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!