I was unaware that this was a rare size to catch in Pennsylvania. I measured it with my hawg trough which is only 31 inches long, but it is estimated to be around 40+ inches. For comparison, the Pennsylvania state record Pike measured in at 48 inches and 35 pounds!

PA State Record Pike

This was an unbelievable way to start my camping trip and I am still in shock today! I'm glad to have been in the right place at the right time and to have had the opportunity to fight a fish like this and see it swim back where it came from.

I had a GoPro recording the whole time so here is the whole fight from cast to catch!

 

 

Thanks for reading!

John Harley

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Dave Lefebre's Top 5 Baits for Presque Isle Bay

Dave Lefebre's Top 5 Baits for Presque Isle Bay

Lake Erie native and Bassmaster Elite and MLF pro Dave Lefebre shares his top 5 baits for bass fishing on Presque Isle Bay in Lake Erie. From trophy Smallmouth Bass in the bay to monster Largemouth Bass in the lagoons, Dave shares a variety of his confidence baits for fishing these spots. So without further ado, lets just jump right into it!


Here is some more information on the baits Dave talks about in this video!
1 - Drop Shot
Rod: 6'10" 13 Fishing Medium Light Muse Black
Reel: 13 Fishing Creed X (1000 size)
Line: Sufix 8 lb. NanoBraid to a 15' leader of 6 lb. Sufix Fluorocarbon
Hook: Gamakatsu Split Shot/Drop Shot hook - size 2 or 4
Weight: VMC Tungsten Cylinder Weight
Bait: 3" or 4" Gary Yamamoto Senko
Misc: Bright colors for Smallmouth Bass. Baits are nose hooked or wacky rigged.

2 - Blade Bait
Rod: 6'10" 13 Fishing Muse Black Medium Heavy with Moderate Action (cranking rod)
Reel: 13 Fishing Concept Z (7.1:1 or 8.1:1)
Line: Sufix 10 lb. Fluorocarbon
Bait: Steel Shad 3/8 and 3/4 oz sizes
Misc: Gold or silver colors. Work this bait jigging it up and down.

3 - Jerk Bait
Rod: 6'6" Medium Heavy Action Rod
Reel: 13 Fishing Concept Z (7.1:1 or 8.1:1)
Line: 10 lb. Sufix Fluorocarbon
Bait: Rapala Shadow Raps, Scatter Raps, & Shad Raps
Misc: Dave prefers a rod with a little more tip than a moderate action rod. This helps work the bait a little easier.

4 - Swimbait
Rod: 6'10" 13 Fishing Medium Light Muse Black
Reel: 13 Fishing Creed X (1000 size)
Line: Sufix 8 lb. NanoBraid to a 15' leader of 8 lb. Sufix Fluorocarbon
Bait: Storm 360GT Coastal
Misc: Very important to make long casts with this bait with a steady, slow retrieve.

5 - Jig
Rod: 7'4" Heavy for 3/8 or 1/2 oz, 7'11" for 3/4 oz or 1 oz.
Reel: 13 Fishing Concept Z (7.1:1 or 8.1:1)
Line: 17 lb. - 20 lb. Sufix Fluorocarbon, switches to heavy braid for super think cover.
Bait: Terminator 1/2 oz
Trailer: Gary Yamamoto Double Tail Grub
Misc: Fish grass and grass lines, try to stay as vertical as possible!

Bonus - Crankbait
Rod: 7'9" 13 Fishing Fate Chrome Moderate Action
Reel: 13 Fishing Concept Z (7.1:1 or 8.1:1)
Line: 10 lb. Sufix Fluorocarbon
Bait: Rapala DT-16
Misc: Dave likes using a high speed reel because he can always slow down but likes having the option to go as fast as possible if needed.

 

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