Where do I start? What a week...
Wednesday/Thursday of week before last:
2 days and counting before we all leave for the trip. I get a call from my buddy Dave that his wife is sick and in the ER. Should be fine but lots of stuff going on. Long story short, a trip to Cleveland Clinic for a TON of tests, treatments, and stuff that no one should have to go through, a good diagnosis and thank the good Lord she's back home and for the most part healthy and recovered. I had committed to scrapping the TN trip altogether and was going to drive to Cleveland instead to be there for them for whatever they needed (go out and get them food, bring them clothes, someone to talk to, etc). Dave straight up instructed me to make the TN trip happen no matter what so at his wishing, that's what i did.
Friday - Sunday of weekend before last:
Work went by sloooow. At 4pm the workweek was done and i jetted home to hook the boat up and head south. Alicen followed me down and planned to fish for the next couple of days. That would not end up happening though. The entire east TN area, and consequently every single water body, was essentially trashed. 4-6" of rain fell across the entire region over the course of 3 days. That Friday night we had planned to go straight to the boat ramp and fish all night since we couldnt check into the house until 3pm Saturday. We arrived in TN to a severe thunderstorm warning that would end up lasting for 3 days. We admitted defeat that night and slept at a truck stop just off the interstate in the back of her suv. Que the makings of a true country song. Haha! The rest of the weekend was spent relaxing at the rental, eating good food and doing all the most cheesy tourist trap stuff you can think of in Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg area. It was not our idea or plans of a fishing trip, but sometimes you can't fight nature and just have to roll with it. Rain i can deal with, 30mph winds and lightning you just have to throw in the towel and go do something else.
Alicen left to go back to WV. My brother and a few others that were planning to come on the trip all ended up having other things come up (work, school, a house sold/had to start moving, Dave and his wife were out, etc). So there i am, alone in TN. It was an odd feeling being by myself down there since it's normally a group trip but kind of refreshing in a way. I basically turned my phone off, never checked social media or the web much at all, and essentially just cleared my head and thought about life and fish for 3 days. I could've not caught a fish that entire time and been happy. Last Monday though my plan was to fish a tailwater during the day to see what the fishing was like there then head back to the lake for the nighttime hybrid-striper topwater bite that i'd waiting since last year for. The tailwater treated me well with several white bass, drum, and catfish brought to hand. The lake, a different story. I arrived to the lake at 10pm to fish for the night. What i found was white caps and obviously no topwater bite. I spent from 10pm to 4am motoring into different coves all up and down the lake trying to find something protected and calm. Nothing. I accepted defeat and was back in bed by 5am.
At 8am and after 3 hours of sleep i was back up and in the car headed south to another tailwater. This day would be the literal key that opened the lock to the entire trip ahead. The day started drifting some shad i had caught when i first arrived. My target fish was Striper but instead I landed 31 Blue Cats, 8 Drum and a Channel Cat. Then, just before dark i finally hooked into something i knew wasn't a catfish or drum. My rod doubled over, hookset, and a long drag peeling run. Definite Striper. A solid 10 minute battle ensued and then it was in the net. 38" on the nose on the board, what a fight and fish. After that i went back to the dock and loaded up the boat. My goal was to get some numbers put up that day. I did so and got a nice Striper to boot, so i was happy. Forecasted for the night was calm winds, warm temps, and clear skies. The perfect recipe for nighttime hybrid topwater fishing. I heard a couple of crashes on top when i first arrived to my first location but not like normal. Within the first 5 minutes i caught a Hybrid and a couple of casts later a 19" Largemouth. That would end up being the ONLY Hybrid i caught in TN the entire trip and only 1 of 2 Largemouth, unreal. I fished the entire rest of the night until 4am with only 1 or 2 other blowups with nothing to show for them. Back to bed i went.
Up at 9am after a refreshing 4 hours of sleep. Instead of driving to a tailwater, i decided to fish the lake all day throwing carolina rigs and deep diving crankbaits for bass. Since i would be meeting Dcasto that night at the lake, it would save me a bunch of driving. Long story short, i fished for bass all day and only got 2 hits, missed them both, and no fish brought to hand. I was feeling pretty bummed until i talked to several other boats including a couple of local boats that i felt confident they knew what they were doing and not one single other boat had boated any more than 1-2 fish and small ones at that. The lake has risen about 15ft over the course of the previous 3 days so it had the fish all out of whack. Dcasto and I fished the lake that night until around 2-3am and not a fish. We headed back to the house to get some rest for the next day. This day would go down as my first day ever of not catching a single fish in TN.
We woke up and drove to one of the tailwaters i had fished earlier. After my previous days 17 fish-less hours on the water, and since it was his first day down, we both just wanted to catch some fish. Our plan was to catch catfish first, then go to an adjacent tailwater that is usually loaded with white bass and drum. We were on a mission to just pad the numbers. Haha! We arrived to the first tailwater to find it about 8ft higher than what i had fished it on Monday. We decided to fish it anyway since there was a nice big eddy right along the bank. The fish had to be there since the current was ripping in the middle. We fished a while and landed a couple of cats and drum. Then, Dcasto hooks into something bigger. I could tell by the run it was a Striper. He lands the beast and what a giant it was. Fattest fish i'd seen in a while. We land it, take a pic or three and my next cast i hook one. I get halfway spooled and it comes unbuttoned. Dang. I cast out again and at the end of the drift i get a thump. Hookset and a brief fight later, I've got a striper in the net too. We fish a couple more hours with no luck then decide to go to the adjacent tailwater to dominate white bass and drum. That plan worked like a charm and we dominated a bunch of different species for the rest of the evening. We met Gill that night at the lake for 1 more try at the nighttime Hybrid topwater bite. Nothing. We gave it up and headed home.
The magic day. Playing off of hints and clues from my Tuesday outing and the previous days trip with Dcasto, we knew the Striper had to be in the one tailwater in good number, it was just a matter of figuring them out. We arrive and have a few hits but no real solid connections. We talk about trying something heavier since all of us were throwing 1/2oz-3/4oz baits. Gill ties on a 3oz swimbait and hooks up and lands a nice Striper. After a second hookup/catch i tie on a 1.5oz swimbait and my first cast land one too. We all tie on heavier swimbaits and proceed to catch 16 more solid fish to end out the day. My biggest was a taped 38" and boga grip weighed 28lb slab. Most every fish we all caught was over 30". It was a day we'll never forget. Finished the night off with a celebratory gas station parking lot Taco Bell dinner for good measure.
Back at the tailwater no doubt. We proceed to fish the way we did the previous day. I caught a little Striper and a Spotted Gar. I had never caught one before. I had cast out and when i reeled in my bait bumped and snagged the thing so it was in no way legit, but still one of the coolest fish i've seen.
We then decided to actually put my boat in the water. We drifted a few times and caught a drum. Then i had an accidental snag Paddlefish catch. Gill wanted back on the bank so our plan was he would fish the bank and Dcasto and myself would boat fish until either of us figured out a pattern then we'd all stick to whichever it was. Gill ended up catching quite a few Striper from the bank and I ended up with a few from the boat, another Paddlefish, and Dcasto put on an absolute clinic on the Drum. I finished out the day with a beautiful Walleye right at dark. We topped the night, and trip, off with a stop at Buffalo Wild Wings. I ate a pile of wings and toasted the day and trip off with a nice cold Guiness. Cheers Tennessee, cheers.
We all head our separate ways. I did have some unfinished business though. I'd never made the trip to TN and not caught a Smallmouth. A quick 5 mile detour on the way home near Kingsport and a few casts into the North Fork of the Holston and a couple of lower teens Smallies were brought to hand. Trip complete.
**Trip Species Recap: Largemouth, Smallmouth, Striper, Hybrid, White and Yellow Bass, Flathead, Blue, and Channel Catfish, Longnose and Spotted Gar, Paddlefish, White Crappie, Drum, Walleye, and a Buffalo for a total of 16 Species.**
There are many types of situations in fishing where a specific technique is required to be successful at catching. Often times you can still catch a stragler or two doing something different, but the main technique is the obvious winner. There are, however, instances where if you don't follow a certain set of rules, you aren't going to catch a single thing. Wintertime river Smallmouth might be one of the most technique specific fishing scenarios there is and that's what the next paragraph or two will cover.
Remember these words: Low and Slow. Those are the two most significant words you need to remember for catching winter river Smallmouth. Now, to break that phrase down. When I say low and slow, I mean low as keeping the bait/lure/fly on the bottom. If you're not in constant contact with the bottom, you're not going to catch much, if anything at all. When I say slow, I mean 1 short (half to a single turn of the reel) hop for every 5-20 seconds of leaving the bait stationary. Retrieves should take 1-5 full minutes, not 10-30 seconds. Master this kind of patience and body control and you're more than halfway there.
Lure selection is the next thing. Ive noticed that typically in winter the fish prefer either a large profile (thickness vs length) bait, or a small profile bait, depending on the day. Think jig n' pigs for larger profile and 1.5"-3" soft plastics (small tubes, etc) for smaller profile. For color, different variations of watermelon, purple, black or black/blue combinations are the standard and typically the most successful. You can normally fish all winter and never have to leave those 4 colors.
Lastly, please use braided line. If you're not already using it, you honestly don't know how many bites you're missing until you switch. The typical setup is 6-15lb braid with a 2-4ft section of 6-15lb flourocarbon leader, depending on rod/reel size and lure being used.
These are just some quick tips to get you started. There is definitely a lot more to it and just like anything I could go on for days and dive into real specifics, but I'm also a firm believer of "you learn better by doing", so get out to your local smallie stream, find the slowest pool you can find that has good depth and try what I've written above. You just might find out that even though it's slow and methodical, winter time river Smallmouth are a blast and exciting in their own special kind of way.
I was trying to think back to my first time in a kayak. After some thought, it came to my mind it had to have been in 1997 or 1998 while on a school field trip down a small river in southern WV. After paddling a canoe most of the day, I remember being intrigued by a few of the other classmates that had rented kayaks instead of a canoe. We swapped here and there through the rest of the day and I remember being hooked from the get go.
Fast forward a few years and kayak play days later and I purchased my first kayak, a used Wilderness Systems tandem that only had one seat so as to maximize storage. It was a little over a decade ago and the kayak craze had definitely not yet started, especially not in WV. Most all of the water bodies I fished with it, there were constant funny looks and questions from bystanders at the launch points. Rightfully so though, aside from some whitewater or creeker yak's near the more famous areas like the New or Gauley Rivers, you just simply never saw kayaks in WV. I remember it was a good 2-3 years before I ran into another kayaker on the water and probably another year after that before I saw another angler using them to fish from. For a while it seemed like it was me and only me, which was good and bad. Good because I didn't ever have to deal with competing for hard to get to areas with other kayaks...bad because without the soon to be popularity, upgrading to a new kayak was basically a chore in itself just due to the fact that there weren't any around. The fishing kayaks of today weren't produced yet, and the couple that did exist were untouchable with the funds of a poor college kid.
Now, fast forward 10+ years, dozens of new kayak innovations, unparalleled growth of popularity in kayak fishing, a few new brand names even, and we end up where I am today. After literally thousands of both miles paddled and fish caught, my old faithful Wilderness Systems yak from yesteryear gave its last rash of plastic to the river bottom in 2015. After living in a few different recreation and tourism focused towns in WV, I've had the oppurtunity to paddle and field test several brands and styles of the newer age kayaks. I was always content with my Wilderness Systems so never felt the need to upgrade until it expired. Once so, I knew what style and size yak I wanted, it was just a matter of deciding on brand. I kept hearing about this new company called Vibe. "Kayaks just as good as any other brand but about half the cost" was the statement that I kept hearing. I definitely liked the sound of that, so I decided to check them out.
What I found once I began searching through Vibe related forum topics and articles was that this was not just a company, this was a company that was dedicated to building a positive vibes community with a dedication to customer service like none I've ever seen. Combine that with the price point (and stock features!!) and it was a no brainer. I pulled the trigger and could not at all be happier. For anyone that doesn't know me, I fish for every species that swims, with all manners of gear, from NY to FL and all in between, both fresh and salt. I've intentionally put this kayak through the tests and I am yet to find a fault. Factor in the amazing Vibe Kayaks Owners Group where, everyday, a community comes together to help one another and provide tips and techniques without any criticisms or name calling.......you just don't find that other places, especially not too many other places on the internet in 2017. That is Why I Vibe...and why you should too (insert shameless plug here). I won't tell you that Vibe is the best company on the market, there are so many brands and so many kayaks out there, buy what makes you comfortable firstly, and buy what makes you happy, mostly. BUT, If you're like me and like a great community with great service, a great price point, and top shelf comfort, give Vibe a look and try one out. You just might find yourself impresssed.
The one question I get asked more than any is this, "how do you know where to find so many big fish?". That's a pretty loaded question if we're being honest. Everything from tackle selection, to knowing when to fish where on what days, to decades of trial and error...it all plays a part. There is one tool that not enough fisherman use though, and that's is Google Earth (or other similar software/programs). Now, you obviously can't see individual fish on satellite maps of your local waters, but what you can see is where they live. If you look at sections of lakes or rivers long enough on Google Earth you'll start to be able to piece together two things...holding holes and feeding areas.
For lakes, you might notice a sharp point/drop off adjacent to a mud flat. On a river, you might see a subsurface ledge or drop off that hadn't seen before. There have been several instances where I have fished holes, thought I was floating over and fishing the best side when after looking at Google Earth, I had actually neglected the better side. Maybe on the water it didn't look as deep as the side I was on, or the light refraction of the water caused it to look more shallow than what it was. Regardless, that has happened more than a few times. For lakes, it's as good a tool as any lure in your box. Even a local lake you've fished you're whole life, look on the map and see what areas you've been successful in. Odds are, there are more areas in the lake with the same general layout and odds are, those are going to be successful for you too. I can't count the times that I've fished a lake for a weekend, had success in a particular kind of area, go look at Google Earth upon returning home, find several more areas I hadn't fished that look similar, go back to those areas later and flat out dominate without even having ever fished them.
It it takes some time to get good at it. Studying maps, learning new lays of the land, identifying structure, locating holding/feeding/staging areas, as well as places to avoid even. If you put the time in and compare on the water experiences up to what the maps show, I swear to you that after some time it will all click and it will be a tool you can't live without. The past few years, before I ever even open a box, or check lines on spools, or do basically anything prior to a day of fishing, the first thing I do is check Google Earth. Even if I've fished there a hundred times, just a fresh look sometimes will provide a glance at something you maybe never noticed before. Google Earth has made me a 10x fold better angler, and it will you too if you learn it and let it. Now go out there and study up!
First and foremost, welcome! I wanted to create a place to put down my many stray thoughts and ramblings about fishing into words. This blog will cover anything and everything I can conjure up about fishing, floating, current events and issues within the fishing community, tactics, do's and don'ts, how-to's, as well as hopefully entertain a little. Hope you enjoy, thanks for reading!
WV Born and Raised
Multi-Species Fishin' Addict
Appalachian Range Outdoors
Vibe Kayaks Pro Fishing Team