Spring Break SCMBC Style

Most people think of warm sandy beaches and oceans when you talk about spring break but when it comes to bass fishermen, anywhere with open water will do.  That has been hard to come by this spring so when myself and a few club members planned a spring fishing trip to Tennessee last winter we had no idea it would be the first time we’d see open water in 2014.  Norris Lake in Northeast Tennessee was our destination and it couldn’t have come at a better time.  Only Jim Vanaken had been to Norris but never in the spring so it was pretty much a new fishery to everyone when we arrived last Thursday morning.

Sprawling reservoirs are not something any of us are familiar with but figuring out how to catch fish was half the fun.  Many creeks, points and shallow main lake bays make up Norris and it was quite a chore just figuring out where to start.  We had three boats, 6 fishermen and being bass guys we had to have a tournament.  In fact we had one each of the three days down there which added to the excitement.

Day one was a little breezy but sunny with air temps in the low 70′s, a welcome feeling for many of us after such a long winter.  My partner was Mike Maske and we did a good bit of research before arriving at Norris so we had a few places we wanted to start on.  It is known as a deep clear impoundment with all 3 species of bass available.  And after seeing the boats parked in the marinas, I’d assume the pleasure boating would be unreal in the summer.  But we weren’t there to party (not a lot anyway) and we knew that to catch fish here it would take an open mind and lots of casting.

Mike and I planned on fishing the mid-lake section where we had hoped to find a little stain to the water and possibly some spawning fish in a few creeks.  Our first two stops proved fairly productive and we had a few keepers in the boat within the first half hour.  Water temps were in the mid-50′s but would climb to 60 by the end of the weekend.  We assumed most of the fish would be in the creeks and the ones we chose were a little bigger and had flats towards the back ends where we figured the fish would spawn.  Mike threw a spinnerbait primarily and I cranked, flipped a jig and threw a jerkbait just to see what they wanted.  We paid close attention to the bank transitions, types of rock and the slope of the banks.  These would all play a part in our pattern.

Our first day went pretty well as we caught a limit and actually culled a few times.  We stuck mainly to large creeks that had flat spawning water but tried many other types but just couldn’t catch them like we could in the level ones.  The spinnerbait was by far our best bait and Mike caught most of our fish.  I tried to get bit on everything else but he out-fished me 3 to 1 I’d say.

The water had about 3 ft visibility which was perfect for what we were doing.  We found some that was very clear but I felt the fish were just moving up and pretty skittish still.  The water level was pretty low and much of the brush and wood we hoped to fish was high and dry.  The weather had just started to warm up a few days earlier so the water was doing the same.  We knew it wouldn’t be easy but we had a good handle on what the fish were doing and what we’d have to do on day two.

After fishing we headed back to our “cabin” which was actually a 3 story condo overlooking the lake.  The first picture was actually our view from the back deck and it was much nicer than we expected.  Special thanks go out to Jim Vanaken for hooking us up with such a nice venue, it was way too nice for us but we weren’t complaining.

The day ended with our weigh-in and our team took first place honors with around 10 pounds.  The other teams found the fishing a little tough as we did but luckily a few of ours were keepers and we gladly took their cash.  The nights usually consisted of us prepping tackle for the next day, wiping down the boats and of course drinking a few cold beers.  Someone always took over grilling duties each night and with a little country music on the ipod, what more could you ask for?  It was a great day and we couldn’t wait to get out for day two.  Our tourneys usually ran from 8am to 5pm and Friday called for more warm temps and wind, perfect.

Day two would be very similar to our first day and it would be our best fishing day in my opinion.  We were going to have more wind but warmer conditions and we thought it would resemble the first day bite.  We knew that the fish were spawning in our areas but with a little stain to the water we couldn’t see the beds.  I figured the fish would be spawning just deep enough (6-12 fow) for us not to see but if we knew they were there then we could target them.  Mike continued with the spinnerbait and I threw deeper with crankbaits and jigs.

All of our areas had wind on them which we believed would help conceal our presentations and allow us to power fish like we wanted.  My theory of targeting the deeper beds didn’t pan out too well but fortunately my partner continued to have success with the spinnerbait.  I switched up quickly and we were catching fish everywhere we went.  On Norris the minimum length for smallmouth is 18″ which allows for the brown fish to grow big but it’s frustrating when you catch a fish close to 3 lbs and have to let it go because it’s too small.  That happened a few times to us on this day and I lost a big largemouth at the boat as well so our day two haul didn’t quite represent our success.  Our best 5 went around 11 pounds but we caught nearly 3 limits and probably around 25-30 fish on the day.  We had our spots and baits dialed in and couldn’t wait for day 3.

Our group had decided to have a tourney each day and also a cumulative 3 day weight competition.  Mike and I had about 20 pounds for 2 days and with the other teams still trying to piece together productive areas, we had built a decent lead.  But our weather had changed and Saturday would also bring more boat traffic which would affect our areas more so than the other two teams.  We knew we would have to adapt on the fly but would just stick to our original spots and go from there.

As usual we got a little too cocky Friday night and unfortunately probably celebrated with a few too many cold beers.  Day 3 was a little tougher for us and the other two squads wanted a big piece of us.  Mike and I did get a few small keepers early but the sun was shining, the temps were near 80 degrees and with no wind and more fishing pressure, our hotspots were not producing.  We decided to scrap our flat creek pattern that had been so productive all week and sought out new water.  We decided to fish some main lake bluffs that had shade on them in hopes of catching a few staging smallmouth.

Our first stop didn’t produce much but we approached a small main lake point and I hooked my best fish of the week, a giant smallmouth on a suspending jerkbait and it had 5 fish with it.  Those river smallmouth fought like no smallie I have ever seen and of course I lost it at the boat.  I fired back out and hooked another but this one was only 17″ and we had to throw it back and that was the last one we could get to bite on that point.

We wanted to run some more main lake stuff since these smallmouth looked to be more dependable but we ran back to one of our trusty creeks for one more try.  It was a good call since Mike promptly hooked a big largemouth that went 4+ and ended up being the big fish for the week.  It again bit a spinnerbait but that was the only fish were could entice in the backwater.

With about two hours left in the day we still had only 3 fish in the livewell, 2 smalls and the 4 pounder.  We were now fishing main lake rock walls and had numerous followers but we couldn’t convert.  I did catch another smallie that was about 2 1/2 but again it was too small.  But the wind was picking up and we decided to fish anything that had rock, wind and shade to try and fill out our limit.

Over the next 90 minutes or so we had some interesting things happen to us, some good and some bad.  Like I mentioned earlier, these river smallmouth are vicious and very tough to get into the boat once you hook one.  We both hooked big smallmouth on these rock banks and both were 3+ pound fish but neither of us could land them.  We did however catch a few keeper largemouth and did cull a few times to fill out our limit but it left us wondering what could have been had we landed a few of the big ones and why we didn’t investigate this pattern earlier!

Our limit weighed just under 10 pounds and Scott Hartman and Matt Zelenka brought in 10 1/2 to take the day 3 challenge.  Scott flipped a beaver style bait to flooded brush on main lake walls and Matt hooked and landed a 3 pound smallie that was their kicker fish.  Mike and I did take the overall honors with close to 30 pounds but it was a great effort on the Hartman/Zelenka team to shake off two slow days of fishing and put together a solid limit.  Scott also suffered from kidney stone issues the night before but obviously he didn’t let that deter him from going out and getting the job done.  Great job fellas.

Although the fishing was challenging, that was part of the fun and the accommodations, the scenery and the great group we had all made for an awesome vacation.  I’d love to go again and feel we could do even a little better since we now know the lake a little and how these fish behave.  It’s really interesting that the lake is so different from what we have up north but the fish always adjust to their surroundings and trying to figure that puzzle out and actually doing it is cool.  I never saw a weed in the lake and actually caught my first spotted bass and Mike caught a decent striper during our stay.  We talked to some of the locals and they commented on how we need to use carolina rigs next time but that’s all part of the learning process.  I’d like to see some of those Tennessee boys come up north and fish Michigan Center Lake and see how well they do.  They were just trying to help and all the folks around the area were quite nice, a little slow but nice.

As we drove back into Michigan we were pretty worn out but did get a little pumped up when all the lakes seemed to be open and free of ice.  Even Devils lake which was still ice covered 4 days earlier was ice free and just screaming for me to throw a jerkbait on it.  We still have a week or so before the catch and release season opens but I’m sure we’ll be ready by then.  It’ll take a little adjusting going from 60 degree water to water temps in the 40′s around here but hopefully the fish will start biting quickly.  Time to get out of vacation mode and into bass fishing mode.  Hopefully I’ll have some reports to pass along next weekend.  Thanks again Jimmy V!

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Open Water

Open water has appeared on all lakes in Jackson county this past weekend and not a minute too soon.  Panfish should start invading the shallows immediately and they should be fairly easy to catch.  Remember the bass “Catch and Release” season doesn’t start until the last Saturday in April which will be the 26th this year.  This applies to all inland and great lakes waterways throughout the state.  And don’t forget our licenses for 2013 have expired and a 2014 version will have to be purchased.  For those that aren’t aware and to avoid “sticker shock”, be warned that your all species license will cost about $27 this season and that’s the only one that can be purchased.

The April club meeting was held on the 3rd and many fundraising ideas were discussed.  We are still in negotiations with a few of them but details will be available hopefully at the May meeting which will be May 1st.  The “Spring Open” flyers will also be mailed soon so expect to see those in the mailbox shortly.  Launch order for the open will be determined by the order which your registration is received so don’t delay in returning the form.  We will hopefully post a PDF version on the site that can be printed out and it should be listed under the OPENS tab at the top of this page.  That will go up at the end of the month as well.  This is a team event so start thinking about a partner and feel free to call our Tournament Director if you are having trouble finding one.

Our club is always looking for new members so anyone wanting to fish a small circuit with reasonable entry fees please contact us.  The membership is only $15 per season and tournaments are $25.  Our “Open Tournament” is for anyone who wants to fish regardless if you are a member or not but the regular club events are for members only.  Hopefully those interested in joining will fish our “Open” and see what kind of organization we have and how many good people we have in it.

It’s time to hit the water, Finally!

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Michigan’s Seasons

As I drove south for the annual “Smith Family” spring break trip this week I couldn’t help but notice the seasons changing as we traveled south.  We notice it every year as our lawn was covered with snow on Thursday and a day later it’s 80 degrees outside.  Around southern Kentucky you start to notice buds on the trees and by the time you get to southern Georgia it’s full blown summer.  We had to go a little farther south this year to see lush greenery but it’s fun to see anyway.

But what would you do if you lived in Florida year round?  Heck it’s 85 degrees now and it will still be that way in November.  I talked to one local fisherman and he said it’s tough fishing past Memorial Day around those parts.  Man that’s my favorite time of year to fish around here!  I guess my thought was these folks in Florida are spoiled with being able to fish comfortably year round but they miss some pretty cool stuff that we see every year.

How awesome is it to feel that first warming trend of the spring come in and look at the lakes as they start losing ice.  Or how about heading out early to fish wearing pants and a sweatshirt, only to be in shorts and a T-shirt by the end of the day.  We get that hot “dog days” of summer stuff too but it only lasts a month or so, not 5!  And then it starts to cool down in the fall and we get that great late season bite.  I love the cool crisp fall mornings and “Indian Summer” days we get in October when the fishing is fantastic.

I guess the moral of the story is that I think I’d miss the seasons changing if I lived in the deep south.  By the time November rolls around I’m a little worn out and need a quick fishing break to re-energize.  Now I’d like my “timeout” to be a little shorter don’t get me wrong, but I can’t wait to make that first cast come ice out each spring.  Maybe I’m just jealous of the Florida guys and their weather but we have something that they don’t and I’m reminded of that every April.  But it’s time to fish now so lets get this season started!

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Club Update

The club board had a meeting last week and several interesting topics were discussed including the “Spring Open”, fundraisers for 2014 and increasing club memberships for the upcoming year.  We had several good ideas as far as the fundraisers went and some of the better ones will be discussed at next weeks club meeting.

The Spring Open will be again on Center Lake on the bass catch and release opener and we will be looking for some help that day from various club members.  Bill Maurer and Jim Vanaken did a great job helping out last year as far as checking livewells and volunteering to be the start boat and we hope to get a few more folks involved.  The flyers will be going out towards the end of April and we hope to top last years’ number of 36 boats.

We all agreed that club numbers have been a little low the past few years and club awareness should be a priority this year.  Melissa Rice volunteered to start a “Facebook” page for the club and within 48 hours she had our page up and running.  For you facebookers out there, search “South Central Michigan Basscasters” and you should find our page.  She did a great job of including many pictures of our club members and also posted the upcoming schedule.  We have had a few folks talk about re-joining that were club members in the past and if we add a few newbies than we could get the numbers back where they should be.

Remember the new location for the club meeting at the Legion Hall on Lansing Ave and it will be the first Thursday of the month which will be next week, the 3rd.  Hope to see everyone there.

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Tourney Trends

After doing nothing but watch fishing shows for the past few months, I’ve noticed a few trends among big time tournament circuits lately.  Granted the events have been on southern impoundments and most are pre-spawn or even late winter patterns.  But when the big fish start staging near spawning areas there are some new wrinkles that the better anglers are employing.

Swimbaits have been pretty popular lately but this year the downsized version is getting thrown more and more.  Some guys are using them as trailers on swimjigs and chatterbaits but many are using them on umbrella rigs when allowed and as just a single weighted bait.  Many companies are offering these smaller profile baits in the 2 1/2 to 5 inch versions which mimick small baitfish a little better in my opinion.  With all the tournament pressure, these smaller baits tend to get more bites and I’ve noticed many anglers using the scaled down version frequently.  They even work around here as Hank Cherry beat KVD up in Muskegon last year during the BASS Allstar event.

Speaking of chatterbaits, the “bladed jig” lure category has exploded lately, especially with many top finishers in this years’ “Classic” throwing it.  When you have cold, muddy water and grass present, it’s a great alternative to a big spinnerbait and can be worked through just about any type of cover.  

I’ve seen other different things like guys using 2 1/2 once flipping weights, 25 ft diving crankbaits and reels with 8.1:1 gear ratios.  I’m sure some guys have a few other tricks up their sleeve that they’re not talking about but  you can bet some off the wall tactics will show up as the year goes on.  And you can also bet I’ll be trying them out on our local lakes as well come tourney time.  I’ll post my findings, unless they work real well of course, then I might just share a little bit.

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Changing Seasons

One of the best things about living in Michigan is when our seasons start to change.  There is nothing better than that first warm spell of the year, just like we’ve experienced this past week.  I know there is still a foot of snow on the ground and 15 inches of ice on our lakes but it’s starting to feel like spring.  The blood is starting to flow and believe it or not, we’ll have open water in a month or so.

This is also the time when we as fishermen should start dialing in our tackle and start getting the boats ready.  I’ve already made a few purchases in anticipation of the upcoming bass season and the prep work will be next on the agenda.  I usually clean and lube all of my reels every year at this time and 2014 is no exception.  I have about 10 baitcasters and 4 spinning reels that I consider “tournament” quality and it takes a long time to prep them all.  It’s worth it though and some are getting quite old but due to my maintenance schedule, they’ll still work great this season I’m sure.

One tip I can pass along as far as servicing reels is to watch a few videos on U-tube and see how the experts clean and lube their reels.  Type in “shimano reel maintenance” on U-tube and you can watch some pretty comprehensive stuff as far as upkeep goes on your fishing tackle.  I have cleaned many reels using these videos as a guide and the basics will work on just about any type of reel.  It takes me close to 30 minutes to knock one reel out but it’s well worth it and some of my curado baitcasters are over 10 years old and still performing flawlessly.

Remember, we don’t have a club meeting in March so save all your fishing discussions for next month.  By then the walleye will be in the river and the crappies should start invading the shallows.  I’ll be out ASAP and will post reports and hopefully a few pics as well.  It won’t be long.

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Major League Fishing

From a guy who has watched many fishing shows, Major League Fishing is hands down the best one I’ve ever seen.  I’ve learned more from the year it’s been on than probably all of the other shows combined and that’s no lie.  This year is especially intriguing because they are fishing in Alpena on lakes I’ve actually fished and watching them dissect water around Michigan has been very insightful.

There are a few things I’ve learned in just the few shows I’ve seen this season and one of the biggest things is that not all the pro’s figure it out.  Some downright struggle and seem out of their element which is kind of the point of the show.  Watching past Bassmaster Classic winner Boyd Duckett have trouble even getting bites makes me feel better about myself because we’ve all been there and now I know it can happen to great anglers as well.

Secondly, there are no magic baits and many techniques we apply during our club tournaments play well in Major League Fishing too.  Topwaters, senko’s, jerkbaits and dropshots all were prevelent in Alpena as they are in most events in our state.  It was good to see KVD start with a spinnerbait on a lake where I’ve had great success with the very same bait and I watched Greg Hackney hammer the fish in a bay that is also one of my favorites hotspots.

But the biggest thing I took from the show was how the guys who struggled early kept searching and grinding and those are the guys who came on strong and advanced to later rounds.  It showed how not to get locked into a certain bait or pattern and if you stay aggressive and keep hunting that you’ll eventually run into fish.  Mike McClelland fished on Hubbard Lake for 5 hours and didn’t catch a keeper until boating over 20 pounds in the last two hours. 

The MLF episodes that show on TV are OK but I like to pay the $4 and watch the extended casts on their website.  Each show is over 2 hours long and not too much gets edited.  I’ve watched 5 of the 6 shows and have watched most of them twice!  Yes I am a loser but most of the time the wife and kids are in bed and my chores are done.  I could be watching worse things on the internet.  Anyways, check it out and I believe the first episode is free just to get a feel for the show.  I’m sure everyone can learn a few things, especially if the club ever ventures up to Alpena!

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Tournament Update

After much debate at the club meeting last Thursday, the club addressed the potential problem of Wixom Lake’s water situation.  After a rumor of the lakes drawdown, we decided to possibly change the tournament date to the first weekend in June and basically flip-flop with the Cadillac/Mitchell event.  This would ensure plenty of water to fish before the drawdown.

Since the meeting I have done some extensive research and was in contact with Steve Randles, Tournament Director of the Top Bass circuit which visits Wixom several times per/year.  Steve assured me that the drawdown will NOT take place this year and that has been reconfirmed by the Wixom Marina which sponsors the circuit.  Steve’s two Wixom tourneys are still planned for mid-summer and he said there shouldn’t be any problems as of now.  That could change of course but I think we should stick with our current schedule until further notice.  The Top Bass circuit is quite big and canceling tournaments would be a logistics nightmare.  If they are still planning to fish then we should as well.

In other news, the club meetings will once again change locations and that information will be passed along shortly.  The date for our next gathering may also change to the first Thursday of the month instead of the second one but I want to confirm everything before it is posted on the site.

The Bassmaster Classic will begin later this week so hopefully everyone will get in the fishing mood after watching the event on TV.  I’m already there so feel free to give me a call in anyone needs to talk “shop”.  More reports to follow and pray for open water.

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