Articles for February 2015

Quick Tip: Have a Plan and Share it Using Google Earth

So much that we do today is technology driven. Don’t forget to use it to your advantage when fishing (or hiking, biking, sailing, skiing, and etc). There are so many gadgets you can buy today that will allow you to keep track of your location but what if they fail?

Before you leave home actually plan your trip. In my planning process I put Google Earth to use. You can download it here.  Then I can go over the area where I plan to fish, I set out the mileage I will cover, get a sense of my time on the water, and save a picture to file.  Such as this one:

Lake Hermitage example

A few things learned:  This little “jaunt” will be a 2 mile paddle – you have to judge what your limits are; two this is a real fishing hole – free; and I have the free upgrade to Google Earth Pro!  Hurry up and try it out.

The last thing I do is save a copy to my desktop and tell my wife it is there.  If I fail to show up on time my wife now has an important piece of information to share with Wildlife and Fisheries and the Coast Guard.  This took me about 30 minutes to put together.  If you weren’t “blogging” it would take you about five minutes.  If you don’t share a computer with someone you could email the file to a friend.  Such a little thing to do that just might save your life.

Bill Crawford previously served as a Wilderness Systems Fishing Ambassador, is currently an ambassador for Scotty Rod Holders has served on the Backpacker Fishing Team since 2013.

Climbing Enchanted Rock

Meeting the members of Team Backpacker inspired me to try my hand at adventure racing.  After watching several Eco-Challenges I decided I needed to improve my skills for the ropes course.  I looked online for a rock climbing school and found one in Austin, Texas focused on climbing Enchanted Rock.  Mountain Madness was described as being “one of the oldest and most experienced climbing schools in the United States”.  I signed my son-in-law (who is always eager for an adventure!) and myself up and off we went to the Lone Star State.

Scott Preparing the Climbing Gear
Our fearless leader preparing our gear.

We were very fortunate to have the owner and founder of the school, Scott Harris, as our guide.  Scott co-authored the book, The Dome Driver’s Manual – A Climber’s Guide to Enchanted Rock, so when I found out the park would be our classroom, I felt we were in capable hands.

Climbing up the practice slab
Practice Slab

Our day started when we loaded up our packs with gear and rock shoes, slung a bundle of climbing rope on our backs, and headed up Summit Trail for a 20 minute hike through the canyon to our destination.  Each rock face seemed to have a name, though I’m not sure how, “In the beginning there were ducks…” came by its moniker.  I can however tell you why one of the slabs we climbed, “Beginner’s Bitch” got its name!  BB is 30 feet tall and has a difficulty rating of 5.7.  If, say, the climbing grade would have been rated a 1, then in theory there would be little chance of injury.  Since this route was graded a 5 that meant that our route was considered true rock climbing on a near vertical surface, and that in order to avoid severe injury or death, ropes were needed to proceed safely.  Categories are subdivided according to their difficulty.  For instance, 5.10 used to be the highest technical grade, but now an open ended system is used and grades can be as high as 5.15.

Jack Knife
Jack Knife
Army Navy Crack
Army/Navy Crack

We climbed both sides of the 30 feet tall Practice Slab that had a 5.7 rating.  We scaled the 90’ tall Jack Knife (5.5) and scrambled up the 30’ Army/Navy Crack (5.7).

Jumaring
Jumaring

We also did rappelling and Jumaring on a 40’ rock face.  Jumaring is a method of ascending up a cliff with the use of a mechanical device.  I had two Jumars.  One was attached to a webbing ladder, and the other was attached to my harness.  When seated in the harness I was able to move up on the rope by sliding the device attached to the ladder in an upward motion.  I would then step on the ladder with my leg releasing the weight off my harness and moving the ascender attached to it up and so on until I reached the top of the face.

So much for lunch
Rock squirrel raiding our packs.

There was plenty of wildlife.  We encountered deer that didn’t seem to mind our presence as long as we kept our distance, we could hear the bats chirping in the caves, and we were introduced to the rock squirrel mafia as they were rummaging through our backpacks and eating our snacks!

Siesta Time
Siesta time!

The views were beautiful, the sky was blue, and we couldn’t have asked for a better day.  We concluded our day by meeting at Bejas Grill in Fredericksburg for a relaxing dinner.  James and I already planning another trip to the area!

Article written by the “Hapless Hiker” Katherine Gividen who has served as the president of the Louisiana Hiking Club and the author of the Think Inside the Box camping cook book.

Post note: Scott Harris sold Mountain Madness to John Deas, and it is now called Texas Climbing Adventures.

 

Backpacker Hosts LSU Backpacking Class

The Backpacker hosted the LSU Backpacking 101 class on Tuesday evening. Students learned about tents and sleeping systems.

Several tents were displayed, and Susie Weeks and Matt talked about the benefits and features of each one.

When choosing a tent, consider what conditions you will be encountering. Three season tents are designed for use in the spring, summer, and fall, but if you are going to be camping in cold weather with high winds you will want a four season tent.

Some tents need to be staked out. A freestanding tent is one that can be set up without the use of stakes making it more convenient.

Weight is also a consideration. You want to aim for less than 3 pounds per person. Packed weight includes everything you get when you buy the tent, whereas minimum weight means the weight of the poles, body and fly only.

MSR NX Solo Backpacking Tent. Three Season. Freestanding. Min Weight 2lbs 7oz.

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MSR Hubba Hubba NX 2-Person Backpacking Tent. Three Season. Freestanding. Min weight 3lbs 7oz.

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Marmot Tungsten 2-Person Backpacking Tent. Three Season. Freestanding. Min weight 4lbs 13oz.

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Marmot Tungsten 3-Person Backpacking Tent. Freestanding. Min weight 5lbs 15oz.

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Students Athena Lietzau and Palmer Means check out the roominess of the tent, and take notes.

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Big Agnes Fly UL1 Backpacking Tent. Three Season. Freestanding. Min weight 1lb 11oz.

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Big Agnes Seedhouse SL2 Backpacking Tent. Three season. Free standing. Min weight 2lbs 9oz.

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Matt showing features of the tent.

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Big Agnes Big House 4. Great for base camping. Three season. Free standing. Min weight 9lbs 7oz.

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Sierra Designs Flash 3 Backpacking Tent. Three Season. Free standing. Min Weight 5lbs 10 oz.

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Students learned to set up, take down, and pack tents.

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Sleeping Systems

When buying a sleeping bag you want to choose one that is rated for the lowest temperature you expect to experience. For some, the rating is in the name. Most sleeping bag manufacturers have adopted the European Norm (EN) as their rating standard. Bags usually have a dual rating, one for comfort (women) and one for lower limits (men). The EN tag looks like this…

EN Rating

Insulation is also a consideration. Down and synthetics used to be the only choices, but you can now buy bags filled with hydrophobic down.

Katherine Gividen demonstrating the insulating qualities of PrimaLoft.

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One of bags the Backpacker team featured was the Sierra Designs Backcountry Bed 600-Fill Down Sleeping Bag. The backcountry bed has an oversized, integrated comforter that is great whether you sleep on your side, back or stomach. It is zipperless, and has a sleeping pad sleeve as well as insulated hand/arm pockets. The EN comfort rating on the bag is 28°F, and the limit rating is 17°F. The bag is insulated with DriDown. DriDown is down treated with the hydrophobic finish – as mentioned above – so it stays dry 10x longer than untreated down.

Susie shows the students the self-sealing foot vent of the Backcountry Bed.

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Sleeping pads were also discussed.

Raymond Johnson, a member of the Louisiana Hiking Club talked about backpacking with a hammock. Raymond (aka. Flatfoot) thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail two years ago.

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Backpacking 101 is taught through LSU Leisure Classes.

Article written by the “Hapless Hiker” Katherine Gividen who has served as the president of the Louisiana Hiking Club and the author of the Think Inside the Box camping cook book.

 

What’s it take to make weight for a kayak fishing tournament?

After hours spent looking at maps, vacation days on the water trying to find new hotspots, pouring money into your fuel tank for both food and transportation, on top of  weeks of endless preparation for the “big” tournament, the day has finally arrived and your hopes are high.  You have been on fish the last three trips out, you know the patterns, you know the holes, and you know how to catch the winning stringer, but in reality, what you know has zero bearing on what you can’t control, and that’s the weather.  Within seven days of your last successful trip, in came two back to back cold fronts that have drained all of the waters you have been catching monster fish in while dropping water temperatures 15 degrees and turning everything in the underwater world, upside down.  But hey, you have so much confidence in your honey hole, a red hot cattle prod couldn’t convince you to change your strategies, so you decide to stick to your game plan. With miles traveled,  hours of fighting low tides, freezing temperatures, frustration building,  and no fish at all, you decide to accept defeat and head back to the launch. 
NOW is where the question begins to arise in your mind. Do I hang around for the weigh in? Do I let everyone know that I didn’t catch anything? Do I share the stories about my line breaking or maybe even the one that got away, OR do I  get in early, load up quickly and quietly and tuck tail home in hopes that no one ever realizes I wasn’t at the weigh in and maybe, just maybe, I will never be reminded of this horrible tournament again???
It’s definitely a crossroad for some, a lesson in humility for some, and for those that tend to see the glass as always half full, it’s an opportunity to surround yourself with success.  I have racked my brain over the last week trying to figure out the last weigh in I attended and didn’t learn something.  And yes, sometimes you may have to weed through the stories and decipher what’s real and what’s not, or what areas proved productive verses those that didn’t, either way, this is a golden opportunity to learn.  And believe it or not, it’s usually the winners that are quick to share their techniques, tactics, and most importantly their rationale for success.
Last week the Bayou CoastKayak Fishing Club held their 8th annual minimalist challenge in Leeville, La, and with 100 competitors signed up to compete and the weather turning perfect at the last minute there was a packed house, even though the previous week of weather had destroyed the water conditions.  Water levels appeared to be 4 feet low, water temps were in the 40s, and the fish were inactive to say the least. But even with 8 hours of prefishing a complete skunk the day before, I still had a plan as I went to bed the night before.  Unfortunately, my plan included fishing an area I have never been too, or even looked at on a map, but with all the area I covered the day before, in my mind, it was the only option left.  On the other hand, what I did have in my favor were the conditions.  I had conditions that fit perfectly with an event I fished years ago, back to back cold fronts, water levels lower than I have ever witnessed, an unfamiliar area, and cold yet blue bird skies, and most of all, a journal entry that reminded me of this exact scenario from years past.  And while I tossed up a giant zero in the event I logged my notes from, I made the weigh in.  I listened to those that caught fish and especially to those that won, I logged it all down in my mind and on paper in hopes that if I was ever confronted with that situation again, that maybe I would have a better idea of how to develop my plan of attack.  During that particular weigh in I learned of different stalking techniques, bad condition lures, and most of all, patience. 
Being what some would refer to as a power angler, I normally base my plans around a run and gun attack.  I cover a lot of water, a lot of different terrain, and I use a lot of different techniques and lures.  Rarely do I ever stick to one lure or one area. More often than not, this attack usually lands me somewhere within reach of some of the top anglers in the event, except for that one event where my run and gun approach landed me nothing more than miles logged and an empty fish bag.  During that particular weigh in, I spent as much time as I could in the shadows as to not draw attention to myself, due to my failed attempt at being competitive, but I also spent a lot of time bending the ears of those around me that walked away with winnings in their pockets.  I learned different techniques from using smaller lures, to reading maps, to better understanding weather conditions, to how the conditions affected the fish, and most of all the rationale behind the game plans of those that won.
I would have to say that the most impact-full lesson of that day was patience.  Normally when I enter a pond or an area where I can see fish, I am quick to approach and get my lure within striking distance of my target, and after landing that fish, moving on.  Rarely do I ever consider hanging around for longer than 15 minutes before hunting down another productive area, but when conditions are rough, sometimes you just have to wait it out.  I heard of one angler spending more than 3 hours to cover a pond no larger than half a football field, where as I would usually cover that same area in less than 30 minutes.  Well that slow moving, cat like sneaky approach was exactly what was needed for this past weekends tournament.  I even heard very similar stories from this past event that only helped reinforce what I had heard years earlier.  And while I had to pull away from my normal running and gunning, I still have yet to perfect the rough condition slow and stealthy attack.
I ended up finishing 8th, which given the overall results and the amount of participants, wasn’t that bad, but it wasn’t exactly where I wanted to be.  After listening to stories and some of the winners tactics, it was clear that while my plan was solid, I still needed to slow it down.  During the tournament I ended up in a pond with well over 50-75 reds in it, I could see them everywhere, and with birds crashing around me, and big shoulder reds blowing through the mud beneath me, I got excited.  Did I move slow, yes, was it slow enough, not even close.  I tried hard to get my adrenaline in check, but it wasn’t for at least a solid hour of spooking reds from one end of the pond to the other that I was able to back away from attacking my prey, to letting my prey come to me.  I ended up landing only 4 reds in the next 5 hours, and each one was hooked and landed within 3 feet of the exact same spot, yet an hour or more apart.  You see, the reds weren’t going anywhere, but they weren’t hungry, they weren’t active, and they knew all too well that I was there.  So once I got my wits and remembered what some  past winners had done, I did my best with the time I had left to imitate the stories and techniques I had learned at past weigh ins. 
So the next time you choose to fish a tournament and skip the weigh in because you know you won’t win, think about the lessons you could be missing out on.  And while I have heard it said that skipping a weigh in to avoid humility or to escape the idea of defeat, is equivalent to walking off the field without shaking your opponents hands and sometimes leaves an everlasting display of poor sportsmanship, I do however understand there are circumstances that arise at times that are cause for leaving early.  
It’s important to remember that there is always a silver lining in everything we do, sometimes we just don’t see it.  So at your next event, when the going gets tough and you want to throw in the towel, that’s fine, but someone is going to win the event. Wouldn’t you like to know what they did that put them on top? Well, if you don’t geaux, you will likely never know.  So, support your competitors, support your tournament directors, support the sport, and in the end, you will likely be supporting your own increase in knowledge.

Special Congrats to Arron Larose 1st, Denis Soignier 2nd, Clayton Shilling 3rd
 
Until next time,

 

 

Stay Safe & Catch1
What’s it take to make weight at a kayak fishing tournament?

Sometimes you have to change direction to increase your speed.. Kayak Bass Series, Astor, Fl

http://www.kayakbassseries.com/

As the 2014 year was ending, I took the time to look back and evaluate my achievements for the year.  And while I was a contender in many events, I was especially pleased with the people around me that I had helped, encouraged, or motivated throughout the year to keep moving forward in the industry.  I wrote blogs, magazine articles, radio interviews, and even did a few TV shows, but what I noticed at the end of it all was that I rarely took the time to increase my own skills.  Yes, my knowledge increased with every trip on the water along with every conversation around kayaking and fishing, but while my knowledge was increasing, I felt my skillset was becoming stagnant.  I had become accustomed to chunking lures and not placing them, making long cast that weren’t accurate, using more topwater for the explosive excitement rather than a plastics finesse approach, and I began focusing on numbers of cast and retrieves rather than the quality of them.  Heck I even dubbed a jigging style the “Pontchartrain Prance”, due to the erratic jerking nature of the jig, which usually ends up hooking the fish just from the jerk rather than feeling the subtle strike. So, with all of this weighing on my mind, I knew it was time to balance out my arsenal, and the best way I could come up with to accomplish this transition was to take a step back in time and put my focus back on freshwater fishing, largemouth bass specifically.

Well, this past week I was able to attend the first Kayak Bass Series that took place in Astor, Fl on the St. Johns River system.  The series is a compilation of 6 events spread across the country in FL, TX, AL, AR, KY, and PA, ending with the KBS Classic at the end of the season, location TBD. Needless to say, each event is located on a body of water that has the potential to land you a double digit largemouth, and to me, that’s a major attraction.  My entire life I have always heard of the giant bass that come out of Florida, heck my dad even has a couple double digit bass from Florida hanging on the wall, so this event was one I wasn’t going to miss.

With vacation time on the books, I finished up work and headed straight home to load up my gear, my Hobie Outback, and all essentials needed that I had been collecting over the last two months.  I ended up leaving the house a little after 6pm and headed straight to Pensacola to pick up my road warrior partner Matthew Vann.  After nearly 11 hours we made our arrival into Astor and went straight to my launch site.

I was planning on spending every waking minute I had dissecting the eel grass, lily pads, grass mats, and ledges that Lake George had to offer.  The only problem with this plan was the wind.  As I hit the water alone that morning, I was welcomed to 2 foot breakers in my face, and with a 3 mile pedal to my starting point, I knew I was in for a wet ride.

As I reached protected waters, the hunt began, everything looked fishy, flooded reeds, dollar pads, eel grass, timber laydowns.  Every direction I looked I knew there was a fish there, but after 12 hours on the water, I ended with one striped bass, three missed strikes, and one blow up on a fluke.  I punched grass, jigged my pigs, dug my cranks, spun my spinners, and worked as fast and methodical as possible, but in no way had I figured anything out.

At this point, I was still excited at the opportunity ahead of me, I knew there was still a chance for big fish, and I knew they were out there, I just had to find them before time ran out.

The next morning I decided on a long run that began before daylight.  This was the day that it had to happen or tournament day was going to be a flop.  After hours on the water, and double digit miles covered, more cabbage grass clogged canals than I have ever experienced, I was whooped, and not only whooped, but I had only landed one largemouth, and it was a small one.

With hopes still high, we decided to visit local bait shop owner and guide for more than 20 years.  He informed us that with all the cold fronts and water temps in the 50s, that the fish had turned completely off.  He made mention that the day before he took a client to 12 locations using live bait, and didn’t catch a fish until his last stop.  He then dug into his mind of knowledge and made a suggestion to us to get away from the creeks and lakes and focus more on the spring fed waterways where the water is warmer.  Seems like a no brainer now, but being the springs are salty, we never even considered getting close to them.  So with new knowledge, and time ticking away, we made a mad dash to yet another new launch location.

As we arrived, I immediately made a mental transition, I didn’t know where I was, I didn’t research it, and I had never seen this area on a map, so with that being said, I made the commitment to work slow and methodical rather than run and gun, and it worked.  Within an hour I was holding a solid 4-5 lbs bass in my hand, and then 20 minutes later another one, an hour later I got one yak side that would have likely touched the 8 lbs mark, but I pulled the hook as I was grabbing the net.  I immediately called Matthew on the phone and said we found em and it’s time to go.

Now, at the captains meeting there were a lot of stories running around, some were of skunks, some of 10 pounders, and some of a boatload of midrange fish.  It seemed that a handful of people found the fish, and a crowd of people hadn’t, there was a large split.  Some people were catching giants punching grass, while others were landing decent fish cranking and worming docks, my pre-fishing yielded poorly in both the grass and around docks, but I was able to find them staged up on wood structure in warmer water.

As the morning of the event came around, I knew that the fish weren’t going to be active in my area until at least 10 a.m. when the sun got high enough to warm the banks near the wooden structure the fish were on the previous day.  The winds had shifted over night, and around 11a.m. they were supposed to shift again and get up into the 15-20 mph range, but where I was, the wind would only produce current and that was a good thing.  If the weather man was correct, with the sun high and the wind howling, my bite was going to happen in the last 3 hours of the event.

10:11 a.m. I got my first strike on a custom made whooly booger, he wasn’t a giant, but it was a fish. I quickly got him on the board, took my picture, released the fish, and got back refocused.  Around 12:00 I landed my next fish on  Bad Boy Jig & Pig in black and blue, only a quarter inch bigger than my first fish, but one more closer to my limit.  With the bite being extremely slow and sporadic, I knew that if I could land my limit, I had a good chance of ending in the money.

Then around 1:30 it happened, as my jig was sucked up by a bass, I reeled down on her and set the hook with all I had, but what I heard was heart breaking, with every inch of hook set, my drag let line out.  As the fish bowed my rod into an inverted “U” I knew I had a big bass, but I also knew she wasn’t hooked as well as I wanted her to be.  She tore off to my right attempting to go deep, and as I was able to turn her, she eventually wore down, as I grabbed the net, she calmly surface a foot from the side of my Outback and rolled on her side like she had given up.  I was grinning from ear to ear looking at what appeared to be a 24-25″ bass when all of a sudden during her roll over of defeat, the lure came right out of her mouth.  I can’t begin to explain the disappointment I went through over the next few moments.  In fact it was so outwardly displayed that the bass boat across the river from me cranked his motor and sped off.  I have never felt so defeated as I did during that moment.  In saltwater fishing I usually just blow it off because I know there are likely several more chances throughout the day to land a monster, but in the bass world, especially during a tournament, those opportunities don’t knock that often.

Once I gained my composure, it wasn’t 2 cast later I had another strike, and then another one, but I wasn’t able to hook up with either.  I spend the next hour working this 80 yards of timber with everything I could.  I threw spinners, swim jigs, cranks, craws, whooly boogers, but it appeared that the bite was only going to be hot for 10 minutes of the day, and while I had the chance, I blew it.

When Matthew caught up with me, it was time to head to the truck.  While we crossed the lake toward our launch area, I uploaded my pictures through the IAngler free app and submitted them to the TD while on the water.  As we both pedaled with a 20 mph cross wind, I could see a lone willow tree off of a point of land about 300 yards down the shoreline.  On one side of the willow was a howling wind and on the other was a calm cove,   I made an immediate 90 degree right turn and B lined to the tree.  As I approached I laid the softest flip I could right through the split trunk and as the Jig hit the water, it began to swim off to the right, I immediately set the hook, with a tight drag this time, and out came a bass, flying toward me like a kite, I reeled my Reel so fast that the fish barely touched the water again. As I got my final picture of my limit fish submitted in the IAngler App, I couldn’t help but sit back, collect my thoughts, and thank my youngest daughter Payton for all the prayers she sent up, the two prior days, that her daddy would do good on tournament day.  It was an appreciation and fullness that I hadn’t experienced in a while, and it was awesome.

Minutes following my last fish, Matthew and I loaded up the Hobie’s and headed to the weigh in.  My mind was racing, did the previous nights cold front disrupt everyone’s expectations, did the 3 different wind shifts cause some anglers to abandon their plan, was a 13.5″ average even respectable given the tough conditions we were all faced with?  The easy answer, yes it was.

Turns out that with 56 registered anglers, only 10 of those landed their bag limit, and with payouts going to the top 8, I ended up with 40.5″ and a 7th place finish.  Now, I am never disappointed on whether I win or lose a tournament, my goal is usually just to be a contender and try to make the top 10, but given the poor pre-fishing I had, new waters, non optimal conditions, I was more than excited to finish 7th.

Overall the Kayak Bass Series run by Robert Field was a great event held at a great fishery.  I got to fish against some of the best in the kayak industry, I got to fish next to, deer, manatees, ducks, alligators that are a lot bigger than La Marsh gators, and even a snake so large I’m confident it could have crushed me and the kayak and ate us both, not mention cross a ferry that had me wanting to put a PFD on. Simply said, it was an experience that I will long remember and I can’t wait for the next one that will be taking place February 28th on Sam Rayburn in Texas.

Special congrats to the top money winners, in order, Jason McRae, Andrew Mixon, Drew Gregory, Stephen Nesler, Joseph Harrick, Jason Broach, and Christina Weber.
Until next time,

Stay Safe & Catch1