Monday, December 30, 2013

Best Fish of 2013

2013 was another great year of fishing. Many personal bests were beaten. It was a year of kayaks, creek, big bass, and bass tournaments. Here's a look at the best of the best from 2013.
5lb 0oz 21.5" Largemouth Bass
4lb 11oz 22" Largemouth Bass
5lb 0z 20.75" Largemouth Bass
3lb 8oz 18" Largemouth Bass
21.25" 4lb 8oz Largemouth Bass
20.25" Largemouth Bass
2lb 12oz 18.25" Smallmouth Bass
2lb 5oz 17.75" Smallmouth Bass
2lb 12oz 17.25" Smallmouth Bass
2lb 8oz 17.25" Smallmouth Bass
31lb 41" Flathead Catfish
15" White Crappie
4x 2lb+ Skipjack
3lb 10oz 22.5" Hybrid Striped Bass
11lb 13oz 27.5" Buffalo
16.5" Sauger

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Black Crappie vs White Crappie

Crappie, quite possibly America's favorite panfish. I know they are my favorite panfish. They may not be the strongest fighter but they make up for it with their numbers. When you find one crappie, you can almost always guarantee there are more near by. Combine that with a delicious tasting flesh that is easy to fillet and you got yourself a great panfish. It wasn't until I started fishing year round through the winter that I truly started to appreciate crappie. Not only do crappie actively feed year round but they are predictable in the winter time. They will congregate around deeper structure making it easier to pinpoint prime locations. Many fish are shut down in the winter and feeding less often but not the crappie. This gives diehard anglers a great option for fishing through the winter.

So what are the differences between the black and white crappie? I know that before I started harvesting crappie frequently in the past couple years my confidence in distinguishing the two variations was low. Now it is all to easy.

Black Crappie (Pomoxis nigromaculatus)

White Crappie (Pomoxis annularis)

The most obvious difference between a Black Crappie and a White Crappie is the color but this isn't always clear cut. Many factors can effect the coloration of a fish including the color of the water and spawning periods. During spawning periods both black and white crappie will appear darker in color. Rather than using color it is better to examine the blotch patterns on the side of the fish. Notice that the Black Crappie pictured above has a fairly even distribution of blotches while the White Crappie blotches form more of a stripe pattern.

Another distinguishing trait is the shape. Black Crappie have a much more rounded shape than White Crappie. When compared side by side the shape difference is much more obvious. The depression above the eye of a Black Crappie is much more pronounced. This rounder shape makes the dorsal fin length of the Black Crappie approximately equal to the distance from the eye to the dorsal fin. On White Crappie the dorsal fin length is shorter than the distance from the eye to the dorsal fin. Notice the shape difference in the picture below, Black Crappie are on top while White Crappie are on bottom.

A third trait that distinguishes the black and white crappie is the number of spines in the dorsal fin. At the front of the dorsal fins there are a number of sharp spines on each. The Black Crappie typically has 7-8 spines while the White Crappie typically only has 5-6 spines.

Size-wise the two are practically the same. From my experience the rounder shape does make the black crappie weigh slightly more for its length and possibly yield more meat per length. The Ohio state record for Black Crappie is 4 pounds 8 ounces while the Ohio state record for White Crappie is 3 pounds 14 ounces. Moreover the North American Black Crappie record is 6 pounds even while the North American White Crappie record is 5 pounds 3 ounces. This would lead me to believe that the Black Crappie does indeed grow to slightly larger weights. 

Diet and spawning habits are nearly identical. They both start their spawning phase when the water temperature reaches the upper 50's. It is said that the Black Crappie prefers clearer water with plenty of vegetation while the White Crappie prefers more turbid water with less vegetation.

Here's a couple more pictures for comparison, Black Crappie on the left and White Crappie on the right.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Monofilament Lines

In all my years of fishing I have used monofilament lines 90% or more of the time. It wasn't until a couple years ago that I even tried braided line. While braid has its benefits, if I had to pick only one fishing line to use it would be mono without a second thought.

Growing up I can remember having my spincast reel spooled with 10lb Stren. Dad would take me out to a lake and I would through a rooster tail around without a care in the world. When I got older and started buying my own fishing gear I started using Berkley Trilene. There really wasn't much reason to why I chose to use Trilene, it was just what I happened to pick up off of the shelf and it stuck for many years. Probably the biggest reason I used it for so many years and even to this day is purely its availability. In a pinch you can find Berkley's Trilene line just about anywhere that sells fishing supplies. Trilene came in a few different varieties. Specifically I used XT Extra Tough and XL Smooth Casting as these were the easiest to find in the local stores. XT was obviously built for durability and strength while XL was built for manageability, resisting line twists and knots.

Over the years as I began to favor spinning reels, I also favored the XL line. Spinning reels were more prone to line twist and the XL helped minimize this issue. To this day I still use Trilene XL Smooth Casting from time to time. It's not my favorite mono line but It gets the job done.

This is where Bass Pro Shops came in. After taking my first trip to Bass Pro Shops I was hooked. It was like a huge candy store of fishing. With Bass Pro came an exposure to a vast collection of fishing gear and lines I had never seen before. At this point I was already loyal to Berkley's Trilene line and that is when I discovered Berkley Trilene Sensation.

Sensation was designed to be super sensitive and that's just what it did. From day one I was sold on this line. It just had a very good feel to it. It had everything I liked about the XL and more. It was as strong as the XT if not stronger, the box actually claims that it is their highest strength-per-diameter fishing line wet or dry. Line memory and management was comparable to the XL and of course it was extra sensitive as described. It wasn't long before I had all of my non catfish reels spooled with sensation. I have had many good years using this line. It was only about a year ago when I was finally weaned off of this line and that was only because I was given as a gift some different types of monofilament line.

In the past year Sufix Siege has become my go to line. Similar to the Trilene XT Extra Tough, this line was designed to be "super tough" and strong. The difference being the manageability issues that I had experienced with XT several years back. The the thing that set this line apart from the others was the lines memory. Less line memory generally means less twists and knots. I have been very impressed by this lines strength, abrasion resistance, and near zero memory. Now I have noticed that the "zero memory" isn't nearly as prevalent on baitcaster reels as it is on spinning reels due to the smaller spools on baitcasters. Also, the increased strength and durability comes with a price of slightly higher diameter line. For example the 8lb Sufix Siege has a diameter of 0.011" vs 8lb Sensation/XL having a diameter of 0.010". It by no means matches the sensitivity of Sensation, but it has came in a transition period for me where that sensitivity has mattered less. The past year has been a big transition period to larger bass baits where that finesse sensitivity is much less critical.

So for anyone looking for a new monofilament line to try; for heavier baits on spinning reels I would recommend Sufix Siege, for lighter tackle on spinning reels I would try out Berkley Trilene Sensation. Good Luck!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Cooking Crappie

Cooking crappie is simple and delicious. Here's how I like to prepare my crappie.

I start by preparing a cooking station as seen above. From left to right, a zip lock bag, batter of choice, crappie fillets, milk and egg mixture, and a plate with a paper towel on top to hold the cooked fish. My personal batter favorites are Uncle Buck's Light n' Krispy Original found at Bass Pro Shops or Andy's Fish Breading found at Walmart. I actually did a blog on the Uncle Buck's batter last year which can be found here. The milk and egg mixture is simply 2 beaten eggs with about a half cup of milk. To the right, not pictured, is a cast iron skillet filled about 1" deep with vegetable oil at medium to medium high heat.

First, poor a good amount of your batter/breading of choice into the zip lock bag. For this batch I used the Andy's.

Next, grab a fillet, dunk it in the milk egg mixture, then toss it in the zip lock bag. Repeat until you have about a skillet load worth of fillets in the zip lock bag, for me this is typically 8-12 fillets. Ensure the zip lock is properly sealed, I've had a seal break in the past causing a big mess so be careful. Shake, twist, and tilt the bag around applying a liberal amount of the coating to the fish.

One at a time place the coated fillets into the hot grease and let the frying begin.

The size of the fillets and the temperature of the grease determines how long I cook the fish for. Typically 4-8 minutes (2-4 minutes per side) is the ideal cooking time. Monitoring the visual appearance of the fish is the best way, just wait until it turns a nice golden brown. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

11/29/13 Rocky Fork Lake Crappie

Friday after thanksgiving I decided to give the Ohio River a break and target crappie. I was ready for another good fish fry and Rocky Fork Lake is my favorite lake for keeper size crappie. The weather was favorable, a little cold but sunny and minimal wind. I got on the water around 11am and headed to a good piece of structure and anchored up. The water temperature was 44 degrees. I started by tossing out a slip float with a minnow set at about 7ft. Minnows on slip floats set at 7-8ft has always been a good starting point at Rocky Fork Lake. The snag I was fishing was about 8ft deep in 12-14ft of water. Before I could even get a second rod in the water I had a bite. It was a nice fat black crappie at 12.25" and 14oz.
12.25" 14oz Black Crappie
12.25" 14oz Black Crappie
This was a great start to what turned out to be a great day and made me completely forget about the cold temperatures. I reloaded my float with a minnow and cast back to the same spot. Again I had a bite before I even had a chance to pick up a second rod. It was another keeper size crappie. The bite continued to be hot for a few more crappie before dieing down. I ended up catching 6 or 7 crappie with 4 keepers off of this snag before I decided to move as it appeared I had caught most of the active fish. I continued on to another good snag.

Much like the first snag I got a bite almost immediately after casting my float and this snag ended up yielding a lot more crappie. For the first hour I didn't even bother using two rods as I was getting so many bites on just the one float. On top of that almost every other fish was keeper size. Eventually the bite slowed enough that I started using two floats. The 6-9ft range was the ticket. The bite remained decent until I could barely see my floats in the dark. At about 5:30pm I called it a day and headed in. As I was pulling anchor I snapped a picture of my fish basket to demonstrate how I keep my catch.

On the day I caught 41 crappie with 19 keepers, more than enough for a good fish fry and sharing with friends and family. Most of these crappie were very fat in preparation for the winter.

Before cleaning the fish I decided to challenge myself to get the most possible meat from these fish. I weighed the fish before cleaning at 8lbs 10oz. The final meat weight... 2lbs 4oz, not bad at all. That comes out to 26% meat vs total weight. Now all I got to do is fry them up and enjoy!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Cabelas Polartec Power Dry Thermal Underwear

With a winter storm currently brewing outside, what better to do than a review on my trusty set of thermal underwear. For many the fishing season is all but over but for the truly passionate fisherman it is a year round affair. Fishing in the winter can be tough but also very rewarding. Keeping yourself warm is critical and the first step is a good pair of thermal underwear.
Cabelas Polartec Power Dry Thermal Underwear
For the past few years I've been wearing the Cabelas Polartec Power Dry thermal underwear. I've worn this set from temperatures of 70 degrees all the way down to 20 degrees. In the warmer temperatures they breathe very well preventing sweat and even if you do sweat they absorb moisture like no other keeping you dry. An interesting thing I've noticed about them is after washing, they feel nearly dry before you even put them in the dryer. On the other side of the spectrum they provide excellent heat retention in cold temperatures. This versatility makes the Polartec's great for fishing throughout the day and into the night where temperatures might vary greatly. As far as durability goes, I've not had a single issue, no holes or tears of any sort. They come in three different weights, silk, medium, and polar, the silk being for milder conditions while the polar is for the more extreme. I'm not positive if my pair is the medium or the polar weight. For anyone looking for a new pair of thermals, I'd check them out, they haven't let me down. Here's the links to the medium weights.

Medium Weight Shirt
Medium Weight Pants

Interested in more ways to keep warm during winter fishing? Check out my Hot Hands post from exactly a year ago, what a coincidence.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Another Great Day On The River

Saturday, 11/16, I took another trip the Ohio River. The weather was great, 60 degrees, light winds, and overcast, so I definitely had to take advantage of that. I got on the water around noon and decided to do a bit more exploring this time around. My first stop was a small cove that I had neglected on the previous two trips. This cove turned out to be very shallow, 3ft deep at most, but I still thought it might hold a few fish seeking shelter from the river current. I started out throwing the smallest lure I had tied on in an attempt to get on the board early, a 1.5" white grub on a 1/8oz jig head. 30 minutes went by without a bite before I hooked what I thought was snag. I gave it a couple good tugs to try and pop it free when I noticed this was no snag, it was moving sideways. So the battle began, I had no idea what I had hooked but It felt very heavy without much fight. 30 seconds went by until I surfaced the fish, it was a huge buffalo! Several minutes went by of this fish pulling me around in circles. Finally I was able to get the fish to swim right in my net. I had my GoPro installed for the first trip and realized after netting it that it would have been the perfect time to get a good battle on camera but I was too caught up in the moment and didn't think about it. It wasn't easy, due to the sliminess of these fish, but I eventually got a few pictures. It weighed 11lbs 13oz and measured 27.5". I've only caught a handful of buffalo so this one easily broke my old personal best of 6 or 7lbs.
11lb 13oz 27.5" Buffalo
11lb 13oz 27.5" Buffalo
I did get to try out my GoPro for the hero shot which worked out well.
11lb 13oz 27.5" Buffalo
I had never been so slimed by a fish in my life. Here's a picture of the aftermath.

I continued on fishing the cove for another 15 minutes or so when I got my second bite. I figured it was a small hybrid striper but to my surprise it was a really nice sauger. Yet another fish a rarely get the opportunity to catch. It measured in at 16.5" and in the excitement I forgot to weigh it. I've only caught dinker sauger in the past so it was easily another personal best and also a Fish Ohio trophy of 16"+. Two personal bests in a row, this day couldn't get better.
16.5" Sauger
16.5" Sauger
I stayed in the cove a bit longer with no more bites before heading out into the main river. The river was at 54 degrees. At this point I switched up to a medium size spoon. It didn't take long for me to find out that the hybrids were biting as well. My second hybrid of the day ended up being my biggest of the day at 19.5" and 2lbs 12oz.
2lb 12oz 19.5" Hybrid Striped Bass
I fished various areas that I had never fished before and continued to pick off hybrids on the spoon every 15-30 minutes for the remainder of the day which included two more over 18" with the majority being in the 10-14" range. There was even a white bass and a spotted bass in the mix. The fish definitely weren't schooled up tight but they were biting. I caught equal amounts of fish on a steady reel and jigging the spoon. Some fish were a little bit deeper, some were shallow, most likely wherever they had some bait schooled up. The bite picked up slightly around 5:00pm and slowed down around 6:30pm. By 8:00pm the bite was all but dead. At about 9:00pm I caught my final hybrid of the day which was the third 18"+ of the day. I took the opportunity to see how the GoPro handled a night picture, not so well as it turns out.

By 9:30pm I decided to call it quits as I'd only had one bite in the past hour which was the fish pictured above. I ended up catching 15 hybrids along with the other miscellaneous species for a 5 species day. It's days like these that keep me thirsty for more. Can't wait to get back out there.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Shimano Stradic vs Pflueger Patriarch

With fall in full force and daylight savings time concluding my weekday fishing options are very limited. Seeing how I don't get home from work til 4:00pm and it is completely dark by 6:00pm. This makes it a perfect time to clean and review some of the gear that I have been using over the past couple years. So today I'll be putting a couple higher end spinning reels up in a head to head comparison. Specifically the Shimano Stradic CI4 3000F and the Pflueger Patriarch 9540. These two reels have become my go-to spinning reels.

I'll start with the Shimano Stradic CI4 3000F.
Shimano Stradic CI4 3000F
This reel has done nothing but please. The 3000F model that I own was the medium size option rated for 140yds of 10lb mono. Primarily I have used this reel for light bass and crappie tackle, I've kept it spooled with 8lb mono. Out of the box reeling was smooth as butter, significantly smoother than anything I had ever used. After owning this reel for nearly two year now I can honestly say it is still every bit as smooth to this day. The drag is very comparable in smoothness as well and has never let me down. The carbon construction of this reel provides exceptional durability in a lightweight package (7.2oz for the 3000 size). Something else I want to note is the reel contains 6 ball bearings. Compared to some reels this may seem pretty average but I have found that it isn't always about the quantity of bearings but rather the quality. With all that said I have absolutely no complaints with this reel. Check out the complete stats on the Stradic here.

On to the Plueger Patriarch 9540.
Plueger Patriarch 9540
This reel has been a solid performer. One of my first trips if not the first trip out using this reel I actually caught I very nice hybrid striper so I quickly gained confidence in it. The 9540 model that I own is a larger model rated for 200yds of 10lb mono. Primarily this has been a larger bass bait reel and even a carp reel on the few carp trips I made this year. I keep it spooled with 10lb mono. The Patriarch was also very smooth out of the box, although not quite as smooth as the Stradic. The drag was solid but not nearly as smooth as the Stradic again. One of the first things I noticed about this reel was the visible carbon handle and arbor, again carbon provides great strength in a light weight package. The 9540 weighs in at 8.1oz which is awesome for the size of this reel. I've not had any problems with this reel and it still functions nearly as good as it did the day I got it. My only complaint is it has developed a little noise when reeling. Check out the complete stats on the Patriarch here.

Both of these reels are in the $200 price range which is on the expensive side in my collection of reels. Are they worth it? So far I would say yes. Durability is one of the strongest considerations when I'm buying a reel and so far both of these reels have performed in that category. If I'm going to pay top dollar for a reel I definitely want it to last me a long time. So which reel is better? The choice is pretty obvious. Hands down the Shimano Stradic takes the crown. As I stated before this reel has done nothing but please and anyone looking for a new spinning reel in the $200 dollar range should strongly consider the Stradic.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

New Seat Base and GoPro Upgrades for the NuCanoe

This weekend to avoid the 15-30mph winds I decided to get some things done around the house and add some new upgrades to my NuCanoe Frontier 12. The first upgrade was a new seat base. About a month ago NuCanoe came out with a new lighter, stronger, and raised seat base. This seat base is to come standard on the 2014 model frontiers and they offered a 33% discount to all previous frontier owners. Needless to say, I took advantage of the 33% discount and made the purchase. This week my new base finally arrived. After taking the new seat base out of its box the first thing I tried was standing on it to see how strong it really felt. It was rock solid with barely any give. Installation was simple, here's some pictures.

The extra height made my seat even comfortable and the extra storage space underneath will definitely come in handy.

Next I had a new GoPro to mount. I knew I wanted to have some better options than the Yak Attack Panfish Portrait that I already had. I wanted to raise the camera up higher than the Panfish Portrait was capable of to make for some better pictures and potentially be able to film me standing and fishing. I knew Yak Attack made some additional components that would be perfect for this and I also had a $25 gift certificate to Hook1 that I won in the Buckeye Kayak Fishing Trail so that's where I started. After browsing the Hook1 website and having a conversation with Chad at Hook1 I had made up my mind what to purchase. I purchased the Yak Attack Panfish (not to be confused with the Panfish Portrait), a Yak Attack 11" extension arm, and a GoPro tripod mount. My package from Hook1 arrived this week as well, shipping was extremely fast as always.
From top to bottom: Yak Attack Panfish, Yak Attack 11" Extension Arm, and Yak Attack Panfish Portrait
 The GoPro tripod mount actually came with two different mounts.
GoPro Tripod Mounts
My preference was the mount on the left which would allow me to slide the GoPro in and out easily with one of the stock mounts while the mount on the right would require me to unscrew the camera to remove it. Here's the mount installed on the Panfish Portrait.

With the combination of the Yak Attack Panfish, Panfish Portrait, and 11" extension arm this gave me four different combinations of height to mount my GoPro. Not only that but I could mount it anywhere on the stock NuCanoe rails or on the Yak Attack Geartrac's and Mighty Mounts I have installed. Here's the four possible height configurations.
Panfish Portrait Only
Panfish Portrait + 11" Extension Arm
Panfish Only
Panfish + 11" Extension Arm
After taking dozens of videos/pictures from various locations and height configurations I decided my favorite option for typical hero shots was the Panfish only mounted on my middle Geartrac which is the mounting location seen in the four pictures above. I also found that the Panfish/11" Extension combo mounted in either a rear mighty mount or in a front Geartrac would be great for filming myself standing and fishing. Now all I have to do is capture some great video and pictures.

At this point I have finally got my NuCanoe to the point of what I imagined when I originally bought it and I couldn't be happier with it. Will hopefully share some videos soon!