Stan Fagerstrom

Stan Fagerstrom is a member of both the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame as well as the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame. Stan is also known internationally for his casting skills. Stan welcomes your e-mail comments at

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July 30, 2015

Bluegills -- The Pride of the Panfish, Part 2

by Stan Fagerstrom

Catching bluegills with a fly rod can be a real kick in the butt.

Using the long rod and flies might not work as well in as many different situations as the miniature jigs and curly tailed plastic worms I talked about in the last column. But rest assured you can have a ball catching bluegill with the long rod when conditions are right. It's also a great way to really polish your fly fishing skills.

As with spinning gear, your fly rod outfit should be scaled down to match the size of the fish you are after. My favorite fly rods for this purpose range from 7 to 8-feet. Fly-fishing for bluegill isn't long distance action. If you can cast 20 to 30-feet, you'll do just fine. Be sure the leaders you select have a tippet testing from two four pounds.

What I've said about finding bluegill while using spinning gear also applies to fly-fishing. You've got to find them before you can catch them. Once you get them pinned down, you're in for a fun day.

There he is! A bluegill has just gobbled my fly in this picture. I've taken hundreds of these interesting panfish from this very spot without ever moving my boat.

I recall an occasion years ago when I'd just come in from fly fishing for bluegill one day on my home lake. A well-known Seattle photographer happened to be at the dock when I came in. He was in the process of producing a film for the Evergreen State's Parks Department.

When this guy saw the nice string of bluegill I'd brought in he expressed his regret that he hadn't been around to shoot pictures of me catching them. "Dammit!," he said, "I wish I could have been out there when you were catching those little buggers."

"Don't sweat it," I said, "it's no problem. Get in another boat and follow me back out there and I'll catch some more for you."

As soon as I get my fly hook unpinned from this bluegill it will go into that fish keeper sack you see attached to my waist. From there it will go to my fish cleaning table and from there to the frying pan.

Now making a statement like that where fish are concerned is a good way to wind up with gravy in your whiskers, but the fish had still been hitting when I quit and I knew right where they were. The photographer followed as we went back to the same spot. I caught a fish on the first cast and many more after that. The photographer wound up with just what he wanted.

Your days won't always go that well, of course, with the fly rod or anything else. But there are things you can do to bend the odds in your favor. The first is to stick to Number 10 fly hook sizes. A Number 10 is small enough for the bluegills to get hold of easily. Go down in size and you'll be forever hooking little guys you don't want to mess with. Go larger and the ‘gills won't be able to get it into their tiny mouths.

One of my all-time favorite flies for bluegills is my own version of the McGinty. I tie it with a red tag and alternate bands of brown and yellow yarn. I finish it off with sparse brown hackle. Another favorite is a black ant.

Expert fly tiers might not be all that impressed with my own version of the McGinty pattern you see here but by golly the bluegills have been. It has been one of my most productive pattern for the bluegills.

Don't be in a hurry to do anything with whatever pattern you're using after you've made a cast. Get your fly out there and then let it sink through the surface film. When you begin your retrieve, bring the fly back with little twitches of the line.

I do that by holding the rod in my left hand rather than working the rod tip. Be especially alert each time you twitch the line that you're holding with your right hand. That's when your strikes are most likely to come.

There will be times when sponge-bodied spiders or tiny poppers catch fish off the surface. That's the most fun of all and it's always worth a try to find out if the fish will feed that way. As in any kind of fishing, don't hesitate to experiment in fly fishing for bluegill.

Try your poppers first but if they don't work don't stick with them for hours on end. Try a different approach. Bluegills aren't usually all that finicky. Sooner or later you'll find what they want.

You'll have more fun fly fishing for bluegills if you'll do it with a light outfit. I prefer rods in the 7 to 8-foot category and matched up with lightweight line and leader.

I've rarely killed a bass in many years. I've made some friends and relatives, including my wife, unhappy by no longer bringing home the largemouth I put in the boat. Lord knows I killed my share of them in the middle of the last century when those wonderful fish didn't face the ever building pressures they do today.

But bass are a slow growing fish, particularly in areas like the Pacific Northwest where the growing season is relatively short. It might take years to grow a 4-pound largemouth. It breaks my heart to see some of the bass that are still being killed in some of today's major catch-and-release tournaments.

It's a different story with bluegill. One of the dangers with bluegill can be over population. One lake I fished as a young man was loaded with yellow perch. Later the bluegill became even more numerous. They are among the most prolific of the panfish, so it doesn't hurt to invite some to dinner.

See that black ant fly attached to the mug of this nice bluegill? It's another pattern I've found particularly effective for my fly rod bluegill fishing.

If you decide to do that, don't fool around attempting to scale each fish. Here's how I do it: Cut off the dorsal fin as well as a strip of skin on the back from head to tail. Next slice through the skin in back of the gill covers on both sides of the fish. Use a pair of nippers to pull the skin back toward the tail on both sides of the fish.

Once you done this, cut the head halfway off. Now pull the head off with your hands and the guts will come out right along with it. Use a lightweight pair of canvas gloves while you're cleaning your bluegill. You'll find it simplifies the task by at least 50 per cent.

Clean your fish carefully and then roll it in cracker crumbs and flour and pop it into the frying pan. Fresh bluegill prepared in such a fashion and served along with hot French bread, coleslaw and a glass of chilled white wine will have your taste buds doing the cha-cha-cha and begging for more.

I think the Good Lord created bass to teach fishermen humility. I suspect He gave us bluegills to make up for the frustration He knew those darned bass would bring. He also made them for eating.

As said in my last column, if you know your butt from a barracuda, you've got to have a high regard for bluegills. And if you don't know about ‘em now, you're in for a treat when you discover ‘em.

June 30, 2015

Bluegills -- The Pride of the Panfish, Part 1

by Stan Fagerstrom

I cut my fishing teeth catching bluegill, crappie and perch.

There's nothing unusual about that. So have tens of thousands of other fishermen around this wondrous country. Most have likely gone on to concentrate on the larger species of sports fish. Even if they have, I'll bet most of them still retain a fond spot in their fishing memory book for panfish.

If they're like me, that's especially true when their thoughts get around to that scrappy little devil we call the bluegill. Ask an experienced panfish angler the following question sometime: "How do you rate bluegill when it comes to fun and fight?" Watch the eyes of the person to whom that question is directed. Chances are they'll light up like mine do whenever my thoughts turn to those scrappy little devils you find in the majority of lakes, ponds and puddles all over the United States.

You're missing a whle lot of fishing fun if you don't get aquainted with these little guys called bluegills. They are tough little buggers. If they got much bigger than they do they'd run the rest of the fish out of the lake! They're great in the frying pan too.

If another fish has provided more angling fun for millions of Americans, I don't know what it would be. I've never known a serious angler who didn't have a high regard for the pugnacious bluegill. If they were the same size, those little devils would run every bass out of the lake and eat carp three times a day.

Bluegill aren't big. You're never going to really enjoy fishing for them unless you scale down your tackle to match the size of the fish. I'll take a look in my next two columns at the basics of bluegill fishing. I've caught thousands of these good eating, hard fighting panfish over the past half century. I'll share some of the thoughts I've come by as a result.

You can, of course, catch bluegill on natural baits. Worms fished on a small hook beneath a light float catch bluegills wherever they are found. But it's my contention that natural bait isn't a necessity. It lowers the sport to its lowest common denominator. You can catch all the bluegill you want on small artificial lures. The two best ways to go about it are with a light spinning outfit or a fly rod.

Use your smallest plastic grubs or worms on a small jighead like those shown here. Don't select a jighead that has a hook that is larger than a number 10. The bluegill has a tiny mouth. They won't get hold of a grub hooked on a jighead with a large hook.

In this first column we'll consider only bluegill fishing with spinning tackle. Ultralight spinning gear is made to order for bluegill. Get a light action rod of 5 ½-feet to 6 ½-feet. Equip it with a lightweight open-faced spinning reel. Load the reel with 4-pound test line and you're ready to do business.

Let's consider finding bluegill before we get into how to catch them. If you know the lake you're on holds these wonderful little panfish, ease along the shoreline and watch for feeding activity. Bluegills sometimes give their location away by dimpling the surface as they feed. They make a distinctive little glurp as they take something off the top.

If you spot such activity, don't run over the feeding fish. Stay back 30-feet and cast into the area where the fish are. Bluegills aren't loners. They like company. All year long where you find one there will likely be others, often lots of them. Whenever you catch one, work the entire area carefully. Hit it right and you may wind up catching 50 fish or more without even moving your boat.

You won't find a better way to introduce your kids to fishing than to teach them about catching bluegills.

You won't catch those 50 fish without knowing what lures to pick and how to use them. The most effective small lures I've found for 'gills are miniature plastic curly-tailed worms used behind tiny leadhead jigs in the 1/16th-ounce to 1/32nd- ounce class. The one you'll need depends on the depth at which the fish are holding. If they are fairly deep, use the 1/16th- ounce head. If they are up near the top, switch to the 1/32nd-ounce head.

Whichever leadhead you select, check its hook size carefully. A number 10 hook is ideal for darn near all kinds of bluegill fishing. It's small enough to catch average or larger bluegill, but it's too big for those teensy little guys you don't want to mess with in the first place.

I like to carry at least three basic colors in miniature plastic worms I throw for bluegill: black, white and yellow. I've caught fish on other shades, but these three will usually get the job done. How you manipulate the worms is as important as the color you select. If one color doesn't get results, switch to something else. Let the fish tell you what they want.

As I've mentioned, once you've got a bluegill school pinned down, stay back and cast to it. Let your jig sink, then start a slow retrieve. Make little flips of the rod tip as you reel. The lake I lived on the shore of in southwest Washington State was loaded with bluegill. I don't how many thousand I caught there in five decades of fishing, but it was a bunch. I often fished with a barbless hook to save time and to make it easier to handle the little buggers.

Teensy plastic grubs like those pictured here are ideal for bluegill fishing. Use them on a lightweight spinning rod with 4 to 6-pound line.

One area I fished was elevated so I had opportunity to observe just how bluegill went about taking an artificial lure. I found what they often do is slide up behind the jig. They may follow along with their little blunt nose just a couple of inches behind until the lure. If the lure darts forward like it might be getting away---they grab it. Then they turn and take the lure going away. That's why I stress the importance of flipping your rod tip during the retrieve.

It's also important to not fish your tiny jig and worm too fast. If you're not getting hits up near the surface, let the jig sink and work it back as slowly as you can without hanging. The deeper bluegills are, the more difficult it is to detect strikes. Learn to be a line watcher. If you sense a difference in the feeling being transmitted up your line or if you see the slightest little twitch in your line where it enters the water---set the hook.

You shouldn't have difficulty finding miniature curly tailed plastic worm that are such super baits for bluegill. Stay with the really small sizes. If you're fortunate to get into some spot where the bluegill run big, and I've not found those places often, you may be able to go up in size a bit. Always remember that the bluegill has a very small mouth. Larger worms just won't get the job done.

Keep the size of the bluegill's mouth in mind when you select the miniature leadhead jigs you'll use with your tiny curly tailed worms. Even leadheads as light as 1/32nd-ounce won't work worth a toot if it comes with too large a hook. Again -- a Number 10 is ideal.

In my next column we'll take a look at fly fishing for bluegill.

June 01, 2015

Let's Look at Hooks - Part 2

by Stan Fagerstrom

The well-liked and respected man who gave American anglers their first look at Gamakatsu Hooks was the late Walt Hummel of Washington State.

Walt lived in Woodland, Washington. He was a tackle manufacturer's representative. At the time, I was writing newspaper fishing columns in Walt's area. That's why he gave me samples of the new hooks he was considering bringing to market. I wrote about this in my previous column here.

Jim Ewing, a Southwest Washington steelhead and salmon guide, was also involved in the testing of these brand new hooks. The hooks, of course, were those wondrous new Gamakatsu fish hooks designed by the Japanese.

Jim Ewing was guiding steelhead and salmon anglers on the rivers of Southwest Washington when he tested some new hooks a friend of his was thinking about bringing into the United States.

I've already written about how well these new hooks worked for bass and panfish. I asked my pal Jim how he felt about them for his salmon and steelhead angling. His experience using those hooks for those migratory tackle busters was the same as mine. He flat out loved them.

Jim had worked at an outdoor show in Seattle with Walt before the tackle rep was 100% sure about importing the new Gamakatsu hooks. Jim chuckles when he recalls what Hummel told him then.
"I remember he asked me to go to coffee with him while we were at that show." Jim says, "Walt had evidently decided to go ahead with bringing in the new hooks but he wasn't at all sure exactly how things would work out."

Jim says Walt told him that among other things he'd mortgaged his house and just about everything else to come up with the bucks to put the deal together. "He told me," Jim says, "that I'm going to wind up being a hero or a zero."

The hooks that both Jim Ewing and I had oportunity to test before they were marketed were the brand new Gamakatsu Hooks from Japan. These hooks have had a tremendous world wide impact on the hook market.

Based on my own experience, I would have myself bet some big bucks on how Walt Hummel's decision to make those hooks available in the USA would work out. It turns out my friend Jim Ewing felt exactly the same way.

"In the testing I'd done," Jim says, "I'd never found a bad Gamakatsu hook. I still haven't. That hadn't always been my experience. I was forever having to sharpen some of my other hooks; I'd also had some that turned out to be brittle and I'd actually had some of them bust on me."

"I'd just not experienced the quality and the quality control that came along with these new hooks. Like I said, in all the fishing I've done with them since I've never ever found a bad Gamakatsu hook."

It wouldn't be difficult, I expect, to find a whole bunch of anglers who'll tell you the same thing. This would be particularly true of old timers like myself who can easily recall some of the difficulties they sometimes had with their hooks before these new Japanese imports became were available.

You'll find a number of other darn good hooks on today's market, but as far as I'm concerned, it was the new Gamakatsu hooks that brought in what amounted to hook upgrades all over the place. I'm not aware that there were others of the same quality when Walt Hummel started bringing in his new Japanese imports.

Guide Jim Ewing washes off a bright new steelhead he has just taken from Southwest Washington's Cowlitz River.

I have some other reasons for feeling as I do about the changes the Gamakatsu folks brought about. Besides having had a chance to test their hooks before they ever made it to market, I've also had opportunity to suggest a couple of changes that have been added to their hook inventory.

One of those changes was adding a ringed eye to two models of their extra wide gap superline hooks. If you're into using braid along with your plastics, don't overlook these hooks. I suggested this style of hook to my friends at Gamakatsu after I'd lost a couple of the best bass I'd ever hooked at Mexico's Lake El Salto Lake.

The braided line I'd tied directly to my hook had pulled through that teensy gap left at the eye of the hook. Tying your hook to the rings now available on the special hooks that now have them eliminates that problem and at the same time make it possible. It also makes it a whole lot easier to give the plastic lures you're using with them a better variety of actions.
Do you remember the comment I made in last month's column about things taking on more importance when you have someone you love to share them with? Here, once again, my friend Jim Ewing steps back into picture.

I've always been up to my ears in bass and panfish fishing. Jim, after he got to Washington State, was only guiding for steelhead and salmon. Once we got into a detailed discussions of the new Gamakatsu Hooks and the revolutionary changes they'd started in that tackle field, it wasn't long before we started sharing a boat.

My friend Jim Ewing shared some techniques that helped me put my share of steelhead on the river bank. I think he'll tell you I also shared some bass and panfish catching tactics that have helped him in those angling endeavors.

I fished steelhead in his rig and he started joining me in my bass boat. I'm pretty handy with a bass rod or a spinning outfit but when it comes to things of a mechanical nature I've got about the same levels of talent as a billygoat. My wife says there's even a physical resemblance of sorts, but we won't go into that.

I do recall Jim's comment once when I couldn't figure out exactly how to get his big truck to drag his drift boat out of the Cowlitz while he was still on board. The truck had more buttons and knobs and on and off switches than a B-29. When I climbed back out of the cab to say I was sorry, but I was reluctant to drive it, I've never forgotten Jim's response. He said "It's okeh, Stan. I know you'd help me if I was crippled." Ouch!

Anyhow, Jim's mechanical abilities more than made up for those I didn't possess. He wound up towing my bass boat wherever we wanted it to go and opened a whole lot of fishing doors I'd not opened before. I think he'll tell you we had one helluva lot of good times together.

And those Gamakatsu hooks I've been talking about had a hand in our doing that, as well as helping us take the hundreds of fish we've managed to put into both his boat and mine.

May 04, 2015

Let's Look at Hooks - Part 1

by Stan Fagerstrom

I never really got to know my dad until he finally retired from his labors and was able to join me on some of my fishing adventures.

I cherish the time we spent together. It gave me opportunity to realize just what a great guy he was and how much I loved him. I also remember something he told me that I've been using as a yardstick of sorts in my own life ever since.

"Son," my dad said one day while were fishing, "always remember there ain't nuthin' worth all that much unless you can share it with someone you love."

I found that bit of proof surfacing when I was asked to do a column about some of the changes I've seen in fishing tackle in the many, many years I've been up to ears in the sport, both as an angler and in writing about it.

I had a whopper like this straighten out a 4/0 hook for me once. That hasn't happened since Gamakatsu Hooks became available.

I've done a whole lot of fishing alone. Living right on a darn good lake as I did for years with my boat anchored about 60-feet from our front door made that easy. All I had to do was just to grab my gear and go. There was waiting no waiting for anyone, no debate over where on the lake to fish, when to go, when to stop, etc., etc.

No doubt about it though, when I nailed a good one I missed not having someone to share my excitement. I also wasn't able to get a picture or two once I got the hooks out of a big one before I turned it loose.

The names of a couple of the best fishing friends I've ever had surfaced immediately when I got a request asking me to do a column about the tackle changes I've seen. Most of my angling experience when I met one of those friends for the first time had been in the field of bass and panfish angling.

I'm convinced the biggest change I've witnessed where fish hooks are concerned was when a friend started importing Japanese made Gamakatsu Hooks back in 1983.

I lived in Washington State at the time. I'd done a bit of steelhead and salmon fishing but mainly just enough to realize how much more I had to learn. The guy who changed that for me was named James Ewing. He lived in the community of Longview in the southwest part of the Evergreen State. For that matter he still does.

Hooks were the tackle item subject I decided to first write about in detailing some of the tackle changes I'd seen. To me that made nothing but good sense. Nothing is more basic or more important when it comes to putting fish in the boat than the hook you have at the end of the line.

My first experience in that regards came a long, long time. Believe it or not, it's not all that now from being a hundred years ago. The first fish I ever caught was a little bullhead catfish that grabbed the grasshopper I was using for bait. The fish came from a lazy little creek not far from the small North Dakota wheat farm where my folks were trying to eke out a living way back in the last century.

The grasshopper that little bullhead grabbed was impaled on a bent safety pin my father had fashioned into a hook. My folks couldn't afford anything else. If that doesn't convince you I have indeed seen my share of hook changes in the countless decades that have come and gone since that North Dakota Experience I don't know what would.

Gamakatsu Hooks helped cement the companionship I was to enjoy with Jim Ewing, of Longview, Washington. We both did some testing of the new Gamakatsu Hooks before they eventually were brought to market.

Actually, the biggest single change I've ever seen in the production of hooks wasn't as far back as you might expect. As far as I'm concerned it came about when some brand new hooks were brought into the United States for the first time.

There had been other changes since I'd used that safety pin hook, of course, but 1983 was when hooks bearing the name "Gamakatsu" first came onto the angling scene here in the United States. As far as I'm concerned that was the most significant and meaningful hook change I ever saw happen.

I'd actually had a chance to do some test fishing with early samples of these new hooks before they were ever brought to market. They were the sharpest darn things I'd ever tied to a leader but some of the early samples I'd tested had a tendency to bend too easily.

I suppose an experience I'd had not too long before testing those samples hooks influenced my thinking a bit. I'd wound up losing one of the biggest bass I'd ever hooked on my home lake. I'd been fishing heavy pad cover with a pork chunk on a 4/0 hook when that big bass smashed it.

I hooked that fish solidly, but then it took off and went ripping away through the pads. I did my best to slow it down. That whopper kept right on going and bent that 4/0 hook almost straight out in the process.

The man who was considering importing these new hooks for the American market was a friend of mine. That hook I'd had that big bass straighten wasn't one of the samples I'd been testing. I had, however, found that a couple of ones I was testing did bend just a tad when I'd hung a snag. I told my friend about my experience.

I've taken thousands of bass and panfish with my Gamakatsu Hooks. Once I got together with Jim Ewing I also started using them to put my share of
steelhead and salmon on the bank or in a boat. Here I slide a nice one up on the shore of Southwest Washington's Toutle River.

I shared my sentiments with him. He was a tad unhappy to hear what I said but he obviously passed my single criticism along because when I got the second batch to try that bending had been totally eliminated. I wound up convinced these new hooks were a whole lot better than anything I'd ever used---bar none.

Remember now, I was using those new sample hooks I was testing mainly for bass and panfish. And this is where my friend Jim Ewing enters the picture.

I was just itchin' to let the readers of my fishing columns know what I thought of those new hooks. At the time Jim was guiding for both steelhead and salmon in the rivers of Southwest Washington.

I'd heard Jim had also been testing the new hooks. As soon as I had a chance I asked him to provide the details of his own experience. I was well aware that few fish put more of a test on hooks that those sleek silvery battlers just in from the Pacific.
Watch for my next column. I'll share what my pal Jim had to say and why we've both been using these Gamakatsu hooks ever since.

-To Be Continued-

April 01, 2015

You Better Learn To Look - Part 2

by Stan Fagerstrom

Somehow I just knew that fish was going to hit.

If you read my last column you know I told about being up to my boot tops in Southwest Washington's beautiful Kalama River. I'd felt what I thought was a spring steelhead pick up my bait but it didn't stick with it.

My bait of eggs still looked all right after I'd reeled in. I had noticed what appeared to be a tiny white spot on my leader a few inches up from my hook. It didn't look like it was big enough to pose a problem. Besides, I just couldn't wait to get my bait back out there again.

I cast and my bait plopped into the river. I felt my sinker bumping and thumping its way along the river bottom. Then there it was again---that hard to define sensation that my bait had stopped but not because my sinker had hung up. I hesitated a heartbeat and then snapped back with the tip of my rod.

Fish on! If you've ever had to good fortune to tangle with one of those early spring steelhead on the Kalama you'll know I'm not exaggerating what happened next. That fish went absolutely berserk! It came bursting up through the surface and hurled and twisted itself up so it was as high as my head. I brought my rod into position to try to fight this first Kalama springer I'd ever hooked. My rod was almost pulled from my grip as the fish boiled up again and then there was that sickening slack in my line and I knew the fish was gone.

I hope someone took the time to teach this little guy just how important it is to always look at your gear between casts to be sure it's in good shape.

You better hope your line, leader and knots are in good shape when you get a good steelhead in as close as I had this one. Taking time to take a little look at your gear between casts will give you that assurance. My heart was still pounding as I reeled in. Remember that teensy white spot I'd seen on monofilament not far up from my bait just before I cast? That's where my leader had parted.

And that's why you see why the title I selected for this two part column really fits. I learned a lesson that day. It's one you'll eventually learn yourself if you do much fishing. Perhaps you already have.

Certainly it's extremely important that you make sure all your gear is in great shape before you even start fishing. You can't stress too much the importance of tying your knots properly, having sharp hooks, etc., etc.

Do you check your knots to your lures from time to time. This is so important after catching a fish or sometimes when you've had to keep yanking and stressing your knot after hanging up on a snag.

But what's often overlooked, and there are plenty of occasions when it's probably even more important, is not checking your gear repeatedly after the fishing actually starts. Actually, it was a recent suggestion from somebody who knows just how darn important what I'm writing about is that you're seeing these last two columns.

I shot the picture you see here of a youngster fishing steelhead on a Washington State River a long time ago. I hope someone took time to teach him how important it is to continually keep an eye on your tackle.

One such individual who does is my good friend Bob Schmidt, the general manager of a tackle company called Mack's Lure. Bob's the guy who calls the shots at this growing Washington State tackle company that's enjoying a steadily increasing impact of its products among anglers all over the country.

It's important, of course, to have the hooks on your lures sharp before you ever cast one out there. Be just as sure they remain in good shape by looking them over carefully once the fishing starts.

Here's that Bob had to say when he sent me a recent e-mail: "I have an idea," Bob said, "for an article you might want to do sometime. I know in the past you've done stories on getting your gear ready to go. The idea I have is different in that it would stress the importance of checking knots and leaders while you actually out there fishing."

Bob, my friend, I wish you'd of been around to share that truth with me back there when I hooked my first steelhead on the Kalama. Why? Because if I'd of simply followed your advice I'd probably have put that fish on the bank.

Schmidt, unlike certain tackle makers I've known and worked with over the years, is a fisherman himself. And he's a dang good one. I've fished with him often enough to know. I also know he'll be the first to tell you he's made mistakes of his own---but when he does he learns from them and unlike some of the rest of us he doesn't make ‘em again.

You're looking at an expert who has "learned to look" at every item of his gear each time he's on the water. Here he displays proof that his approach gets the results he's after. Bob Schmidt is the general manager of Mack's Lure, a company located in Washington State. Among other things, Bob's company has introduced those wondrous little Mack's Lure Smile Blades that have attracted the attention of anglers all over the world.

"As an angler," Bob says, "I well know the frustration of a knot failing. I have even had it happen when fishing with professional guides on knots they had tied to their swivels. Checking knots, and checking your line for nicks at the start of the day, and after a catch, and especially after temporarily having snagged up is always a good idea. A season has yet to go by where I haven't been glad I replaced a leader or retied a knot at least one time."

Let's face it, that's just about as solid advice as you can come by. I didn't have any trouble at all coming up with how I managed to lose the first spring steelhead I hooked. And as much as I hate to admit it, I don't have the slightest difficulty remembering other occasions where if I'd simply followed the advice Bob has shared it would have also meant more fish in the boat.

What hurts even more is that the type of common mistake he details often involve some of the biggest fish you'll ever get a hook into. It has happened to me twice on Mexico's Lake El Salto and when it did both times I felt like kicking my butt all the way back to the bank!

Don't wait until you've been around as long as I have to build checking your gear often and repeatedly each time you're out there on a lake or stream. Learn to look---and don't wait until you have a stringer empty of fish but full of regrets for not having done so.

February 27, 2015

You Better Learn to Look - Part 1

by Stan Fagerstrom

I remember it like it happened yesterday.

I had finally managed to get home again after World War 11 finally ended and I had the "Fishin' Itch" so bad it was about to drive me bonkers. I couldn't begin to count the number of times out there in the jungles of the South Pacific when I'd been wondering if I was ever going to get the chance to even get home again.

But the war did end and once I finally got out of the hospital and was discharged from the Army I almost immediately began working for The Daily News in Longview, Washington. The city editor of the newspaper at the time was a man named Gordon Quarnstrom. He was one of the sharpest and most talented newspapermen I was ever blessed to encounter.

What that man didn't know he sure as heck suspected. It didn't take him long to realize just how deeply I was hooked on fishing. I'd only been there a couple of months before he asked if I'd like to start doing a fishing column for the newspaper. He even suggested we call it "Nibbles & Bites".

Writing about something I love as much as I do fishing and it's almost more like fun than work. One of the fringe benefits was to get to know many of the area's leading experts in the different fields of angling. One of those men was named Blaine Albert.

Old time anglers from that area and that time will remember Blaine. Blaine was one of the most knowledgeable steelhead anglers in Southwest Washington. I also knew the Kalama River was one of his favorite steelhead rivers, especially when when the first of the summer run steelhead was just making its way into the Columbia's tributaries.

You'll never walk away from the river with a beauty like this until you learn to be sure your rod and reel are ready to do what's required of them.

If you're familiar with Southwest Washington you're aware the Kalama dumps into the mighty Columbia not too far downriver from Portland. It's also only about a 20 minute drive from the Longview-Kelso community where we were living at the time on the Washington side of the big river.

I'd known Blaine for quite some time before I actually got to fish with him. What happened when I did is why you see the title of this column---You Better Learn To Look.

I hadn't yet earned sufficient bucks to put together much of a steelhead fishing outfit. The early day type of spinning reel I owned isn't even made any more. I still recall very clearly what Blaine had to say when he first saw my gear.

I don't care whether it's crappies or chinook salmon, check your gear between casts.

At the time monofilament line had just made its first solid entry onto the fishing scene. The first of those then new lines don't bear much resemblance to the variety of excellent lines available to us today. Those first mono lines could kink and break in a heartbeat and that was why Blaine said what he did when he saw it was one of those then new lines I had on my reel and was using as a leader.

"Stan," he warned, "these new lines cast all right but you've got to be really careful with them. Check your knots and the last couple of feet of your line or leader between casts. You're going to wind up busting something if you don't."

Today, more than a half century later, I know just how solid Blaine's advice was. Unfortunately, I didn't realize just how soon the prediction he'd made about busting something would happen. It's as important that you follow Blaine's advice on the fishing trips you make tomorrow as it was way for me way back there in the middle of the last century.

Blaine knew I didn't have a car to get to the Kalama. He invited me to join him and said we'd be hitting the Kalama in the late afternoon. He'd already told me that just before dark was one of the best times of the day to hook one of those energy loaded new springers.

It didn't take long for us to reach one of Blaine's favorite drifts on the lower river. He told me we'd both be using salmon eggs for bait. He had me wade out into the river a ways, then cast on out toward the far shore and let the drift sinker attached to my leader take my eggs down so they'd drifted along the bottom with the river's current.

Got a little guy or gal you're teaching how to fish? Stress the importance of keeping a sharp and careful eye on their gear.

I'd made only a half dozen casts before my lead stopped bouncing for a couple of heartbeats and I felt a slight movement out there under the current I'd not felt before. I set the hook but without any result.

Remember now, I was brand new to drift fishing for steelhead at the time. Even so, I was almost certain something had picked up by bait of eggs and then let go. I couldn't wait to cast out again. When I reeled in I thought I could detect a tiny white spot several inches up my leader.

Did I take time to check it out? No way! I couldn't wait to get my eggs back out there again. I'd been told it wasn't uncommon for steelhead to grab a bait more solidly the second time around. As I cast again I managed to get my eggs right where they'd landed the first time.

Lots of bass anglers use a little snap like this to attach their lures. Always check now and then to be certain they are closed the way they should be. You can lose a dandy if you don't.

Did I hook my first summer steelhead on that second cast? Should I have taken time to check my leader before I got my eggs back out there? I'll be providing the answer in my next column. You'll find it right here beginning April 1.

-To Be Continued-

January 30, 2015

An Expert Picks His Products - Part 4

by Stan Fagerstrom

Allan Ranson's third lure choice is probably going to surprise you as much as it did me.

If you've read my past three columns you know they've been devoted to sharing certain thoughts of one of the country's top experts on bass fishing and the building of the baits that catch ‘em.

That man, Allan Ranson, is one of the top executives of the Strike King Lure Company. Strike King needs no introduction to knowledgeable bass anglers. For years the company has been producing some of the most consistently productive baits you can hang on a rod.

I got Ranson to agree to name the three lures his company markets that he'd select if they were the only ones he could use on his own next three fishing trips. One of the reasons I asked Ranson that question wasn't just because he's been up to his butt in the business of building baits for decades. My primary reason for seeking his response is I knew he was just as deeply involved as a bass angler himself as he is in bringing to market the baits that help you, me---and him---put more bass in the boat.

Few men in this business of fishing have a broader knowledge of lures today's bass anglers are throwing that the man you see here. He's Allan Ranson, a top executive of the Strike King Lure Company and for decades an ardent bass angler himself.

In my last two columns I've named the first two lures Allan selected. Both were specially made Strike King worms. One was the Super Finesse Worm; the second was another type of worm called the Zero. I've also detailed why this Strike King executive named these lures as well as telling you how he uses them.

But like I've indicated, it was his third choice that threw me for a couple of loops. It has been out there but I'd never heard of it. My guess is you might not have either. Something else Ranson had to say indicates I might be right on both counts.

The hard bodied bait he named as his third choice is the Strike King Wake Shad. The lure is a specially designed top water version of the jointed King Shad. Like I said, I didn't know it existed.

The lure you're eyeballing in this picture is a Strike King Wake Shad. Allan Ranson will tell you few lures turn bass on like this ones will do when conditions are right. He maintains it's the next best thing to dynamite when the water is quiet and bass as well as some other species of sports fish spot the interesting wake this lure is leaving on the surface. There are times when those fish seemingly can't resist taking a whack at whatever it is up there that's doing it.

But though I hadn't heard about this specific lure, when Allan detailed for me exactly what this lure is designed to do it kicked my bass fishing memory in the rear big time. Allan's third and final third lure selection reminds me, you see, of one of my own first bass fishing experiences.

It was way back when I was in my early teens and just getting into bass fishing. I lived in the city of Longview, Washington at the time. Longview is located in the southwest portion of the Evergreen State and borders the Columbia River.

One of the kids I went to school with was from Alabama. His dad and his dad's brother were experienced bass fishermen. My classmate asked if I'd like to go along when he and his dad and his dad's brother went to one of the nearby log ponds to do some bass fishing. These ponds were backwaters of the Columbia River and used by local lumber mills for log storage. At the time these ponds contained an abundant population of both bass and panfish.

I was brand new to the Pacific Northwest having just arrived there a year or so before from North Dakota. I didn't know beans about bass fishing but I'd been reading every darn thing I could find about it. I was really interested in how my friend's father and his brother would go about trying to catch a few.

The first lure they both used when we reached the log pond was one called a Heddon Basser. They threw this lure out to the edge of the log pond shoreline and then left it alone for a few seconds before twitching it around a bit. Keep the name of this lure in mind because I'll be mentioning it again.

This picture clearly shows the fish-attracting wake the Strike King Wake Shad leaves on quiet water. That's what it's designed to do and you can still keep your rod in position to set the hook when a fish grabs it.

This is a close up of Strike King's Wake Shad. These interesting and effective lures are presently still available in a variety of different surface shades. This one is a gizzard shad.

It was what the two men did a little later that really got my attention. The water in the log pond as late evening came was completely quiet and flat. Long shadows were moving out from the western side of the pond's shoreline.

The two men changed lures. What they did with these lures was to cast them way out into the pond and just leave their lures alone until all of the disturbance of their splashing down had gone away. Then they started reeling them back ever so slowly. Their lures were just barely wiggling as they started back but that movement was sufficient to leave "V" shaped wakes behind them on the pond's quiet surface.

The lure my friend's father was using was about halfway back to the bank when---Wham! The bass that had smashed it turned out to be just a tad less than 4-pounds. That fish branded a memory into my brain that's every darn bit as clear today as it was all those years ago.

I made sure to find out the name of those wake-leaving lures those men were both throwing. Both turned out to be those called Heddon Vamp Spooks. You won't find either the Heddon Basser or the Heddon Vamp Spooks being marketed today.

There's a reason, of course, why I've shared these memories. Even as new to bass fishing as I was at the time I knew it had to be the wake those large Heddon lures were making that had gotten the attention of the pond's bass.

Just listen to what Allan Ranson has to say about why the new Wake Shad was developed by Strike King. "Using a wake creating lure," Allan says, "is a neat technique used most often during the post spawn period on deeper lakes around the country. On a calm day the wake the lure leaves spreads out on a lake's surface and can attract bass from a long way off.

"The problem with lures used for this purpose in the past was that they had to be reeled excruciatingly slow while holding your rod tip up to keep them from diving and losing the fish attracting wake. We designed the Wake Shad for the angler to be able to do this at faster speeds without having to hold his rod tip up and not getting a good hook set as a result."

See why I shared that little bit of my own memory of my early day bass fishing? I saw exactly what Allan Ranson is talking about actually happen. I've used a technique similar to what I'd witnessed so long ago off and on down through the years. I've not used it often because as Allan says the lures I tried to do it with were usually next to impossible to get to perform in a fashion that would give me exactly the results I was after.

Now I'll be danged if Strike King hasn't come up with a lure especially designed to get that job done. Let me also share a couple of Allan's other comments in this regard. "Stan," he told me, "my own use of this lure has caused me to fall in love with it. I've learned there are times when the fish simply go wild over it. I've seen largemouth, smallmouth and hybrid stripers go absolutely crazy over it and this was after they wouldn't hit other topwater baits fished in a normal fashion. I've found it is also great sometimes to fish it fast like a buzzbait over flooded grass and other cover."

It's another statement Allan also made that brought about some action on my part. You may recall that I mentioned this in an earlier column. I don't care how good a lure might be in the hands of someone who knows how to use it, the company marketing it won't continue to do so unless it sells. I've had to deal with this myself more than once in my own bass fishing lifetime. Listen to what Allan Ranson has to say about this.

"Our Wake Shad has not been discovered by bass fishermen and our sales of it are so low we may have to drop it, but that would crush my heart! It's too bad so few guys know about it and the ones that do are trying so hard to keep it a secret. Rest assured that if we do have to discontinue making it I will have plenty for my own use before it happens."

Remember that Heddon Basser I saw in action for the first time all those years ago at the long pond? When I lived on the actual shoreline of Washington State's best bass lake for 35 years a Heddon Basser in a perch finish was the most effective lure I owned. It had to be fished just right, of course, but once you learned how to do that it was tough to beat.

But what did the Heddon Company which brought that lure to market do? They dropped it! I couldn't wait to find out just why in the hell a company would quit making the best bait I had in my tackle box. My longtime friend, the late Homer Circle, was handling public relations for Heddon at the time. The answer he provided was simple and to the point: "It's just not selling well. We drop those lures that don't."

As I've already mentioned a couple of times in previous columns Allan Ranson is my friend. I know what he stands for and I'm aware of the integrity and experience he has brought into the building of bass baits. He tells it like it is. Strike King may one day have to drop their new Wake Shad. Like Allan says he's going to have a few in event that does have to happen. So will I. As a matter of fact, I already have.

If you fail to do the same it won't be because I've not told you about what might happen. And if you know Allan Ranson as I do you won't waste any time getting a couple for yourself.

January 09, 2015

An Expert Picks His Products – Part 3

by Stan Fagerstrom

There's no mystery why one of the most knowledgeable "Behind the Scenes" bass fishermen I've ever met selects the lures he does whenever he climbs in his bass boat.

That man is the friend I've told you about in my past two columns. Allan Ranson is a top executive of the Strike King Lure Company. For years, he has helped develop and direct the activities of this record setting Tennessee based lure building operation.

I called Ranson a "Behind the Scenes" bass fishing expert because I like to think I know one when I see them. My qualifications? Well, for starters I began writing about bass fishing way back in 1946. I've covered professional fishing events all over the United States for decades.

You're looking at a man who has a whole lot to do with producing some of the lures you probably use in your own bass fishing. He's Allan Ranson, one of the top executives of Tennessee based Strike King Lures.

It all started when I covered the first bass Bassmasters Classic on Lake Mead in 1971. Among other things, I covered all but two of the first 30 Bassmasters Classics and for most of these events, I was actually in the boat with one of the Classic qualifiers as he did his best to walk away this most wanted to all bass tournament trophies.

I've also had the good fortune to witness the competitive events of other bass fishing organizations ranging from the former Red Man operation to Bassin' Gal and Lady Bass a number of others.

And finally, at the risk of being accused of thumping my own tub, you'll find I've been voted into the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame as well as the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame. So I like to think I do know my bass from a hole in the ground and that I really know bassin' expertise when I see it.

Allan Ranson himself neatly sums up why I pin that knowledgeable expert label on his Strike King shirt. "I love to catch fish as much or more than the next guy," he says, "so I am always trying to increase the odds in my favor every way I can. Certain lures have a knack for catching more fish than others and those are the ones I like to be using.
Three of the lures Strike King makes are my favorites because they are unique and deadly at tricking fish into biting. Each of these three lures has proven over and over to me to be really special."

If you've read my last two columns, you're aware that I've managed to get my friend Allan to name the three Strike King Lures he'd select if they were the only baits he could use on his next three bass fishing trips. That's a darn tough question for someone in his position, but he has managed to do it.

The first of the three lures Allan named was the Strike King Super Finesse Worm. In my last column I detailed why he had made this choice. In this, the third column in this series, let's look closely at his second selection.

What three lures would Allan Ranson select if that's all he could use for his next few fishing trips? These Zero Worms would be one of them.

"The second of the three baits I'd pick," he says, "is the Strike King Zero. The Zero is a Senko style stick worm that is made out of our ElaZtech material. What makes these baits so good is that when they are falling to the bottom on a slack line they shimmy or shake along the way. Each end of the lure is wiggling back and forth as it falls.

"To make a plastic bait do this, they need to be really soft and contain lots of salt. The more salt you put into such baits the faster they sink. The problem with so many of these baits you see on the market is that they tear up so easily as a result of being so soft and having so much salt. The ElaZtech material of the Zero is certainly more durable."

Ranson will tell you he loves to fish this worm Texas Style. He fishes it weightless and gets the rate of fall he wants by changing the size of the hook he uses with it. The larger the hook, the faster the bait drops.

Allan Ranson has spent a whole lot of time in a bass boat himself. He has fished all over the place with a huge variety of lures.

He often uses a 6-foot, 9-inch fairly heavy action spinning rod with 20- to 30-pound braided line to skip cast the Zero up under bushes, piers and docks. "It's a ‘Killer Technique", he says. "If I'm fishing around grass, I'll rig it Wacky Style."

Ranson says Strike King considered calling this bait the "Census Taker" when they first introduced it. "It's one of those baits," he says, "that you feel like if a bass just sees it they're going to hit it."

"You'll find that the more you throw one of these Zeros," Allan says, "that it's going to eventually lose some of its salt. It's still not going to tear up on you, but you may want to change if it's not dropping as fast as you want."

Allan Ranson often fishes these Zero Worms Wacky Style. He also likes to cast them up under potential bass holding cover.

In one of my earlier columns, I mentioned that one of the lures Ranson had picked as one of his favorite three caused some action on my part and that you might feel the same way. Keep an eye out for my next column. I'll tell you what that third lure Allan Ranson named is and why I feel as I do about it.

It's something you might not be using in your own approach to bass fishing – and you're missing one heck of a great technique if you aren't. You'll find all the details right here beginning Feb. 1.

-To Be Continued-

December 02, 2014

An Expert Picks His Products — Part 2

by Stan Fagerstrom

I suspect any bassin' man who knows the difference between a bass and a barracuda has at least a few plastic worms in his bait box.

The lure marketing and bass catchin' wizard I told you about in my column here last month certainly does. I'm talking, of course, about Allan Ranson. Allan's one of the guys who calls the shots at the Strike King Lure Company.

If you know beans about bassin', you're aware that Strike King has for years been coming up with bass baits that have won trophies and big bucks in professional bass fishing contests from coast to coast.

See the worm that's securely pinned to the mug of this dandy smallmouth? It's a Strike King Super Finesse Worm. You'll find Allan Ranson taking them along every time he climbs into a bass boat. Ranson is a top executive of the Tennessee based lure company and himself an expert bass angler.

As I detailed in my previous column, Allan Ranson is just as deep into bass fishing as are the pros who set all those records with the lures the company he helps direct produces. I got him to promise to tell me the three lures he'd select if they were to be the only ones he could use for his next three bass fishing adventures.

Get into bass fishing as deep and for as long as I have and you are probably aware of just how doggone hard it would be for a guy in Ranson's boots to come up with an answer that wouldn't keep him awake at nights.

Well, he's done it. And that's why I mentioned plastic worms in starting this column. Because, you see, it was different styles of plastic worms that Allan chose as his first two of the three lures he'd pick if he was restricted to only three on his next few bass fishing trips.

These Super Finesse Worms are especially durable. The material they're made of let's them float. When weighted they'll stand up and move when they reach the bottom of the water you're fishing.

I also made a second promise in last month's column. That promise was, besides getting Ranson to identify the three lures he'd select, that I'd also get him to tell us why those lures were picked.

If you follow Strike King's products (and you're missing a bet if you don't), you'll recognize the one called the Super Finesse Worm. That's the #1 lure on Allan's three lure list.

This lure worm has been around for awhile. Strike King introduced it in 2003 as a part of a new line of soft baits called 3X. The material used in the lure was considered revolutionary because it was softer and more flexible than traditional soft plastic baits.

"You could hardly break one in two by just pulling on it," Ranson says, "but it could easily be penetrated by a hook point. It was incredibly strong despite its softness."

Remember what I said before about Allan Ranson really "knowing" the baits Strike King markets? If you don't, consider what he discovered about the new material used in the Super Finesse Worms when he took some lizard-style lures made of it on a trip to Mexico's fabled lake El Salto.

Allan Ranson has been with the Strike King Lure Company for 18 years. One of very favorite lures of this top executive of one of the country's leading lure producers is the company's Super Finesse Worm. He keeps one of his spinning rods rigged with it every time he's on the water.

"I tested one of the first 3X lizard style lures," Allan says. "For two days, I intentionally used the same lure to put more than 40 bass running from 2 to 7-pounds in the boat. The lure was still in decent shape when I finally replaced it with another one."

One of the few things Allan and his crew didn't like about the lures made from this wondrous new material was that in the beginning, it was on the sticky side and couldn't be consistently impregnated with salt. Those early problems have since been eliminated.

"Several years of research and development improved the material," Ranson told me. "The sticky problem has been virtually eliminated and now the material can be impregnated with varying amounts of salt."

Today, lots of lure producers are marketing finesse plastic worms of one kind or another. The folks at Strike King will that you that its ElaZtech Super Finesse worms are in a class by themselves. They aren't the only ones who say that. One of the Strike King lure catalogs I looked at before writing this column carried a picture and comment from of a guy named "Kevin VanDam". For some reason or other, that name sounds familiar to me.

Among other things, this guy "Kevin" said the 7-inch Strike King Super Finesse salt impregnated worm was his ‘go-to' favorite.

I'm only kidding, of course, where KVD is concerned. I've followed his career from day one — we all know VanDam is often called the best bassin' man who ever climbed into a boat. As you're likely aware, one of the reasons so many feel this way him is because he's won four Bassmasters Classic, an event often called "The World Series of Professional Bass Fishing".

Kevin's comments in that Strike King catalog say a mouthful, as far as I'm concerned. Some of the other things Allan told me about these worms make it even more plain why both he and VanDam feel as they do about their effectiveness.

That smallmouth might not be smiling but the guy who caught it sure is. He's caught thousands of bass on special worms like this one grabbed.

"Everybody knows," Allan says, "that a finesse worm rigged shaky style on a jighead is one of the most deadly rigs for bass. Due to the flotation of the material used in it, our Super Finesse Worm stands up off the bottom. Its softness enables it to quiver and shake with minimal rod movements."

The result, of course, is that the worm's position, along with its movements and softness, make it look a whole lot more alive than worms made from other materials that just lay right where they've flopped on the bottom.

Allan says he uses a 7-inch Finesse Worm along with a Strike King Tour Grade jighead with a specially designed barb that does a great job of holding the worm right where it needs to be. He always keeps one of these setups rigged and ready, whether his bass fishing adventures take him to the water in June or January.

Once Allan had told me about his first lure choice, I asked him what kind of a rod and reel he used to present it. "I love to throw it with the G.Loomis GLX or NRX 6-foot, 8-inch spinning rod," he says. "I load my reel with 8-pound fluorocarbon line."

That wraps up what one of the country's most knowledgeable bassin' men has to say about just one of his three favorite lures. Stay tuned for next month's column. I'll provide the name of the second lure my friend Ranson picked and I'll again detail the reasons behind his choice.

-To Be Continued-

October 31, 2014

An Expert Picks His Products — Part 1

by Stan Fagerstrom

I'm one of the luckiest old timers who ever picked a tangled backlash out of his level wind reel.

And when I mention luck, I'm not thinking of the wondrous opportunities I've had to fish from the Amazon to Alaska or the fish I've put in the boat from Nevada to New Zealand.
What's kicking around in my head as I sit down to do this column is just how fortunate I've been to get to know some of the guys you don't often read about in the fishing reports.

But the men I have in mind are every bit as important in the fishing world as those who do get the headlines — even more so. The men I'm thinking about are those who operate behind the scenes. They are the men who create and oversee the production of the lures you, me and those dudes who do get to walk away with the tournament trophies use to put fish in the boat.

When I mentioned my good fortune, I was thinking of a few such individuals I've been especially blessed to be able to call my friends. I want to tell you about just one of them in this and my next column.

Allan Ranson started out with the Strike King Lure Company, of Collierville, Tennessee, 18 years ago. For years he has helped guide the activities of this highly regarded producer of many of the nation's top fishing lures — especially those used to put bass in the boat.

The man I have in mind was still in the fingerling stage when he got his introduction to bass fishing. His dad used to take him along on his fishing adventures near the family home at Lake Hamilton down in Arkansas. By the time he was 12 years old, he was into tying his own flies and polishing the skills required to put fish in the boat.

Four years later when he was 16, he took Mark Davis — a winning bass tournament pro you have read about — for his first ride in a bass boat. Mark was 13 at the time. The man I'm writing about stayed associated with the tools required for bass fishing when he was out of school in the summertime by working at a local sporting goods store.

This kid was just as good with the figures and facts he encountered in school as he was with his bass baits. He graduated from Lake Side High School at Hot Springs, Arkansas in 1978, was in the Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity at the University of Arkansas and graduated in 1982 with a degree in accounting. He went on to become a CPA, a craft he was engaged in for the next 14 years.

Allan Ranson has spent has spent more time in a bass boat than some of the professional bass tournament winners you read so much about.

Fortunate indeed are those relatively few individuals who are able to merge their God given talents with the love they have for their favorite recreational interests. I make that comment in part based on my own good fortune to have done much the same thing.

That's exactly what the man I'm writing about has done. Today this man, Allan Ranson, has been with the Strike King Lure Company, headquartered at Collierville, Tennessee, for the past 18 years. Since 1997, he has been the company's chief operating officer. He became a minority owner in 2002 and today is in charge of all Strike King operations except sales.

Ask anyone who knows him as I do and they'll tell you — Allan is also one of the most respected and well liked individuals in his field of endeavor. In the beginning, I mentioned how fortunate I felt having had opportunity to get to know a few of the individuals who operate behind the scenes in the field of fishing lure production. Allan Ranson is the very first of these individuals who came to mind. I'm proud to call him my friend.

This executive of one of the nation's top lure marketing companies puts his faith and his family at the very top of his daily existence. He's also manages to share his knowledge and love of bass fishing with his family. He is pictured here with his son Alex after they had won a bass fishing contest.

I could probably devote the next three pages to detailing why I feel as I do about Allan, but I'm only going to get into one of the thoughts knowing him immediately brings to mind.

If you know a bass from a bullfrog, you're aware of the up front and center place the Strike King Lure Company plays in the role of fishing lure production. The company has provided more than its share of the tools that some of the nation's top bass anglers have used in their record-setting careers.

It was a question I once asked Allan that provided the primary basis for what you're reading right now, and the theme that will be continued in my next two columns. The question was simply this: "What three Strike King lures would you select, my friend, if that's all you could use on your next three bass fishing trips?"

Allan Ranson's wife will tell you she'll never be up to ears in bass fishing. Be that as it may, Rhonda Ranson does get her share of fish when she does choose to do it. This nice fish was just one of the many she boated when she accompanied her husband to Anglers Inn on Mexico's fabled Lake El Salto.

Just pretend, if you will, that you're standing in Allan's boots as you attempt to answer that question. Here you are, a much respected top executive at one of the country's top fishing lure producers. You could walk through the front door of the Strike King Lure Company today and walk out with all the lures you could carry with no questions asked.

But what would you select if you could only take away three? And why would you select them? The more experienced you are, the more difficult it would probably be to answer. That's because you know darn well what's really more important on any bass fishing trip is that it's what those fickle buggers with the big mouths want that really counts.

I posed that three lure question to Allan Ranson earlier this year. He took some time to answer. I could hardly wait to find out what his answers were going to be. That's partly because I'm fully familiar with his background. I knew just how broad is the base of experience and knowledge from which his selections were to be made.

Allan Ranson will tell you he always keeps one of his rods rigged with a certain Strike King lure lure every time he's on the water looking for bass. Watch for the details on what that lure is and how this internationally recognized expert uses it in the December issue of this column.

Allan, you see, besides being immersed daily with reams of intricate details regarding bass lures and an almost unlimited knowledge of the variety of techniques in which these lures are used, is just as deeply involved as a bass angler himself. He has spent darn near as much time in a bass boat as some of the pros. And some of the estimated 2,600 days he has spent in those bass boats has been in company with some of the bass fishing pros whose names you'd recognize in a heartbeat.

He fishes just as much as you and I do — maybe more. And as his father did when he was a kid, Allan does a lot of fishing, including several youth tournaments each year, with his two teenaged sons. Besides bass, he has fished for everything from peacock bass in the Amazon to trout and salmon in the Rockies and Alaska. He has caught tarpon in Florida and Costa Rica, bonefish in Mexico and the Bahamas as well as steelhead in the Pacific Northwest.

So what was Allan Ranson's answer to that question I posed? If you're a bassin' man yourself, you're probably as interested as I was in hearing what he has to say. Stay tuned. I'll provide the answers in next month's column.

Besides telling me what those three lure categories are, Allan also provided the reasons for his answers. I will share this much with you right now.

One of his answers will probably bring some immediate action on your part — I know it already has on mine.

-To Be Continued-

September 30, 2014

They Come Without a Barb

by Stan Fagerstrom

The call surprised me.

When a question comes my way as a result of something I've written about fishing, it most often originates from someone just getting into the sport. This one wasn't.

"Stan," this familiar voice said, "why the devil don't some of those guys who produce all the fishing tackle start making some barbless treble hooks? I know they've they've been making barbless single hooks now for years. I've never heard of barbless trebles and now they're required in places where they've never been required before."

My caller was hollering before he was hurt. Those barbless trebles are available, all right, you just gotta know where to look. I hung my own fishing hat in the Pacific Northwest for a long time before moving to the warm weather country of Arizona years ago.

Hook into a monster salmon like this expert angler did and you'll want the best hooks you can get going for you. The angler is Dave Pitts, of California.

I didn't hear that much about barbless treble hooks back when I lived in either Washington or Oregon State more than 20 years ago. Like my caller said, barbless hooks are now required in many places that didn't require them years ago.

My friend was aware of the barbless regulation as it applied to single hooks. It was the trebles he was unsure about; but if you really stop to think about it, how much sense would it make for such a regulation to apply to only single hooks and then allow lures carrying one or more trebles used in the same water to still have barbs?

Anglers in both Washington and Oregon now are often required to use barbless hooks. One particular such area includes the broad Columbia River, where it divides the two states as well as some of the tributaries flowing into the big river.

The primary fish we are talking about here, of course, are salmon and steelhead. You may have read about certain of the record salmon runs anticipated in the Columbia this fall. If you are one of the many anglers planning on heading West to get in on some of the impending action, by all means, get yourself a current copy of the fishing regulations. Pay special attention to those that apply to the areas you'll be fishing. Get those regulations well in advance so you can study exactly what you can and can't do.

If you're one of the many salmon anglers who prefers to troll lures equipped with a treble hook or two, just what approach are you planning to take where this barbless treble hook business is concerned? You'll be wise to give this some thought.

Note the deep gap on this Gamakatsu barbless treble. More and more Pacific Northwest anglers are now using these fine hooks.

If the caller I told about had read one of my columns here earlier this year, he wouldn't have been asking the questions that he did. I'd written a column before that had dealt primarily with single barbless hooks, but also mentioned the barbless treble variety.

Any time I have a question on hooks, barbless or otherwise, the first people I turn to are the good folks at Gamakatsu Hooks. I was involved in the testing of Gamakatsu's super new hooks even before they were introduced to the American market. They've been right on the cutting edge of hook making ever since.

What I detailed in that earlier column was how the single barbless hooks Gamakatsu has had in its lineup for years aren't just more hooks with the usual pin-sharp points. That they are being made barbless is taken into consideration prior to their manufacture. They are made with a special design.

I outlined what Gamakatsu executives had to say about this design in my earlier column. They pointed out that the special bend of the hooks gives them a bigger "bite" when an angler sets the hook. Anglers all over the world have had excellent success with these single barbless hooks.

Fishermen headed for salmon fishing in the Pacific Northwest should be darn sure what the regulations are going to be in the areas they plan to fish. Barbless hooks are a requirement in some places.

What you need to know is that the Gamakatsu's barbless trebles are made exactly the same way. You'll have the same deep bend with its extra holding power available going for you — only now when you're using a lure equipped with one of the new barbless trebles, you'll have three of them working for you instead of just one.

I had another recent call that led to another discussion of barbless trebles. My caller this trip said barbless hooks were no problem for him. "I'll just bend down the barb on my present hooks," he said, "then I'll file them a bit if I have to and I'll be all set."
He can take that route if he chooses. I won't. Why ruin a perfectly good treble? There may be areas other than the Pacific Northwest where you may well want to use the lure involved with its hooks as they were when it came out of the box.

I'll do what I've already mentioned. I'll just remove the original treble, replace it with a Gamakatsu barbless treble and store the removed hook where I can do the reverse if I ever choose to.

Barbless hooks are also a requirement for steelhead fishing in the lower Columbia as well as designated tributaries.

I've heard rumbles that some of the fisheries agents checking where barbless hooks are required have been testing the hooks of some actual fishermen by running their hooks through fabric like that often used in pantyhose. These hooks almost always go through the fabric point first with no sweat.

The problems show up when you try to back them out. If there's anything left of that barb you thought you had carefully pinched down — beware! You could be in trouble.

To sum things up, don't sweat this business of finding barbless
treble hooks. If your favorite sporting goods store doesn't have them in stock, they can be ordered for you. It's my understanding Gamakatsu is currently making these hooks from size Number 8 to Number 1/0.

For that matter, if you continue to have difficulty of any kind give Gamakatsu's Tacoma, Washington headquarters a call yourself. I've already gotten the company's ok for you to do that. Just call (253) 922-8373 and ask for sales.

September 04, 2014

Which Rod Will Be Right? — Part 2

by Stan Fagerstrom

My companion didn't quite manage to turn a cloudy sky blue, but the cussing he was doing must have come pretty close.

Ever find yourself fishing in some far off part of the world and the rod and reel you're having to work with just won't get the job done? That's where my friend found himself on the morning he was doing such a thorough job of practicing his profanity.

If he'd been as good at listening as he was at cursing he wouldn't have been in such a foul mood. I'd done my best to convince him that a spinning outfit was likely to be his best bet when we finally got to where we were going. He wasn't having any part of it.

"Spinning isn't for me," he'd snorted when I had mentioned my own plans. "If I can't get fish with my bait casting gear, they just ain't there to be caught."

You won't find many who have done more talking about and demonstrating all kinds of reels than I have and not just in the United States. Here I'm pictured doing it at a show in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

I suppose few fishermen have spent more time with a level wind reel in their hands than I have over most of the past century. I managed to make a living demonstrating and talking about them around the United States---and often in foreign lands---for a long, long time. And all that demonstration time was in addition to countless hours of actually fishing. Nobody loves a level wind reel and a casting rod more than I do.

That said, let me add something else. It's simply this: If you're stuck sometime with taking just one outfit along on a trip where you're not certain what kind of fishing you'll be doing, then a spinning outfit might very likely be your best bet.

I've had this brought home to me again and again over more than a half century of fishing and writing about it. One thing I touched on in my last column was fishing in the Amazon.

I've had the good fortune to make three fishing trips into that fascinating part of the world. The last time, a time when I knew I would be fishing for nothing but those wild-eyed peacock bass, I carried only a pair of my favorite G. Loomis casting rods and level wind reels loaded with lines strong enough to handle them.

The two previous trips into the jungle years ago I also wound up using my spinning outfit a good bit. The piranha down there in that beautiful but potentially dangerous country remind me of a bluegill with dentures---sharp dentures. They often grabbed the same light lures I like to use hereabouts for panfish. I sometimes didn't get them in the boat because their razor-edged teeth sliced my line like a sharp pair of scissors.

The right spinning outfit, properly handled, will get its share of good sized bass. It got this one for me.

If you're interested in specifics, the spinning rods I pack most often are the G.Loomis SJR700, SJR 721 or SJR 722. If you're interested in taking the same route you can check the details on these rods in a G.Loomis rod catalog or at the G.Loomis web site. There's a wealth of solid information on these rods in the company's catalogs or web site and you'll do well to study it carefully. The same can likely be said for the other top quality rod makers.

Did I hear someone say the SJR 700 is too light for most freshwater fishing? Well, I've caught largemouth bass to 7-pounds on that wonderful little stick. Admittedly, the fish dictate what happens for awhile, especially if you hook a good one in heavy cover on that lightweight rod. Be assured I was very busy for awhile with that beautiful 7-pounder. That fish went where it wanted until it finally pooped out.

You step up in rod strength with the SJR 722. It didn't surprise me when I checked several years ago that the SJR 722 was the most popular spinning rod for warm water angling that G. Loomis marketed. Things may have changed but I doubt it. I used a casting version of that powerful stick to boat a 10-pound, 4-ounce largemouth once at Mexico's famed Lake El Salto.

Look at the teeth on this Amazon piranha. Those teeth will snip a line or remove a chunk of your own hide if given the opportunity.

I recall trips I made for sea run cutthroat on Washington State's lower Cowlitz River when I lived in that part of the world. I often went out with one of the most knowledgeable cutthroat anglers from that part of Southwest Washington. We cast small spinners up under the willows along the river's shoreline. The outfit I used on those trips was an open-faced reel and the G. Loomis SJR700.

I caught my share of cutthroat with that outfit on the Cowlitz. I had similar success with it on those New Zealand adventures I mentioned in my previous column as well as elsewhere. In New Zealand I used that same rod with 4 or 6-pound line on my open-faced spinning reel. It was a great outfit for getting the distance required with the lightweight lures we used. I'll never forget the beautiful 7-pound rainbow that grabbed a little curly tailed grub I pitched up under a waterfall on the North Island.

Nothing beats having tackle that lets you handle the problems you're up against. Having the right outfit was what enabled me to slide this nice steelhead up on the shore of a Pacific Northwest river.

I've used monofilament line heavier than 10-pounds on a spinning outfit, but I always do so reluctantly. The lighter the line, the more enjoyment you'll get out of spinning tackle. For years now, however, there's been a way around that problem. I've also done lots of fishing using braided line on my spinning reels since the great new quality braids came to market.

My favorite of the different braids I've tried is Shimano's Power Pro. Even in tests up to 20-pounds this braid is small enough in diameter to handle well on an open-faced reel. A note of caution is in order where these braided lines are concerned. Remember just how strong Power Pro is despite its small diameter.

July 28, 2014

Which Rod Will Be Right?? — Part 1

by Stan Fagerstrom

Everything else is packed. You've got everything ready from rain gear to long underwear, but one question remains. What the heck rod should I put in my rod case?

You could, I expect, apply similar questions to the guy who plays golf, another who goes hunting in Alaska or perhaps the bird hunter who's just itchin' to take a whack at those pheasants in South Dakota. Believe me — it applies every bit as much or more to the angler who is heading for a distant destination with a limited amount of info on what he'll find when he gets there.

You'll run into some tackle busting whoppers in the Amazon but you can also find those you're able to handle with a spinning gear. That's how I boated this big black piranha and the small peacock bass I'm holding here.

Most readers will agree the best golfer in the world isn't going to beat par unless he's got a bag full of clubs designed to enable him to solve the different problems he's certain to face as he tours a course. It won't take the newest newcomer to sport fishing long to figure out he's in a similar situation.

There simply is no single fishing outfit that's a cinch to be best for every angling problem. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure that out. Be that as it may, the way I see it there is one outfit that comes a heck of a lot closer than most. My thinking is the result of having had a line in the water in a whole lot of different places around the world. I'd like to share some thoughts in this regard.

What outfit, for example, would you select if you could carry only one and you were about to take off on a long-range fishing adventure? You knew this trip would take you into parts of the world where you weren't sure what conditions you'd encounter. For that matter, you weren't even certain what kind of fish would be available.

I used a spinning outfit and trolled a small Flatfish lure to take this dandy trout from a lake high in the mountains of Argentina.

I've had to make that kind of determination many times over most of the past century. Fishing adventures of one kind or another have taken me from the Amazon to Alaska, from Honduras to Hawaii, from Panama to the Pacific and a whole lot of spots in between. I've rarely been stuck with packing just one outfit, but many times I've been limited to only a couple.

I've reached my own decisions in regards to gear. I don't care where my travels take me; the outfit I pack first is a spinning rod and an open-faced spinning reel. I'm aware it won't be adequate for everything that swims in freshwater, but I do know that chances are great this set up will get me by reasonably well under a variety of conditions.

Having made that choice doesn't mean I think the spinning outfit is always going to be the best choice to solve every problem I encounter. No way! You can't, of course, use a lightweight spinning outfit for many kinds of Alaskan salmon fishing. You couldn't even throw the big surface lures often used for the Amazon's peacock bass with a light rod. If you did hook one of those wild-eyed buggers with such a rod, it would likely resemble a pretzel before the battle was over.

You can be sure I'd rather have a bait casting outfit in my hands if I have to tackle a mad largemouth in heavy cover.

I'd much rather have a casting rod and a level wind reel for most kinds of bass fishing. But again, day in and out, no single outfit does the variety — underline that word, variety — of jobs that can be handled by a good quality spinning rig. And it's going to cover a whole lot of bases when you're not certain of what you're up against going in.

I've had experienced fishermen, some who have traveled extensively, attempt to tell me the only outfit worth carrying on a fishing adventure to New Zealand is a fly rod. Baloney! I've had occasion to fish in that beautiful land almost daily for a month on two different occasions. On both trips I had opportunity to use my spinning outfit every bit as much as my fly rod if I chose to do so. You can, if you choose, do the same.

As I've indicated, the thing that makes the lightweight spinning outfit such a wonderful tool is its versatility. Purchase extra spools for your spinning reel. Load one with 4-pound line, another with 6, a third with 8 and a fourth with 10. Those four different line sizes let you cover a tremendous variety of fishing tasks. Today, with some of the new strong but small diameter braided lines, you can go even heavier than that in line test and still handle relatively lightweight lures. I'll have some specifics on that in my next column.

You can slip a 4 or 6-pound test spool onto your spinning reel and throw tiny jigs in the 1/32nd-ounce class. Such tiny jigs, equipped with miniature curly-tailed plastic worms, are among the most deadly of lures for panfish such as crappie and bluegill. They also work well for some of the exotic species you'll find in other parts of the world. I've whacked piranha with them in both Colombia and Brazil. I've done the same with tilapia in the waters of Mexico.

I'd never have hooked this beautiful trout at the New Zealand Lake I'm pictured on if I'd not had the spinning outfit you see in my hand.

Your spools of light line work just fine on a spinning rig for lightweight trout fishing with small lures. If you choose, you can use the same outfit to throw a floating bubble and a fly. I've had the opportunity to spend a couple days fishing with General Chuck Yeager, the famed test pilot. Here's another guy who has fished all over the place. One of his favorite angling adventures is hiking into the high Sierras for golden trout. He often catches them with flies. On a fly rod? No way! He uses a lightweight spinning outfit and one of those baubles I mentioned.

Yeager told me he has done the same thing in some of the top trout waters of Montana as well as in New Zealand and other parts of the world. "I can get way out there where the fish are with my spinning outfit," he says. "Often, conditions wouldn't permit me to do that with any other kind of outfit."

As I've already mentioned, be assured that if I have a choice, I'll do the same thing those pro golfers do. I'll carry an assortment of rods and reels that will give me a shot at solving the different problems I'm a cinch to encounter. Having access to the right tools is one of the basic ingredients to consistently putting fish on the bank or in the boat.

There are some other factors to consider. Watch for my September column, where I'll discuss some of the additional reasons I feel the way I do about the versatility of a top quality spinning outfit.

-To be continued-

July 02, 2014

The Smallmouth of Steelhead Country - Part 2

by Stan Fagerstrom

I've not fished anywhere in the Pacific Northwest now for years but I know one of the places I'd put on my "Must Do" list if I was to get out there next week.

That place is the one I talked about in my previous column. I'd head for Fossil, Oregon and hook up with my friend Steve Fleming for some smallmouth bass fishing on Oregon's John Day River.

Darn few Pacific Northwest river guides have put their clients on more smallmouth than Steve Fleming. Steve operates Mah-Hah Outfitters out of Fossil, Oregon. The smallmouth one of his clients is holding here is typical of what you can expect on a summertime John Day trip.

Steve has been guiding out of his Mah-Hah Outfitters operation at Fossil now for 25 years. I fished with Steve several times when I lived in that part of the world. The experiences I had then are why I say I'd like to get back again now.

Look at a map of Oregon and you'll find the small community of Fossil located in the central part of the Beaver State. The John Day eventually dumps into the Columbia, but it's that isolated part of this beautiful river on up a ways above Fossil where Steve most often takes his clients.

I mentioned having had the good fortune to experience what Fleming has to offer. One of them is that each time I've been with him, we rarely saw another boat. It's been years since I made my last trip so that might have changed a bit, but I doubt it.

I got an e-mail message from Steve back in March. It was right after he'd hung up his winter steelhead gear and just started guiding for smallmouth bass again. I know darn well you aren't going to find many bass anglers out there on the John Day in March.

The weather and water that early in the Pacific Northwest will leave you with frost on your fingers and maybe on even more tender parts of your anatomy if you're not prepared to deal with it. I lived there for most of my life and I make those comments from personal experience.

Here's what's Steve had to say in that March e-mail I mentioned: "Today we boated an even 30 smallmouth bass in 44 degree water with a 1/8 oz jighead and a Yamamoto 4-inch single #134 tail grub covered with Smelly Jelly garlic. We fished more than 10 different set-ups, but only caught those pesky smallmouth bass on the above described set-up."

Here's a close up of the Yamamoto bait that has caught so many fish for Steve Fleming on the John Day.

As I mentioned in my previous column, Steve had been introduced to that particular Yamamoto grub by a retired Oregon fish biologist named Errol Claire. It has turned out to be one of Steve's most effective lures on the John Day. He loves it and so do those John Day smallmouth fish.

But hold the phone! Remember what I wrote about in my last column dealing with lure makers no longer making the lures you like best? Well friends, that's exactly what Steve found himself dealing with where the #134 4-inch Yamamoto grub is concerned.

Last month, I wrote about the Heddon Tackle Company dropping the Heddon Basser, one of my most effective bass lures on my home lake. However, it wasn't selling well elsewhere, so it was dropped. That was obviously what happened with that Yamamoto grub Steve found so effective on the John Day.

Fortunately, Fleming learned that particular grub was going to be dropped from the Yamamoto lure lineup before it actually happened. "When I learned the #134 was to be dropped," Steve says, "I contacted the company and bought their remaining inventory. I also bought about an equal number of the #134 double tailed grubs."

Yamamoto #134 grubs were a shade of smoke with large red flakes. Today, Steve still uses those he has, but does so sparingly. Sometimes Steve simply removes one of the tails from the double tailed #134 grubs and uses it as a single tail.

Something else Fleming will tell you he learned from his friend Errol Claire was to rig one of his singled tailed #134 grubs as a trailer for use with a white skirted Hildebrandt Pro Series half ounce spinnerbait. The combination has been a big winner for John Day smallmouth.

"This combination," Fleming says, "has produced my largest fish each year since 2009. Some of those fish have won the In-Fisherman Catch & Release contest for the nine Western states."

Fleming uses this spinnerbait-grub combo especially when the river is up and off color. "I've known for a long time," he says, "that when the river color drops and is not clear to go to items with red in them. The #134 Yamamoto grub with the big red flakes is a winner."

It rains a bit in Oregon. Whenever the John Day gets a bit discolored Steve Fleming turns to this spinnerbait and grub combination. It has also caught some of the largest John Day River smallmouth he has put in the boat.

This veteran guide will be among the first to tell you that Yamamoto does continue to offer a single tail grub of a shade similar to the #134. That one is the #178 smoke with black and red flakes. Steve says it is similar but not identical to the one he's using.

So, what's the technique Fleming has found most effective with his favorite grubs on the John Day? "The best technique," he says, "is to cast into the current seam on the slack water side and then very slowly swim it back to the boat. Fish your lure just as close to the bottom as you can. Let the lure bump bottom once in a while. Making three little twitches of the rod tip during the retrieve can also help create interest.

"The most important thing, and also the hardest, is what you should do when you feel a bite. When that happens, immediately lower your rod tip. Larger smallmouths suck a bait in and typically get only the tail of the lure in their mouth when they first pick it up. Once you lower the tip, count to two or three and then set the hook hard and you'll get a hook up."

Great smallmouth fishing is just one of the things you'll get on a trip down the John Day River with guide Steve Fleming. He serves a noontime meal right there on the river that will have your taste buds doing a toe dance all the way home.

I could tell you a bunch of other reasons why you'll enjoy making a trip with Steve. Those smallmouth bass on the John Day aren't all he has going. He also has access to a dandy little private largemouth lake in that same isolated area. I've taken fish of 8-pounds there myself. Odds are, he'll show it to you if you're interested.

And then there's the delicious lunch Steve serves right there on the river come noontime. The food he serves has been cooking all morning in the Dutch Oven he fires up in the boat before you start drifting downstream. You'll find the chow Steve provides is just as delicious as those aromas you've been sniffing all morning have indicated it might be.

Again — if I was heading into the Pacific Northwest tomorrow, I'd make sure I had Steve Fleming and his Mah-Hah Outfitters in Fossil on my "Must See" schedule. You're missing one heck of an enjoyable experience if you don't do the same.

Guide Steve Fleming also offers his clients access to a private bass lake. Here I display one of the beauties I caught there myself.

May 30, 2014

The Smallmouth of Steelhead Country, Part 1

by Stan Fagerstrom

It's something even experienced bass men who should know better find it difficult to believe.

And just what is the "it" I'm talking about. It's just because a lure that always seems to get the best results on your home lake may not be all that great someplace else. If you don't realize this already, you dang well better wise up because you eventually will.

The beautiful John Day River runs through the quiet country of central Oregon before it dumps into the Columbia River. The river supports the migratory fishes like steelhead and salmon but it's also loaded with smallmouth bass. Nobody knows this great Oregon stream better than Steve Fleming, the operator of Mah-Hah Oufitters at Fossil, Oregon.

I've been around for awhile. I can remember two or three times when one or another of the country's top lure makers has suddenly quit making a lure that was one of my very best baits. I thought they had lost their marbles.

Those "loose" marbles were mine. One of my good friends at the Heddon Tackle Company brought this to my attention decades ago when the company announced they would no longer be marketing a beautiful old lure called the "Heddon Basser."

"What in hell are you guys doing?" I asked my friend. "That Basser is one of the best lures you've got. When conditions are right I catch more fish on that thing than anything else in my tackle box."
"Stan," my friend responded, "there a few others like you here and there who catch fish on it but that Basser you're talking about just isn't a good seller for us. Lures that sell are what lets us stay in business. We just can't continue to carry the ones that don't in our inventory. It's really quite simple---if they don't sell they don't stay."

Book a trip with guide Steve Fleming and he'll take you to isolated stretches of the John Day above Fossil. You'll drift downstream and fish for smallmouth as you go. Here Steve launches his drift boat at the start of a trip.

I didn't like that response, but even a bullheaded old Scandinavian like yours truly had to admit it made sense. It has happened to me a couple more times since that Heddon Basser experience.

Did this mean I had to change tactics? No way! As soon as I learned that the lure was no longer going to be available I made darn sure I got a supply of them that would last me down through the years. I'll do the same thing again tomorrow if a lure I like and am catching fish on is about to disappear from the market.

All this came to mind recently when I had opportunity to visit with one of the most experienced outfitters and fishing guides in the western United States.

The man I'm talking about is Steve Fleming, the veteran operator of Mah-Hah Outfitters on Oregon's famed John Day River. Steve headquarters in Fossil, Oregon. As you'd expect, Steve guides for the migratory fishes for which the Pacific Northwest is famous. But his superb guiding efforts don't end there.

The John Day River got a plant of 80 young smallmouth for the first time back in 1971. Guide Steve Fleming shows us here how well that plant made 43 years ago has turned out. He took the beauty he displays here in mid-March of this year.

What you might not realize is that the John Day also carries an abundance of smallmouth bass. An Oregon State Department of Fish & Game biologist named Errol Claire planted 80 smallmouth bass in the John Day River in 1971.

To merely say those young smallmouth liked their new home doesn't get the job done. They flat out loved it! "The plant Errol made was the only stocking of smallmouth ever made on the John Day," Steve Fleming says. "Today you'll find the river holds about 1,000 smallmouths per mile of water. Some of these fish exceed 5-pounds in weight."

Fleming has been running his Mah-Hah Outfitters operation on the John Day now for 25 years. During that time he's guided anglers from all over the country at one time or another. One of them happens to be the same retired fish biologist who made that original plant of smallmouth in the John Day.

"One of the advantages," Fleming says, "of getting to fish with lots of different folks is that they introduce you to new lures and techniques. This happened when I started taking Errol Claire smallmouth fishing on the John Day."

That's not surprising because besides being technically qualified as you'd expect an experienced fish biologist to be, Errol is also a cracking good angler. Today Steve will tell you his retired biologist friend turned him onto the lure that now is his number one producer in the cold water of early season fishing.

Here's another example of the excellent smallmouth fishing to be had on Oregon's John Day River.

He'll also tell you that this valued friend introduced him to the tackle and technique he now employs to nail some beautiful big John Day smallmouth when the river is up and discolored. One of these set ups has produced John Day smallmouth that have won top honors in the "Catch & Release Contest" conducted by In-Fisherman magazine in the nine Western States.

But right here's where my friend Steve Fleming ran into that same problem I mentioned in the beginning. That problem is no longer being able to continue to get the exact lure he'd been clobbering the fish with because it's no longer being produced.

Don't miss my next column. I'll reveal what that lure is and how Steve Fleming uses it to produce even when conditions are less than ideal. It's bound to give you ideas you can use in your own fishing.

You'll find that column right here beginning in July.

-To Be Continued-

April 30, 2014

Can You Get By Without A Barb? - Part 2

by Stan Fagerstrom

The barbless hooks turned out by the world's leading fishing hook makers are different critters than those barbed jobs most anglers use.

If you read my previous column here you know I told you about some expert anglers who maintained that barbless hooks can be the most effective fish-catchers you can tie on the end of your line. The way the Gamakatsu folks go about building that style of hook has a whole lot to do with it.

I've discussed this at length with experienced Gamakatsu officials. One of them is Joe Quiocho, of the company's headquarters in Tacoma, Washington. "Study one of our barbless hooks carefully," Quiocho says, "and you'll see that these hooks have a deeper bend than those with barbs. What that does is provide for deeper penetration and more holding power."

Think about it a little bit and you'll find that what Joe says ties right into what the guide I also told you about in my previous column had shared with me. This Pacific Northwest river guide had been rigging his clients with barbless hooks while fishing for salmon and steelhead.

The use of barbless hooks makes it easy to release a beauty like this.

This guide maintained his clients did a better job of hooking fish with the barbless variety and actually put more fish in the boat—unless they screwed up handling a fish once it was hooked.

Hearing comments regarding the effectiveness of Gamakatsu's barbless hooks doesn't surprise me all that much. I've used them successfully myself. I've also viewed with interest the results of a national barbless hook survey Gamakatsu conducted some years ago.

Note the wide gap in this Gamakatsu Octopus style barbless hook. It provides a "deep bite" when you set the hook

Company officials told me the results of that survey were surprisingly positive. At the time Gamakatsu handed out or mailed 20,000 sample barbless Gamakatsu treble hooks to bass anglers around the country. A questionnaire was sent along with the samples asking anglers who got them to let company officials know how they worked.

More than 75 per cent of the questionnaires were returned. The results were 70 to 80 per cent favorable. The respondents said the barbless trebles hooked fish more easily and held bass almost as well as a barbed hook.

The same thing is true where these Gamakatsu barbless treble hooks are concerned.

Gamakatsu officials also sent samples of their weedless trebles to some of the top steelhead guides in the Pacific Northwest. The response from these experts was as positive as that coming from bass anglers.

If you've spent 10 seconds messing with Gamakatsu hooks, you know how sharp they are. The darn things are downright "sticky." These Japanese hooks set a new standard for the industry when they came on the scene years ago.

The hooks have great penetrating power, even with a barb. You can imagine what they're like without it. The point penetrates like a needle.

So far, I've been writing only about the penetrating and fish holding power of barbless hooks. There are other areas where they'll save you time and ease some of the frustrations that are certain to eventually happen with the barbed variety. Let's look at a couple of them.

If you fish bass, certain other species as well, you know how they occasionally get hooks embedded all over their body. It can be a major pain in the butt to get these barbed hooks removed. It's often difficult not to make the fish start bleeding and if that happens, chances are it's unlikely to survive.

That's no problem with barbless trebles. Believe me you'll appreciate having them when it's time to release fish. So will the fish!

Ever netted a wild-eyed steelhead and then had it wrap itself and your hook into the folds of the net six ways from Sunday? If you have, chances are you've spent 20 minutes getting the fish unpinned and the hooks out of the net. You've probably also practiced your profanity in the process. It's much less of a problem if the hooks don't have a barb.

Finally, there's one other time when no-barb hooks really help. It's when you get careless, as we all do from time to time, and wind up managing to stick a barbed hook into some portion of our own anatomy.

This can be downright dangerous and any way you slice it there's certain to be some pain involved.

Ever bury a hook into your own hide? Lots of us have. Barbless hooks eliminates a whole bunch of the misery associated with that problem.

I speak from experience. I've done this five times in a lifetime of fishing. Twice I've wound up having the docs cut treble hooks out because the hook barbs were too deeply embedded to risk anything else. Also, on two occasions I've managed to push a single barbed hook on through my hide and cut the barb off before backing the hook on out the same way it went in. On yet another occasion, I just clenched my teeth and jerked---ouch!

While it's still not a fun thing, hooking yourself when there's no barb involved removes almost all of the misery. And that applies to the fish you're after as well as yourself.

While they're still not top sellers in the extensive Gamakatsu inventory of fish-catching hooks, company officials tell me the sales of barbless hooks are increasing as they grow in popularity. "We think that's a great trend," Joe Quiocho says, "and it's a good one."

As I mentioned earlier, part of these increased sales undoubtedly are coming as a result of more and more waters around the country being restricted to barbless hooks. But that doesn't account for all of it.

Like that guide I've been quoting said, these specially designed Gamakatsu barbless hooks do hook—and hold—the fish that grab ‘em.

Here's proof that the Gamakatsu folks know their barbless hooks get the job done. Pictured is Joe Quiocho, an executive of Gamakatsu's Tacoma, Washington office. This is just one of several salmon Joe caught with barbless hooks the day this picture was taken.

I suppose you can get by on restricted waters by mashing down the barbs on your hook or working them over with a file. Do that if you choose, but it's not the best way to go. As I've made plain, your hooks that came with a barb aren't designed the way the barbless ones are.

As I've pointed out all the way through this two-part column, do yourself a favor and try some of these hooks specially designed for barbless hook fishing.

Chances are you're not going to regret it. Neither will those beauties you slide back into the water with nothing but a pinhole in their jaw and a slight dent in their dignity!

March 31, 2014

Can You Get By Without A Barb?

by Stan Fagerstrom

Want to start a debate with your fishin' partner?

I can tell you a great way to do it. The way I'd have you start this debate might not make much sense to you. It didn't to me either when I first thought about it. It does now.

Boil it down and here's how you can get that debate going. Simply tell your fishing partner that he'll hook more fish if he'll switch to barbless hooks.

Now let me back up a little bit. I said "hook" not "catch." And I didn't say anything about you having to be totally convinced you were right about what you were saying. I said it would simply be a good way to get a debate started.

But wait a minute! Is there any possibility that because barbless hooks really do let you "hook" more fish that you just might wind up "catching" more of them as well? Darn right there is!

More and more water around the country is now being restricted to the use of only barbless hooks. There are experts who say that's not all bad.

You don't have to take my word for it. There are guides out there who rig their clients with barbless hooks. Why? For just one reason, of course, and that's because they're convinced their clients wind up putting more fish in the boat when they do.

I used to visit regularly with a former guide who went the barbless route when I lived in the Pacific Northwest. He guided anglers for salmon and steelhead in that part of the world for eight years before going elsewhere.

I've had guides tell me they intentionally have had clients use barbless hooks for steehead fishing even when they weren't required.

"I used barbless hooks for years in my steelhead and salmon guiding," this former guide told me. "I was often taking out anglers who didn't know how to set a hook. It was a whole lot easier for them to get a good hook set if I used a hook without a barb."

I'm always gonna listen close and careful when a dependable guide shares his advice with me. And why not? Here's a guy who has to get results for his clients just to be able to buy his own beans.

The guide I have in mind told me something else. "We didn't often lose fish as the result of not having barbed hooks," he said. "When we did lose one it was far more likely due to errors a client made in not playing his fish properly or if the fish made a great move of one kind or another."

I've had the good fortune to work closely with the management of the Gamakatsu Company ever since these Japanese based hook makers first came onto the scene here in the United States. As a matter of fact I was given some of their wonderful new hooks to test before they actually reached the American market.

Some of the barbless hooks now available to anglers are specially made to hook and hold even without a barb. They'll give you a darn good shot at putting a beauty like this in the boat.

If you've paid much attention to the manufacture and marketing of hooks you know that Gamakatsu has been right on the cutting edge of things ever since coming on the scene. If it involves hooks, you can bet these Japanese sharpshooters are in on it one way or another.

This includes those barbless hooks I've mentioned. It was Gamakatsu's barbless hooks that the guide I told about earlier was tying on for his clients. He told me some things about these specially designed hooks that I really hadn't given consideration.

I've since had opportunity to get more deeply into just how these hooks are specially designed get the job done by today's company officials I have the good fortune to know. It's information you might choose to employ in your own fishing.

One of the Gamakatsu's hook experts is Joe Quiocho, a sales manager at the company's Pacific Northwest headquarters in Tacoma, Washington. One of the things you'll hear Joe mention early on in any discussion of barbless hooks is how it's becoming more and more common to find waters where you no longer have a choice as to the hooks you use. It's not at all uncommon to find an increasing number of spots where barbless hooks are required.

Are you into catch and release bass fishing? Barbless hooks make it ever so easy to release a beauty like I have here without damage.

As Joe points out, Gamakatsu has been on top of this relatively new and growing requirement. "We've been marketing both single and treble barbless hooks now for years," Quiocho says. "It's especially important that anglers coming into this part of the world to fish rivers like the Columbia and certain of its tributaries be aware of existing barbless hook requirements. The same kind of restriction is now seen more often in other parts of the country as well."

Quiocho points out something else that can be darned important if you find yourself required to use barbless hooks or want to experiment with them a bit yourself. What'll you'll find out from an expert like Joe is the difference in the actual design of Gamakatsu's barbless hooks.

I'll get into the details of exactly how the design used for Gamakatsu barbless hooks differ from the barbed variety. Keep an eye peeled because it just might be something you'll want to test in your own fishing. You'll find this information right here beginning May 1.

-To Be Continued-

February 28, 2014

You Can Make Your Practice Pay

by Stan Fagerstrom

You and your best pal are going fishing in the morning.

You've been thinking all afternoon about what you need to do to be all set when he comes by to pick you up in the morning. As you think about it, you become more aware of just how darn few things you can do that will actually help assure catching a few fish.

You can't, for example, do a blasted thing about what the weather will be. You don't have any kind of control over the water temperature, barometric pressure, wind velocity or direction or any number of other factors - all of which might affect the fish to one degree or another.

As I've mentioned, there are just so many things you can't do anything about as you prepare for the trip. Developing the ability to handle your gear so you can place your lure on target time after time isn't one of them.

Actually, accurate casting is one of the few variables associated with fishing that we can control. Sadly, and as I've endeavored to point out in my last two columns, not all that many anglers do exercise this one controlling factor that is available to them.

A level wind reel is one of the best fishing tools there is. I don't care what the advertising says, you're going to have to accept the need for practice to really learn how to use it.

Let's suppose you're one of those rare newcomers to angling who does recognize and accept the need for practice. What's the best way to go about it? I'm assuming, of course, that you've been successful in finding quality equipment to work with.

The first step is to get yourself a selection of practice casting weights. Be certain that you have weights of 1/4th-ounce, 3/8th-ounce and 5/8th-ounce.

These three different size practice casting weights are essential for your practice sessions.

You'll also want different size targets. They needn't be fancy. You don't have to have water for your practice sessions. That's one of the easy things about it. Just get your gear and head for the backyard or the front lawn. Either spot will work just fine.

Hula Hoops work well as targets if you're doing your practice in your back yard or a neighborhood park. Different sized cardboard boxes also work well.

I like to use a small kiddies' plastic wading pool as a primary target. You can fill it with water if you choose. Your casting weight won't bounce out of the plastic pool if it is filled with water. You can get the same result by placing something like a blanket in an empty pool.

Whatever targets you select - and this so important in the beginning - don't set them way out there somewhere. Forget all about distance as you begin your practice. I'll make you a promise: Concentrate on learning to hit your targets consistently close in. Once you do, you'll find that it's no sweat to reach out farther when it's necessary.

I stress this because it's so darned important in developing good casting techniques. Unfortunately, distance is often what beginning casters are prone to give the most attention to. Don't make that mistake. Again, learn to hit the targets you've positioned fairly close in the beginning. If you do it the other way around you'll be in trouble from day one.

I've had the good fortune to share thoughts and demonstrate casting over a sizeable chunk of the world. This picture is from one of a number of appearances I've made in Brazil.

So what's a good distance to work with in the beginning? I recommend setting your primary target 25 to 30-feet away. There's little physical effort involved in casting that far if you've got good quality, balanced equipment to work with.

If it's a level wind reel and casting rod that you're working with, tie on a 5/8th-ounce practice weight in the beginning. You'll find the heavier weight handles with less effort. A practice plug that size also brings out the action of the rod and helps give you the "feel" for what good casting requires.

You'll eventually want to switch to lighter weights for some of your casting practice with a level wind reel but hold off doing so until you've got a good sense of what's required.

Your level wind reel will never perform the way it should if you screw all of its spool tension devices way down tight. Practice will enable you not to have to do that.

Someone is sure to ask what test lines should they choose for their practice sessions. I favor 12 to 14-pound test on the level winds where monofilaments are concerned. With quality braids like Power Pro, my choice is 20-pound test.

With the open faced spinning reels my choice is usually 6-pound test with monofilament and 10-pound with braid. Incidentally, if you've not used Shimano's Power Pro braid on your open faced spinning reels, don't hesitate to do so. It spools beautifully. You won't quite get distance as easily as you do with monofilament, but as aforesaid, distance is overrated where accurate casting is concerned.

Closed face spinning reels come already loaded with monofilament. If you're teaching a youngster how to use one, and those reels are a great choice for kids, pick one that's small enough for them to easily handle.

Like most anything else, you'll generally get about what you're willing to pay for in purchasing a closed face reel. One of the best I've found is a Daiwa Goldcast. It's a dandy. The smallest of these quality reels, and that's the best size for kids to handle, is the Daiwa GC80.

If your wife, like mine, doesn't want to get into fishing up to her ears, but wants to be able to enjoy herself when she does choose to go, a closed face is also a good choice. Years ago, I got her a Daiwa Goldcast closed face. I taught her how to use it properly early on and she's pretty darn good with it.

There's a whole lot more to be said about the importance of casting practice and how to go about it. But I'll make you a promise: mastering the gear you'll be using for actual fishing will have just one result - that's more fish in the boat.

If that doesn't make you happy, I don't know what would!

January 31, 2014

Practice Makes Perfect - It Also Puts More Fish In The Boat

by Stan Fagerstrom

Practice casting is certain to put more fun into your fishing. It's also going to make it a whole lot more pleasant for your fishing companion.

When I wrote my previous column about the importance of practice, I immediately thought of what a friend told me about a couple of friends he had taken along on fishing adventures, each at a different time.
"I asked both of these guys a few questions well ahead of the time we were to leave," he says. "I was to provide the equipment and I needed to know what kind of gear they could handle.

See the edge of the lily pad field in the background of this picture? I had to get my lure into those pads just right to get results. Here's proof that the practice I'd done prior to getting out there with my bait casting outfit enabled me to get the job done.

"The first of the two I took assured me he was familiar with both level wind reels as well as open faced spinning reels. As a result I put together four bait casting rigs and a couple of spinning outfits. I asked him if he'd like to do a little practice casting before we left. He assured me that wasn't necessary.

"How wrong that turned out to be! I doubt he had ever attempted to cast with a level wind reel. He never even picked up one of the outfits I'd brought along for him. His experience with a spinning reel had evidently been limited to trolling. He's a heck of a good guy and I value his friendship, but if anybody could have used a little practice before getting on the water, it was him.

"I well remember the reaction of the other friend who I invited to accompany me on the same kind of trip. I was again to provide all of the equipment we'd use once we got there. "Jack," this friend said, "any chance I could come down and spend a day or two with you before we go? I've not used a level wind reel much and I'd like to practice with it a bit if that works out for you."

I should never taught this attractive gal to handle a spinning outfit properly. Why? Because now she often catches more fish than I do!

My friend went on to tell me how the second of his two friends did come to stay with him a day before their departure for the trip. He set up a couple of targets out in his yard and gave this guy, his name was Bob, a couple of the same reels he'd be using when they got to where they were going.

You'd like Bob. I'd heard that he was competitive in anything he tackled. He sure as heck was. In no time at all he was handling my level wind reels like he'd been using them for years.

So what was the result of my friend's experience? If you're an experienced angler yourself, you could undoubtedly guess. The first guy, the one who didn't see the need for practice, had an awful time. When he wasn't hung up in the trees, he was picking at tangles. As a result he didn't catch as many fish as he should have.

"That wasn't how it went with Bob," my friend told me. "He was a pleasure to have in the boat. He was able to put his lure on target darn near all the time. As it turned out, he caught more fish than I did and I think he went home happy about the entire experience."

I expect I've done about as much preaching about the importance of casting practice as anybody in the country. As I mentioned in my previous column, I've been at it since I gave my first casting exhibition more than half a century ago.

You can bet that little gal waiting her turn for some hands on instruction is going to hear about the importance of casting practice. So are those other kids waiting their turn. Years later I sometimes hear from one or another of those I've helped at outdoor shows somewhere around the country. They invariably tell me how important their practice casting was to them in learning how to catch fish.

There's no question about it, casting practice is essential if you hope to ever catch your share of fish. The sooner you accept that, and do something about it, the sooner you'll join that 10 per cent of anglers who catch about 90 per cent of the fish.

There are certain steps to take that can be of great help if you do decide to practice your casting. I'll detail what some of the important basics are in my next column. It starts March 1.

-To Be Continued-

December 30, 2013

Want To Put More Fish In the Boat? Casting Practice Can Help You Do it! - Part 1

by Stan Fagerstrom

Ever get out in the yard or a neighborhood park and practice your casting? If you can't respond to that question affirmatively I'd bet big bucks you're not catching as many fish as you should or could.
Think about it. And let me say some of the things I've said before where practice is concerned.

We both know that the more proficient we desire to become at what we choose to do, the more important practice becomes. That's why major league ball players spend so much time in the batting cage. It's why the top golfers having trouble on the greens spend hours attempting to perfect their putting skills.

You'll find the same emphasis on practice in everything from soccer to tennis as well as the other sports that demand hand and eye coordination. There is, however, one major exception. Darn few anglers accept the importance of practice and the role it plays in helping them put more fish in the boat.

I'd never have taken this dandy bass unless I'd gotten my lure right into the cover where she was holding. I'd done my share of casting practice to get this accomplished.

I learned a long time ago that paying attention to constructive criticism is one of the best things any of us can do where self improvement is concerned. That's the primary reason I spent five years in Toastmasters International. It's also why I often ask friends who watch one or another of my casting demonstrations what they liked or didn't like about what I had to say. I pay close attention to what they tell me.

I've undoubtedly done a good bit of preaching about the importance of casting practice in the countless casting demonstrations I've done around the world for the past half century. I do so primarily because I think so many anglers just don't seem to recognize its importance.

I recall once being told I put too much emphasis on that aspect of my casting exhibitions. As I've mentioned, I value constructive criticism. Actually, if you stop and think about it, there are few better ways to learn as we travel life's highway.

But I think anyone who doesn't recognize what improved casting can mean to their fishing is dead wrong. The unfortunate truth is that the majority of anglers don't attach anywhere near the importance to the development of their casting skills they should.

Think about it for a minute. How many men or women do you see in the yards and parks where you live practicing their casting skills in their yards or a neighborhood park? My guess is you've seen darn few if any.

I'm talking here about anglers who fish with bait casting rigs or spinning outfits. Fly fishermen are an exception when it comes to accepting the need for practice. Users of the long rod often are quick to realize that they darn well do need to practice if they're to get a handle on what's required.

I'll grant you it's easier to heave a practice plug out there somewhere with a spinning outfit. However, I'm of the opinion that learning how to use a level wind casting reel really well requires more practice than learning how to use a fly rod.

A balance between rod and line is so important to a newcomer to fly fishing. Once you have that balance, the actual casting isn't all that difficult. You can have the best balanced level wind reel and casting rod in the world, but you're still going to have to put in some practice time to get the job done right.

See that cover along this stretch of shoreline cover on Mexico's Lake El Salto? This type of cover on that beautiful lake often holds big fish. You've got to get your lure into that cover just right to achieve the results you are after.

I've been giving casting exhibitions around this country and sometimes outside of it now for more than a half century. The very first demonstration of any importance was at the old Pan Pacific Auditorium in Los Angeles way back in April of 1952. I've been at it ever since.
I mention this for a reason. Spend as much time as I have attempting to show folks how to use their rods and reels more effectively and you're a cinch to hear countless comments and an equal number of questions.

I can tell you one comments that I've heard time and again. It usually goes something like this: "Please show me that technique you demonstrated with the spinning reel again. I'm really not interested in fooling around with a level wind reel. My wife got me one of those things for my birthday a couple of years ago. All I ever caught with it was one big hairy backlash after another."

I wish I had a couple of bucks for every time I've heard that comment or something similar to it. I doubt there's a single piece of angling equipment that eventually winds up collecting dust on some storage shelf more often than level wind reels. You've simply got to practice with the level wind reel if it's to become the extremely valuable angling tool that it can be.

That's why I keep stressing that point in the casting exhibitions I've been doing for so long. Every now and then I hear from someone who has attended one of my presentations and put what I keep preaching about into practice.

I don't care where you're fishing or what species you are after, the ability to put your lures on target is often going to pay off big time. It helped me hook this dandy trout on a mountain lake in Argentina.

It's so gratifying to hear from time to time from one or another of them. Often it turns out to be a now skilled angler who first watched one of my demonstrations when he was just a kid. I'll always remember a likeable young kid who came to watch me years ago in Seattle. The first time he came he could just barely see over the curtain that surrounded my casting area at the old King Dome where the International Sportsmen's Exposition was being held.

That kid watched and he also listened. And then he put into practice what he'd heard. Today that once little guy is a strapping big adult who has established an enviable reputation as a fish catching wizard in the Seattle area. Every time I see him he thanks me for helping him learn what improved casting could mean to his fishing success.

I have a good friend who has had some similar experiences. I'll share what he's told me in my next column. It's scheduled to begin right here Feb 1.

-To Be Continued-

November 26, 2013

The Stan’s Spin Spinnerbait - Part 2

by Stan Fagerstrom

Part 2

The Mack's Lure Stan's Spin spinnerbait I talked about in my last column can be a fish-catching son of a gun when it's in the hands of an angler who knows how to use it.

If you read my previous column you know I urged readers to get away from the habit that so many bass anglers share when it comes to spinnerbait fishing. That habit is to simply keep throwing these lures hour after hour without ever varying the speed of retrieve or trying certain other techniques that can sometimes make a dramatic difference in results.

One of the lakes I used to fish contained lots of piling. These piling were a favorite hang out of some of the lake's largest bass. Most of the pilings were located in water that ran from 7 to 10-feet in depth.

Rarely did I take bass on a spinnerbait by simply firing one up next to a piling and then just start reeling back in. What sometimes did work was to cast just as close to the piling as I could get, then just let the lure drop on a slack line. I counted the lure down as I picked up the slack. Once I knew it was near bottom, I flipped my rod tip sharply to cause the lure to dart up and away.

This simple procedure helped me boat some of the largest bass I ever took from that lake. More often than not I had my best success when I added a trailer to my spinnerbait hook. Sometimes I used a plastic trailer, but more often I'd tip the lure with an Uncle Josh pork rind strip.

It doesn't matter where you're fishing largemouth bass, a quality spinnerbait is going to get its share of fish. It may get more than its share if you use the right one in the proper fashion. The one these anglers are about to boat came out of Clear Lake, California.

The Mack's Lure Stan's Spin works wonderfully well for this procedure. The main reason it does is because of the lure's lightweight Mylar plastic spinner blade. To observe what I'm talking about, drop your Stan's Spin in clear water next to your boat and watch what happens as it falls. You'll find that the lure's plastic blade has a unique helicopter-style action as it drops.

A swimming pool provides an even better place for you to get a look at what I'm talking about. Cast your Stan's Spin into the deep end of the pool, let it drop and then flip your rod tip once it gets down a ways.

That old pot bellied bass down there in the cover you're fishing has probably seen more spinnerbaits than you have. But she's never eyeballed one like the Pro Model Stan's Spin. Every now and then that ‘copter blade action and the darting get away it makes when you flip your rod tip are sufficient to trigger her short fuse. She'll smash the living daylights out of that bait and you better have a good grip on your rod when it happens.

See that white skirted Stan's Spin spinnerbait? It got this fish from the cool waters of Siltcoos Lake on the Oregon Coast.

In my last column I also touched on the importance of slowing down your retrieve sufficiently so your Stan's Spin bumps into the underwater cover where big bass often hang out. I love to use this approach whenever the cover happens to be submerged timber.

If you've ever had the good fortune to fish Mexico's Lake El Salto you know what I'm talking about. This wondrous bass fishing paradise is loaded with wood cover. I've had a chance to fish it half a dozen times and always I come away amazed at the number of bass just one cluster of partially submerged trees might hold.

Often, depending on just how thick is the cover you're fishing, plastic lures of one kind or another provide the best chance to take fish. But this doesn't always apply. Never overlook a spinnerbait, especially in stretches where the partially underwater wood thins out a bit.

I'll never forget what transpired one evening at El Salto just before it was time to head back to Anglers Inn Lodge for our evening meal. The guide eased our boat along a steep bank where partially submerged trees were scattered all along the shoreline.

This picture doesn't do justice to the size of the fish. The fish my guide is helping me get out of the net weighed 10-pounds, 4-ounces. I caught it at Mexico's Lake El Salto.

I'd made about a dozen casts with a blue skirted Stan's Spin and---wham! Fish On! That heavyweight bass had to be one of the largest I've ever hooked at El Salto. I've caught largemouth down there of almost 12-pounds so I know what a trophy fish feels like.

Look close and you can see the blue and black skirted Stan's Spin spinnerbait that put this nice fish in the boat.

I was never to find out the exact size of that bass. The guide had the net poised and was all set to use it when the fish came unpinned. The line didn't break and the hook was as sharp as when I took the lure out of its package. The fish just hadn't been well hooked.

As soon as I'd determined my Stan's Spin was in good shape, I went right back to casting. Whenever possible I cast up between the trees that poked slender fingers up above the surface. Then I'd let the lure drop and endeavor to make it bump off the larger underwater limbs I couldn't see but I could feel as the lure came back to me.

I'd made just such a cast, felt it bump off one of those larger submerged limbs and again---wham! Fish on! This one didn't get away. When we finally got it onto our Boga-Grip scales it weighed 10-pounds, 4-ounces. We shot a couple of quick photos of that old girl and back into the water she went.

A guy like me who has spent most of a lifetime fishing bass in the Pacific Northwest doesn't have that many chances to eyeball a bass of 10-pounds or more. There just aren't that many of them around. You can be assured I was one happy camper when the fishing was done that day at El Salto.

This two-part series on the Stan's Spin spinnerbait still just scratches the surface on the tricks and tactics you can use with it. Perhaps you have developed even better methods of using it effectively. If you have, by all means let me know. I'll be happy to hear from you.

While the lure that carries my name is one of my favorites, let me make something else abundantly clear. The Stan's Spin is not "always" going to catch fish. Neither will any other single lure you have in your tackle box.

Be that as it may, few lures are more dependable day in and day out than a spinnerbait. The Mack's Lure Stan's Spin has some things going for it that the others don't. You're missing a bet if you don't let the fish in your area tell you whether they like it or not.

October 31, 2013

The Stan's Spin Spinnerbait - Part 1

by Stan Fagerstrom

Part 1

I never expected it to happen. And not very darn many of us who are into fishing up to our necks have had a similar experience.

So what am I talking about? It's having a lure maker who has just produced a new model of a popular bass fishing lure call and ask if they can use your name on it.

One of the reasons this happened, of course, is because I've been writing about bass fishing since shortly after the fall of the Roman Empire. Well, I guess it hasn't been quite that long but my first writing on the subject did see daylight way back in 1946.

It was still a pleasant surprise when the good folks at Mack's Lure, a growing Pacific Northwest tackle company, came up with a brand new style spinnerbait some years back. The company was headquartered at that time in Leavenworth, Washington and today Mack's is located in Wenatchee, Washington.

You may not be familiar with Mack's Lure but if you're a guy who likes to troll for trout you've undoubtedly heard about their Wedding Ring spinners. If you haven't heard about the Wedding Rings you should remedy that immediately. Those things have probably put more trout in the boat than darn near anything you can find.

Ray McPherson, at that time the president of Mack's Lure, knew that I had helped pioneer the sport of bass fishing in the Pacific Northwest. He asked if I'd help in the testing of his company's new spinnerbait and if it was all right with me if they called it the 'Stan's Spin.'

It's a special kick to catch fish using a lure that has your name on it. The Mack's Lure Stan's Spin spinnerbait has done lots of that for me.

Ray, one of the finest men I've had opportunity to meet, will verify my response. He'll tell you I told him I'd be pleased and proud to have my name associated with a Mack's Lure product, but with one stipulation. That stipulation was that the lure would catch fish. He immediately gave me prototypes of these new lures in an assortment of colors for testing purposes.

I was familiar Ray McPherson and his company. As I've indicated, I had the highest regard for both. Ray and I share a number of beliefs that aren't restricted to just the selling of fishing tackle.

As soon as I got the samples I immediately set about testing them. My first experience with them was at Siltcoos Lake on the Central Oregon Coast. The very first time I tried them there I wound up having one of the better days I'd ever had on that particular lake. I continued to have sufficient success with the new lure elsewhere. They didn't get fish every time out. Neither did the unending assortment of other baits I'd tried. Properly fished they got their share and then some. I called my friend Ray and gave him an enthusiastic "Let's do it."

The original Stan's Spin was marketed with only the plastic spinner blade you see here.

I had a hand in the design of this pro model of the Stan's Spin spinnerbait. As you can see, this one has a metal blade to go along with its Mylar plastic blade. The added metal blade gives the lure more vibration and sound on the retrieve.

While I was proud to see my name on the new spinnerbait once it hit the market, I found I had another reaction. I very much wanted other bass anglers to have the same success with it as I'd had.

One of the first questions I had from anglers who purchased the lure was "What's the best way to fish it?" It's a question I continue to get. I wish there was one easy answer to that question, but there isn't. Bass, you see, don't always react the same way. That's one of the things that make the sport so darn interesting and challenging. What those fickle boogers do today they might not do tomorrow.

Most newcomers to fishing a spinnerbait do the same thing whether it's the Stan Spin or some other model they're throwing. They simply cast it out and reel it back. Rarely do they vary the speed of their retrieve or try a variety of other procedures that sometimes pay off big time.

Have you, for example, ever tried fishing a spinnerbait so slowly that it was bumping the bottom all the way back to the boat? Now and then you're going to be surprised if you can simply manage to slow down enough to try it.

Bass fishing isn't one of my wife's favorite things, but every once in awhile I can talk her into going along. On those relatively rare occasions she does accompany me I know in advance the lure she'll invariably want me to tie on for her. It will be a spinnerbait. That was true before there was a Stan's Spin and it's even truer now.

Like most other bass fishermen I'm inclined to fish too fast. My wife doesn't have that problem. Time after time she'll sit back there in the stern seat of my bass boat and throw her Stan's Spin into water I've already covered. The difference is she retrieves so slowly the lure gets down where mine didn't. Now and then, for that matter more often than I care to admit, she catches fish when all I get is casting practice.

There's more than one reason why that slow retrieve with the Stan's Spin often pays off. If there's a good bit of cover where the bass are holding, a slow retrieve is a cinch to cause the lure to bump off underwater obstructions. For some reason bass can't stand to see a lure bump and run without doing something about it. It's a super way to trigger strikes when the fishing is slow.

I've found smallmouth bass often grab a Stan's Spin spinnerbait as readily as do largemouth. This one did that on Oregon's beautiful Umpqua River.

The Stan's Spin had something else going for it where spinnerbaits are concerned. Its appearance in the water is different. There's nothing else out there quite like it. If you've seen some of the same research on bass fishing I have you know this can be of great significance.

Bass have been proven to stay away from things they've had trouble with before. Show 'em something new, something they aren't aware is going to spell trouble if they grab it, and up go your odds of catching fish.

They put my name on the original Stan's Spin but I didn't design it. I have had a hand in certain parts of the changes made to the lure since it first came to market. The original model had just a single Mylar plastic blade.

The Pro Model Stan's Spin now available also has a metal blade to go along with its Mylar blade You still have the easy-turning Mylar blade at the back but now you also have the whump and thump vibration of the Colorado style metal blade up ahead of it.

There are a number of ways to fish these dandy spinnerbaits. In my next column I'll get into some procedures I've used with it, those techniques have accounted for lots of fish, including the second biggest largemouth I've ever boated.

You'll find my next column right here beginning Dec. 1.

-To Be Continued-

September 23, 2013

I Love It When They Listen - Part 2

by Stan Fagerstrom

Remember when those new, small but super strong braided lines first hit the market?

I couldn't wait to try the darn things. I tried several brands the first few years they became available, but while most often provided an advantage or two they also came with problems. I was disappointed for the main part in what I was seeing.

Several years after they were first introduced, a fellow named Bill Wallace stepped up to me just after I'd finished a casting demonstration at an International Sportsmen's Exposition in San Mateo, California.

Wallace gave me samples of a new braid called Power Pro. It was love at first sight. It was by far the best performing braid I'd tried. They had none of the built-in problems I'd encountered in the earlier braids.

I've been using these lines ever since for a variety of fishing needs as well as for my casting exhibitions. One of those other "needs" was to have a line of sufficient strength on my reels to handle those pot-bellied hawgs I'd busted off on too darn many times when I'd been fishing at Mexico's fabulous Lake El Salto.

I mention these new braids because what I'm leading up to ties in with what I wrote about in my previous column about Gamakatsu Hooks. Here's why I say that.

Before I headed south of the border to fish El Salto after I found Power Pro, I spooled 30 and 50-pounds of it on my level wind reels. The El Salto water was murky so I decided not to mess around with leaders. It didn't take long to find that the larger bass were hitting 10-inch worms I'd rigged on 5/0 and 6/0 Gamakatsu Extra Wide Gap hooks.

I wish I could say that combination worked just great, but it didn't. Hooking fish wasn't the problem. What was a headache was having my braided line work down into where the eye of the hook is formed. I lost a couple of dandy fish when the knot in my small diameter braid pulled free of the hook eye.

I remedied that problem by tying a small snap to the end of my braided line and attaching it to my hook. The snap worked all right, and I caught fish but I really didn't care for the arrangement. Here's where we get back to that business about "listening" again. Once again it was the good folks at Gamakatsu who gave me their ear.

Shortly after I returned from that particular El Salto adventure I contacted some of the national sales officials for Gamakatsu. I told them about the problems I'd encountered while tying my braided line directly to my EWG Gamakatsu hooks. I knew Gamakatsu already marketed other hooks with a closed metal ring in the eye. I asked if there was a possibility Gamakatsu would consider coming out with a similar set up for some of its highly popular EWG hooks.

It pleased the heck out of me to hear their response. They said it sounded like a good idea. They went on to say they would make me some samples before the new hooks were made available as part of the Gamakatsu line.

Take a look at the 2014 Gamakatsu hook catalog and you'll find these hooks displayed at the top of Page 28. They are listed as Superline extra wide gap worm hooks with a ring. If you've not tried these still relatively new hooks.

You won't have to worry about the knot you have in your braided line when you use this Gamakatsu hook with a ringed eye. That ringed eye also lets you get more action out of some of your plastic baits.

This new Yamamoto D Shad plastic lure is ideal for use with a Gamakatsu ringed eye hook.

These hooks, you see, besides having the ring that eliminates the problem of attaching a braided line, also provides more freedom of movement for whatever plastic bait you use them with. Rig your plastic flukes, imitation shad, frogs or whatever with these hooks and you're going to find it's much easier to get the desired action it sometimes take to get the bass to show interest. These new hooks are presently available in both EWG 2/0 and 4/0 sizes.

The Gamakatsu ringed eye hooks are available in sizes 2/0 and 4/0. They also work well with your larger plastic worms.

Several of the super strong braids have improved a bunch since they first hit the market. Now they're widely used. Many anglers prefer them where the cover is heavy or they are fishing murky and discolored water.

Now when I tie Power Pro to the ringed eye of my Gamakatsu EWG hooks, those old bass are in deep trouble. If your own bass fishing finds you in a similar situation, I'll bet you'll love the combination as much as I do. I find they work just as well with my larger and longer plastic worms as they do with other plastic baits I mentioned.

I love that ringed eye hook when I hang a hawg like this. Who wouldn't?

Like I said in the beginning, I like folks who listen. I've been talking to and working with Gamakatsu executives ever since their hooks first became available in this country. I'm not the only one they've listened to. It's apparently a standard procedure for these outstanding hook makers.

As far as I'm concerned there's no mystery why this Japanese company has carved such a special spot for itself on the world's sports fishing stage. It figures the "listening" they do has played a role in the tremendous success they've enjoyed in the marketing of their excellent products.

August 28, 2013

I Love It When They Listen - Part 1

by Stan Fagerstrom

Get to be a part of this business of fishing and writing about it as long as I have and you're certain to have witnessed a boat load of changes. You might, as I have, even had a hand on occasion in helping bring those changes about.

I started doing fishing columns for a daily newspaper away back in 1946. It wasn't long thereafter when I sold my first magazine piece. I've been at it ever since. Check the numbers and you'll find that's almost three quarters of a century!

When I spend time turning the pages of my memory some things immediately surface faster than others. I've already touched on one of them. It seems to surface whenever I've found makers certain tackle makers interested in listening to what you or I might have to say about the products they produce.

In my next two columns I'd like to share a couple such experiences I've shared with one particular tackle maker. You'll recognize some of the names associated with these memories. And chances are you'll wind up feeling as I do that the tackle makers who are eager to find out how anglers feel about their products are right at the top of the list of those who are most likely to succeed.

As I share these memories, be assured I know what I'm talking about. How can I be so certain about that? Because, as I've mentioned, I'm one of the guys they've listened to. There will be others who read this who've undoubtedly shared similar experiences.

My convictions about one of these special lure makers who are willing to listen to what you have to say about their products didn't develop overnight. It had its beginnings decades ago. I remember the first time it came to my attention.

It took place when I was doing lots of freelance writing for the nation's outdoor magazines. At the time I was also serving as outdoor columnist for The Daily News in Longview, Washington as well as the Vancouver Columbian in Vancouver, Washington. I did the Vancouver newspaper's outdoor column under the pen name "Stanley Scott." I was also doing casting exhibitions at many of the nation's top outdoor shows.

One day a fellow I'd become acquainted with at the shows in which I participated came to visit with me at. As soon as we exchanged greetings he handed me a package containing some new treble hooks.

"Stan," he said, "Here are some new hooks that are being made in Japan. I know you do lots of fishing. I'm wondering if I could get you to try these hooks. All I ask is that you let me know what you think about them."

"Sure," I said, "I'll be pleased to do that. I've got a couple of trips coming up where I can put them to good use."

The man who gave me those hooks that day was the late Walt Hummel. At the time he lived in Woodland, Washington. Hummel was a manufacturer's representative and he was considering bringing those new hooks he showed me into the United States.

Remember what I said about name recognition? The hooks Walt gave me that day were among the early products of a brand new Japanese hook manufacturer called "Gamakatsu."

I was one of the anglers who had a chance to try Gamakatsu's new hooks before they were ever introduced in this country. These leading hook makers were listening to anglers then and they still are today.

I did try those new hooks. They were the sharpest I'd ever tied on a leader. They were so dang sharp they were almost sticky. But---and this "but" is important to my story---they weren't very strong. They bent far too easily.

I got in touch with my friend Walt as soon as I could. I knew what I had to say wasn't going to be what he wanted to hear. I knew equally well he wanted my honest opinion or he wouldn't have asked for it in the first place.

I had a high regard for Mister Hummel. As I expected, he was disappointed in what I had to share, but as I mentioned in the very beginning, he was one of those guys who was willing to listen even if he's not in total agreement with what's being said.

I don't have to go into detail on what happened after Walt gave me those new hooks to try. I expect some of the others who also tried those new hooks told him the same thing I did. I do know Walt listened to me and the Japanese producing those new Gamakatsu hooks obviously listened to Walt. They made some product changes and the rest as they say is "history." I've written about it before.

Walt Hummel eventually did introduce these new hooks to anglers here in the United States. They caught on like a flame in a firecracker factory. It's a flame that's still burning. Anybody who knows a hook from a hatpin also knows Gamakatsu launched a hook making revolution. They not only started it; they've also managed to lead the pack at the cutting edge of hook manufacturing ever since. As far as I'm concerned they just don't make them any better.

It doesn't matter whether you're catching beautiful trout like this one I took from a lake in the mountains of Argentina...

...Or if you're setting the hook on a beautiful bass like the one I have here. You still have to have hooks you can count on. Good listeners like the folks at Gamakatsu provide them for us.

But that's not the end of the story. That same willingness to listen is just as much a part of things today where Gamakatsu is concerned as it was when hooks by that name first came on the scene. Today their national sales people here in the USA, will tell you the same thing: "Listening is how we get a good many product ideas," they say. "Anglers who are on the water a lot know what works and what doesn't. It's easy to put an idea on paper. We want to put an "idea" in the water and see how it works down there."

If you don't already have a 2014 Gamakatsu product catalog like this, be sure to get one. The variety of hooks it contains may surprise you.

I'm going to tell you another reason why I know that's true in my next column. Watch for it because what I have to share can be important to your own angling endeavors.

-To Be Continued-

July 31, 2013

This One's a Winner

by Stan Fagerstrom

Nobody is more qualified to tell you and me how to use a brand new bass lure than the guy who created it.

That's why my ears and eyes came to full attention recently when I had a chance to visit with Phil Marks, a bass fishing Texan who is the designer of a new crankbait that's now being marketed by the Strike King Lure Company.

I told you about Marks in my last column. I was especially interested in talking to him now because that new crankbait he came up just might be bigger than anything else you now have in your tackle box.

Phil's new 10XD is a diving crankbait that's a full six inches from its long diving bill to its tail. It weighs nearly 2-ounces. As you'll soon discover if you get a chance to visit with Phil is that a whole lot of thinking went into creation of this lure before it ever hit the drawing board.

Here's a close up of the new Strike King 10XD diving crankbait.

For starters, remember that Phil Marks is every bit as deeply hooked as the rest of us who fish for bass. "I wish I'd come up with this new lure 15 years ago," he says. "I started thinking about it seriously about seven years ago. We finally started working on it in 2011and I was still tweaking things here and there in the spring of last year."

Marks does a lot of his fishing in Texas. As anybody who has fished the Lone Star State much know, there is an abundance of sizeable largemouth in that part of the word. "I wasn't worried about the bass being able to eat the 10XD," he says, "I'd seen them spit up stuff larger than the lures we throw at them."

Phil Marks has used his new 10XD crankbait successfully under tough tournament conditions.

What Marks says about actually fishing the big new Strike King crankbait ties right in with my personal bass fishing experience over the past half century. Much of my own bass fishing has been done in the Pacific Northwest.

Oregon and Washington aren't renowned for the big bass they produce but I've taken my share of fish in the tall timber country running between eight and nine pounds. And I'm telling it like it was when I say those fish didn't come often but when they did they usually came on just a couple of my largest lures.

Much of what Phil told me simply confirmed my own bass fish beliefs. Sure he's proud of his new 10XD and he's already taken a couple of fish that topped 10-pounds on it. But the first thing he'll tell you is that like the other lures you've got in your box, this big new isn't "always" going to get fish.

Once again his comments tie right in with my own thinking. If you've been reading my material for more than the past half century you know I've said a few hundred times that the word "Always" should be eliminated from a bass angler's vocabulary. Largemouth bass don't always do anything. Replace that always word with "Often" or "Sometimes" and you're headed in the right direction.

"You must have realistic expectations," Marks says. "Big bass often aren't as aggressive as smaller fish. You've got to be sure you're getting a lure the 10XD down where they are and you'll find you need the right line weight and a rod that lets you handle a lure of its size."

Anglers who've used this new big crankbait say they're surprised that it's as easy as it is to retrieve despite its size.

So what kind of rod does this likeable tournament winning pro and lure creating expert favor in the way of rods? "I favor an 8-foot light action rod," he says, "that was originally designed for fishing swim baits. I found that I just wasn't comfortable using it on a rod I'd normally use for crankbait fishing."

The main thing that stands out where Phil's actual retrieve tactics are concerned is that he wants his 10XD working its way right down there along the bottom. "That long rod makes it easy to make long cast and get down deep," he says, "if that's what's required. I'm a believer in a fast retrieve. I make contact with the bottom and I make sure to bounce it off anything the lure encounters as I bring it back to the boat."

Here's another view of the new Strike King crankbait that's getting lots of attention from anglers going after big bass.
Marks usually loads his reels with fluorocarbon lines running from 10 to 15-pound test. He changes line test if that's what required to make the desired contact with the bottom on the retrieve.

Does Texas sharpshooter have a favorite color in the big 10XD? Yes he does. Like the expert he is, he won't stick to a single color if it doesn't produce but his number one choice is a shad pattern in chartreuse with a blue back.

That's about the size of it. Those big brutes down there in their hidey holes might not feed all that often and can be really selective when they do. Now and then a lure maker comes up with something that turns them on. There's already ample evidence that Strike King's new 10XD does that.

The first chance I get I'm fixin' to find out if it will work as well for me as it has for those plus pitchers down there in Texas.

July 01, 2013

Phil Marks Part 1

by Stan Fagerstrom

I'd love to climb into a bass boat with a guy named Phil Marks.

Maybe you already know who Phil is. If you don't and you're into bass fishing big time I think you should. Phil, you see, is one of those talented dudes who spends most of his time coming up with the baits that you and I catch bass with.

If you don't know Phil, I'd bet all of my Senkos you're well aware of the Strike King Lure Company. Among other things, Phil is the new products manager for this highly respected Tennessee based lure building operation.

I don't care what lure you've tied on in the past 15 years, if it carries the Strike King label Phil Marks has had something to do with it. You don't have to stretch your imagination very far to appreciate the kind of knowledge a man gets to collect when he's spent the time doing what Phil has.

Phil Marks doesn't just design fish catching lures for the Strike King Lure Company---he gets out there and uses them. He won the FLW tour tournament at Sam Rayburn Lake where he nailed this pair of dandy largemouth.

Marks has been in the sports fishing industry ever since after he got his degree in ocean engineering from Texas A&M back in the spring of 1990. I doubt he's ever done much engineering where our saltwater seas are concerned but he sure as the devil has left an imprint on this business of putting bass in the boat.

That's why I started out this column by mentioning how much I'd like to I'd like to share a bass boat with him. I'm usually told I'm bringing too many rods and reels and other gear when I climb into somebody else's bass boat. Phil wouldn't have to worry about that if I got to go with him. I'd be perfectly content to leave my gear home and just spend the day taking full advantage of the wondrous opportunity to simply look, listen and learn.

I know that the foregoing is true because not long ago I had a chance to spend some time visiting with this nationally known lure building expert. I'd talked to him briefly a couple of years ago at the annual ICAST show in Las Vegas. I caught up with him this last time when he just returned from a bass fishing tournament.

Though I've known of Phil and the important role he plays with one of the nation's leading bass lure builders for a long time, I found my interest in him peaking again late last year when he flat clobbered the competition in a Walmart FLW Tour Open in which he participated at Sam Rayburn Reservoir down in Texas.

When I say Marks "clobbered" the competition it isn't an exaggeration. Phil wound up the three days of tournament fishing with a winning total of 82-pounds. In fact, his winning margin of 16.5-pounds was the fourth largest in Walmart FLW Tour history. The final day of the contest he brought in a five bass limit that weighed 32-pounds, 12-ounces.

When a guy who builds baits does this sort of thing it's bound to get your attention. It sure as heck got mine. And the fact that he had he won it with such impressive totals wasn't the only reason. What else was there? Listen up---I'm about to tell you.

That second reason for my keen interest was centered on one of the lures Phil used to catch his largest bass during the Big Sam tournament. That lure was a brand new Strike King lure that hadn't quite yet made it to market.

That lure---it was the Strike King 10XD---is a deep diving crankbait that's probably bigger than any other crankbait you've now got in your tackle box. How big is it? Well, if you've checked it out since it did hit dealer shelves you're aware this big sucker is 6-inches in length and weighs nearly two ounces.

The lure Phil Marks is holding is here is the new 10XD crankbait he designed for Strike King. He's already caught a couple of 10-pound laremouth on this new lure himself.

Are you thinking that's way too big for the bass where you fish? Well, those fish down there at Sam Rayburn aren't nearly as smart as you are---they knocked the hell out of it! So did other bass of 10.2-pounds and 10.4-pounds that Phil himself has taken from other waters with this overgrown crankbait.

"The largest fish I know that's been caught on it so far," Phil told me, "weighed 14-pounds." Now if fish that size don't get your attention I don't know what would.

The new 10XD Strike King diving crankbait doesn't just interest bass. An angler named William Uzzelll used one to catch this big brown trout from a Virginia lake. This beauty weighed 12-pounds, 12-ounces.

That's why just as soon as I could I got hold of the bait's creator to try and find out just when, where and how he fished it. Phil shared that information with me. Keep an eye on my next column here because I'm fixin' to share that same information with you.

You won't want to miss it!

-To Be Continued-

June 05, 2013

The Secrets To Catching Crappie

by Stan Fagerstrom

Part Three

The first two keys to catching crappie is first to find them and then fishing at exactly the depth where the schools are holding.

I've detailed these two essentials in my last two columns. In this, the third and final column in this series, we'll deal with another factor of equal importance. That factor is the speed of retrieve regardless of the lure being used.

What is the right speed? It's not at all involved. What you need to remember is that you simply can't fish too slowly if it's crappie you're after. That sounds simple enough, but some would be crappie fishermen never do figure it out.

I've fished crappie a few times with one of these guys. He's one of those nervous individuals who just isn't happy unless he's jerking and twitching his rod tip and retrieving his lure so fast a starving barracuda would have trouble catching up with it. That flat won't work where crappies are concerned.

Sometimes the best speed of retrieve for a crappie bait or lure is simply not moving it at all. One of the most effective methods to catch crappies under many conditions is to suspend a little jig, fly or miniature plastic worm beneath a float. Cast your float out where you know the crappie are holding and let it set. Now retrieve it a couple of feet. Then let it rest again.

Now and then, depending on how rippled the surface is, most of your hits come while the lure is seemingly dead in the water. Just the up and down movement of the float as it bobs on the surface is sufficient to attract crappie---sometimes lots of crappie.

Big crappies like this dandy are down there but they can be hard to come by

Tiny tube worms, flies dressed with marabou feathers and miniature plastic grubs are all super crappie baits. Use all of these lures with a leadhead jig of appropriate size and remember that the best size weight isn't necessarily always going to be the same.

I prefer to use the lightest leadhead I can get by with and still fish efficiently. I say efficiently, because while I might generally favor a 1/32nd-ounce leadhead, I don't want to use something that falls as slowly as a 1/32nd- ounce jig does if the fish are feeding at 25 feet.

I recall fishing some bushes on a favorite lake that always hold crappie in the spring. The guy I was with couldn't figure out why I was catching one fish after another while he wasn't getting a bump. I had given him lures identical to my own.

Finally, knowing something was haywire and wanting to see him get his share of the action, I asked to see his jig. One glance was enough to discover his problem. We were fishing water only three to four feet deep. While the miniature grub he had been using was the same as my own, the little jig he was using it on was 1/16th ounce. Mine was only 1/32nd ounce.

His lure was falling so fast the crappies didn't have time to get to it before it hit bottom. As soon as I gave him a leadhead the size of my own he started catching fish. To an inexperienced crappie fisherman that slight difference in jig size might not seem significant. It was and is. Little things can make a really big difference in any kind of fishing. The sooner you make that discovery, the sooner your catches will increase.

Jig heads like those pictured are super crappie lures when used with a tiny plastic grub. You'll want to vary your jig size depending on the depth at which the crappie are holding

If you have read my book, "Catch More Crappie," you will recall a chapter in which I mentioned a man named Tom Jones, of Longview, Washington. Tom has been gone a long time now, but I always regarded him as the best all around crappie fishermen I ever met. He went after crappie the way us bass nuts go after largemouth.

I used to see him often at a favorite lake I fished 50 years ago. He had the crappie holding spots pinned down. Every now and then I'd take a break from bass fishing and run by to check how Tom was doing catching crappie.

I did that one day and thought my eyes were deceiving me. Tom had a burlap bag attached to both sides of his boat. He showed me a couple of fish out of the bag on the starboard side. They were average fish. Then he reached into the bag attached to the port side. In it he had a bunch of crappie larger than anything I'd seen in that part of the world. They were beauties. For that matter, I've not seen any as big since.

I asked Tom, he was as nice a guy as he was a good angler, how he caught those fish. He showed me. He had a small bucktail fly that looked something like a cross between a Royal Coachman and a Cowlitz Special. The fly was suspended under a float. Tom heaved the float out and then inched it back. Many of his fish were caught when the fly seemed dead in the water.

I've always remembered the tips Tom shared with me. One of them was how slow you must fish to catch crappie consistently. It's something you also need to remember if you hope to fashion a successful approach to catching crappie.

There's a heap of good eating shown here. You'll need to fish your crappie lures at just the right depth and at the proper speed to get similar results

In the last three columns I've shared the three main keys to successful crappie angling. They are location, depth and proper lure speed. They aren't something I read about somewhere. They are based on most of a lifetime of fishing experience.

If you want to get more fun out of catching these interesting and great eating panfish, there's no better time than right now to put these same tactics to work in your own angling.

May 03, 2013

The Secrets To Catching Crappie

by Stan Fagerstrom

Springtime is crappie time. There's no doubt about it. In many parts of the country the period we're in right now will produce some of the best fishing for these great eating panfish you're likely to encounter all year.

In my last column I talked about the importance of fishing in the right spots if you hope to catch crappie consistently. Let's assume you've used some of the tactics I detailed in last month's column to pin down some of their springtime holding spots. The next step is to fish those spots at exactly the right depth.

I had the importance of fishing at the right depth brought home in a hurry one morning long ago on while fishing the Columbia River backwaters for crappie. These sloughs are often home to both bass and a variety of panfish.

I had been bass fishing one beautiful spring morning. The bass weren't cooperating. I had always done well for crappie in the part of the slough I was on. I decided I'd fished bass long enough and would look for crappie instead.

The problem was I hadn't brought my usual crappie gear along. When I'm serious about crappie fishing I carry a separate tackle box for that purpose. It's loaded with the smaller jigs and tiny worms that crappie can't resist.

That little Road Runner lure you see here is a super tool for locating crappie schools in the spring. Get the smaller sizes so you can get the desired depth with a slow retrieve.

As I said, I didn't have any of these things along. I scrounged around in my tackle box and finally found a couple of little spinner flies. I cut a piece of bass sized pork rind down to a couple of inches and hung it behind the fly.

I also took a little ¼ ounce Bead Chain sinker and hung it ahead of the spinner. The combination just barely gave me a lure heavy enough to throw with the casting outfit I'd been using for bass.

Any one of these lures used along with a tiny leadhead can be dynamite for crappies.

I fished that little spinner and rind in the spots where I usually caught fish when I had my crappie tackle along. I couldn't buy a bite. Finally, tired and disgusted, I tried to throw that lightweight rig farther than I should have. The result was a backlash that would have made a preacher cuss.

I sat there picking at my miserable tangle of monofilament line for five minutes. In the meantime my little spinner fly sank to the bottom in water that was at least 25 feet deep. I finally got the twisted line untangled and started reeling in. I moved my spinner-fly about three feet out of that deep water when the line tightened. Snag, I thought. Wrong! That snag turned out to be a beautiful crappie.

I sat right there in the same spot that morning and wound up catching 20 of the nicest crappie I ever took from the slough I was on. Why hadn't I caught fish earlier? It was simply because I hadn't been fishing deep enough.

The fish weren't up in the shallows where I'd expected to find them. They were much farther out. That backlash turned out to be a blessing. Once I finally blundered into fishing the right depth, I started catching fish.

I've had similar experiences time and again in crappie fishing. In the spring you'll often find crappie in tight clusters and at the same depth. I don't know how many times I've taken beautiful catches from around downed logs.

Drop a jig or perhaps a little marabou fly on one side of such logs and nothing happens. Let it down to exactly the right depth on the other side and it's a fish every cast.

You simply can't be too alert when you are after crappie. Try to remember what you were doing and the depth at which you were fishing when one comes along. Get your lure back into the exact spot where the first one appeared.

I repeat---in the spring crappie will often be in tight clusters and feeding at exactly the same depth. They might come up to grab a lure, but they will have followed it up from the depth where they first saw it and where all of them are holding.

A word of caution: If you find crappie holed up in the branches of a downed tree, and that's a common situation, try to avoid tugging and pulling on the branches if you hang up. Sure as you do you'll spook the fish. When that happens you may as well move to a new spot.

Use light line, a line that will break with a strong steady pull. That's far better than jerking the cover around and scaring the hell out of the fish holding there.
Even after you've found crappie and established the depth at which they are holding, there's a third and final key to putting them into your boat consistently. It's using the proper lure speed. We'll take a close look at that aspect of crappie catching in next month's column.

You'll find it right here beginning June 1.

My friend Bruce Holt, of G.Loomis Rods, caught the dandy crappie pictured here. Few fish do more for a frying pan that a fresh caught crappie.

April 01, 2013

The Secrets To Catching Crappie

by Stan Fagerstrom

Part 1

Few fish put more plain fun into the sport of fishing than those good eating panfish we call crappie.

If you're among the increasing number of anglers who've done some crappie fishing you're aware how much fun it is to catch these interesting panfish. If you're an experienced crappie angler you're probably also aware the spring period of the year provides some of the best opportunities you'll have all year to put some of these good eating little buggers in the frying pan.

There are three great keys to successful crappie fishing. You've got to find the fish. Once you do you must fish at exactly the right depth. And even at the right depth you won't do much unless you are fishing your lure at exactly the right speed.

Those three things----location, depth and lure speed---are the keys to putting more of these great eating panfish into your boat.

You've got to find crappies before you can hope to catch them. So let's talk first about where crappies are most likely to be. My own crappie fishing, and I've done a bunch of it, has been primarily in the Pacific Northwest. However, the tactics I'll be detailing in my next couple of columns will catch crappie wherever you hang your fishing hat.

I had opportunity to refine my crappie fishing tactics and techniques primarily while living right on the shore of popular Silver Lake in the southwest part of the Washington State. Having a boat in the water all the time about 60 feet from my front door for more than three decades provided a wonderful opportunity to look for and catch crappie. This was especially true when the cook wanted fish to prepare for dinner.

This is the best time of the gear to get a net full of crappies like that shown here

Springtime offers a great shot at crappie catching. Late fall can also be excellent, but it's that period from March through mid-June that consistently sees some of the peak action of the year. Crappies school in the spring. Where you find one, you'll eventually find others.

But where are you most likely to find that first one? In sloughs, ponds, or most lakes, always look for crappie around wood. This wood may be in the form of downed trees, submerged logs, pilings or abandoned docks. Crappies also like rocks. Some of the best fishing at Silver Lake, for example, always came around the lake's sunken rock piles.

If I'm fishing for crappies on water I've not fished before this time of year, here's what I'll look for. First off I'd look for cover like that I've described. Once I've found downed logs, dead trees or any other possible crappie holding spots, I'll fish them ever so carefully.

I wouldn't expect to catch a boat full of fish right off. As soon as I catch even one crappie I'll mark the exact spot so I can come back to it. In crappie fishing on new water I often carry a pocket full of short yellow ribbons. Whenever I catch one fish, I pinpoint the spot by attaching a ribbon to the cover.

That ribbon might not be where you can see it easily, but I'll know where it is. As soon as I get a half dozen spots marked in this fashion, I simply move from one to the other and forget about trying to find fish anyplace else.

You've probably heard that 10 per cent of fishermen catch 90 per cent of the fish. I guarantee that those who are in that 10 per cent of successful anglers are fishing where the fish are. What some never do realize is that only about 10 per cent of a given lake or river holds fish. You can fish the other 90 per cent all day with little hope for success.

I may find only one or two crappie in my first try at the spots I mark. But in the springtime I know more fish are there. Crappies don't hang around by themselves this time of year. Again, where you find one there is a cinch to be others.

And that's why I keep going back to the spots where I've caught at least one before. Sooner or later crappie will start biting in one of those marked spots. If I'm lucky enough to be there when one of those common feeding binges take place, I'll likely catch all the fish I want to take home right there without ever moving the boat again.

Chances are the anglers in this boat would do a lot better for crappies if they moved in and fished around those piling. Wood cover of one kind or another is always one of the best spots to find springtime crappies.

I remember once fishing at Lake Shastina in Northern California. I was in a guide's boat. It was in May and we were fishing for bass. The action was slow, but every now and then I felt something pecking at a small spinnerbait I was throwing. The guide pulled the troll motor out of the water and prepared to move.

"Please hold on for a minute," I asked, "Something keeps nipping at the trailer of my spinnerbait and I've hunch it's crappie. They can't get themselves caught because the lure's hook is too large. Just hang tight and let me try something."

The guide waited while I rigged up a two inch grub on a 1/32nd ounce leadhead. I hung it on the lightweight spinning outfit I always carry in the spring. We were near a rocky shoreline and I knew those rocks ran on out into the water. You'll recall I've mentioned crappies liking rocks. I made a quick cast with that little grub. Bingo! A crappie picked up before I moved it three feet.

The guide and I sat right there and caught 24 fat crappie that would do credit to any skillet. You can bet I marked that spot before we left. That way I knew I could go back to the same location and have a good chance of making the same kind of catch. I did exactly that the next morning.

Make trying the right spots your first priority in any kind of crappie fishing adventure. I've told you the best spots to look for. Put these suggestions to work in your own fishing. They really do get results. If you don't believe that now, you will after you've given them a fair try.

Crappies are fun to catch and a delight in the frying pan. That's a combination it's tough to beat.
Next month we'll take a look at the importance of fishing at the right depth, another key ingredient to successful crappie angling.

March 01, 2013

Gamakatsu Trailer Hook

by Stan Fagerstrom

The bass that came blasting up through the thick pad cover left a hole the size of a washtub.

"Dammit, Stan!" my guide snorted, "that's the third good fish you've missed in the last half hour. "Let's stick a trailer hook on that weedless spoon you're throwing."

I expected there would be some down time while the guide attached the trailer hook he wanted me to use. There wasn't. He had a trailer hook attached to my Johnson Silver Minnow in seconds.

"Now," he said as he handed the rod back to me, "let's see if we can't put one of those suckers in the boat instead of just blowing holes in the pads."

And that's the way it worked out. I nailed the next bass that smashed my spoon. It turned out that the trailer hook was the one that got the job done.

When the fishing was done that day I asked the guide where the heck he had found trailer hooks as easy to attach as the one he'd given me was. "It's one of the new trailer hooks Gamakatsu added to their line at least two years ago," he said. "Those guys are always adding something or other to make fishing easier. You'd be wise to get some of them yourself."

He didn't have to give me that advice. I'd already decided to get them when I saw how easy it was for him to attach one to my lure. I don't think there's ever been a trailer hook available that's as easy to attach as this one is.

These easy to use Gamakatsu trailer hooks are available in both black and red colors and a variety of sizes

Sometimes a trailer hook can make the difference in catching bass or going home skunked. That comment won't come as a surprise to anglers who've spent much time fishing the heavy cover of one kind or another in the best bass water all over the country.

What might come as news, if they've not already heard about it, is how much easier the nation's leading marketer of hooks has made use trailer hooks.

Having trouble hooking the bass that hit? Attaching one of these Gamakatsu trailer hooks to your lure can make an immediate difference

For some reason there are days when the fish are busting our baits but are just hard as heck to hook. You've probably had experiences like that in your own bass fishing.

I recall fishing my home lake once years ago. The lake had lots of lily pad cover. That pad cover was a favorite hangout for the lake's bass. One of my favorite lures for fishing this cover was a Johnson Silver Minnow with a pork frog trailer.

I'm an old guy now but I recall that particular morning like it took place the day before yesterday. Remembering it isn't because I caught a live well full of fish. The opposite is true. I remember it because at least 20 bass blew holes in the pad cover as they tried to get hold of my Silver Minnow.

Some of those bass did get hold of the lure, but the hook didn't get hold of them. I knew darn well a trailer hook would probably help. I didn't, unfortunately, have any with me.

You can bet I've not forgotten that experience. Be assured I'm not about to let it happen to me again. And now the Gamakatsu trailer hooks I'm talking about make rigging a lure with them easier than it has ever been.

I know I don't have to sell experienced bass anglers on Gamakatsu Hooks. As far as I'm concerned hooks just don't come any better and that's been true ever since these sticky-sharp fish-catchers first came on the scene.

Are you aware that Gamakatsu is now marketing a trailer hook that eliminates all that fooling around once associated with putting one of them on certain of your favorite lures? If you aren't you should be.

Note the illustrations that accompany this column. What Gamakatsu has done, you see, is to produce a series of trailer hooks that come with a plastic coating molded right over the hook eye. There's no more screwing around using surgical tubing or whatever else you might have employed in the past to keep a trailer hook in place.
Now you can simply select the size trailer hook of your choice. Once that's done, just run the hook of your lure on up through the plastic coating on the eye of the trailer hook and you're in business.

The last time I checked these new Gamakatsu hooks were being marketed in four sizes. These hooks, their official name is the "Trailer Hook SP, can be had in sizes #1, #1/0, #2/0 and #3/0.
If you're one of those who favor having a flash of red in the stuff you show the bass you're after, the new Gamakatsu trailer hooks also fill the bill in that regard. They are available in either red or black colors.

I was involved in some of the test fishing of Gamakatsu hooks before they were ever brought to market here in the United States. They impressed the heck out of me the first time I used them. They've been doing the same thing ever since. You can get more info on these hooks at

If I don't wind up with bass in the boat when they're striking short now it won't be because I'm not using a trailer hook. The new Gamakatsu Trailer Hooks have a permanent spot in my tackle box.

I used a Gamakatsu trailer hook to nail this nice bass that grabbed my spinnerbait. I had missed several fish that had hit short before I remedied that situation by adding a trailer hook

It's there because I know there will be times, many of them, I'll want one of those hooks riding along behind the spinnerbait, buzzbait or whatever other single hooked lure I'm throwing. I also know that whenever that happens it won't take more than 30 seconds to add a trailer to whatever I'm throwing.

These Gamakatsu trailer hooks are first class time savers. Whenever you save time when you're on the water it usually helps put more fish in the boat. Those new trailer hooks have done that for me. Chances are you good they'll do the same for you.

February 01, 2013

How Are Your Habits?

by Stan Fagerstrom

Part 2

It was one of those days you dream about. The bass acted like they'd been waiting for us for a month.

For the first 45 minutes we were out we caught, missed or lost more fish than we usually got out of this particular lake in a month. Every darn one of them had grabbed our favorite spinnerbait, the one with two blades and a chartreuse and white skirt.

The day had been a winner, no doubt about that. But it also posed some potential problems we might not have been aware of. What? How in the world can that be? We caught more bass that morning than we normally get in a month? We should have more problems like that!

That potential problem I mention has to do with those bad habits it's so easy to develop where sports fishing is concerned. I make that kind of comment because I've been there and done that. Let me explain what I'm talking about.

Just what lure do you suppose someone who has had such a great day will throw the next time he goes back to lake where he caught all those fish? Chances are he'll have that spinnerbait with the chartreuse and white skirt all rigged and ready before he pushes away from the dock.

So what's the problem? There's a problem, you see, because this time the bass don't pay the slightest attention to that lure. Does the bass man we're talking about change his tactics? All too often he doesn't. He's well on his way to developing one of the kind of bad habits I mentioned in my previous column.

Nice largemouth don't have fixed feeding habits. You should avoid having fixed fishing habits yourself when you're trying to catch them.

Chances are you've undoubtedly read someplace or other about how human beings are creatures of habit. Are we ever! As I pointed out in my last column, habits also have a way of creeping into the way most of us do our fishing. We often take the same lure or bait, especially if we've had good luck on it before, and present it to the same spots in the same way hour after hour even if the fish we are after aren't paying the slightest attention.

You might have clobbered the bass the last time you were out with this interesting spinnerbait. But that's no guarantee they will even look at it the next time you're fishing.

We even let this habit thing play a major role in determining the tackle we employ. Just the other day I had a friend ask me what test line I used for my bass fishing. I told him it depended entirely on where the fish were located. I emphasized the importance of matching my line to the problems I was facing.

"That's not what I do," he said. "I fish strictly with 6-pound test monofilament. line. I use a long, flexible rod along with it. The rod is so flexible I can get by without breaking my line."

Now I've got nothing against 6-pound test line and long, flexible rods. I may use that same kind of gear when the conditions are just right. I sure as heck wouldn't be using it where the bass were in heavy cover. Then I might well be rigged with a stout rod and braided line that tested as much as 60-pounds.

The good kind of habit to develop in this regard is to learn to match your tackle to the problems you're up against. Suppose, for example, you are planning a trip to Mexico's Lake El Salto. You know that lake has some monstrous largemouth and you've decided that's what you'll go after when you get there.

I've a friend who has probably taken as many bass of 10-pounds or more than anybody who has fished Lake El Salto. Most of the time he does his fishing with braided lines testing 50-pounds or more and he doesn't even mess with a leader.

This guy catches most of his fish on a jig and plastic trailer or a hollow bodied swimbait. Many of them come out of submerged trees and stumps. A 6-pound test line would last about as long here as a bluegill in a lake full of barracuda.

There's another area where ever so many anglers develop a habit I've never been able to understand. What is it? It's to simply not learn how to use all of the tools available to them.

Can you imagine a professional golfer ever learning to shoot par if he didn't develop the habit of practicing with every club in his bag? Top golfers spend as much or more time in practice as they do when it counts. They learn to use all of their tools and then match them to the problems they are up against.

How many anglers do you know who refuse to use anything but spinning rods and reels? You won't have to look far to find them. You'll see some of them next time you're on the water. As far as I'm concerned this is another common bad habit for anglers to develop.

I'm not putting down spinning gear. I use it often myself, but there are times---depending on the problems you're up against---when a level wind reel and a casting rod is a far better choice.

Are you one of the many who'll only use a spinning outfit because you've never learned how to use a level wind reel? You'll improve your results if you develop the habit of learning to use all the tools available to you.

I attended all but two of the first 30 Bassmasters Classics, an event often called the "World Series of Bass Fishing." The first Classic took place in 1971. More than one angler in that first event used only spinning gear. Others didn't even carry a spinning rod and fished only with level wind rigs.

You won't find this among Classic contenders today. Now, just like a professional golfer, they carry all of the tools available to them. They select the tools---and they might be either casting outfits or spinning rigs---that will best enable them to solve the problems they're facing. They've developed, you see, the good habits that are essential if they are to attain the ranking they seek among today's professional anglers.

What about you? Have you developed some bad habits in your own approach to fishing? You're the only one who can do something about it if you have. And if you do odds are good you'll wind up putting more fish in the boat.

It doesn't matter whether you're after panfish or beautiful peacock bass like the one pictured here. You've got to be flexible in your fishing habits to catch either of them consistently.

January 03, 2013

How Are Your Habits?

by Stan Fagerstrom

Part 1
Habits, as anybody who has lived long enough to learn how to tie knots knows, can be either good or bad.

This is certainly true in the sport of fishing. Are you in the habit of continually checking the last few feet of your leader or line to detect any possible weak spots? Do you oil your reels regularly and back off the tension on the drag if they're going to be stored for a time?

These are good habits and if you haven't already made them a part of your approach to fishing you should start. There are, however, as many bad fishing habits as there are good. One of the easiest bad habits is to always throw and retrieve the same lure in exactly the same fashion.

Fishing spinnerbaits for bass provides an excellent example of what I'm talking about. Are you one of the many who simply throws your spinnerbait to the nearest cover and then reels it back in without varying either the speed of your retrieve or the depth at which the lure travels?

If you are you have lots of company. Most of us are inclined to take that approach to spinnerbait fishing and oftentimes it's not the best way to go. Never have I had this proven to me quite as clearly as on those rare occasions when I've been successful in talking my wife into joining me on a bass fishing adventure.

The better your bass fishing habits, the better are your chances of putting a good one in the boat.

My wife is never going to be a full-blown bass fishing fanatic. I held onto that hope in the early years of our marriage, but it soon became obvious it wasn't going to happen. Now I accept the fact she will go now and then, but only if the air temperature is between 72 and 78º and the wind is out of the west and blowing less than five miles per hour. I also have to be sure the boat is clean and that there's a soft pillow on the stern seat and I agree not to stay out more than three hours.

I don't have to ask her what lure she wants to throw on those occasions she does come along. Her choice is a ½-ounce spinnerbait with a white skirt. There's no need to ask her if she wants to throw anything else. She's convinced that if they'll hit anything they'll smack that lure.

This lady isn't a bass fishing expert, but now and then the different things she does with a lure because she doesn't know any better winds up catching fish.

Now I like spinnerbaits myself. I used one to boat the second largest bass I've ever caught. Even so, it pains me a little to admit how many times my better half has proven that she's about as good with it as I am. I say that because sometimes she sets back there in the rear of the boat and nails fish when I'm busy shooting blanks up front.

There's really no mystery as to why it happens. She's not in that common rut many of us---including yours truly---often dig for ourselves where spinnerbait fishing is concerned. She usually makes one cast to my two or three. It would probably drive me bonkers to fish my spinnerbaits as slowly as I've watched her do.

Sometimes, and again more often than I care to admit, those stupid bass don't seem to realize they shouldn't mess around with a spinnerbait fished as slowly as my wife is doing. They just go ahead and bite the dang thing anyhow. They don't seem to care one bit that I've got a lifetime of bass fishing experience and my wife doesn't know beans about it and won't lose any sleep because she doesn't.

The reason all this comes about, of course, is connected to what I said in the beginning. It's so easy to develop bad fishing habits. Try to stay loose and open to new approaches in your spinnerbait fishing. The same thing applies to other lures you're fond of using.

Don't get in the habit of always fishing the same lure in exactly the same way. Sometimes just a slight change in lure presentation gets immediate results.

Always remembers there's more than one way to do darn near anything. And sometimes taking a new and different approach with a lure you've always used in exactly the same way is the answer to putting bass in the boat.

Joe Bullock, a big bass catching expert from California, knows boating whoppers like he's holding here sometimes requires changing lures until you find one they'll take.

We'll take another look at this in my next column. Watch for it beginning February 1.

-To Be Continued-

December 04, 2012

The Best of the Braids

by Stan Fagerstrom

Part 2
Small diameter braided lines like Power Pro made an immediate important change for bass anglers using open faced spinning reels.

I touched on this in last month's column. Chances are you'll agree if you've been using your spinning reels as long as I have.

Experienced bass anglers are fully aware that now and then those hard to figure buggers we're after are back in the heavy cover. Sometimes all they will look at is one or another of our smaller lures.

There was a time when you couldn't throw those lightweight lures into heavy cover because you had to use such a light monofilament line to do it. If a fish did hit you knew bloody well it would bust off or simply twist the line around some underwater obstruction. You were up the creek either way.

No more. Today a braid like Power Pro lets you solve that problem. How? Now you can run a Power Pro line testing 15-pounds onto your open faced spinning reel but still have a line of approximately the diameter of 6-pound monofilament. You can throw a light lure with ease.

Power Pro braided line comes in a special box that makes filling up one of your reels an easy task.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see what an advantage this gives an angler under certain conditions. I know for sure some of those bass around the country have learned the hard way what it does for me.

Today I always carry at least one spinning outfit equipped with an open-faced reel loaded with 15-pound Power Pro. If I want to throw a small plastic worm, but only use a weight of 1/8th-ounce, it's not a problem. I can do that just fine with this braided line that's so strong despite its small diameter.

For decades I've made a substantial part of my income giving casting exhibitions all over the United States and sometimes in foreign countries. I always get a bunch of questions after one of these demonstrations. Often those questions have to do with my lines.

I've been using Power Pro lines for my exhibition casting as well as my fishing for many years.

Early on there was a lot of surprise among some of the anglers in my audience when I told them it is Power Pro braided line I have on every darn one of my reels, including both my level wind as well as my open face spinning reels.

Before quality braids like Power Pro came along I always used monofilament lines on my level wind reels. I used it in 10-pound test for most of the trick casting or certain of the underhand flip casts because I couldn't get the job done as easily with larger diameter monofilaments in stronger tests.

I was always fearful of having my demonstration weight break off and go sailing out into the crowd while using a mono of just 10-pound test. As a matter of fact that's exactly what happened a time or two over the years.

When it did happen---thank heavens--- I never wound up hitting anybody. When I was able to switch to Power Pro braid and be careful tying my knots I was able to eliminate those potential problems.

The small diameter of the braid also let me go to much heavier tests for my exhibition casting as well as my fishing. For the tricky stuff I get by just fine now with 20-pound braid.

The braided lines I use for the part of my demos dealing with flipping are 60-pound test. For the bit on pitching I use a reel with Power Pro of 30-pound test. My open faced spinning reels are loaded with 10-pound test.

Don't let the solid color of a braid like Power Pro spook you from using it where there's clear water to contend with. There are lots of times when you can also do without a leader altogether.

I rarely use a leader with Power Pro when I'm fishing a spot like Mexico's Lake El Salto or should I be on the Amazon or one of its tributaries fishing for peacock bass.

There is absolutely no reason, of course, to not use a leader with this braid if you choose to do so. Do be sure you use the proper knots. You can find what those knots are and illustrated examples of how they should be tied right at the Power Pro website. I've included an illustration of some of the most important knots along with this column.

I've read where some well known anglers have advocated this or that knot as their choice with braids. Those knots may work just fine. As for me, I'll go with what the folks who market the lines have to say in that regard. Nobody wants you and me to like their product and do well with it more than they do. They're not about to recommend knots you and I can't depend on.

Shown here are some of the knots the makers of Power Pro braided lines recommend.

Here's the small but strong knot you'll wind up with to attach a leader to your braided line. You will, that is, if you use the knot the makers of Power Pro recommend.

That's about the size of it. I expect there are a number of other good braids also available. If one of them does the job you want it to do---fine and dandy. If it doesn't, give Power Pro a try. If it works as well for you as it does or me you're not going to have any regrets in doing so.

November 05, 2012

The Best of the Braids

by Stan Fagerstrom

Part 1
It has indeed been interesting to watch what has transpired since those new small but super strong braided lines first came onto the American angling scene.

I tried a number of these new lines when they first came to the market. Like lots of other fishermen, I did so with varying results.

It's not hard to understand why some of those early braids are no longer being sold. Why? Because they created more fishing problems than they solved. Those that are still around have stood up to the test time eventually puts on everything---including the lines we use to put fish in the boat.

One of the small diameter braids I like best was a little slow getting started but today it's one of the most popular. That doesn't come as a surprise because as far as I'm concerned it's the best of the new braids I've had on my reels.

The braid I'm talking about is Power Pro. This line was originally introduced by a company called Innovative Textiles, Inc., of Grand Junction, Colorado. Today it is owned and marketed by the Shimano Company.

Power Pro wasn't among the new small diameter braids that first made it to the tackle stores. Innovative Textiles wasn't a big outfit and didn't have the bucks to make a big advertising splash when it first hit the market in 1996.

Once it did get out there and more fishermen started using it, sales took off big time. I remember how company officials told me early on that their sales had been just about doubling each year.

That the company was eventually purchased by Shimano provides additional evidence of the line's quality. Shimano took it on for the same reasons they now own G.Loomis Rods---it's one of the best you can get your hands on.

There is really no mystery as to what is responsible for the Power Pro line's success. The company making it learned from the mistakes made by the manufacturers of some of the braided lines first introduced---the ones that are no longer being marketed.

These Power Pro braided lines work really well on your level wind reels. The line's small diameter permits an angler to use a line of greater strength without running into casting problems

I've been using Power Pro for much of my own fishing since I got hold of my first spool in early 1997. I was doing exhibition casting at an outdoor show in the San Francisco area at the time. One of the Power Pro salesmen gave me a sample spool. He wanted me to let him know how I liked it.

It was 30-pound Power Pro I had on my casting reel when I tangled with this dandy bass one morning at Mexico's Lake El Salto.

I was pleasantly surprised with the new line the first time I tried it. Here was a braided line that was different than the others I'd used before. It was more round in shape and didn't have the tendency to dig down into the spool that often caused misery among some of the first of the new braids.

Besides that, it also wasn't so limp it often wrapped around my rod guides or tips on the cast as some of the other new braids had. It had good casting qualities and I just liked the "feel" of it on my level wind reels from day one.

Something else I especially liked was that I could also use it on my open-faced spinning reel as well as my level winders. It didn't give me quite the same distance I got with an open-faced reel loaded with light monofilament, but the distance I did get was entirely adequate for one of the asks I often required of it.

What that task amounts to for the most part is throwing a light lure into heavy cover. Try doing that with a monofilament line of 6-pound test and all you're looking for is big trouble. Ain't no way you're going to bring a good fish out the heavy stuff with a line that light.

Don't hesitate to also use Power Pro braid on your open faced spinning reels. It performs equally well on both spinning and level wind reels.

It's hard to believe a line of such small diameter can have so much strength, but Power Pro does.

A braid like Power Pro will solve that problem for you. I've some additional thoughts to share in this regard. You'll find them right here in my next month's column.

-To Be Continued-

October 01, 2012

Ever Go Buggy For Bass?

by Stan Fagerstrom

Part 2

If you're one of the not uncommon anglers who think trout are the only fish certain to give you your fishing kicks with the long rod---guess again. For that matter, good trout water may evenbe impossible to find in some parts of the country.

If you read my last column you know how I feel about using the fly rod for bass. It can be a real kick in the butt and that goes for both largemouth and smallmouth.

In my previous column I talked about the importance of having the right kind of equipment to go after bass with a fly rod. Let's assume you've got the right gear. Now how and where should you go about using it.

Almost all of my bass bugging has been done in the Pacific Northwest, an area not widely known for its bass fishing. You're usually going to hear a lot more about salmon or steelhead out there in tall tree country. And that in itself is nonsense. There's some darn good action for bass in both Oregon and Washington.

Right now the big Columbia River is kicking out some excellent smallmouth bass fishing. I've fished both Oregon's John Day and Umpqua Rivers numerous times. I'd rate both rivers right up there with other noted smallmouth rivers wherever you find them.

The weeks of spring and early summer offer some of the most interesting time for anglers going after bass with a fly rod in the Pacific Northwest. Largemouth spend lots of time in the shallows from April on through July in that part of the country. And it's in the shallows where bass bugging is at its best.

You'll likely average catching smaller bass if you stick with topwater bugs but even the smaller bass will usually be larger than the planted trout you'll so often find in lakes around the country.

As I've advised, always look for bass around cover. You're usually wasting time fishing open water. Cover can be darn near anything from a single piling to bridge abutments to
lily pads.

Forget about attempting to throw your bass bug 60 feet. It isn't necessary. Accuracy is 10 times more important than distance for fly rod bass fishing. If you can cast your bug 20 to 30 feet, you can catch bass with a fly rod. You can't, of course, go crashing around like a wounded water buffalo when you're that close to where the fish are holding.

All right, let's assume you've got the proper outfit and you've learned how to use it. As you'll soon discover, it's what you do with your bugs once you get them out where they need to be that really counts. It's what makes the difference between catching fish and going home skunked.

Keep one thing uppermost in your mind whenever you're fishing a bug. It's this: A largemouth bass doesn't "always" do anything. Just about the time you think you've finally got the buggers figured, they'll do something to knock all your neat theories into the middle of next week.

Bass sometimes show a color preference. It's wise to carry a selection of shades and change if what you're using isn't getting hits.

On most days, again not always, it's best to make your cast, then let the commotion the bug made when it landed disappear before you even start thinking about moving it. When you do move it, try to make it look the way some big insect would if it had been temporarily stunned by smacking into the water.

You'll find smaller bugs a whole lot easier to handle on the cast than the large, bulky patterns.

Once you've made your bug shudder enough to send out tiny ripples, let it rest again. Don't be in a hurry. Let long seconds go by. Now move it again. Keep up this twitch and pause routine for five or six feet before casting again.

Watch the cover behind and to either side of your bug. If you see any kind of movement, stop whatever you're doing and wait. Now twitch your bug again. Hang onto your rod when you do.

Having said all that let me add this: Don't assume the pause and twitch retrieve will always get results. As I said before, "always" doesn't apply when you're dealing with bass.

I've seen times when those fickle sapsuckers wouldn't look at a bug unless I ripped it along the top in a series of surface disturbing slurps that you'd think would scare hell out of a starving barracuda.

But while the stop and go procedure won't always work, it is always worth a try. Whenever you use it, try to get your bug as close to the cover you're fishing as you can.

One final thought with regard to fishing the shallows. As I've mentioned, bass usually are in, around, under or next to cover. That means working your bug through and across things like logs, lily pads, reeds, grass and brush.

You can make a bug weedless by tying in a strand of monofilament to serve as a weedguard. This works, but even more important is how you make your retrieve.

Let's say you've dropped your bug into a little pocket in a lily pad field. As soon as the bug splats down, drop your rod tip so it points along the line and out to the bug. Now don't raise the rod even if a fish hits.

Manipulate the bug by twitching the line in your left hand. You can make the bug do everything it needs to do by those little line tugs. You can also set the hook by jerking the line with your left hand.

As long as you use the line as I've detailed, the pull on the bug comes directly from in front of its nose. A bug so fished tends to somersault forward when it comes to an obstruction. The hook point comes up. Try to do it by raising your rod tip and the hook point will dip down. It's much more likely to hang up.

I've barely scratched the surface in these last two columns on fly rod bugging for bass. I hope it has been enough to get you interested in giving it a try.

Chances are good many of the bass you catch will average around a pound but they may go a whole lot larger. When was the last time you consistently tangled with trout that size on your fly rod?

You'll have your hands plumb full when you nail a beauty like this with your fly rod.

Handle a bass carefully when you catch it with a fly rod and you won't damage anything except the dignity of these wonderful scrappers. It doesn't hurt to invite one home to dinner now and then but always remember you are protecting your future fishing by practicing catch and release.

As I said in the beginning, the fly rod fisherman who doesn't give bugging a try is missing a super opportunity for some great sport. I've never known an angler who didn't love it. Provided, that is, they stuck with it long enough to really learn something about it.

So will you.

September 05, 2012

Ever Go Buggy For Bass?

by Stan Fagerstrom

Part 1

Mention fishing with a fly rod and the thought most fishermen immediately have is that you're talking about trout.

Every now and then I hear from fly rod enthusiasts who maintain there just aren't that many opportunities to use the long rod in the areas where they live.

That might well be true if you're thinking only of going after trout.

What so many, including some who should know better, often fail to realize is there are fish other than trout that respond readily to fly rod lures. And some of them present a bigger challenge and are as much or more fun to catch.

One such fish is the largemouth bass. It used to be many fly rodders turned their noses skyward at the mere suggestion largemouth might be worthy of their consideration. That attitude is changing and it's time it did.

Got him! Bugging for bass provides its share of thrills for the fly rod angler. Don't ever let anyone tell you it doesn't.

I don't know who started that old business of trout being the only fish worth pursuing with the long rod and a box full of flies. I suppose angling literature was responsible for
most of this nonsense, but it amazes me that it hung around as long as it has.

I'm not denigrating fly fishing for trout. I've had brown trout belt my dry flies on the South Island of New Zealand in a fashion that had my ticker thumping like a jackhammer.

I've had similar experiences with monster rainbow in Argentina and Alaska But if you're one of the many who assumes a snoot up posture when it comes to fly rod bass fishing, it has to be because you flat don't know anything about it.

Let's look at the equipment you'll need before talking about technique. I'm not going to get into the specifics. You can find books and videos dealing with that subject.

Do get yourself a good quality rod. Get one that's rated to handle a line designed for bass bug fishing. You'll also want a premium quality line to go with the rod.

I'm talking here about fishing topwater bugs for bass. Your line will need to float and have a bug taper. Lines so designated have an abrupt taper at the head end. That will be an asset in getting your bug to turn over on the cast and out where you want it to be.

The reel isn't of special importance for fly rod bassin'. Bass don't make long runs like some of the trout species. The fight is certain to be in close and often around heavy cover. It's no place for a lightweight rod with spider web leader.

I have a couple of old Perrine automatic fly reels that I love for fly rod bass fishing. These two ancient reels have been part of my gear for almost 50 years and I'd hate like the devil to part with either one.

It's convenient to merely depress a lever when you want to pick up the inevitable loose line while you're playing a fish. My trusty old Number 80 Perrines still enable me to do that.

Eight to 10 pound test is usually a good choice for a bass fishing leader. Seldom is it a good idea to use anything lighter. Try to find leader material that has abrasion resistance. That's what you'll need to fish the shallows for bass.

There aren't many times in bass fishing when you can use the word "always" with assurance. That's because bass rarely always do anything. The only thing truly consistent about bigmouth bass is their inconsistency. But one thing they almost always will do is hang around cover.

Don't waste time fishing for bass unless there is some kind of cover they can get under, next to, into or around. Learn to present your flies as close as you can to such cover. Don't hesitate to bump this cover on the retrieve. Try, in fact, to do exactly that.

I've fished bass with a variety of underwater patterns, but that approach has never appealed to me all that much. I'm aware it can be very effective at times. Even so, as far as I'm concerned it's fishing floating bugs on top that offers the most fun. Oftentimes in the spring they also get more than their share of hits.

What kind of bugs should you have for surface fishing? Forget about those monstrous affairs the size of a small mouse. I favor a deer hair bug. I tie it on a number four or six hook with a couple of strands of plastic for a tail. The bug is about the size of my finger in diameter.

A fly this size is relatively easy to handle. No, it doesn't cast like a number 12 Royal Coachman, but with a bug taper line and a suitable leader, you'll do just fine.

My favorite bass bugs are made from deer bucktail that I tie myself.

Note the size difference in these two bugs. Those big jobs like the one on the left are much more difficult to cast than the smaller bug on the right.

So what's a suitable leader? I've tapered my own some of the time, and they worked all right. What I didn't like about them was the knots used in the tapering process sometimes caught in stuff floating on the surface. You can get by just fine with a level leader and eliminate those extra hang ups.

Bass aren't leader shy. But as I've already mentioned, you'll need a leader that's sufficiently strong for you to have a prayer of getting a good fish out of heavy cover.

Even smaller bass like this one let you know they're around when you take them with a fly rod.

You'll be wise to do a little research and seek expert advice in putting your bugging outfit together. As I've mentioned there is a lot of material out there regarding fly rod bass fishing.. You'll be wise to make use of it.

Getting the right gear is just part of getting into fly rodding for bass. You'll also want to consider the best techniques to bamboozle those bass with your bugs. I'll get into the tactics that have worked best for me in next month's column.

-To Be Continued-

August 02, 2012

John Day River - Best Bet For Beaver State Bass

by Stan Fagerstrom

The call didn't surprise me. I've been getting similar calls every now and then for years.

It sort of comes as part of the package if you get as deeply involved in fishing and writing about it for as long as I have. If you do it figures you'll sometimes hear from folks wanting to know if you can point them to a spot where they are guaranteed to catch fish.

I won't usually do that. Fish don't come with guarantees. If you've not found that out already you eventually will. But there are spots here and there where I'll make exceptions. Once such is the subject of this column.

Looking for a spot where you can find excellent fishing for both largemouth and smallmouth bass? Let me tell you about such a spot and what happened one of the last times I was there.
Our guide slid his boat into the beautiful central Oregon River at 8 o'clock in the morning. By day's end we had caught more than 150 smallmouth bass---and we hadn't seen another boat all the time we were on the water.

There's more. The day before catching all those smallmouth my companion and I had boated more than 50 largemouth bass. They came out of a small lake hidden away in the hills not far from the river where we caught all the smallmouth.

Sound like a fairy tale? No way, my friend! At least it's not if you have the good fortune to drift the John Day River in the Fossil area of Oregon with that region's most experienced guide.

The John Day River curves through peaceful Central Oregon before it dumps into the Columbia River. The river provides excellent action for smallmouth bass.

Some of those smallmouth we caught topped 18-inches. That 18-inch size might not sound like so much to a salmon or steelhead angler unfamiliar with smallmouth bass.

Guess again! For my bucks few freshwater game fish fight harder than river smallmouth. Use light tackle, and that's what's required if you expect to put many in the boat, and they'll flat wear out your wrist.

The trip I've mentioned wasn't the first nor the last time I've been on the John Day with the guide I've mentioned. He is Steve Fleming, of Fossil, Oregon.

Fleming runs an operation called Mah-Hah Outfitters. He's been at it for years. I've never been with a guide who works harder, or more efficiently, to see that his clients get fish.

As mentioned, I've made several trips with Fleming. Most of those trips were made in late June, a time when you might think good action for sizeable smallmouth had tapered off a bit. It hadn't. On both occasions the credit for our success was due to Steve Fleming's angling expertise.

Book a trip with veteran guide Steve Fleming and you'll fish from his comfortable drift boat as you float downstream.

I've kicked around the world a good bit on fishing adventures of one kind or another over the past half century. It isn't often these days you'll find a river in the United States where the smallmouth bass fishing is as good as it is on the John Day.

You'll likely hook John Day smallmouth a good bit larger, but fish this size will keep you comfortably busy for awhile. A light spinning outfit is ideal for John day smallmouth fishing.

And you could say the same thing about having lots of competition. Perhaps other areas of the John Day are subject to the pounding so typical of most productive rivers, but that certainly isn't true of the sparsely populated region of the river Fleming fishes. The results I've detailed regarding this one trip have been repeated every time I've been there.

One of the reasons it continues to be so productive undoubtedly is due to the conservation procedures Fleming and his clients follow. Anglers who fish with Steve know going in that they will be expected to practice catch and release.

Every one of those 150 plus bass my friend and I put in our boat on that trip I mentioned was there but briefly. Once we got them unhooked they went back into the river. They'll be there to thrill the next anglers Steve guides down the river.

As anybody who ever hangs his fishing hat in Oregon very long usually finds out, it rains in that part of the world now and then. I've had people tell me it never does anything else!

When it does rain, rivers often get high, dirty and sometimes unfishable. Fleming doesn't sweat it when the raindrops come. You've heard that old bit about having "an ace in the hole." Well, Steve Fleming is a guide who has "a hole that's an ace."

Let me explain. Do you recall my mentioning the 50 plus largemouth bass we caught the day before we hammered those John Day smallmouth? Those largemouth weren't river fish. They came out of a small private lake to which only Steve and his clients have access.

Pictured is the dandy little private lake to which Steve Fleming and his clients have access. It's loaded with largemouth and bluegills

We didn't get on Steve's private bass lake until mid-morning on the trip I've detailed. Even so we caught those half a hundred largemouth by mid-afternoon. My biggest was an 8-pounder that smashed a gold colored Cordell Red Fin.

The bluegills in this little lake provide forage for the bass. If things haven't changed, I'd be willing to bet big bucks I could take my fly rod to Steve's private lake and catch 100 bluegill an hour if I chose to work at it.

The lake is simply loaded with those little devils. It isn't unusual to have a dozen of them chasing the lures you're throwing for largemouth.

Some of those largemouth in the private lake guide Steve Fleming fishes are dandies. I nailed this one there on a Cordell Red Fin.

Booking a trip with Fleming gives you a choice. Many of Steve's clients opt to do as I usually have. That is to fish for largemouth one day and a second drifting the John Day for smallmouth.

You'll get plenty of exercise casting and catching fish on a trip with Fleming on either the John Day or his private lake, but don't count on losing weight while you're there.

Besides his guiding skills, Fleming is a cracking good cook. Chances are about mid-morning you'll notice your tastebuds doing a toe dance as the odors from a Dutch Oven come wafting up from the middle of Steve's boat.

He fires up the charcoal in his oven when the trip starts in the morning. Around noon the food he has prepared is fully and expertly cooked. At that point Steve heads his drift boat to shore and ties up. Once there he serves his clients a delicious and piping hot meal right there on the riverbank.

One of the Pacific Northwest's top fishing guides is just as expert with a Dutch Oven as he is in catching fish. Drift Oregon's John Day River with him and he'll prove that to you. Here Fleming has set up a small table right on the shore of the John Day. Note his drift boat in the background.

Like I said in the beginning, fish don't come with guarantees. Anybody who tries to tell you they do is the same barefaced liar who maintains he fully understands women.

But as I said in the beginning, I'll make make an exception if you line up a trip with Steve Fleming to fish the John Day. Listen to the man, do what he tells you and you will catch fish. Even inexperienced anglers can score here. It's a great place to take your wife and youngsters.

If you want more details on Fleming's Mah-Hah operation they are easy to obtain. His Internet website has a wealth of information. You'll find it at His toll free number is 1-888-624-9424.

Line up an adventure with him and my guess is it will be a trip you'll never regret taking.

June 28, 2012

Now You Can Catch ‘Em In The Cover

by Stan Fagerstrom

There's no mystery about it. These days some of the top bass pros in the business go out there loaded for bear.

I'm not talking about packing 45 caliber hand guns or an extra rifle or a shotgun or two in their rod lockers. What I have in mind are the rods, reels, lines and the hooks some of them are employing when they're up against big fish and really heavy cover.

If you've done much fishing around Florida or parts of Texas and California you know what I'm talking about. You might be faced with flipping through heavy aquatic growth so thick it looks like it could float a brick.

If that's not what you're eyeballing, you might be up against a weedy mat that requires an ounce or more o weight just to punch the plastic bait you have on down through it.

A hook you can count on is essential if you hang a good one where the cover is heavy. Gamakatsu's new Super Heavy Cover hook is especially designed for this kind of angling problem.

The tremendous strength built into the relatively new small diameter braided lines really got the ball rolling in this regard. But that hasn't been the end of it.

Once those braids came along bassin' guys and gals had something they could really work with where the cover got thick. But they had to have other stuff they could use to get the job done.

Many moons ago I did a product piece about the Heavy Cover Hooks my friends at Gamakatsu had come up with. As well received as those hooks have been, there were still pros who wanted something even stronger---hooks that had no bend or flex and that had an even bigger bite of their own when a big bellied beauty tried to make off with it.

Well, my friends, today they have it. I've been associated one way or another with Gamakatsu fishing hooks even before they made it to market here in USA. I was in on the testing of some of the first early day Gamakatsu prototypes.

I learned something in the process. One of the things I learned, and I've since personally experienced more of it, is that the top dogs at Gamakatsu have both ears wide open and eager to hear to hear what those of us who are buggy about bassin' are saying.

"We're aware of the mindset of the tournament pros," says Jeff Roberts, an assistant sales manager out of Gamakatsu's Tacoma, Washington office. "They aren't interested in fighting a good fish that's in heavy cover. What they want to do is get that fish up and out and into their and boat and the sooner the better."

If you've got a rod with sufficient guts and a reel holding 65 to 85-pound braid you need a really stout hook especially designed to go with it. Put these three ingredients together and you could turn a shark sideways at hook setting time.

"Our new Super Heavy Cover Hook," Roberts says, "is designed along the same lines as the Heavy Cover Hook we introduced a few years ago. Our pros have done lots of testing with it, especially over the past year. Among other things you're not going to find any flex or bend in this new one."

Here's a close up of Gamakatsu's new Super Heavy Cover Hook. You'll find there's no flex or give in it. Those bass down there under the heavy cover will find out the same thing!

You'd recognize the names of some of the pros involved in the testing and the creation of these new hooks. They include sharpshooters like John Crews, Aaron Martens and Fred Roumbanis.

Winning bass pro Aaron Martens, shown here with a pair of nice largemouth, was just one of the pros in on the testing of the new Gamakatsu Super Heavy Cover Hook.

"We also got a lot of important feedback from Stacey King," Roberts says. King, a pro from Missouri, has been deeply involved in the testing of previous Gamakatsu products that have wound up making such a favorable impact on the bass fishing market.

Get a chance to examine one of the new Super Heavy Cover Hooks and you'll find it also has a slightly bigger barb than its predecessor. "That was another of the features the pros told us they wanted," Roberts says.

The wire keeper just below the eye is the same as it is on the Heavy Cover Hook, but its attachment to the hook has been reinforced and is stronger as a result.

Ever had your braided line work down into the teensy gap at the eye of a hook and wind up losing a lure as a result? I have. You won't have any problems like that with the company's new Super Heavy Cover hook.

I say you won't because the eyes of these new hooks are welded. You can tie one on with the braid of your choice and it's there to stay.

These new hooks are presently available. They are being made in three different sizes. Those sizes are 3/0, 4/0 and 5/0.

One of the keys to successful bass fishing is matching your gear to the problems you're up against. Will you be fishing heavy cover? Get a strong rod and rig it with a reel loaded with 65-pound or stronger test braided line. Tie on one of Gamakatsu's new Super Heavy Cover hooks and you're in business.

There you have it. If that pot bellied heavyweight that calls a nearly solid carpet of cover home could read this it would likely be a tad worried. And if it isn't it should be. It's gonna be too darn late when some well equipped pro slams one of these Super Heavy Cover Hooks into its mug.

If and when that happens odds are a couple of heartbeats later that bass is gonna find itself airborne and on its way into the pro's boat!

June 01, 2012

Spinning Reel Techniques

by Stan Fagerstrom

I had just finished my casting exhibition at the big International Sportsmen's Exposition in Sacramento, California.

When I got back to my table at the end of the casting area there were several show attendees waiting to ask questions about some of the things I'd talked about during my demonstration. A couple of them wanted to get a closer look at what I'd had to say about using the open faced spinning reel.

The open face spinning reel is a tremendous angling tool. Experience tells me there are a whole lot of anglers out there who don't realize there's more than one way to use it.

"We want to get a closer look at how you get the accuracy you do with that spinning reel," they said. "Will you make a couple of casts for us so we can get a close up look at what you're doing?"

I've heard similar requests countless times in the hundreds of demonstrations I've done around the country over the past half century. If you're among the many who do most of your angling with a spinning outfit chances are you'll find my answers to that question of interest.

Let me start off with one simple statement: There's usually more than one way to do darn near anything. That includes utilizing different techniques with various items of tackle. This applies to reels just as it does rods. Have you, for example, ever considered mastering a different method of casting with your open-faced spinning reel?

A good many fishermen fail to even realize there really is more than one way to cast with an open-faced reel. Take a close look at fishermen you see using these reels. It's a safe bet you'll see darn near all doing essentially the same thing. They open the bail and drape the line across their right forefinger. When they are ready to cast they simply straighten out the right finger and the lure sails away.

There's nothing wrong with that method of casting. It's the one the manuals advocate. But it's not the only way to do it. It's not the one I use myself. And there are other techniques besides the one I usually employ.

If what the manuals have to say work well for you, stick with it. If they don't---and they didn't for me---experiment until you find one that does. That's what I've done. I know others who've also made some changes.

One such example is my friend Steve Rajeff. Steve is an executive with G.Loomis Rods. This soft-spoken casting expert has won more casting championships at the national and international level than anybody anywhere. He has tremendous casting skills. Steve is best known for his expertise with a fly rod. Believe me, he's every bit as good with a spinning outfit or a bait casting rig.

I mention Steve because he uses a different technique to get his lure out there with an open-faced reel. If you ever have opportunity to watch him handle his open-faced reel, observe carefully what he does with it. You'll find he opens his bail and then drops his right forefinger to trap the line against the side of the reel's spool. He holds the line tight against the spool until he is ready for his lure to fly out.

Here's the procedure one of the world's finest casters uses with a spinning reel. Once he's opened his bail he traps the line against the side of the reel's spool with his right forefinger. He releases forefinger pressure to let the lure fly to its target but feathers the line with the forefinger to achieve pinpoint accuracy.

Why does he do this? Because he finds he gets better control that way than he does casting in conventional fashion. "I get a degree of accuracy using my open face reel this way that's very close to what I enjoy with a level wind reel," Rajeff says. "It's the procedure I always use when I'm involved in casting competition."

The reason he is able to get better control is because he can feather the line with his right forefinger as it peels off the reel's spool. The key to any kind of accurate casting is being able to communicate with your line while the lure is in flight. You've got to be able to slow the flight of the lure, but you can't do it in such a fashion the lure stops with a jerk.

I've been giving casting demonstrations around the world now for decades. If you've ever watched one of my demonstrations you're already aware that I utilize yet a third technique with the open-faced reel.

I learned early on I couldn't get the kind of pinpoint accuracy required for demonstration work with a spinning outfit trying to feather my line with my right forefinger. I got reasonably good accuracy, but not consistently enough to feel comfortable when I had 500 people jammed around my casting area waiting to see if I could practice what I was preaching.

The procedure I worked out brings both hands into the act. I'm right handed. I begin by opening the bail of my spinning reel and draping the line across my right forefinger just as you probably do. But from here on things change.

Now when I let go of the line with my right forefinger I trap the line against the lip of the front of the reel's spool with my left forefinger. When I'm ready to cast, I release pressure on the line with the left forefinger and away goes the lure. All the time the lure is in the air the line is flowing off the spool immediately under my left forefinger. I find it a whole lot easier to feather the line with my left forefinger.

You can use your left forefinger to do much the same thing. Just open your bail but then trap the line at the front of the spool with your left forefinger. Release the finger pressure to let the lure fly out, but maintain contact with the line as it peels off the spool. It's a great way to get the accuracy you need and want.

Here's another view of the positioning of the left forefinger. Using this technique with a spinning reel provides line control similar to that you get with your thumb on a level wind reel.

If you're familiar with level wind reels, you know you control the flight of your lure by applying pressure to the revolving spool with your thumb. My procedure with the open-faced reel is much the same. The line comes off the spinning reel under my left forefinger. All I need do to get my lure where I want it is to use pressure from my left forefinger to control things.

For many years I removed the bails from my spinning reels to facilitate making the two handed cast. On the older reels I used at the time it was much easier to use the left-handed technique if the bail wire was removed. If you caught one of my demonstrations years ago you undoubtedly heard me talk about removing the bail.

That's no longer necessary with the reels I'm now using. I switched to Shimano reels years ago. There's ample space between the bail wire and the reel's spool for me to position my left forefinger where it needs to be. If you watch one of my demonstrations today you'll note I'm using a Shimano Symetre open-faced reel. It's a tremendous fishing tool.

You needn't be unduly concerned how I cast or how Steve Rajeff casts. The only thing that matters is how much enjoyment and satisfaction you are deriving from the method you're using for your own fishing.

Accuracy is essential for successful fishing with a spinning reel. This pictures shows what can happen when you have it. Pictured is Bruce Holt with a beautiful smallmouth he caught. Holt is an executive with G.Loomis Rods.

Nowhere is it written in stone that you have to cast as I do. And neither of us has to follow the instructions printed in some manual. Chances are whoever wrote that manual hasn't spent half the time fishing we have. But I repeat what I said before: How are you going to know if your present procedure is doing does the best job for you unless you give the other methods a try?

It doesn't take long to find out. Rig up a spinning outfit and head for the back yard. Try the procedures I've outlined. It won't cost you a dime to try them out. It just might wind up putting a whole lot more fun into your fishing when it's spinning gear you're using.

May 01, 2012

Billy Chapman Jr. Does it Again! Anglers Inn is Now in the Jungle

by Stan Fagerstrom

Some men spend much of their life trying to put bass in the boat.
Such individuals aren't hard to find. You'll find them participating in professional bass fishing tournaments now staged in almost every corner of the country.

Some of those professional contests now pay winners the same kind of bucks other professional sports like golf or tennis did when they were first getting established.

I know a bunch of those professional anglers. You probably know some too. But how many men do you know who instead of attempting to put bass in the boat themselves have spent a lifetime making it possible for others to do so?

Such individuals are hard to find. But I know one. You might have heard of him yourself. If you haven't you should. I say that because now he has again done something really big to assist bass anglers.

This time it's for anglers who choose to go after those fantastic peacock bass of the Amazon jungle. Let me tell you about him. His name is Billy Chapman Jr.

If you've followed bass angling, and so many thousands do and have, Chapman's name is probably already familiar to you. Few individuals have had a greater impact on the bass angling world.

Billy is the man who led the way in providing the wondrous bass fishing now to be found in the lakes of Mexico. Anyone who has ever had the opportunity to be Chapman's guest at his Anglers Inn on Mexico's Lake El Salto knows what I'm talking about. The same could be said about his Anglers Inn Lodge at Mexico's Lake Mateos.

But it isn't the almost unbelievable largemouth angling you may run into at either of these lakes that I'm talking about. Now this internationally recognized outfitter and lodge operator has taken his tremendous talents back into the heart of the Amazon.

I say "back" into the Amazon because it was those peacock bass of the Amazon and its tributaries that really gave him his first opportunity to polish his skills in the world of making bass fishing dreams come true.

Billy was still in his 20s when he began booking trips for jungle bass anglers in Venezuela. Within his first five years in the jungle he supervised the construction of the first two bass fishing lodges ever built in that part of the Amazon.

What he's doing in the Amazon today almost has to be seen to be believed. Again, if you've been to Anglers Inn at Lake El Salto or Lake Mateos in Mexico you know what he's done in Mexico. Believe it or not, today he's doing even more with his brand new operation now known as Anglers Inn Amazon.

Billy Chapman Jr. has been helping bass anglers from all over the world ever since he was a kid. He's pictured here with one of the Amazon's beautiful peacock bass. Chapman's Anglers Inn floating suites Amazon operation is attracting international attention.

I'm no stranger to the Amazon. I've had the opportunity over the years to make three different trips there to fish for peacock bass. The first of my three trips was through the country of Columbia decades ago. The two more recent adventures were both into the Amazon by way of Brazil.

In my earlier trips I never had the opportunity to experience anything resembling the kind of set up Billy Chapman has now made available.

Please note the pictures that accompany this column. Chapman told me a few years ago what he planned to do for anglers hoping to experience the thrill of tangling with one of the world's greatest sports fish---the jungle's peacock bass.

"Stan," he said, "I'm going down there and build a series of floating mobile suites. I want to be able to move them into different areas of the Amazon and its tributaries. That way I can put our clients where fishing prospects are best."

I'll be damned if that's not exactly what he's done! It's already attracting the attention from anglers all over the world.

You won't always find peacock bass in the same areas of the Amazon. You're not limited to any one spot when you book a trip with the Anglers Inn Amazon operation. Billy Chapman's floating suites take you where the fish are.

It's not at all difficult, having fished the jungle's rivers myself, to see what Chapman has been successful in doing. There are a few places in the jungle that accommodate visiting Amazon anglers. But for the most part they are permanent structures built on land or larger boats with limited space for their clients.

The boats they provide are able to take their customers into nearby areas of the jungle. Depending on water conditions, they might or might not be able to put you where the prospects for peacocks are good.

I've seen times on some of the Amazon's rivers where you couldn't buy a strike. On other occasions I've seen areas where those lure smashing peacock were all over the place. Usually by far the best action came in the most remote spots.

The chance for you to reach those remote spots is exactly what Chapman's Anglers Inn Amazon operation provides. The Amazon, you see, has an almost unbelievable fluctuation in water levels. I'm told the floating dock at Manaus, the place that really serves as the major city of entry into the jungle, fluctuates as much as 48-feet.

"Peacock bass fishing," Billy says, "is usually best when the water level is low. Mobility and exclusivity is the combination that creates the best chance for a great peacock bass fishing trip.
"Our Anglers Inn floating mobile suites move like a water train beyond natural barriers to pristine and exclusive Indian reserves. Our entire operation may move every other day during your visit and keeps you in new water where the competition can't go. You have my guarantee you'll experience the usual Anglers Inn style of personal service in the process."

Here's what the interior of the Anglers Inn Amazon floating suites look like. Each air conditioned unit has its own bath and shower.

Here you see Chapman's floating suites anchored in an isolated area of the Amazon while clients enjoy an evening meal on the beach.

Going to the Amazon with Chapman's floating suites also offers another major advantage. You're never going to be more than a relatively short boat ride from your home base.
I've been in the Amazon when our guide took us way the hell and gone back into jungle. Sometimes it took far too long to get back to the lodge.

I've also had the unpleasant experience of having our boat run into motor trouble and being left in a situation way back in the boonies where it wasn't at all certain that we'd be able to get back at all.

"We recommend," Billy says, "that you return to your floating suite at noon for a hot lunch, a cool shower and a siesta. Because of our mobility we can keep the good fishing close enough so that you're usually only looking at a boat ride of from five to 15 minutes to get back."

You're never far from the security of your own floating suite when you're in the Amazon with Anglers Inn. Anglers who get out early in the morning often come back for a shower and siesta at mid day.

I could write 10 more pages about what you'll find on an Anglers Inn Amazon adventure. There's really no need for me to do so. It's easy to find everything you need to know from times and prices to what to bring and what's provided.

You can do that at your own convenience by simply calling 1 800 GOTA-Fish or by visiting on the Internet.

I know Billy Chapman Jr. and I know what he stands for. Few men anywhere have done a better job of making the dreams of countless anglers come true more often than he has. That's undoubtedly why he's one of the very few, if not the only outfitter/lodge operator, ever inducted to the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame.

As I write this I just have one regret---it's that Anglers Inn Amazon didn't exist when I made my three earlier visits to the rivers I've mentioned.

Be assured that's where I'd of headquartered if it had been.

April 02, 2012

I Like To Tell It Like It Is!

by Stan Fagerstrom

Have you been there and done that?

I have a chance every now and then to ask that question. One of the times I use it most is when I hear some dude making positive statements about something related to fishing he actually knows very little about.

Such an opportunity came up not long ago when I overheard two anglers I know talking about fishing in New Zealand. Both said they'd love to do it but one didn't think he'd get to fish if he did.

"From what I hear," he said, "New Zealand is all fly fishing. You can't even use anything else. I don't fly fish so I guess that lets me out."

Those two guys obviously "hadn't been there and done that" as far as New Zealand is concerned.

Well, I have. I interrupted their conversation long enough to tell both of them to never pass up a chance to visit---and to plan on fishing---that beautiful country whether you've ever wrapped your hand around a fly rod.

The incident I mention wasn't the first time I've heard tales about fishing in the land of the Kiwis that just aren't true. At least they weren't when I've been there. I have great memories of the two month long trips I've spent in that beautiful country..

On both occasions I was a guest of the government's department of fishing. I was placed with a different guide about every four or five days. I got to fish one place or another darn near every day.

I was also privileged to give a casting demonstration that ran on the country's national news channel. Another of my trick & accuracy bait casting exhibitions was also featured in an appearance at the Agradome near the city of Rotorua on the North Island.

This column provides an excellent opportunity to straighten out some of those misconceptions about Kiwi angling. The first, as I've mentioned, is that New Zealand is all fly fishing.

New Zealand does indeed have some of the world's finest fly fishing. Here's evidence of that.

Certainly the country offers some of the most interesting fly fishing
you'll find anywhere, but in no way are you restricted to use
of the long rod.

It's true there are waters in New Zealand set aside for fly fishing
only. You won't have difficulty finding out what they are. But for every river or lake restricted to fly fishing, there are a half dozen others where you can use spinning gear. During the times I was there I used my light spinning gear as much as my fly rod.

Fly fishing gets most of the attention but there is also a super opportunity for anglers to use their spinning gear for fishing in the land of the Kiwis.

Something else that needs to be said is that a New Zealand fishing
adventure can be just about what you choose to make it. I don't
care what kind of physical condition you're in, if you can
get aboard a boat and hold a rod, you'll be able to catch fish.

One way to do that is to go to Lake Taupo on the North Island. This
huge lake is loaded with rainbows. They are beautiful, big
trout. If you go out with one of the lake's experienced guides, you
can expect to catch fish running from two to seven pounds.

The lake has rainbow larger than that, but I'm talking about
fish you can expect to catch darn near every time out.

Those fish will most likely be caught by a method the Kiwis
call "Harling." Don't let the term confuse you. What it
boils down to is trolling a fly.

There's a bit more to it than that, but it's not unlike trolling lures for larger trout here in the United States. You let your fly out behind the boat and the guide puts you where the fish are. Be assured you'll know it when one of those big 'bows latches on to your fly.

It was my spinning gear that let me get the net under this New Zealand trout.

Unless things have changed you don't have to be concerned about inviting some of those Lake Taupo trout you catch to join you at dinner. The guides I fished with told me New Zealand fish officials encouraged anglers to keep Lake Taupo fish.

There is a better average size when that lake isn't over populated.
Some of the older guides told me about what happened at Lake
Taupo during World War II. At that time there was virtually
no fishing pressure on Taupo and the average size of its fish
dipped sharply.

You won't be encouraged to keep fish on most New Zealand
trout streams. Guides in that beautiful country are just as
interested in conservation as they are here.

And despite what you may have heard, don't expect to go to the best known trout streams and catch fish every cast. It won't happen.

It bugs me to read exaggerated accounts of how somebody
clobbered trout all over New Zealand on just about every other cast. You bet the country has great trout fishing. But like trout fishing elsewhere, that doesn't mean fish are always going to fight over your lure each time out.

I've seen days I couldn't buy a hit on New Zealand rivers that were loaded with fish. If your only interest is in numbers of fish, you'll be better off going to someplace like Alaska.

If you prefer a challenge with your trout fishing, and if you want to visit a land where both the countryside and the people can rightly be called beautiful, you'll flat out love New Zealand.

Among some of my most cherished New Zealand memories are trips made for brown trout on certain pristine streams of the South Island. It was as much like hunting as fishing.

The guide used Polaroid glasses to spot fish. He sneaked up to the stream bank ahead of me until he saw fish. The he'd tell
tell me where to place my fly. When I did it right---kerwhop!

And here's what that trout looked like! Note the beauty of the mountain lake from which it was taken.

I put those brownies back. I know right where they are. If I'm fortunate enough to get back there again, don't get in my way. I know exactly where I'm going and I want to get there fast.

I've had the good fortune to fish for trout in Argentina and Alaska as well as New Zealand. Each area has its charms, but I fell in love with New Zealand. The country and its people remind me of the folks I knew as a kid growing up in North Dakota long years ago.

There is a friendly openness about the Kiwis I've not often found in travels elsewhere. And they still love Yanks. I keep mentioning the people because it's the men and women you encounter wherever you go who make the biggest difference in how you feel about visiting a foreign land.

Think about it. Paradise itself won't be much fun if Saint Peter turns out to be a big grouch!

Again, fishing in New Zealand can be what you choose to make it. And don't sweat it if you'd rather catch ‘em trolling than casting with a fly. You'll find ample opportunity to do both.

March 02, 2012

This Jig's Gone Wacky

by Stan Fagerstrom

Some of the best bass fishermen around this land of the free and the brave know how to dance a jig.

If that creates a mental image of a bunch of rod toting dudes making moves you might see at an Irish pub---guess again. What I'm thinking about, you see, has nothing to do with your feet. What I have in mind are the jigs anglers often use to put bass in the boat.

I have a special reason for talking about them right now. The reason is there's a brand new jig that's about to come on the scene. It's one you never seen before and it's certain to attract the attention of a whole bunch of anglers.

If you've fished bass long enough to wear a few calluses on your butt you've undoubtedly heard of fishing Wacky Style. It's not as wild as it sounds. What it boils down to is inserting your hook in the middle of a plastic worm instead of at the head end.

What this type of presentation does is let both ends of the worm wiggle and waggle as it falls. Besides having a nasty disposition, bass generally are just as curious as they are mean. Sometimes they just can't leave a worm presented Wacky Style alone.

There are a variety of ways to use some kind of a weight when you practice Wacky Style fishing. Now there's a brand new combined hook and weight coming on the scene you need to know about. I've played around with it some and it's a dandy.

This new product is called the Jig Head Wacky. It was developed by my friends at Gamakatsu. I say "my friends" because I've been fishing with Gamakatsu products ever since they first came to the American market. As a matter of fact, our relationship goes even a bit further back than that.

I was, you see, given opportunity to test these wondrous new hooks before they hit the tackle dealer shelves in the United States decades ago. I lived in the same area as the man who was planning to handle these hooks if they measured up to his high standards.

I don't have to tell experienced fishermen about the quality of Gamakatsu products. They've been on the leading edge of hook innovation and technology ever since they came on the scene. That's one of the reasons why I figure their new Jig Head Wacky hook & jig set up is certain to attract so much attention.
So exactly why is it I'm so eager to rig the new Gamakatsu product up with one of my 5-inch Yamamoto Kutail worms? It's because this brand new Jig Head Wacky combines features you've not seen before in this kind of hook and jig.

For starters, this new jig head is weedless. And if you think those weedguards are of the plastic type you've undoubtedly seen elsewhere---guess again. Gamakatsu's new Jig Head Wacky comes with a double nickel/titanium weedguard.

"If you've messed with titanium much you're aware of its strength and durability," says Jeff Roberts, an assistant sales manager for Gamaktsu who has been deeply involved in the production and testing of this new set up.

"You can throw this new rig into the submerged trees, rocks or whatever kind of obstruction you need," Roberts says, "to get your Senkos into whatever's down there along the bottom. Those dual strands of titanium that form the weedguards may be small but they'll get the job done."

The jig head of this Gamakatsu product is also of new design. The eye of its hook is recessed to better prevent its hanging up in whatever structure you are fishing.

Gamakatsu had hoped to have the new Jig Head Wacky hooks on the market by last December. That didn't happen because of production problems where they are being made.

As this is being written it appears they will be available to us by late this spring or in early summer. I'd suggest you ask the guys at your favorite tackle store to give you a call when it happens. Another good bet is to keep your eye on Gamakatsu's Internet site. You find it at

Fishing Wacky Style can be a super tactic for both largemouth and smallmouth bass. You can see the Senko worm rigged Wacky Style that took this beauty on Oregon's Umpqua River.

When I first heard about the new jigs even a couple of samples were difficult to come by. Jeff sent me one to make it easier for me to know what I was talking about. Just eyeballing the darn thing, and listening to what Roberts had to say about the extensive testing and refinement that have gone into it, convince me it's a winner.

While the new Jig Head Wacky didn't reach the market as early as originally planned, its actual development and testing was been under way for more than a year. I asked Roberts where some of this testing has been done and who was involved.

One of the pros who has been deeply involved all the way is Shinichi Fukae, the tournament winning pro from Japan. Here's a guy who grew up using one finesse fishing tactic or another. The last time I checked Bass Fan had him listed at Number 10 among the world's top ranked bass pros.

You can bet your bucks that a pro with Fukae's winning record isn't going to screw around with a new Wacky Style fishing rig unless he knows it puts fish in the boat. He and others worked with different versions of the new Jig Head Wacky until they got it just right.

"The hook on this Jig is tailor made for its purpose," Roberts says. "Its angle is perfect. It looks a good bit like one of our extra wide gap worm hooks. My own experience with it proves I hook most of the bass I take on it in the roof of the mouth."

Here's a close up of Gamakatsu's new Jig Head Wacky. It was a terrific fish catcher when conditions were right during its testing process.

Jeff and other Gamakatsu pros also spent testing time with the Jig Head Wacky on Truman Lake and Stockton Lake in Missouri. Stacey King, that's another name that'll ring bells with you, was involved in the testing down there in the "Show Me State."

Obviously the new rig did a good bit of "showing" as well as "convincing" or it wouldn't have created the excitement that it has.

I mentioned using it with Senko Kut Tail worms for a reason. It's because Roberts has found Yamamoto's Kut Tails a particularly good bait to use on the new Jig Head Wacky. "It's best not to use a worm with a body that's too thick," he says. "I really liked my results with a 5-inch Yamamoto Kut Tail."

I was eager to learn what colors in the Kut Tail had been most effective. Jeff had a ready answer.

"The Kut Tail #042J was lights out some of the time," he says. "That worm is a fading watermelon color. Another hot bait was the cinnamon brown #241." Among the other Kut Tails that were effective for him were the #194, #297 and the #427. He also had excellent success some of the time with a 5-inch Thin Senko.

Roberts will tell you that the new Jig Head Wacky is at its best where the water gets to depths from 12-feet on down. "Fishing it along drop offs is one of its best applications," he says. "I also used it along the deep water off steep bluff walls. During testing at Lake Oroville in California I took fish on it all the way down to 35-feet."

Some lures demand a lot of movement on their way down to where the bass are holding. Roberts says that's usually not a requirement where the Jig Head Wacky is concerned. "You're going to get most of your hits on the drop," he says. "Don't work it too much. The jig head makes the worm do its own thing as it falls."

Anglers who've tested this new Jig Head Wacky have found it to be especially effective when used with Yamamoto Kut Tail Senkos worms.

That's about the size of it. As I've mentioned, I've had occasion to observe the Gamakatsu hook operation now a long time. I'm well aware of the detailed thought, planning and repeated testing that goes into their record setting hooks.

Whenever company officials are as excited as they are about their new Jig Head Wacky, it gives me my own near terminal case of the fishin' itch.

Pictured are some of the 5-inch Kut Tail Senkos that caught more than their share of fish when Gamakatsu pros fished with the company's new Jig Head Wacky.

I'll be watching for word of exactly when these new rigs become available. You'd be wise to do the same.

February 02, 2012

The Secrets To Angling Success

by Stan Fagerstrom

If you ever hope to wind up catching your share of fish you need to accept the necessity of practice and preparation.

That sounds simple enough but ever so many fishermen fail to give these points the attention they deserve. The result? They usually wind up not catching their share of fish or in being able to fully enjoy the wondrous memories the sport has to offer.

Over a lifetime of fishing and writing about it I've seen what I'm talking about transpire again and again. I've seen it apply to everything from rods and reels and lines and lures as well as the ability to use any and all of these items with the skill demanded if you're to take fish consistently.

Part of that preparation I've mentioned means having quality, balanced equipment that will best enable you to solve the problems you're confronting. Those problems will vary. You'd better be prepared when they do.

Let me provide an example of what I'm talking about. I really didn't care all that much about the guy who was in the boat with me. Even so, I can't recall a time I've wanted more to see a companion hook a good fish.

If you think that desire was coming out of the goodness of my heart---guess again. Fact is, I was ticked off at the guy I had along with me. He really didn't know his bass from a hole in the ground, but in no way was he about to accept the advice I'd attempted to share with him.

I'd tried my best to convince him the lightweight spinning rod and 6-pound line he insisted on using at the outside edge of the cover we were fishing wasn't adequate should a good largemouth grab his lure. He wasn't listening. Though he really hadn't done all that much bass fishing, he had all the answers.

There will be many times and places where a level wind reel will be your best tool for angling success. Are you master of it?

"Listen," he snorted pontifically, "I've used this spinning outfit all over the country. Don't tell me I can't handle a big one with it. You show me where the fish are. I'll take it from there."

My silent wish was granted less than an hour after the trip started. I asked the guy to flip his floating lure up next to the edge of a heavy pad field. We were on my home lake and for a couple of weeks I'd been catching some dandy bass along this one stretch of heavy pads. My companion cast, waited, then twitched his lure. I saw the pads quiver ten feet away and a heartbeat later a fish smashed that floating plug with hair-raising fury.

"I got him!" my guest shouted.

It was debatable who had who. I knew what was going to happen. As soon as it felt the hooks that brute of a bass turned and headed back into the cover. You could see the direction it took because it tore up pads as it went. The man holding the spinning outfit was powerless to do anything. The line peeled off his spool. Then the fish wrapped the 6-pound line he was using around some pads and there was no more movement. The line was busted and the fish was gone.

The bass that fellow lost on a beautiful May morning was the largest he'd ever hooked. He needn't have lost it. What he did need was to match his equipment to the problems he was up against. That's something I've been preaching about at outdoor shows and in the outdoor columns and magazine features I've been writing since shortly after I got home from World War 11.

Matching your gear to the problems you're up against is one of the keys to angling success. Unfortunately, it's a key that's ignored over and over again among the anglers of this country. It's too bad, because matching your equipment to the demands you make of it is one of the real keys to angling success.

The same thing is true where the spinning reel is concerned. You'll find many angling problems where an open faced spinning reel best helps you face the problems you're up against.

Like casting practice, it's one of the few things you can do to actually control the number of fish you catch. The answer is simple: You've got to match the equipment you're using that's best suited to the problems you're facing. Fail to do this and you'll likely wind up like the guy I told about hooking that big bass.

I've been around a heap of fishermen in a lot of different places over decades of fishing and writing about it. I've witnessed a tremendous change in angling equipment in that time span. Fifty years ago it was often difficult to find the rod, reel and line combination best suited for the specific type of fish you were after.

That's not true anymore. Today you can tailor your tackle to any need. When you do, you're a cinch to realize the satisfaction and enjoyment having the right outfit brings and you'll also catch more fish.

You're looking at the results a good friend of mine got a trip to Mexico's famed Lake El Salto. He wouldn't have taken the beauty he's holding without having the right angling tools and the ability to use them.

As anglers eventually find out, there is no one rod, reel and line combination best suited for all kinds of fishing. What works like gangbusters in your home lake might not be worth a toot in another part of the country. While the level wind reel is a superior tool for many kinds of fishing, it doesn't begin to match the performance you can achieve in handling lightweight lures with a spinning outfit. While one line might be great in the clear water of your favorite river, there will be others twice as effective where the cover is heavy and the water stained.

There really aren't many things a fisherman can do to control the number of fish he puts on the bank or into the boat. The experts who catch more than their share are invariably those who are most knowledgeable about the tackle they employ and the uses they make of it.

Once you have quality equipment and practice until you can handle it properly you can expect to get results like you see going on here. Believe me, it's a goal worth pursuing.

If I had to come up with the three most important things beginning anglers might do to assure their angling success it would be to get quality equipment and then achieve mastery of it through practice. After those two steps the next is to then match their equipment to the problems they're up against.

You've probably heard than some 10 per cent of the nation's anglers get about 90 per cent of the fish. Be assured those who are in that 10 per cent bracket follow the steps I've outlined.

January 06, 2012

Closed Face Spinning Reels for Kids Part 2

by Stan Fagerstrom

The closed face spinning reel can be an effective fishing tool for the relatively few who learn how to use it properly.

As far as I'm concerned, no other reels even come close to providing a little boy or girl a relatively easy way to get into fishing. Show them how to handle the pushbutton reel properly in the very beginning and you'll get away from the misery so often and so unnecessarily associated with teaching kids how to cast.

You can bet the closed face spinning reel you can see on her rod helped this young lady catch that nice catfish she's holding.

I base those comments based on decades of personal experience.
I've been teaching youngsters over a sizeable chunk of the world how to use a closed face spinning reel almost since these reels first came to market.

Getting distance with one of these reels is no problem. Almost any kid can learn to throw a practice weight halfway down the block in short order. Trouble is those same kids usually wind up with their line draped over a telephone pole or with the casting weight hung up in the nearest cottonwood tree.

There's a way around this problem. Give casting exhibitions at some of the world's largest outdoor shows (and I have) and you better be darn sure you can hit your targets and entertain your audiences. At least you better have that ability if you expect to get asked to return.

If it's a youngster you're teaching how to use a closed face spinning reel, be sure you get a reel small enough for them to handle. The Daiwa Goldcast GC80 shown here is a great one for this purpose

Because I was already doing some exhibition casting when closed face spinning reels first came to market, the Zebco people gave me one of their first Zebco 333 spinning reels to try out. It soon became abundantly clear that getting distance with this new style reel was no sweat. Consistently hitting my targets was another matter. Attempting to get the job done by using the reel's thumb control button just didn't work.

I tried a number of different approaches before I came up with a technique that did. I still didn't have the pinpoint accuracy I got with a level wind reel or the open faced spinning reel. But what I did have was entirely adequate. I hope you'll study the next few paragraphs carefully. Get a good handle on how to use the closed face in the fashion I'm about to detail before you attempt to teach it to your youngsters.

Here's how it goes: Have your boy or girl place the closed face spinning reel in the palm of their left hand. Have them extend their left forefinger to trap the line securely where it comes out of the center of the reel's enclosed spool.

Once they have the line trapped securely against the hole in the center of the reel's spool, have them depress the reel's thumb control button and hold it down. When they are ready for their practice weight to fly out, release pressure with both the left forefinger and the right thumb at exactly the same time.

When you're ready for the lure to fly out, let go of the left forefinger and the thumb control button at the same instant. All the time the lure is in the air be sure the line flows is flowing over your left forefinger as it comes off the spool. All you need do to drop the lure right where you want it is to increase upward pressure on the line with the left forefinger.

Now comes the key to accuracy with the closed face reel. All the time the casting weight is in the air, the line should be allowed to flow off the spool over the left forefinger. All in the world your youngsters need do to drop the lure smack on target is increase upward pressure on the line with that left forefinger.

It's downward pressure from the right thumb that lets an expert with a level wind reel put his lure on target time after time. You can use upward pressure from the left forefinger to do nearly the same thing with a closed face spinning reel.

Be sure you get one of the smaller reels I've already named for your youngsters. They will fit nicely into the palm of even a small hand. It's surprising how quickly even little guys and gals, provided they have the right kind of instruction, can learn to get a practice casting weight out where it belongs with these little reels and lightweight matching rods.

I began this column by saying the closed face reel can be an effective angling tool for someone who really learns how to use it. I see disbelief in their eyes sometimes when I tell someone what I witnessed at one of the many Bassmasters Classics in which I participated.

You have to be a great angler to even get into this World Series of Bass Fishing. You don't buy your way in. You get there by scoring sufficiently in previous elimination contests. Classic contenders are accompanied by an observer.

I got into the boat at one Classic with a contender from Tennessee. He was a man who was to qualify for the Classic two different times. The day I shared the boat with him he had five casting rods in the boat---and every last one of those rods held a closed face spinning reel! Now do you see why I made that comment about these reels being an effective fishing tool?

I'll have a few final thoughts to share where kids and the closed face spinning reel are concerned. I'll do that in my next column beginning

- To Be Continued-

December 06, 2011

Closed Face Spinning Reels - The Best For Kids

by Stan Fagerstrom

I'm one lucky guy.

Why? Because I'm one of those fortunate few who for the most part have been able to make a living doing something they love. In my case what that's boiled down to has been fishing and writing about it or demonstrating how best to use the tools---the rods, reels and lines---associated with the sport.

November 14, 2011

Often Color is The Key - Part 2

by Stan Fagerstrom

There's simply no question that color often plays a tremendously important role in consistently putting fish in the boat or on the bank.