Road Trips

  • 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

    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

  • 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, and

  • 04/02/2016 1:25 PM | Ron Presley (Administrator)

    Scenic Beauty and Fishy Waters 

    Crappie anglers like coming to Lake Greenwood because they catch fish in great numbers and they also catch quality size fish. Greenwood is a beautiful clear water lake and a pretty deep lake, especially up around the dam. It is a long narrow lake with plenty of crappie holding creeks coming into it. 

    The lake has some flooded timber in spots that make for excellent crappie fishing.  Most of the creeks have 20 feet of water with some going as deep as 30 feet. The water is deep enough that you don’t have to worry about hitting the stumps and tearing up your boat. The lake is also known for its man-made cover. Anglers have put out a lot of their own crappie attractors to improve fishing success. Slide 1 Billy

    There are residential docks where anglers can dock shoot, brush piles where they can one pole, and open water where they can spider rig or long line. Yet, with all those various methods available, Lake Greenwood is known as a long lining lake. That reputation probably comes from the fact that most crappie tournaments on Greenwood have been won by teams that long line troll. 

    One angler with a long history of long line trolling is Billy Williams. Billy and his son Scott make up the Johnson Fishing team that travel the county in search of heavy stringers of slab crappie. Their success speaks for itself. The father/son team has many tournament wins under their belt and most recently they won the Bass Pro Shops Crappie Masters Angler Team of the Year for 2015. Slide 3 Billy

    When it comes to long line trolling Billy is a bit of a legend himself. I met up with Billy at the Crappie Masters South Carolina State Championship in early March to pick up some tips about long line trolling on Lake Greenwood. 

    “Billy has been tournament fishing for a lot a lot a lot of years,” stated Crappie Masters president, Mike Vallentine. “He now fishes with his son Scott. He comes from Georgia with a good background in long line trolling. In fact, he is kinda’ known for it. He is very good at it. Billy is up there at that legendary statue among long line trollers. He also has a lot of knowledge of lakes all over the United States. When he shows up at a tournament he has probably been there before. There are not many unfamiliar waters to him.” 

    “I started crappie fishing about 40 years ago,” recalled Billy. “I have been tournament fishing about 30 of those years. I started tournament fishing back in the early 80’s with a friend of mine. I have been at it for a while.”  

    One we launched Billy was quick to explain the method of long line trolling that he has developed over the years. Also known as pulling, the technique pulls numerous baits behind the boat to cover a lot of water in search of the crappie. 

    “Today we will run 8 poles,” explained Billy. “Four out the back and 4 out the front.” Billy sat in the front watching his 4 poles, running the trolling motor and watching the sonar. I sat in the back watching my four B’n’M poles.  

    “I am running a 16-foot and a 12-foot B’n’M pole out each side,” instructed Billy.  “We will run four 10-foot B’n’M poles out of the Driftmaster Rod Holders in the back. Normally when we start off each morning we have a variety of colors on. We also have a variety of jig sizes either one or two jigs on the poles. You want a variety of things going on at the same time to see what is going to work as you start off every morning.” 

    We had not been trolling long before putting a Greenwood crappie in the boat. That first fish came on a ¼ ounce black/blue/chartreuse jig, one of Billy’s favorites. “The fish are pretty shallow in the water column so far. We will give it a try for a while and see what happens and go from there.” Slide 2 Ron

    “I am trying to run right on the contour of the first drop out of the creek,” explained Billy. “We are right up on the edge of the ledge. We will give that a try to start with. Then we will move on up on the ledge. I like to run down the ledge and around the edge of a point because that is where you find the fish concentrated. The first drop coming up on a channel is one of my favorite places.” 

    Billy uses Humminbird electronics to locate the depth of the fish and the depth of the shad. “I try to watch the sonar as much as I can and pay attention to where the fish are on the sonar. For example, I might go over a little school of shad. If the shad are running about 10 feet deep then I know those crappie are not going to be far away. The crappie will be running just under those shad and I want my jigs running about the same depth as those shad. That is the most likely depth to get a bite when those fish decide to feed.” 

    As we trolled along a couple of fish showed up on the Humminbird. “There’s one at 9 feet and there is another at 12,” said Billy. “That is just about where the fish have been all morning and we have been pulling just above them. I think the fish will move a couple to 3 feet up to strike the bait. If they see it they will chase it down. You can get too high and they don’t see it. You want to keep those jigs right there in the strike zone.” 

    Boat speed is a significant factor in successful long lining. “Speed is very important,” informed Billy. “If you are going too fast your jig is not where it needs to be. If you are going too slow your jig is not where it needs be. Sometimes, I don’t know what it is, fish will only bite at a certain speed. If you are going a little too fast you can’t get them to hit it and if you are going to slow your jig is below them and you are sure enough not going to get em.” 

    “If your jig is below the fish you will not catch them. When you are long lining and figure out you are below them you can speed up and bring that presentation up in the water column where it needs to be.” 

    “Every tenth of a mile per hour, .1, .2, .3, everyone of those is about a foot in terms of depth,” explained Billy. “If you are going .9 and running 8 foot you can speed up to 1 mph and you will be running at 7 foot. Speed is something I am watching all the time. I am always playing with it, adjusting it up and down. When I catch a fish I look and see how fast we was running.” 

    “The other thing is knowing how much line you have out,” said Billy. “When I am long line trolling I will play with the amount of line I have out. When I catch a good fish I try to remember how far that line was out so I can put it right back in the same place at the same speed.” 

    Billy identified wind as one of the things that can throw off his game plan. He has used drift socks, chains, and other things to slow down the boat in the past. Now he relies on Power Pole Drift Paddles to help him in the wind. “Those drift paddles really help us out in the wind,” continued Billy. “If the water is only 7 or 8 feet deep you can actually put those things down to where they are just bumping the bottom. They will hold you back and slow you down. If you get to going a little too fast you can put them all the way down and completely stop and then start slowly again.” 

    “You can also turn the paddles sideways and let them down where they are in the water enough to create a lot of drag on the back of the boat. This helps hold the boat straight. The paddles are a real good tool that helps us a lot in the wind.” 

    Billy’s eyes are constantly scanning the poles looking for a bite. Anything that looks a little different is a possible strike. “Mr. Ron you got a fish on that outside pole,” declared Billy. “I am watching the poles and the speed and watching everything constantly. If I am on a new lake I am trying to watch my contours too. I like staying on that first drop to see what is going on. I don’t even think about it. I am watching the poles all the time no matter what else I am doing. I am anticipating the bite.” 

    With the basics of long line trolling laid out Billy concluded with two pieces of advice for crappie anglers. “If I could pick just one color to go fishing with it would have to be a black/blue/chanteuse. Most of the time it will catch a fish when nothing else will. It would be hard for me to leave it at home.”

    His second piece of advice related to tipping with minnows. “A long time ago I used to say that if you can catch fish on a minnow then I can catch fish on a jig,” concluded Billy. “However, competitive fishing has taught me that you need to be versatile. Sometimes all it takes is a minnow on there to make the difference in catching some bigger fish or maybe catching any fish at all. I used to not think that. I have come to believe that you catch a little bigger fish when tipping with minnows.” 

    You may have your own favorite method of crappie fishing, but when you visit Lake Greenwood follow tradition and try some old fashion long line trolling. It is a proven and effective way to put some nice crappie in the boat. Slide 5 Sign

    Epilogue: The Greenwood, SC area provides excellent recreational opportunities for visitors. Lake Greenwood is well known for an abundant crappie population and its scenic beauty. It is not just the crappies that attract anglers to Lake Greenwood. The Lake is also a wonderful venue for kayaking, canoeing, and rowing. Lake Greenwood State Recreation Area provides easy access to the lake. The park has picnic areas, a campground, fishing pier, hiking trail and the Drummond Event Center, which can accommodate up to 272 people for group events. Slide 4 Pier

    Other fishing opportunities include bass, bream, perch, catfish and stripers. For more information on recreational opportunities visit the website at

    Lodging: We stayed at Inn on the Square and it was great. The facility is described as a boutique hotel. The rooms were clean, roomy and comfortable. The lobby is gorgeous and the staff amazing. Ever

    Slide 6 Inn

    yone went beyond the call of duty to make our stay a pleasant one. It is located in downtown Greenwood where there are plenty of restaurants and shopping opportunities close at hand. Travellers could not ask for a more convenient and accommodating location.

    I always look forward to breakfast before fishing. Not only was the breakfast excellent, the attendants’ make you feel like royalty. This is not the normal “breakfast with your room” type of deal. It is cooked especially for you from a menu that you select items from. You can choose up to 4 items off the menu, but if you do you will need to be 

    Slide 7 Breakfast

    rolled out in a wheelbarrow. Karen and I fell in love with Inn on the Square and will definitely return again.

  • 02/23/2016 1:19 PM | Ron Presley (Administrator)

    Catch Catfish with any Technique

    The Santee Cooper Lakes (Lake Marion and Moultrie) are owned and operated by Santee Cooper Power. Both lakes are great fisheries. Anglers come from all around to target largemouth bass, crappie, shell crackers and catfish.Catfish-Cagle

    Examples of the world-class fishing are the state records currently held by Santee Cooper anglers. They include largemouth bass at 16.2 pounds, black crappie at 5 pounds, chain (jack) at 6.4 pounds, shellcracker at 5.7 pounds, warmouth at 2.25 pounds, channel catfish at 58 pounds, Arkansas blue catfish at 109.4 pounds and flathead catfish at 77.3 pounds. Does that sound like a good place to go fishing?

    Anglers can choose from two lakes, two rivers, two canals and a vast swamp to try their fishing skills. There are 450 miles of shoreline and 171,000 acres of land covered by 756 billion gallons of water. “From fishable water to fishable water we have 165 miles of fishing,” said local fishing pro Whitey Outlaw. “I say Santee Cooper is the best freshwater lake on the east coast.” Outlaw grew up on Santee Cooper and he knows it well.

    Santee Cooper is a multi-species and multi-technique fishery. “Santee has always been popular among catfish anglers because it offers so much,” stated Cabela’s King Kat Tournament Trail spokesman Jeremy Coe.  “You can catch catfish with just about any technique and catch monster size fish in all 3 species.”

    Catfish-Mark Stanley

    The lakes are also famous for their abundant stock of landlocked striped bass. As the story goes, South Carolina traded some of Santee Cooper’s striped bass to Alabama  for some blue catfish. It was a trade made in heaven. Alabama now has some great striper fishing and Santee Cooper has a reputation as a big catfish fishery.

    “I would say Santee Cooper has a reputation as one of the best catfish waters in the US,” continued Coe. “All in all the popularity and reputation ranks up top with all the major rivers (Mississippi, Tennessee, and Ohio). Even people that have never fished Santee have heard about it. It is probably on their bucket list to fish.”Catfish-Kid

    Habitat is the main ingredient that produces big blues in Santee Cooper. “One thing good about these lakes is that the catfish grow really fast because they have everything they want,” stated Kevin Davis. Davis runs Black’s Camp, a fish camp on Lake Moultrie. “They have so many different types of baitfish coming in and out of the ocean, they have structure, drop offs, humps, creeks, cover, stumps, brush, rocks, and sandy areas. They have plenty of places to feed and grow big.”

    Probably the most popular technique for catching big catfish on Santee Cooper is drift fishing (dragging). Drift fishing is a productive way to catch Santee Cooper blue cats. Davis uses B’n’M Silver Cat rods rigged with a special drifting weight. “I use homemade leads that are a piece of shoestring full of 1/0 buckshot. I cauterize each end to hold the shot in and hook a snap swivel through the end of the shoestring. I run my mainline through the eye on the swivel and let it slide freely above a #5 barrel swivel. Two feet of 40-pound fluorocarbon leader is next with a 5/0 circle hook on the end. Six inches in front of the hook I add a 2-½ inch cigar float.”Catfish-Jenkins

    With this rig the shoestring full of buckshot is the only thing making contact with the lake floor. Even the Daiichi Circle Hook, with its shape and the little toenail on it, helps make it a very snag resistant setup. The rig is known locally as the Santee Cooper Drift Rig.

    Davis uses sonar to look for fish and mark the spot. He positions the boat above the fish and uses the wind to drift over the mark or uses the trolling motor to drag over it. The rods are set in Driftmaster Rod Holders to wait for the bite. Anglers should remember that using Daiichi Circle Hooks usually results in an automatic hook set when the big cat bites. Just lift the rod on the bite and allow the circle hook to do its job.

    Davis spools his reels with 20-pound test Vicious mono as the mainline. “As far as a rod, I like the B’n’M Silver Cat 8 foot medium weight,” declares Davis.  The first part of that rod is pretty loose and limber, and the second part is pretty stiff. It has a cord wrapped handle that grips really well, even with slimy hands. It is sensitive enough to feel the bites and has plenty of backbone to land big fish.”Catfish-2men

    Davis normally uses cut bait to catch the big blues. The cut bait may be anything from American shad (ocean herring) that start migrating into the lake around March to menhaden that also show up in the lake. “I like to use the head and big body chunks of the herring when they are available,” said Davis. Gizzard shad are also available locally and make good bait dead or alive.

    Davis has a theory on the big ones. “Once the fish go shallow and the anglers follow, the opportunity exists to catch that big solitary, lonely blue cat that lives by himself and stays by himself. I think once they reach a certain size they live the majority of their lives in shallow water. They don’t hang around with other catfish. They just hang by themselves. Very rarely do you catch a catfish over 60 pounds where you catch a lot of other catfish.”

    South Carolina fishing regulations allow anglers to keep two catfish, of any species, over 32 inches long. Anglers can keep a total of 25 catfish. Conservation minded anglers actually release those big breeder fish. They prefer catfish up to 10 or maybe 15 pounds for the dinner table. Most people think the smaller cats make better table fare anyway.Catfish-Jimmy Layla

    For more information on the Santee Cooper area visit the Santee Cooper Country website.

    For more information on Cabela’s King Kat Tournament trail visit their website. (Photos in this article were taken at the King Kat Tournament on Santee Cooper, February 19 and 20, 2016.)

    Epilogue: We stayed at a great Baymont Inn & Suites in Manning, SC. The rooms were clean and the staff was top notch. I always look forward to breakfast before fishing. Not only was the breakfast good at the Baymont, the attendant made us feel more than welcome. Plenty of restaurants and stores close at hand made it a most convenient location. One eatery I want to mention was the Corner Diner in Manning SC. It is that perfect small, local kind of place you always like to find while on the road. I liked this area and will definitely return again.

    One final note relates to a fishing derby that is one of the best fishing promotions I have ever seen. The opportunity is the Big Fish Big Bucks Fishing Derby. Prizes are given for fish caught on Lake Marion, Lake Moultrie and the Diversion Canal of the Santee Cooper Lakes in South Carolina. Check it out and plan a trip to catch your personal best catfish and win a few bucks at the same time.

  • 01/30/2016 1:17 PM | Ron Presley (Administrator)

    The games we play - Float-n-fly for crappie

    Alabama crappie guide Lee Pitts refers to crappie fishing as a game you play with the fish. He often plays the game on Neely Henry Lake near Gadsden, AL. “Some days you go out there and you can’t do any wrong,” said Pitts. “Other days you get out there and they show you its not that easy. Nevertheless, it is always fun. With crappie fishing I can take someone that’s never even fished and they still catch crappie. They get to enjoy the feel of the fish hitting the line and see the rods load up. I get a kick out of seeing them have fun.”


    Neely Henry is a 11,235-acre lake on the Coosa River. It was built in 1966 by Alabama Power Company to provide hydroelectric power and recreation. “Neely is mainly a river system,” explained Pitts. “There are several little rivers that hook up with the Coosa. Canoe Creek and Shoal Creek are good examples. Both are great spawning areas for crappie. Not only spawning spots, but crappie will also summer there too because of the good deep water. Those creeks will hold crappie in the spring and fall, year after year.” 

    The day I fished with Pitts the weather threw us a curve ball by turning cold and windy. “Don’t worry,” advised Pitts. “One of the benefits of Neely is the wind breaks that exist naturally.” The main body of the lake is narrow and it meanders through the countryside creating numerous areas to hide from windy conditions. 

    We motored down river and found a small protected bay just off the main channel that was relative smooth despite the high winds. The shoreline was lined with residential docks and the bay varied from 4 to 6 feet deep. “I’ve caught em’ here before,” counseled Pitts. “We will use the float-n-fly technique and see what we can raise.” 

    “There are a couple of times a year we like to use the float-n-fly,” instructed Pitts. “One is a cold water situation like we have today where fish are not wanting to chase something down to eat. Using the float-n-fly techniques allows you to slow that presentation down and keep it in the strike zone longer.” 

    “It’s not a presentation that raises up and drops down in front of them,” continued Pitts. “Because the bait is suspended on the cork it is going to drop right in front of them and stay there. We want to give them the best opportunity to eat it without having to chase it.”   

    “Another time we use it is towards the spawn,” explained Pitts. “When they’re really holding tight to cover, shallow stumps and things like that. The float-n-fly allows anglers to cover a lot of water and keep it in the desired depth with that float.” 

    Pitts prefers a very light line when using float-n-fly in cold conditions. “I want a line that will allow my bait to have a lot of action. The line has to permit the bait to do what it is designed to do. I am using my Bobby Garland products, my Baby Shad and my Slab Slay'Rs. I’m rigging them on Crappie Pro's Overbite Sickle Mo' Glo Jigheads. These are glow-in-the-dark colors with a larger size 6 sickle hook. It is a larger hook, but it still holds small baits well. I think I get better penetration with the larger hook.”   

    Pitts Single

    The float actually adds enough weight that anglers can make long casts with very light jigheads. “I don’t like heavy heads,” exclaimed Pitts. “I want that more natural presentation you get with a light head. I’m using 1/32 and 1/48 ounce heads. That light weight lets the bait move like it is designed to in the water column. It’s not something that looks unnatural. It’s got a natural presentation to it.” 

    Fishing is relatively easy with the float-n-fly presentation. “The presentation begins with trial and error,” instructed Pitts. “I use a 7-foot medium action rod, but that’s just me. As long as you have a rod you can cast it will work. I spool up my Lews reel with Gamma 6-pound test line. 

    “I use the Gamma hi-vis because you can see it well. You have to watch that line for even the slightest of movement from side to side. People think you don’t have to pay attention to the line since you are using a float. That is not true. Sometimes that float is just setting there and line below it is moving. Other times the crappie hits so hard the float comes up as the weight is lifted from it. The hi-vis line is important because it will let you know when you have a bite when the cork won’t. You are always watching the line, watching the float.” 

    Pitts does not use a leader in his rig. “I am tying straight to the jighead, even though I am using a cork between the jighead and me. I can still feel the bite with this rig. Normally I will use a medium torpedo type float, about 3 inches long, with a little weight in the end to keep it upright. Having that cork vertical in the water helps you see the lightest of bites.” 

    If there is a little ripple on the water Pitts goes to an egg shape float. “I get a better shake from an egg shaped cork in rippled water. More action on the bait usually translates to more bites.” 

    The basic presentation is to toss the rig out and once the jig settles in the water begin to twitch the rod to invoke a little action on the bait. “I like to start out working shallow and just get the feel for it,” explained Pitts. “I play with different depths while I am fishing. It is a lot of trial and error. I will change depths by 5 to 8 inches as I prospect the waters. All of a sudden you catch a couple fish and you know you are in em’, you know the depth to fish.” 

    “When you’re fishing for crappie a few inches makes a big difference,” continued Pitts. “If you are going under them by 10 or 12 inches you’re never going to catch them. Crappie feed up, but you can’t fish too shallow either. Unless they’re very aggressive, they don’t want to run things down from a distance. If you’re bringing it right across where they like it and you’re in the strike zone, then you will get em’. Wind Break

    Another thing that’s important in crappie fishing is the color. “Especially with crappie, color makes a lot of difference,” instructed Pitts. “A lot of people say it doesn’t matter, but I have had several people on the boat throwing the same weight and body but a particular color will catch the fish. Experience has made a believer out of me. Even the head color can make a difference so don’t be afraid to experiment.” 

    Epilogue: Neely Henry and the Gadsden, AL area provides excellent recreational opportunities for visitors. It is not just the crappies that attract anglers to Neely Henry. Other fishing opportunities include largemouth bass, spotted bass, bluegill and other sunfish, catfish, striped bass, hybrid and white bass. For more information on recreational opportunities available in North Alabama visit the website at

    We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express on Walker Street and it was great. The rooms were clean and the staff went beyond the call of duty to make our stay a pleasant one. Plenty of restaurants and stores close at hand made it a most convenient location. I always look forward to breakfast before fishing. Not only was the breakfast good, the attendant made us feel more than welcome. I liked this Inn and will definitely return again. 

  • 12/30/2015 1:16 PM | Ron Presley (Administrator)

    A large variety of fish attract anglers to Georgia’s Rome 

    Cody Benton grew up in and around Rome, Georgia. With that kind of environment and a fishing family he was destined to be an angler. 

    The city of Rome is nestled in among seven prominent hills that create magnificent vistas in every direction. Running between those hills are three rivers that form what is described as North America's most biologically diverse river basin. The Coosa River Basin draws the attention of anglers and water lovers of all varieties.  Bassin on the Coosa-Cody Photo

    Rome is located at the head of the Coosa River. The Oostanaula River comes flowing from the north and the Etowah River from the east to form the headwaters of the Coosa River Basin. It continues south through Weiss Lake in Alabama and finally to Mobile Bay. Those waters are prime territory for area anglers. 

    Benton developed his passion for fishing at an early age. “I have always fished growing up as a kid,” offered Benton. “It was farm ponds and stuff. When I was about 14 or 15 years old I went with my uncle in a little small johnboat. We went to Carter’s Lake and fished for a few hours. Ever since then I have been hooked. It was not long, a couple months later, that I got my first boat.” 

    “Getting that first boat really started me on the road to something I love to do. I have actually given up a lot of hunting for fishing. I used to be super passionate about deer hunting, now I deer hunt to put a little meat on the table, but my drive is to go fishing.” 

    Benton did some tournament fishing early on, but returned to fishing just for fun. “I don’t tournament fish like I used to,” explained Benton. “I use to fish them a lot. Now I fish closer to home. I have a lot of good fishing inside two hours of home.” 

    Weiss Lake is one of seven a power generating lakes on the Coosa. This means that the current in the river is always going to be tied to a generating schedule. “The water leaves here and goes to Neely Henry,” explained Benton. “It leaves Neely Henry and it goes to Logan Martin and then on to several other lakes. That is considered the Coosa chain of lakes.” 

    “When they draw the lake down in the fall it drops the river as well and it cuts out a lot of the cover on the riverbank,” instructed Benton. “The fish don’t have so many places to hide. It increases your chances tremendously to fish the lower water conditions. It takes away some of the ledge in the river, the first ledge they might hang on.” 

    Lowering the water in the winter is it a flood control thing. “They do that every winter,” said Benton. “They bring it back up in the spring. That is the way a lot of the lakes around here are. The river driven lakes drop in the winter and rise back up in the spring. Low water in the lake and river increases the fishing odds to me.” 

    Choosing the right fishing line is an important part of Benton’s fishing strategy. “It depends on what I am doing,” explained Benton. “If I am throwing a spinner bait I want 15- to 20-pound fluorocarbon. That’s just me. If I am fishing a spinner bait, 20 feet deep on a ledge, I will drop down to 12- to 15-pound fluorocarbon. It is pretty basic, pretty much the same day or night.” 

    “If I am fishing a jig I am throwing it on 15- to 20-pound fluorocarbon depending on how deep I am fishing. A lot of times they get in the shade and stay hid trying to ambush prey. Weiss Lake has a lot of residential docks. I put the jig up under the docks.” 

    “I will throw chatter baits and, spinner baits the same way. I might go with a 12-pound test on a worm or 15-pound test if I am using a lighter sinker. That’s because I just want to skim the top of that grass. I don’t want it going down in the grass. With that lighter line I can feel it relax better then if the line is heavy, I can just pull it on through. If I use the lighter line I can use a lighter sinker. If I have 20-pound test line I gotta’ use a ¼ ounce sinker. The heavy line falls a little quicker. 

    Sometimes Benton wants braided line. “Braid has its place,” remarked Benton. “If I am punching through matted grass or throwing a frog I use braid. I throw a frog on braid all the time. If I am fishing in a farm pond I’m throwing a frog on braid because you have to have that immediate hook up. You gotta’ hit them right away with a frog. I have seen folks fish frogs on 15- or 20-pound fluorocarbon, but that is not what I am going to do. 

    “I will throw a buzz bait on braid sometimes,” continued Benton.  “In that case I don’t want to set the hook I just want to turn into that fish, I want no give in my line. When they load the pole I want to set the hook by turning my rod away from them and continuing to reel. That is where I don’t want the stretch. I don’t want to jerk the hook out of the fish’s mouth.” 

    Sink rate is the key. “When I use crankbaits, spinner baits, chatter baits, worms, all of that, anything that is going to be submerged from the top of the water column I want to use fluorocarbon. The reason is simple, fluorocarbon sinks and monofilament floats.” 

    Benton has one basic application for mono. “The only time I throw monofilament is on a topwater lure like a Zara Spook or a walk-the-dog type lure.” 

    Savvy bass anglers learn to identify fish behavior. “It all happens in cycles,” indicated Benton. “Knowing what the bass are doing will increase your odds of catching them. The bass are on beds, they spawn, and then they are post spawn. For example, when the bass start post spawn the shad start spawning. The first topwater bite of the year is usually related to that shad spawn. You should concentrate your fishing around spawning shad right at dark or right at daylight.” 

    Benton’s knowledge of fishing is a function of growing up in a fishing family, learning from others, and spending a lot of time on the water. It certainly didn’t hurt that he grew up at the confluence of three tributaries that dumps into a lake near Rome, GA. 

    Not only is the Coosa River Basin one of the top bass fisheries in the Southeast, it has many other species to target. Big largemouths, big spotted bass, hybrid bass, striped bass, monster bluegill, crappie and catfish all attract anglers to Rome. It could be described as a fisherman’s paradise.

    For more information on Georgia's Rome visit their website

  • 11/30/2015 1:07 PM | Ron Presley (Administrator)

    Music Cats and Blue Cats 

    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. 

    Brian Barton is a fishing guide in Colbert County. Just talking to Barton will get you excited about fishing there. Barton specializes in catfish, smallmouth bass and stripers. I travelled to Colbert County to sample the catfish possibilities. 

    One of Barton’s specialtie is half-day catfish trips. Although any trip can be influenced by weather and the bite can change, Barton has an expectation based on his experience. “On an average trip, say 7:00 am to lunch, I would expect 15 to 18 catfish with a 50/50 chance of a 40 pound-plus fish and almost always one fish in the 20- to 30-pound range. Half of those fish are going to be perfect eaters in the 3- to 10-pound class.” 

    Alabama Music Hall of Fame

    The Alabama Music Hall of Fame is a treasure trove of music history.

    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. 

    Net Catfish

    Barton nets a nice "eater."

    With music history as a backdrop Barton is making music of his own. He regularly hooks up willing clients to drag-screaming catfish on Wilson Lake, the smallest of the TVA lakes. “There is 17 miles of water, dam to dam,” reported Barton. “These Wilson fish are different than Guntersville and Pickwick fish. Wilson is a bathtub lake and a little hard to fish.” 

    Barton went on to explain that Guntersville and Pickwick have more off shore structure to fish. “Wilson doesn’t have as many Islands, ditches, mounds and humps and because Wilson is much deeper it also has slower current flows. That’s OK though, because I am often the only one on the lake. I don’t see many other boats unless it is a weekend or holiday.” 

    Catfish are so plentiful in Alabama there is no limit on the numbered of fish anglers can keep, however they can only keep one fish over 34 inches. Barton is a conservationist at heart. ”I release all fish over 10 pounds and prefer to release everything over five pounds,” announced Barton. His clients can keep 10 fish each under the 10 pound weight to take home for the dinner table. 

    Catfish 2

    The author gets one for the dinner table.

    Barton says the best time to make those meat fishing trips are April, May and June and then later in September and October. “Meat trips are high demand,” commented Barton. “I think people look at catfishing in two different ways. The first is recreational because they get to have fun catching them. The other is to put some good food on the table. They are likely to carry 75 or 100 pounds of dressed fish home for the freezer. They view taking the fish home as a trade off for paying the guide and having the fun of catching them.” 

    Anglers don’t have to bring a thing as far as equipment is concerned, Barton has some of the best already on board and ready to go. “When I gear up for a meat trip I use B’n’M Silver Cat spinning rods. I spool the ABU Garcia Reels with 30-pound test Vicious Braid. Anglers are welcome to bring their own gear if they want, but it’s not necessary.” 

    CatfishBarton with a pair of nice "eaters."

    Targeting eaters is primarily a shallow water thing. “We will be fishing 15- to 20-feet deep as opposed to open lake fishing for big cats which would be in 50- to 70-foot water,” explained Barton. That is the difference between catching the eaters and the trophy fish.” 

    “We are going to be casting, using split shot for weight and smaller hooks on spinning gear. I like Tru-Turn hooks, either a 1/0 or 2/0 standard crappie hook. Our targets for meat fishing are 2 to 5 pound fish. We will catch an occasional 8 to12 pounder, but with a good drag you can handle those bigger fish on the light tackle. It is more fun too.”  Catfish 3

    The primary baits for eater catfish is shad guts, chicken livers and cut shad minnows. “Shad guts work really well if you get it fresh,” said Barton. “They can be a problem if you buy them at the bait shop and they have been frozen and thawed a couple times. Then they can be hard to keep on a hook. Fresh is best for casting.” 

    “You can just go to the store and buy some good old fashion chicken livers,” advised Barton. “They are a great bait for the eater catfish on the Tennessee River. If I had to choose between store-bought frozen shad guts and chicken livers, I’d take the livers.” 

    “If you can get small 2 to 3 inch gizzard or threadfin shad you can use them whole,” explained Barton. “For eaters though, I would cut larger shad down to about the size of a silver dollar. If my “no catch no pay” was on the line I would downsize even further with smaller hooks and smaller baits. My all-round favorite bait is small pieces of cut shad.” 

    Barton described our day’s fishing hole as a series of locks and canals that had been build to aid navigation on the Tennessee River. “They are like locks that you see today,” explained Barton. They are made out of concrete, just a smaller version. They flooded all that structure and man you can catch some cats around it. You talk about a catfish honey hole.” 

    “It is a hangy jungle down there,” warned Barton. “The catfish get suspended on top of all that structure. If you can keep your bait up above the jungle you can catch some fish and get them out. I don’t know what it is, maybe old trotlines over the years, but that old lock structure is full of hangs and it is full of fish.” 

    Barton likes to use the Spot-lock feature on his Minn Kota trolling motor or anchor right in the middle of a lock. “I have never caught any big catfish here. I use light tackle and target the eaters. Just cast out over the lock, which is about 20 feet deep, and pull it off the ledge where it drops to deeper water. It requires a little skill, but it is fun and productive fishing.” 

    Barton recalls many memories of great fishing days over the locks. One included his son and a need for some catfish for a fish fry. “It was on April 19on lock 5,” revealed Barton. “We documented it. Me and my son bought a 2 quart container of fresh shad guts, normally enough to fish for two days. It was a Saturday morning and we got on the water above the lock at 7:00 am. We were out to catch some catfish for a fish fry. We ran out of shad guts at 9:30 am and had 89 catfish.” 

    “We had fish laying in the floor. We had fish everywhere and every one of them was a perfect one- to three-pound fish. Those locks are stacked up with them. That’s why I like to guide on them for meat trips.” 

    SmalliesTwo nice smallies that came from Pickwick Lake. 

    Barton also guides for stripers. 

    Barton also guides for smallmouth bass, stripers and trophy catfish. Each species is a little different. Fishing for smallies and stripers is mostly on nearby Pickwick Lake. 


    Chasing catfish, however, be they eaters or trophy cats, will find Barton on his home waters of Wilson Lake. 

    Visit Barton’s website at Brian Barton Outdoors or he can be reached by email at

    For more information on Colbert County visit their website at

    Epilogue: 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 to wait on your order. 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.

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