Road Trips

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  • 07/31/2017 2:52 PM | Ron Presley (Administrator)
    Variety is the spice of life

    Sometimes adventure awaits in your own back yard. I lived in Florida for eight years before I discovered the St. Johns River as a fishing destination. It was my friend and Florida Guides Association guide, Tom Van Horn, that introduced me to the St. Johns. He was promoting the Coastal Angler Magazine-Orlando Shad and Crappie Derby. 

    Shad, I thought. That’s bait fish, right? Then Tom gave me the story of how the American shad make their way from the Atlantic Ocean at Jacksonville all the way up to Volusia county and beyond to spawn. This migration takes place every year and produces some unusually good light tackle fishing on the St. Johns River. Fly casters are also swooned by the shad’s arrival. The feisty fish are hard pulling and high-flying targets for small colorful offerings. 

    With the American shad discovered, I was hooked. My shad fishing trips to the St. Johns also uncovered a special beauty of its own. Wildlife was abundant, from shorebirds to alligators to eagles. Every day was a new adventure on the St. Johns. 

    My next discovery was the terrific crappie fishing available on the river. Covering a crappie tournament as a member of the media unveiled just how good it was. Angler after angler came to the scales at weigh-in with a seven-fish limit of crappie. Big, beautiful, black crappie. No fish is more photogenic than Florida black crappie.

    Naturally, after firsthand witnessing the bounty of the river at that tournament, I had to try the crappie fishing myself. I was not disappointed. I discovered that about any method of crappie fishing you would want to try would work on the St. Johns River. Longline trolling, spider rigging (pushing), casting, and my favorite one-pole jigging all produced nice crappie.

    Given the numerous lily pads on the river it is just two inviting not to try dipping some jigs in the pads. With this method of crappie fishing the angler holds a single or longer pole in his hand and moves from spot to spot dipping a jig vertically down among the lily pads. Thump! When you feel the thump, set the hook. Crappie anglers are often heard to say, “I live for the thump!” 

    Bass are also abundant on the river. I don’t think I have ever been out on the St. Johns without running across a bass angler or two. Just like with the crappie, almost any method of bass fishing works. Most that I have witnessed are casting plugs and swimbaits around the numerous pads and fallen timber. Others are casting live shiners under a bobber to catch some monster bass.

    One St. Johns angler, Broc Foley, has a special penchant for fishing with artificial frogs. His covert methods of waging war on bass have earned him the nickname – The Frog Ninja.

    “The best time to throw a frog is every day,” says Foley. “It is all about risk and reward for me. I can put on a worm and catch a lot more bass, but when I throw my frogs I know I am going to catch quality fish.”

    Froggin’ is Foley’s go to technique for catching big bass. “Whether it is skipping under overhangs, fishing open water or targeting specific structure, I like to fish frogs,” elaborates Foley. “I fish frogs 12 months of the year. I personally carry over 100 frogs in my boat. I have at least three rods rigged with a different frog very time I fish. Who doesn't love a big fish blowing up on a frog?”

    Foley is so into frog fishing he has developed his own frog. He spent about 18 months field testing and developing his Vexan Ninja Frog. It will be available soon for other froggers to use.

    The St. Johns River is also a great place to catch catfish. Van Horn also introduced me to the catfish in the river while shad fishing. He would always bait up a rod and throw it out on the bottom while he was fishing for shad. Once again, the proof was in the pudding. Catfish after catfish came using this method.

    Now, I make trips to the river to target catfish. Interestingly, the first nice catfish I caught, I thought was a blue cat. After a little investigation, I discovered that the blues don’t range this far south. It was a nice big channel cat.

    Catfishing is easy and anyone can do it. A simple Carolina rig and some worms is really all you need. Catfish will eat other baits too. I have good luck on shrimp and just about any kind of cut bait. The bridge where HWY 44 crosses the St. Johns is one of my favorite launch sites. There is shoreline fishing available, nice boat ramps, a nice restaurant and bait shop.

    I still enjoy travelling to fish other locations, but once I discovered the St. Johns River it has become a favored destination, not just for the fishing, but for its beauty too. 

    For more information visit http://visitwestvolusia.com

  • 07/02/2017 9:35 AM | Ron Presley (Administrator)
    Return to Pickwick Lake

    Colbert County, Alabama has a special attraction to anglers of all kinds. Bass anglers, striper anglers, catfish anglers, you name it. All those popular species can be caught from a base camp in the area referred to as “The Shoals.” The area includes Muscle Shoals, Tuscumbia, Sheffield and Florence.”

    Local fishing guide, Captain Brian Barton (256-412-0969), regularly hosts recreational anglers in search of locally abundant fish. He often targets multiple species in the same day on Pickwick Lake and its 490 miles of winding shoreline and 43,100 acres of water surface.

    On this particular day, we would be targeting saltwater stripers and Barton’s favorite, smallmouth bass. The plan was to motor up a tributary to search for stripes, and later in the day move out to the main lake and fish river bluff walls for smallmouth.

    When smallmouth bass are on the bucket list, Barton starts by catching live bait. The fresher the better is his motto, and the bait he nets in the morning will have you catching fish all day long. He has a large bait tank on board to be sure the bait stays lively and fresh. “I always want fresh river water in my tank,” advised Barton. “I always add a little bit of salt to it (See Video). Livelier baits translate into more fish in the boat.”

    With plenty of bait on board, we started in search of the stripers by moving out of the lake and up a small tributary. Based on his experience, Barton explained that the fish we were targeting would run from 16 to 28 pounds with an average fish being 18 to 24 pounds. That average alone got me excited. He noted that his boat record was 28 pounds 12 ounces.

    The whole process went just like Barton predicted. We stabilized his War Eagle boat on one side to the creek and cast chunks and heads of skipjack herring to the opposite side, which was the deep side.

    “It is all about water temperature,” explained Barton. “When the river hits 78 to 80 degrees the stripers start coming in and they will stay in the tributaries until the water temperatures cool down. Tributaries like Pond, Cypress, Spring, Dry, and Little Bear are all fishable targets.”

    Barton’s Shimano Sahara spinning reels were spooled with 30-pound test Vicious Braid and mounted on B’n’M Silver Cat rods. “I use the rods for striper and catfish,” stated Barton. “That’s why I spool with braid.”

    “I have used every brand of catfish rod on the market over the last 30 years,” said Barton. “I have seen a lot of good and bad ones. The B’n’M rods are the best I have ever used. The Silver Cat series is perfect for the everyday cat fisherman.”

    The terminal tackle began with a barrel swivel tied to the tag end of the mainline. About 16 to18 inches of 20-pound Vicious mono ended with a Daiichi 3/0 bleeding bait hook.

    Barton’s bait of choice for the stripers is skipjack herring. He normally cut each skipjack into a head and two cuts out of the body sections. Occasionally he would use a fillet or just a smaller size, if the bite was slow.

    When those stripers hit there is no doubt that you are in a fish fight. It seems like simple fishing, but it is rewarding and recreational to tie into one of those big fish. You are never quite sure you will get it to the boat until it’s in the net. Once caught, Barton insists on a quick photo and release.

    As the afternoon wore on, the tributary started stirring with surface action, mostly white bass. It was Barton’s signal to leave the tributary. “That looks inviting said Barton. “Wait until about 6:30 or 7:00. Those white bass just come alive back in here. If I ever lose my love for live-baiting the smallmouth I am going to try some Road Runners on them.”

    We made our striper memories and moved on to satisfy Barton’s passion for live-baiting smallmouth bass. With a livewell full of shad we motored out of the creek and into Pickwick Lake.

    With our targeted fish moving from stripers to smallmouth Barton began explaining the possibilities. “When fishing for smallmouth or other bass for that matter, there are several different places or locations you want to look. Anyplace the current hits the bank directly and creates an eddy pool is good. The mouths of tributary creeks are always good, particularly the downstream point where you have current breaking off the upstream point. Pickwick has over 250 shell mounds or Indian mounds which are also good smallie country.”

    “Any of those structures, rock walls, any of the old Muscle Shoals River Canal structure, are good,” continued Barton. “Basically, anything that has a hard bottom like rock, shell or pea gravel bottom where you have a contour break or a current break is going to hold smallmouth in the fall and the spring and summer.”  

    We were fishing what Barton called a “typical afternoon” on Pickwick. The dam was running about 40 to 50 thousand cubic feet per second of current. Barton chose a straight wall bluff to begin our afternoon adventure.

    “The current is pushing into the bank,” explained Barton. “That current is pushing shad into the bank. We want to cast our baits up against the bluff and let it float down the bluff wall. We should catch largemouth, small mouth, spotted bass and probably a few fresh water drum and catfish along the way.”

    Thinking about the old axiom, “variety is the spice of life,” I followed Barton’s instructions to cast 10 to 15 degrees upstream and allow my bait to float downstream alongside the wall.

    “As you hit the bottom just gently lift the weight up off the bottom like you would a plastic worm,” advised Barton. “Just float your gizzard shad over the structure.”

    We were still using B’n’M rods, but for the live bait fishing we were using the 8-foot B’n’M Float-n-Fly Rod equipped with a spinning reel.  Our line was 8-pound Vicious mono  and a split shot weight.

    “Weight is always a variable,” said Barton. “We will start with a split shot weight of about a 1/4 ounce. You may have to go up or down between 1/16 to 1/2 ounce, depending on the speed of the current. If I were fishing still water I would normally have no weight or very little weight. I would hook that shad right under the dorsal fin and let him swim. I like a size 1 or 2 baitholder hook to pin the shad through the bottom of the lip and come out through the nostril.”

    Just like with the stripers, Barton’s strategy worked to perfection. The first bait drifted along the wall produced a nice largemouth. The remainder of the day produced plenty of both smallmouth and the predicted largemouth bass, freshwater drum and catfish thrown in.  

    The smallies were best for me, because living in Florida I seldom get to target the bronzeback beauties. The thrill of holding that rod in your hand and floating live shad along a beautiful bluff wall on Pickwick Lake in Alabama is pretty hard to beat.

    The fishing opportunities in the area are endless and fishing guides like Barton know where to go for the different species. Pickwick is about 46 miles long, dam to dam, so there is a lot of places the fish can be. When you have that much water it is a good idea to hire a guide like Barton unless you have several days to fish and discover on your own where they are.

    Barton is owner operator at Brian Barton Outdoors. You can view his website at brianbartonoutdoors.com.

    Sidebar - 
    Colbert County

    Colbert County, Alabama is a special place. A place that is especially attractive to anglers, but also to tourists in general. Anglers are attracted to the great fishing and tourists are attracted to the area’s beauty and a rich history in the music culture.

    Barton lives in Muscle Shoals, AL, an area referred to as “The Shoals.” Muscle Shoals, Tuscumbia, Sheffield and Florence make up this area that has a long history in the music industry. It was, in fact, the birthplace of the famous Muscle Shoals Sound.

    “There was a sound here called the Muscle Shoals Sound,” explained Barton. “You know that song, ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ by Lynyrd Skynyrd? There is a line in the song that says, Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers. The Swampers were a group of five men and they had a unique sound that couldn’t be reproduce anywhere else,” continued Barton. “That sound brought all these musical cats in here to do their recording. People like Aretha Franklin, Wilson Picket, Little Richard and a whole lot more came here to record.”

    Now, visitors to “The Shoals” have the opportunity to investigate some of that music history by visiting such places as the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, the W.C. Handy Home and Museum, the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio Museum and the famous FAME Recording Studios.

    You can easily find suitable accommodations for the trip to Pickwick. I stayed at the Cold Water Inn in Tuscumbia. It has everything you need, all set in an antebellum theme that will knock your eyes out. Service, rooms and breakfast were all outstanding. 

    On a personal note, there are plenty of fine eateries in the Shoals area. One I liked in particular was a place called Champy’s. It is one of those places that is so good you want to tell everyone about it. They are known for their chicken, but everything we had, including the onion rings and, believe it or not, the tamales we had as starters. Just mosey on in when you got a little time. The chicken is prepared fresh while you wait and it is worth the wait! Don’t miss it if you are in the area.

    The other place that came out on top was a little Mexican diner that Brian Barton told us about. It is a family run place and the food is outstanding. If you need a Mexican food fix, Casa Mexicana is the place to get it. I guess I should confess, we went to Casa Mexicana twice during our short stay in the Shoals. It was that good.


  • 05/31/2017 11:18 AM | Ron Presley (Administrator)
    Change of Pace – The beasts below the dam

    When you visit Florence, AL there are a couple species of really big fish you can target. I visit the Florence area mostly in search of catfish. I have a sentimental attachment to Wilson Lake because a fishing trip there with Muscle Shoals fishing guide, Brian Barton, landed me my personal best blue catfish in 2016. A trip in 2017 resulted in a then personal best 37-pound flathead. You can see why I have a fondness for the area.Florence, AL, Stripers, fishing

    On a recent trip to Florence I decided I needed a change of pace, but still wanted to tangle with something big, a saltwater striper to be precise. I have heard the stories about mammoth stripers that congregate below Pickwick Dam and I wanted to give them a shot.

    A little research turned up a local guide by the name of David Allen (270-205-9380). As a tournament angler, Allen loves bass fishing for about any species. Because of the popularity of Pickwick as a smallmouth destination a lot of his clients come in search of personal best smallies. He has helped those anglers reach their goals in many instances. 

    Better yet, he has been chasing the saltwater stripers for a lot of years growing up on the Pickwick waters. Allen was willing and able to give me the change of pace I was looking for. We set a time to hit the water out of McFarland Park in Florence, AL. The park sets at the base of the Highway 72 bridge crossing the Tennessee River and gives direct access to Pickwick Lake.fishing, Florence, Alabama, Pickwick Lake

    I should say the park gives outstanding access to Pickwick. Extra wide ramps make ramping easy and floating docks make it easy to board the boat. The facilities are topnotch and only a short idle out to the lake where our targeted species would be found in the current below Wilson Dam.

    Allen explained that this time of year (early April) we were likely to find some stripers in the heavy current produced by the generating activity at the dam. It was a short ride from McFarland Park to the dam where Allen started navigating towards his fishing spot.

    As we worked our way into the area he wanted to fish, he offered a warning. “It can be a little tricky in here,” said Allen. “There are lots of submerged rocks and boulders that can do serious damage to a lower unit if you’re not careful.” About that time, he pointed down towards the water and said, “See that boulder. It has been the ruination of many a prop. There was a huge boulder just under the water that could easily be missed by an inexperienced angler navigating the tailrace waters.fishing, Florence, Alabama, Pickwick Lake

    Allen’s local knowledge and patience maneuvered us to his chosen spot. “We will be using single swimbaits and Alabama Rigs this morning,” instructed Allen. “See where that current makes the seam right there alongside the calmer water? That’s where they are gonn’ be.”fishing, Florence, Alabama, Pickwick Lake

    As we worked the fast-moving water along the seam it did not take long to hook up. “There’s one,” shouted Allen, as his rod doubled over under the strike. He had offered a standard “store-bought Alabama Rig to the mighty striper and the fish consumed it. Less than a minute later Allen was reeling in a limp line and an Alabama Rig with a straightened snap swivel.

    “I should have known better,” admitted Allen. “These beasts will tear up a normal Alabama rig. They come with 30-pound test snap swivels. It’s just not enough. An Alabama rig is already a big beefy, bulky, heavy-duty wire bait, but a big saltwater striper will play with it like it was a bath toy and turn it into a million pieces.”fishing, Florence, Alabama, Pickwick Lake

    As Allen grabbed his tackle box and pliers to repair his rig he explained that he normally beefs up the store-bought rigs considerably, but would rather use a rig produced by a local tackle guy.

    “The Alabama Rig that I like to use is made right here in Florence,” said Allen. “His name is Brad Gooch. He makes one with heavier wire and swivels. His 100-pound test swivels have no chance of straightening on that powerful initial strike or run. The eyes are not going to pull out of the head or break when you are fighting a big one.”

    Allen starts with Gooch’s rig and adds heavy-duty mushroom jigheads and Skinny Dipper plastic swim baits from Reaction Innovations. “I recommend 2x strong or 3x strong hooks,” instructed Allen. “If I am fishing current up under the dam I put all 1/8 ounce heads on the outside of my rig, and in the center, is a 1/4-ounce head.”

     “I just go with the regular size Skinny Dipper,” continued Allen. “Given the castablilty of the Alabama rig you do not have to go to the big 6- or 7-inch swimbaits. Those big stripers will hit the smaller ones. I like the White Trash bodies with chartreuse tails. On the center one I use a dye marker to add a little more chartreuse, just to get that little bit of extra flash in that dingy water.”

    Allen suggests using fluorocarbon or braid for the mainline. “Which ever you prefer,” said Allen. “If I am fishing in a hangy place I like 25-pound Segar Yellow Label fluorocarbon, just for the fact that if I get hung I can break it off easier. And, it does not have that tendency to bury into the spool like braid.”

    With the new beefed up Alabama rig assembled, Allen maneuvered the boat again to where he could prospect cast the current seam. Again, it did not take long until the rod was bent like willow tree in a windstorm.

    Allen’s striper techniques worked to perfection that morning and my search for a big striper was successful. The pull of these big fish in the current is beyond description, you just need to visit Florence and experience it for yourself.fishing, Florence, Alabama, Pickwick Lake

    Sleepin’ and Eatin’ in Florence

    The Hampton Inn & Suites Florence-Downtown (256-767-8282) was our abode for the visit. Friendly staff at the desk were welcoming and helpful and the rooms were clean and nice. The free breakfast got me started right each morning before hitting the water. The selection was huge and the quality superb. I never left hungry.

    Importantly for me, the Wi-Fi was excellent. Strong signals allow me to get plenty of necessary work completed when I was not on the water (Not to mention being able to download my camera and post a huge striper to my Facebook page).

    Maybe the best part of staying at the Hampton was its proximity to McFarland Park. The hotel is less than 5 minutes from the boat ramp. That is a situation I will take anytime I can get it.

    If you have non-anglers in the party there are plenty of other things you can do in Florence. Not only is McFarland Park only 5 minutes from the Hampton Inn, the Florence Tourism Visitors Center is right there in the park with plenty of helpful ideas for your visit.   

    Plenty of good eats are available in Florence, really, anything you might like. In our case, having lived in Texas for a good many years, we get an urge for good Mexican food. We found it in Florence at Rosie’s Mexican Cantina and I recommend that you try it.  


  • 05/01/2017 6:24 PM | Ron Presley (Administrator)
    Trout, trout and more trout

    Spring in the Ozark Mountains is pretty hard to beat. The dogwoods are in blossom and flowers of all shapes and sizes are making their colors known. The wildlife is happy, the birds are singing and the countryside is coming to life as Mother Nature demonstrates her magnificent pallet for all to see.

    Water level in the river depends on generation activity at the dam.

    A great place to experience the wonders of the Ozarks is Gaston’s White River Resort at Lakeview, AR. This trout fishing destination is found along the world famous White River below Bull Shoals Dam.

    The White River is known for its trout fishing and Gaston’s is known as the place to go if you want to experience excellent trout fishing. It’s not just the fishing though. Gaston’s is a first-class resort with something for the whole family. From the clean comfortable cabins to the outstanding restaurant overlooking the river, Gaston’s is a bucket list destination.

    I had the opportunity to visit Gaston’s recently and was immediately hooked on the fishing. While trout fishing and fly casting go hand in hand, I was pleased to discover that I could use with my trusty spinning gear to challenge the brown trout that swim in the river.

    Daily fishing excursions depend heavily on the amount of generation at the dam. As more power is generated, more water comes down the river to offer expanded opportunities to trout fish. Believe me, the experienced guides at Gaston’s have fished every possible level of power generation and know exactly what they can and cannot do. As the river rises they expand their trips further from the resort. As the water falls they return to safe waters closer to the resort. Just like the fish, they don’t want to get trapped when the water falls.

    Guide Frank Saksa's favorite stick bait is a bone/white version and he is happy to show you how to use it.

    Frank Saksa is a Gaston’s guide that specializes in using spinning tackle for brown trout on the White River. “Fishing for browns with stick baits is just like bass fishing,” instructed Saksa. “Throw it out there and let it set for a second. You want that bait to flash. Make that slow retrieve with a variable twitch as you let it set again. That’s when they see the flash. That’s when they normally hit. You gotta’ generate the pause.”

    Generate the pause to catch beautiful brownies like this.

    “If you do this long enough, and the water stays up long enough, it is just a matter of time until you get it in front of one,” continued Saksa. “You cover a lot of ground with this method. It doesn’t pay to fish the same bank over and over again.”

    Saksa pushes his anglers to focus on the task. On this day I was accompanied in the boat with fellow outdoor writer Charles Bridwell. “You need to catch that first one so you have confidence in what you are doing,” Saksa told us both. “Otherwise you are thinking this isn’t working, you are not paying attention and you don’t make good presentations. Remember, you are just pulling that stick bait for the flash. It is when it pauses that they are gonna’ hit it.”

    Saksa continued to instruct as he maneuvered the boat downstream at the same speed as the current. “You can’t slow down like a drift boat. You gotta’ be moving  the same speed as the current.”

    “Once we hit a deeper run it is usually the front and back of the hole that holds most of the fish. Sometimes we are fishing on the outside of a run. This time we are fishing on the inside. Right now we are coming up on a high spot that should be good.”

    Saksa had no more than spoke those words when a nice brownie hit Bridwell’s lure. It is an unbelievable strike when they hit a stick bait and then come flying out of the water. You definitely know that you are in a fish fight. Sometimes they walk on their tail like a smallie and if you are not careful that’s when they will be gone.

    “Once them brownies hit there is no doubt,” declared Saksa. “They hit it hard. Just keep pressure on them and lead them to the net.”

    Sometimes lure color will make a difference, but Saksa’s favorite is a plain bone/white stick bait. He says he will mix it up a bit if they are not hitting his favorite.

    He held up a plastic tackle box with numerous baits inside. “That box right there is $500 worth of baits,” joked Saksa. “My wife and I have a deal. She goes and buys shinny rocks, I go and buy shiny lures. There is not one bait in there that has not caught a brown. It’s all about how you use it and when you use it.”

    “If you get the right water flow, the right sky and the right bait, it is just a matter of getting that presentation right,” offered Saksa. “We have the flow and these clouds will give some distortion for the lure. In this clear water you need distortion so they don’t see it so well. Now, add the right presentation and you just need to get it in front of one.”

    Saksa knows every inch of the river and offered different instructions for different situations. As we started fishing an outside bank he instructed us on the cast. “When you first throw up there don’t retrieve to fast. It is real shallow and you will get in the grass. In fact, when I first cast up in there I like to pull the rod tip up instead of down so it doesn’t go so deep.”

    “The same thing is true when you fish a high spot out in the river,” continued Saksa. “You don’t want to throw up on that hump and pull it too fast. Wait until you get away from the hump a little and then do your normal retrieve.”

    We were experiencing Saksas’ favorite method to catch brown trout. “Stick baits are more fun for me,” revealed Saksa. “You control what you do. You control the boat, control the cast, and control the presentation. If you do it right you catch fish.”  

    A Gaston's shore lunch is nothing short of fantastic. Fresh fried rainbow trout with all the fixin's, topped off with dessert of fruit cobbler, also cooked over an open fire.  

    About this time Saksa noted that we need to be back to our designated location for our shore lunch at noon. We were supposed to provide six rainbows for the skillet and we had been chasing brownies all morning. He rigged some lighter spinning gear with small jigs and tipped them with red worms or Power Eggs.

    It took less than 30 minutes to catch our rainbows and we headed for the shore lunch to end a productive morning on a beautiful river. 

    Epilogue:

    Gaston's guide boats are comfortable and efficient and they are operated by knowledgeable fishing guides. 

    The following history of Gaston’s White River Resort is posted on their website. It also outlines the many activities available to all that come. It’s not just the fishing, there really is something for everyone!

    Gaston's White River Resort began 59 years ago when Al Gaston, Jim Gaston's father, purchased 20 acres of White River frontage with six small cottages and six boats...the year was 1958. Present day, Jim’s grandson - Clint Gaston - will carry on the family legacy for many years to come. The resort now covers over 400 acres, and has 79 cottages ranging in size from two double beds to ten private bedrooms. The airstrip has grown from 1,800 feet to 3,200 feet. The six boats are now over 70, and with a state of the art dock to hold them all. The years have brought an award winning restaurant, private club, gift shop, tennis court, playground, game room, duck pond, three nature trails, swimming pool, conference lodge, and fly fishing school.

    For more information on an incredible destination, visit their website at www.gastons.com and like/follow them on Facebook


  • 04/03/2017 6:52 PM | Ron Presley (Administrator)

    There are aquariums and then there are aquariums. A transplant from Florida helped make the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, TN a world class facility. The poor guy actually had to catch fish on rod and reel to help stock the growing attraction.

    Rob Mottice is a senior aquarist at the Tennessee Aquarium. “I was working at Sea World of Florida in Orlando when I received a phone call from my former boss,” offered Mottice. “He was the director of the National Aquarium in Baltimore where I helped with the biological design on the startup team. He says, ‘I just got the presidency of the Tennessee Aquarium and you were one of the first people I thought of to come up here and help put this thing together.’”

    Mottice’s response was a resounding yes. “I said, Bill, my bag is packed,” reported Mottice. “The timing was perfect and I joined the team in 91, one year before the aquarium opened to the general public.”

    Rob was mostly in charge of catching and stocking a lot of the native freshwater fish that would be placed on display. “We used all kinds of methods,” said Mottice. “We used rods and reels, nets and even electro fishing. I was getting paid to go fishing.”

    An aquarist is a fancy terminology for a fish biologist,” explained Mottice. “Officially we are aquatic biologists, which covers both fish and vertebra. Because we work for an aquarium we are labeled as aquarist instead of biologist. It’s just industry terminology.”

    Of interest to anglers is the things they can learn about fish from a visit to the aquarium and viewing them in the tanks. “Anglers can learn about fish by observing their general behavior in the tanks,” instructed Mottice. “Especially during feeding time, you can get a good feel for how the native freshwater fish that we have on display here behave under certain conditions.”

    He gave an example related to blue catfish. “For instance, you read in the scientific literature that blues will mostly stay hold up during the day and come out at night to hunt and forage. However, what I see here on display, is that our blue catfish are always swimming, always on the move. They don’t hold up anywhere like flatheads do.”

    “A flathead will just stay on the bottom,” continued the aquarist. “Flatheads will find a brush pile, dig themselves in and stay there until they come out to feed. I suspect it’s no different in their native environment.”

    Mottice was actually quite surprised when he observed flatheads in the aquarium. He was recalling the myths from the literature that he had read which said you have to fish for flatheads at night and you have to use live bait.

    “On the flatheads, I was shocked to see their behavior,” stated Mottice. “It contradicted a lot of what I had read and it does not hold up in the aquarium. When it is feeding time, they smell the chunks of food and they come out. No matter how much light is above them or around them, the flatheads respond to the food.”

    “In natural habitat, the big cats know that most of the smaller species of fish seek cover at night near the shoreline,” explained Mottice. “That is where they were born and they are imprinted on that area of their environment. They know there is some good cover where they can go at night to feel safe and rest. The big flatheads will come out at night because the food is there. They head for the shores and adjacent flats, leaving the brush piles and log jams where they hold up during the day. They know those small fish are in there sleeping. They know where their food source is.”

    Mottice cannot say if his observations are a learned behavior or instinct, but it may be the scientific explanation for why the myth of fishing for catfish at night began.

    Savvy flathead anglers validate Mottice’s observations. Joey Pounders and Jay Gallop follow the tournament trails in search of the whiskered critters. They are considered by their peers as expert flathead anglers. They do not believe the old adage that flatheads must be fished at night.

     “It's just that at night they tend to shallow up and bite in areas where there is a high concentration of shad,” offered Pounders. “Many people that run trot lines and set poles do very well at night because of this. These methods are usually used in shallow water; therefore, people believe the ‘night bite’ is better, but in truth it's just better for them due to their strategy.”

    “I have heard flatheads feed at night all my life,” added Gallop. “I have caught a few at night, but I don't think the bite is any better than during the day. They will eat when they get ready.”

    When you observe, flatheads tucked down under a log, on the bottom, in the aquarium, you know that is where you need to present your bait when you’re fishing. Seeing the blues roaming all over the tank, at different depths in the water column, is an indication that you should use variable presentations to pattern them on any given day.

    Mottice also served up a pretty good tip for catfish anglers targeting one species or the other near tailwaters. “Maybe the best opportunity is at night, but you can catch them in the daylight hours too. It is more of a locational thing than day or night.”

    “The blues like the tailwaters of dams because there is a lot of bait being churned up in the turbines and distributed below the dam. Flatheads don’t like fast moving water so they will seek out areas close to the spillway, the tailwaters, because they know the food source is greatest there. However, unlike the blues, they seek out the quieter pools close to the spillway. They do not want to be affected by the current.”

    Learning by observing applies to panfish too. “Anglers can learn a lot just by seeing what goes on during the course of a day,” said Mottice. “If you are going for crappie or anything else in the panfish family, you can observe them in the aquarium. You can watch the crappie in the aquarium and see them go up to a piling or brush pile and just set there. It looks like they are staring at the structure. So, when you’re crappie fishing and find a dock or a brush pile you want to cast up close to the cover. That’s where they are likely to be.”

    “When we feed these guys, their behavior will change dramatically,” concluded Mottice. “You can see them starting to circle the wagons about 30 minutes before the diver enters the tank to feed. They know the food bag is coming, they are going to get fed. Circling the wagons is a learned behavior, but catfish have chemo receptors where they pick up the scent through their whiskers. When there is food around, they know it. They are going to get their groceries!”

    Learn more about the Tennessee Aquarium by visiting their website at http://www.tnaqua.org.

    Learn more about the Chattanooga area by visiting www.chattanoogafun.com


  • 02/27/2017 5:54 PM | Ron Presley (Administrator)
    Catfish, Baseball Bats, Horse Racing and more

    As the sport of catfishing grows, so grows tournament trails and events like Catfish Conference. Louisville, KY was the location of Catfish Conference 2017.  It gave me an opportunity to visit the city and a few of its many attractions. Catfish was the theme of the conference, but history and culture are the theme of this great American city.

    Louisville is one of the oldest cities west of the Appalachian Mountains. It was founded in 1778 by George Rogers Clark. The city was named after King Louis XVI of France. Never mind its actual age, because today, Louisville is a modern American city.

    As I entered the Blue Grass state, the Derby City was on my mind. Louisville offers plenty of interesting attractions, so, bring the family and see the sights depending on your own personal interests. There is literally something for everyone. Personally, I can’t think about Louisville without thinking about the Kentucky Derby and Louisville Slugger baseball bats. Both were on my list for my short stay in the city.

    The Kentucky Derby Museum/Churchill Downs was the first stop on the agenda. The museum is adjacent to Churchill Downs, an amazing complex representing years of sports history. Imagine, the first race took place on May 17, 1875.

    I recommend starting with “The Greatest Race.” It is a theater-in-the-round type of media event that tells the story of the Kentucky Derby. Participants set on swiveling stools while the story is told in greater than life-size proportions around the oval screen above the arena.

    Watching the movie sets the stage for a 30-minute walking tour that reveals the history and pageantry of Churchill Downs Racetrack. Following the tour, you can leisurely explore two floors of family-friendly interactive exhibits. All this is included in the admission to the facility.

    When I hear the name Louisville Slugger my thoughts drift back to my childhood. I fondly remember swinging a few in those days growing up in Kansas. My visit to Louisville gave me the opportunity to tour the factory where the legendary Louisville Slugger baseball bat is made and remember the baseball legends of my youth.

    “Visitors can admire the world’s largest bat and discover a prehistoric baseball glove,” revealed Louisville tourism spokeswoman, Susan Dallas. “You can also count the home run notches that Babe Ruth carved into his Louisville Slugger, and hold the actual bats used by such baseball legends as Micky Mantle, Johnny Bench, David Ortez, Derek Jeter and many more past and present baseball heroes. Finally, visitors receive their very own baseball bat sample from one of the city’s most iconic attractions.”

    I took Dallas up on one of her suggestions and took a few swings with one of Mickey Mantle’s bats. It felt good to be back in the batter’s box again.

    Our next stop was the Muhammad Ali Center which celebrates the life and legacy of the world-class boxer. The award-winning museum is housed in a six-story multicultural center. Here too, I recommend starting with an orientation film. Take the escalator to the fifth floor for the video and then work your way back down to the entrance.  

    “The museum features exhibits spotlighting the six core values Ali strived to live by throughout his life,” offered Dallas. “They include Confidence, Conviction, Dedication, Respect, Giving and Spirituality. Highlights include a mock boxing ring, Ali boxing memorabilia, a theater that screens a short film showcasing Ali’s life, and a full-sized boxing ring, where a large projector displays ‘The Greatest,’ his signature fight.”

    I was highly impressed by the content of the many interactive displays that chronicle the life of Ali. You can spend as little or as much time as you want perusing the exhibits, many supported with historic video footage. Depending on your age, your visit will be either a walk down memory lane or an education related to the life of this incredible athlete and humanitarian.

    As far as eating places, I hardly know where to start. Maybe you could take in a restaurant/bar on the famed Urban Bourbon Trail. As most folks know, Bourbon is a whiskey that has long been associated with Kentucky. The Urban Bourbon Trail consists of 34 bars and restaurants that showcase Kentucky’s best. You can also visit an actual distillery. There are several on Whiskey Row – Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, Peerless Distillery and Angel’s Envy (the newest one to open).

    Some of the Urban Bourbon Trail restaurants are located on Whiskey Row,” revealed Dallas. “They include the Bristol Bar & Grill, O’Shea’s Downtown, Sidebar @ Whiskey Row, Troll Pub Under the Bridge, Proof on Main, Jockey Silks, Down One Bourbon Bar and Doc Crow’s.  All of these are good. Check them out and you can decide which menu sounds the best to you.”

    The restaurant that caught our eye was Merle Haggard’s Whiskey Kitchen. We spotted it downtown on our way to the Ali Center. It had outside dinning and the place was packed. We decided that would be our lunch spot after our visit to the center. I will just say, it was great food and constant listening to Merle Haggard music. We left very content and rested for our visit to the Catfish Conference.

    The Catfish Conference brought catfish anglers, vendors and media from all around the nation to see what was going on in the world of catfish. The first day of the two-day event was simply packed. It was elbow to elbow catfish enthusiasts, visiting booths, checking out equipment and viewing the catfish boats on display. By all reports it was an overwhelming success, and fodder for another story at another time.

    I can truly say, between the Catfish Conference and the numerous attractions available in the Louisville area it was a trip to be remembered. Although the conference was my reason for being in Louisville, and it did not disappoint, I was taken by the atmosphere, friendliness and amenities of the city to the point that I definitely want to visit again. The truth is, you don’t need any other reason to visit, the city itself is reason enough!

    For more information on Louisville visit the website at https://www.gotolouisville.com.

    For more information on Catfish Conference visit their website or follow and like them on Facebook


  • 10/01/2016 10:11 AM | Ron Presley (Administrator)

    Henderson, KY and catfishing go together like bread and butter. The downtown area of Henderson, KY offers a picturesque setting for friends and family and the Ohio River offers a catfish fishery that anglers yearn for.

    The 2016 Cabela's King Kat Northern Championship chose Henderson as the site of their Classic competition and the fans and the anglers were not disappointed. Four-time Cabela's King Kat Angler of the Year, Carl Morris Jr., was fishing with his partner Rob Parsons when he hooked a 77.18 pound monster Ohio River blue catfish.

    Anglers like Morris and Parsons seemed to always have the ability to catch big fish, but it helps to have a fishery like that present in the Henderson area. Morris’s big blue won him the Big Kat honors for Cabela's Northern Championship.

    Morris and Parsons bag a two-day total of 210.36 pounds to claim the championship. Their weight was the only one to break the 200 pound mark but there were plenty more heavy weights that came to the scales.

    Other evidence of the great fishery of the Ohio River near Henderson came from other anglers in the tournament as the next 19 teams broke the 100 pound mark.

    Nathan Weathers and Andy Carter claimed the second place spot with a total weight of 166.64 pounds. Aaron Wheatley and Rusty Morris nailed down the third spot with 157.22 pounds. Dale and Mathew Kerns placed fourth with 149.20 pounds and Scott Cress and Carl Crone pulled down the fifth place spot with 140.02 pounds.

    These heavy bags continued through 20th place were Ken Lewis and Elzie Randolph were the last team to break 100 pounds with their two-day weight of 100.34 pounds. Out of a total of 50 teams fishing the tournament only 3 teams came away without fish. Those tournament results are an amazing testimonial to the great catfishing found around Henderson, KY on the Ohio River.

    Tournament anglers were quick to praise the fishery, but they also praised the town. “The people there in Henderson were really nice,” commented tournament angler Larry Muse. “They were very interested in what we were doing. We felt right at home.”

    Jennifer King agreed. She fished the tournament with her husband Wayne and son Conner. “Henderson is a very nice city,” said Jennifer. “The tournament was obviously well advertised and supported because we had a great crowded at weight in.”

    She also noticed the facilities and the people. “Henderson has a very nice boat ramp for large tournaments like Cabela's. I have lots of family that lives there so my aunt was at the tournament. I talked with the couple that was selling barbecue out of the red wagon. Their food was very good and they were very friendly people,” concluded Jennifer.

    Henderson is a catfish friendly town for sure, but it offers much more than the fishing. One of its claims to fame connects to noted ornithologist, John James Audubon. You might even say that Audubon is the butter on the bread that pulls this Kentucky town together in sync with nature.

    Audubon chose Henderson in the early 1800s as a place to paint and study birds. Well, at least he ended up painting and studying birds. He actually arrived in Henderson on a flatboat in 1810 to establish a retail dry goods business. At that time his painting was more of a hobby.

    Audubon's interest in birds outstripped his interest in business and when hard times hit he ended up in jail for bankruptcy after a saw mill he built on the banks of the Ohio River failed. Nevertheless, as the old saying goes, “the rest is history.”

    The Audubon Sculpture Walking Tour leads visitors through old downtown Henderson. The tour is an example of his influence and it commemorates the work of Henderson’s most famous resident. Visitors can stroll from spot to spot and view bronze sculptures that portray paintings by Audubon. Louisville sculptor Raymond Graf created the sculptures to depict Audubon paintings in three dimensions. It was part of a project to bring public art to the community of Henderson while recognizing the town’s connection to the famous Audubon.

    The Henderson County Tourism Commission showcases the relationship the city has with Audubon through the use of a bird feather as their logo. “The feather is kind of a multiple thing,” explained Kyle Hittner, Executive Director of the Tourism Commission.

    “The feather has been around a long time and it means a lot of things, just as Henderson is a lot of things. It is on the Ohio River with an historic downtown. It has all these great parks and other great attractions. But, the one thing that ties it all together is the feather which represents the history of John James Audubon. It is the abundance of nature that is in Henderson that is the reason behind the feather.”

    A Kentucky State Park on the northern side of Henderson features the Audubon name. John James Audubon State Park offers yet another connection for residents and visitors to be one with nature. The park offers cottages, camping, a museum and nature center, golf, hiking trails, fishing, picnicking and other recreational activities. The park is but one of numerous attractions available in and around Henderson.

    When it comes to eating it is hard to know where to start. However, from personal experience I can highly recommend The Cake Stand, Tom's Market, and the Stone Honey Farm Market and Cafe. These three eateries are prime examples of the good food you can find in Henderson.

    I use The Cake Stand to satisfy my sweet tooth with some of the best muffins you can ever imagine. The story behind The Cake Stand and Deena, the proprietor, is a story of the American Dream. Deena dreamed of having her own bakery since childhood and now it is a reality. The muffins and other items are baked with love and deliver a taste punch that is nothing short of wonderful. They are something you won't soon forget.

    I was introduced to Tom's Market through his mobile BBQ stand that was set up for a festival in the downtown park on the day of a catfish tournament a couple years ago. It was a little hard to choose from the scrumptious sounding items on his menu, but I finally decide on a Slaw-Burger. Tom starts with a kaiser roll and adds a 1/3 pound of 81% lean pork burger that he cooks to perfection on the grill. He adds his own secret dry rub with BBQ sauce over that. Then he adds pulled pork and tops it off with sweet and sour slaw. Delicious! I had one the first time I visited Henderson and I must admit to having another when I went back in 2016.

    Last but not least is the Stone Honey Farm Market and Cafe. When you walk in the door you might think you are in farmers market, because of all the fresh produce around. However, take a turn to the left and you end up in a dining room with a view of the river. Breakfast is served from 6 am until 10 am and that's what attracted me to the cafe. They have all the traditional county breakfasts you desire, including my favorite, patty sausage and grits.

    They also serve lunch from 11 am to 2 pm with a menu that's pure country. How about some homemade beef pot roast w/potatoes, carrots, onions and celery? Other sides to choose from vary from day to day but include home cooked treats like baked apple slices, corn and Lima beans, fresh squash casserole and sweet potatoes w/pineapple. What can I say, it is pretty hard to go wrong. You can find their daily specials on their Facebook page.

    There are many, many more places to eat that are just as good and you can find them with a little effort. We concentrated on the downtown area because of its proximity to the river and the ambiance that goes with it. After a downtown meal you can take a stroll in the park along the river to work off a few calories.

    Each time I visited Henderson it was because of a catfish tournament. Each time the fishing exceeded my expectations. More than that, however, is the good vibes I get from the atmosphere and the friendliness of the city. It is one of those cities that oozes southern hospitality. You can't help but want to go back again.

    For more information on Henderson visit the website at http://www.hendersonky.org.

  • 07/07/2016 10:05 AM | Ron Presley (Administrator)

    Fish, Food and Friendly People

    Are you looking for clean air, active communities, rich traditions, Hennepin Canal, gorgeous Illinois country-sides and flathead fishing on the stunning Rock River?  Rock Falls, IL may be the place for you.

    The Rock River twists and turns its way through 155 miles of northwestern Illinois. It is a main tributary to the Mississippi River. The Rock provides the state with a diverse fishery with more than 80 species of fish in the Rock River Basin. The most sought after of the sport fish are catfish. Both channel catfish and flatheads are abundant and of trophy size in the Rock River.

    As far as the fishing goes, both major catfish tournaments visit the Rock Falls area for catfish competitions. Their visits are strong evidence of a good fishery and a community that caters to anglers. The Rock River is growing in popularity as a catfish destination.

    The Bass Pro Shops Big Cat Quest just finished a two-day competition on the Rock River where 47 boats and 105 anglers competed for braggin’ rights, cash, and prizes. The community came out in numbers to support the tournament and the catfish anglers.

    “The boat route to weigh in was guided by volunteers,” reported Rock Falls Director of Tourism & Events, Janell Loos. “There was ample boat parking for fellow anglers and spectators to watch the weigh-in. Fisherman could explore the Rock Falls Riverfront. The local community welcomed the fishermen with food and drink, discount deals, live music and amazing hotel rates. The crowd was spectacular. At the weigh-in on Saturday we drew a large crowd and doubled the crowd size on Sunday. I can't wait for next year!”

    It was only a few weeks earlier that Cabela’s King Kat tour visited the area. Their home base was a few miles north in the Dixon, IL area, but still fishing the Rock River. The King Kat event had 90 top catfish anglers from several states huntin’ down flatheads and channel cats. Similar crowds and interested town folks showed up to support the tourney.

    Both events showed large numbers of families, both fishing and spectating. Loos was pleased with the event in Rock Falls. “The BCQ event went without a hitch,” she said. “The fishermen were happy with what Bass Pro Shops provides all their entrants. The fish caught were of good size as demonstrated by crowd comments like ‘wow that's one big fish!’ I was pleased to see so many families participate too. One team was a family of three and two teams were twin brothers competing against each other.”

    “We had a 3 event weekend along the Rock Falls Riverfront,” explained Loos. “Bass Pro Shops Big Cat Quest, Rock Falls River Chase and Summer Splash. Summer Splash, a community event, was right next door to the fishing tournament and River Chase boat races were down the block. On Saturday evening, Rock Falls Tourism provided fireworks along the riverfront.”

    Obviously there is more to the area than fishing. All the non-fishers can enjoy a host of other things to do. The Whiteside County Barn Tour is one good example. While many historians lament the disappearance of barns from the countryside, this tour identifies and displays the beauty of these old structures.

    One portion of our country’s first responders are not forgotten in Rock Falls. More information on times gone by can be found at the Fire Museum in Rock Falls. Kids and adults alike can learn the history of firefighting in the Rock Falls area. The museum is located in an old fire station where vintage firefighting equipment is displayed along with children’s educational activities. Visitors can even take a fire truck ride. Admission is free.  Donations are accepted.

    Rock Falls has much more to offer than fishing. The way the town turned out for the recent tournament demonstrated the spirit of community in what I consider to be a real American part of the country. After all, it is the land of Lincoln. Small towns, good food, good fishing and good people. What else could you ask for
  • 06/01/2016 1:31 PM | Ron Presley (Administrator)

    Catch a Trifecta: Smallies, Kentuckys and Largemouth Bass

    Wherever you set on Center Hill Lake mountain peaks surround you. The Center Hill Dam backs up the water in the valleys and around the mountains to produce a scenic wonderland and a bass fishing bonanza. There are other species too, but bass fishing is reason enough to visit Center Hill. Any given cast may produce a beautiful smallmouth, a perky Kentucky or a brute of a largemouth bass.01 Bandit Fish Ron

    Center Hill Lake is a deep highland reservoir in Middle Tennessee. When flooded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers the lake had the dual purposes of electric power generation and flood control. Today it is a great bass destination.

    The lake is one of four major flood control reservoirs for the Cumberland River; the others being J. Percy Priest Dam, Dale Hollow Dam, and Wolf Creek Dam.

    David Bell is a tournament angler and sometimes fishing guide. He knows Center Hill quite well. Bell defines the geography of Center Hill as deep and rocky. “You can find some shallow water but it is not a shallow water lake,” proclaimed Bell. You have to get into the backs of the creeks and cuts to find really shallow water.”

    Actually, that is a good thing, because you find fish both in the shallower feeder creeks and the deeper main lake. The limestone outcroppings in the main lake make perfect bass habitat. “You can look at the outcroppings above the water and just imagine what it looks like below the surface,” said Bell. “There are miles of rocky shoreline, flat ledges, crooks and crannies for the fish to hide in. Most of it is limestone and everything is deep.”

    03 Bell Holding

    Bell chooses different rods for different crankbait applications. “I will use a 6 foot 9 inch medium action rod when fishing the Bandit 100 or 200 model,” advised Bell. “I step up to a 7 foot medium heavy action with the 300.”

    Fishing line is an important element in Bell’s strategy on Center Hill. “I will use 6- to 10-pound test line with the Bandits. If the water is super clear I opt for the 6-pound fluorocarbon line. If the water is stained I use 8 to 10 pound test. This lake is so clear I want as small a diameter as possible and the fluorocarbon helps too. On other area lakes, like Percy Priest where the water is murky, I’ll just use monofilament.”

    The banks slope off so quickly on Center Hill that fishing perpendicular to the bank has your bait in inches of water near the shore an multiple feet of water just a little ways off. “One of the keys here on Center Hill is recognizing that the banks slope off fast,” said Bell. “If you fish like you were fishing a flat reservoir you’re going to miss a lot of your vertical fall and miss a lot of fish.”

    04 Bell LandingPositioning the boat close to the bank or a steep bluff and casting Bandit crankbaits parallel to the bank will usually find some bass. “I have caught fish as deep as 30 feet in this lake,” explained Bell. “That’s normally in the winter time. Usually the bass are 15 feet or above on Center Hill.”

    “I let the fish tell me what they’re going to bite on a particular day,” instructed Bell. It is trial and error until you find out what hey want. You have to figure that out.”

    “Sometimes they like it right down the bank and sometimes they like it coming off the banks,” offered Bell. “If they are relating to 0- to 10- to 12-feet of water I will probably get tight to the bank and work straight down the bank. Throwing a Bandit 100 parallel to the shoreline will usually do the trick if they are in close. The 100’s will run from about 3- to 7-feet deep. If they are a little further out and a little deeper I move on up to the 200 which runs about 7- to 12-feet deep.”

    “I use the 300 when I fish a bluff with deep water. The Bandit 300 will run 9- to 17-feet deep. I like to cast parallel to the bluffs coming out of the creeks with a 300 series Bandit in a shad color. I would fish the main river channel swings the same way.”

    “If they want it coming off the bank I position the boat out away from the shore and cast back towards the bank. In this case I would throw jerk baits and work straight back to the boat. If there is a point running out I would cast straight at the bank and retrieve back across the top off the point.”05 Bell Snook

    Top water baits like the Zara Spook will catch plenty of fish too. “If the fish are suspended I will set off the bank and cast to the shoreline. If I set the boat over 30-foot water I would normally be about 60 feet from the bank and it is no problem to cast all the way in to the shoreline. I will fish the Spook back to about the 15 foot depth range.”

    Jim Duckworth also guides in the highland lake. “I like the One Knocker Zara Spook on Center Hill,” says Duckworth. For largemouth, stripers and hybrids you can’t go wrong. If I am targeting smallmouth I like the Super Spook Jr. The smallmouths just seem to like it better. (Click here to see a video on how Duckworth dresses his Spooks before taking them to the water.)

    Bell doesn’t worry a lot about lure color. “If the fish are on a shad pattern I’ll try to stay on the shad color,” explained Bell. “If they’re on a crawfish pattern I might want the crawfish color. I just like to stay on what ever they’re feeding on. I like the browns and oranges early in the year and as the spring comes on I get on into some blues and watermelon. I keep it pretty simple. There are a lot of baits out there that catch your eyes but don’t catch fish. I think it’s a confidence thing. Whatever you have the most confidence in is probably what you’re going to throw most of the day.”

    Lodging: Edgar Evins State Park

    Center Hill is well known for the fishing, but that’s not all it’s known for. Edgar Evins State Park is located on the shores of Center Hill Lake. The steep hilly highlands create an angling and sightseeing paradise just waiting to be explored. Day trips to other highland reservoirs in the area can be easily accomplished from this one central location.

    Full kitchens and two level accommodations characterize the cabins. They are clean, roomy, efficient and economical. A large window opens up to a view of the lake with a patio just outside. The park has a large onsite marina with restaurant and gift shop as well as seasonal campgrounds.

    Other Outdoor Opportunities

    Non-anglers in the party will enjoy the abundant wildlife the area has to offer. The park itself boasts of three different owl species, numerous hawks and wintering bald eagles as well as the rare Cerulean Warbler, a summer resident of the park’s mixed hardwood forests.

    Kayak and canoe enthusiasts can enjoy all of the above and more with an adventuresome paddle down the river below the dam. Deer and turkey are often spotted watering along the shore.

    Walking trails wind through stands of Tulip Poplar, Oak, Hickory, Buckeye and Wild Cherry. Adventuresome visitors can climb the spiral staircase at the observation tower to gain a spectacular view of Center Hill Lake and the surrounding hillsides. Truth is, however, you don’t even need to climb the tower to view some stunning vistas.

  • 05/06/2016 1:29 PM | Ron Presley (Administrator)

    Fishy River, Beautiful Scenery 

    It would be hard to find a more beautiful place. The Coosa River and the Tallapoosa River come together near Wetumpka, Alabama to form the Alabama River. It is a meandering river around Prattville in Elmore County Alabama. The river offers plenty of nooks and crannies for serious fishermen to investigate. 

    I had the opportunity to visit the area recently. Crappie Now, a free online magazine, hosted a Press Camp for outdoor writers with the expressed intent of show casing the great crappie fishing and tourism possibilities attached to the river. Dan “Crappie Dan” Dannenmueller, Crappie Now Publisher, describes the Alabama River as a nutrient rich river that supports the rapid growth of both white and black crappie. Alicia Jonathan RoadRunner

    Ziptailz and Road Runner teamed up to catch this Alabama River Crappie

    “The river is formed by a series of locks and dams that form pools,” indicated Dannenmueller. “Depending on current, power generation, river stages and weather, numerous crappie fishing techniques will work on the river. Crappies are caught exceeding 2 pounds and some will weigh over 3 pounds.”

    The river itself can have strong current when power is being generated or when the river is being pulled down for flood control purposes. Tributary creeks like Swift Creek and places like Cooter’s Pond give Prattville area anglers easy access to the river and also backwater fishing opportunities. There are numerous residential docks that provide some great dock shooting prospects. 

    Local anglers have nothing but praise for the Alabama River fishing. “I like fishing around the Prattville area because that’s where my first childhood memories of crappie fishing started,” said Jonathan Phillips. Jonathan and his wife Alicia Phillips are frequent competitors on the Bass Pro Shops Crappie Masters All American Tournament Trail.   

     “The community is very gracious and receptive to visiting anglers,” offered Jonathan. “I have often had strangers come up to me and offer their best advise about where to catch crappie. One of the Crappie Masters anglers told me that he has traveled all over the country in his fishing pursuits and has never stayed in an area where the people were as nice to be around as they are here on the Alabama River.” 

    Alicia Jonathan Congrats

    The size of Alabama River crappie is something to note. “That area of the river around Prattville is very scenic and it produces world class sized crappie to boot,” added Jonathan. “There are also lots of beautiful back waters to fish in the creeks off of the river. Plenty of habitat and plenty of bait in the river give the crappie everything they need to grow and be healthy.” 

    Jonathan and Alicia spend a lot of time spider rigging in the river and the backwaters. He starts his day by positioning his ACC Crappie Stix in Driftmaster Rod Holders. “I like the Driftmaster Crappie Stalker System because each holder is individually fastened to the deck. A bite on one pole will not transfer to another pole. Those Crappie Stalkers let you know exactly where the bite is.” 

    It is always a good idea to begin spider rigging by probing different depths of water with different colors of baits. Team Phillips often begins testing the water with Road Runner Jig Heads and Ziptailz interchangeable fishing skirts. “I can create any color combination I want,” instructed Jonathan. 

    Jonathan and Alicia were introduced to Ziptailz at Crappie Masters National Championship at Lake Washington in Greenville Mississippi. “Wayne Rossi, the owner, had just come out with the product,” explained Jonathan. “He had free samples laying out at the seminar. We weren’t doing very well so we decided to pair some up with our Road Runners.” 

    “It was day one of the tournament and lo and behold Alicia caught what was the big fish of the tournament for a while. She ended up getting beat out but it was in the top two or three of the tournament. That was our beginning with Ziptailz. They worked really well on those Mississippi waters and we have been using them ever where ever since.” 

    Ziptailz are so easy to use,” continued Jonathan. “People can pick one up and change color and profile of their presentation immediately. We usually put them on Road Runners, but you can also put them on single hooks, treble hooks or anything.” 

    Once his rods are set out Jonathan likes to position them. “We try to keep our rods at the same level so that if one of the rods don’t look like the others you either have a fish, you’re on structure or you’re on bottom. We begin with our poles set at different depths and rigged with different colored baits.” 

    “Once we develop a pattern of depth and color we change all the baits to match what has been successful,” added Alicia. “I really like the chartreuse colors. Chartreuse with red Ziptailz is my favorite color here on the Alabama river. Orange and black is another good color. We normally tip with minnows when we are spider rigging. If we are jigging or shooting docs we don’t use minnows.” 

    ”We prefer single jigs,” said Jonathan. “It’s all about the set up. The river has a ton of structure and people using double rigs get hung up a lot. Keeping bait in the water is more important to me. I would rather not be hung up as much. If you spend time getting out of messes, taking time to retie and spooking fish out of the holes that’s just wasted time. Keeping your bait in the water is key to successful fishing.” 

    “I often go from deep water into shallow as opposed to starting shallow and going out deep. You want to pick your fish off going in instead of going in on them and spooking them. Take a laydown or a tree. It is a good idea to fish out in front of it first before moving in to the base. If you go straight into the base you probably spook your fish at the front and you’re only going to get the fish from one part of that tree.” 

    Vertical structure should be approached differently. “If you have vertical structure, something coming off the bottom, then we start shallow and work deep, stated Jonathan. “ If the fish are stacked up over something off the bottom you don’t want to drop to the bottom and catch the fish on the very bottom first. When you pull a fish up through the school of crappie they’re all going to spread out on you. In that scenario we start shallow before going deeper. When that bite stops or slows down move on to another spot.” Alicia Jonathan Netting

    Most crappie anglers know that you always want to fish above the crappie. “Always listen to the old-timers,” advised Jonathan. “An old timer once told me that if you’re hooking crappie in the bottom lip your fishing to deep. Sometimes they will go down and get it but then rise back up to where they are suspended. Your line will go slack or your pole will come up flat. When you’re spider rigging you don’t always get those nice slamming hits. It may just be a subtle change so you’re always watching the line.” 

    “Jigging is a whole lot of fun,” said Jonathan. “However, if I’m going after the beasts, the big ones, I can present my bait anyway I want with the spider rigging set up. It’s challenging too. You have to know how to workaround structure and get unhung quickly. You are constantly watching the rods, controlling the boat with the trolling motor and checking the electronics. That’s why Alicia’s role is really important. A lot of time she handles the fish, gets me bait and stuff, so I can stay on that trolling motor. I have to control the boat for the entire time that we’re on the water without ever taking my eyes off the rods and the sonar. It’s a constant job.” 

    The Alabama River is a world-class crappie fishing destination. Whether you’re favorite way to catch crappie is spider rigging like Jonathan and Alicia, vertical jigging, pulling or casting, the Alabama River has something for you. 

    Epilogue: There is a lot more to do in Prattville than fish for crappie. Old Town Prattville is full of history. It is known as being one of the first planned communities in Alabama. The architecture features graceful arches, soaring ceilings and vast open spaces. It is hard to miss the interesting brick and stonework that characterize the buildings, all set in a picturesque site alongside Autauga Creek. 

    Jones Golf Course

    Other interesting attractions include the Capital Hill Golf Course at Prattville/Montgomery.  Capital Hill was designed by Robert Trent Jones, arguably the premier golf course architect in the world, as part of the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail that currently consist of 468 championship holes at eleven sites it the state of Alabama. Capital Hill is a breathtakingly beautiful course and currently host to an event on the LPGA Tour.

    The Alabama Wildlife Federation operates a unique and amazing educational facility where kids and adults can learn about Alabama’s vast natural resources. Visitors can explore 5 miles of trails with experienced ANC naturalists. There are ponds, creeks and woods to investigate. Visitors can picnic on the grounds and check out the educational movies in the hands-on Discovery Hall. AWF Nature Center

    The area just off Interstate 65 is full of shopping, eating and lodging opportunities. We stayed at the Hampton Inn & Suites, just a stone’s throw from the Interstate; the Hampton offers clean and comfortable rooms, great Wi-Fi, and efficient workspace in every room. If you prefer you can use their computers and printers in the Business Center and get your daily exercise in the handy workout room. I like to eat a good breakfast before fishing and the free hot breakfast was excellent every morning. They describe their facility as “Small town charm meets big city convenience.” It couldn’t be said any better! Hampton Inn

    Whether it is fishing for crappie (or other species), playing golf, engaging in other water based activities or simply a restful family vacation, the Alabama River at Prattville, AL should be on your bucket list of places to visit. 

    For more area information visits the Prattville and Elmore County websites at http://www.prattvilleal.gov/visitors/attractions.html, and http://www.visitelmoreco.com/index.aspx.

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