By Walker Smith
It’s the post-spawn period in my area right now, which means one thing—suspended bass and lots of them. As the bass hang around in the shallows guarding their newly hatched fry, weightless or lightweight soft-plastic baits are tough to beat for both numbers and quality. These bass will often hang out right below their fry, somewhere between the surface and the bottom, and any slow-falling presentation is almost certain to get an aggressive reaction strike.
With that in mind, it’s imperative that we become “line watchers” this time of year. These fry guarders will almost always eat your soft plastics on the fall, before they reach the bottom. You will rarely feel these bites, so keeping a close eye on your line for any twitches, jumps or other irregular movement is paramount.
I had a unique opportunity to test Seaguar Smackdown Flash Green Braided Line this past week on Lake Hartwell. The bass were largely post-spawn and the bites were very subtle. Coupled with 20 mph winds, bite detection should have been really difficult. But it wasn’t.
I got a lot of experience with this line in perfect testing conditions, so I’ll quickly go through its most noteworthy characteristics.
(1 of 4) SUPERIOR KNOT STRENGTH
In my opinion, there’s nothing more important than a line’s knot strength. You can be around the biggest bass in the lake and be throwing the perfect bait, but it means absolutely nothing if your line can’t hold a solid knot at all times. I have quickly learned how impressive the knot strength of Seaguar Smackdown Flash Green Braided Line really is.
Pro angler Mark Daniels, Jr. and I found a school of striped bass this week and decided to target them with spinning gear and 15-pound Smackdown Flash Green for one reason–to see what this line is really made of. These stripers pull harder than just about anything in fresh water.
We caught at least 50 per person in a few hours and we didn’t experience a single knot failure. The leader knot held beautifully and afterwards there was no fraying to speak of. Some of these fish would peel drag for 30 seconds and dive to depths of more than 30 feet and the Flash Green held up remarkably. If it can stand up to that type of abuse, big bass don’t stand a chance.
(2 of 4) IT WILL NOT DIG
This 8-strand braided line is actually covered with a clear coat finish, which resists any and all digging on the spool. There’s nothing more frustrating than catching a fish and quickly making a follow-up cast just to have your rod almost yanked from your hands from your braid digging into itself. You will not have that problem with this line.
Again, I think the striped bass were a perfect test for this line. They are larger and pull harder than most typical black bass and I was shocked how well this line managed on the spool. We’d catch a 6-pound striper, release it and immediately make a 40-yard cast like it was nothing. This allowed us to maximize our number of casts and make the most of the giant school of fish we found.
(3 of 4) HIGH VISIBILITY FOR EXCELLENT BITE DETECTION
After the striped bass action died down, I was also able to skip a wacky-rigged weightless stick worm around some shallow pockets in search of post-spawn largemouth and spotted bass. With a weather front quickly approaching, they were certainly biting. But with that impending weather front came some ridiculous winds. Again, a perfect situation to test this type of line.
I can confidently say that if I were using straight monofilament or fluorocarbon that I would not have felt the large majority of my bites. The only way you’d know if you had a bite was when your line slowly started swimming to the side. No thumps, bumps, pecks or nibbles. Nothing.
The Seaguar Smackdown Flash Green Braided Line proved incredibly easy to see in both sunny and cloudy conditions, regardless of whether or not I had my sunglasses on. I was able to see the slightest movement in my line at all times-small twitches, jumps and other movement was made very apparent by the high contrast between this braided line and the water.
(4 of 4) FINAL IMPRESSIONS
As you can see in the photo above of my friend and high school angler Carter Koza, we caught a bunch of beautiful bass using this new braid. If you’re looking for a new braided line for finesse fishing, you owe it to yourself to try a spool of this stuff. You’ll be ordering more after your first day fishing with it.
Navionics, Inc., a Garmin company, announced that it has developed new SonarChart Shading for its exclusive Platinum+ and HotMaps Platinum cartography products for coastal and inland fishing and boating.
Embedded within the satellite overlay content layer, SonarChart Shading provides a detailed rendering of the seafloor and lake bottom to deliver a unique perspective of underwater topography at a glance. Created from the high-definition 1’ contour data within SonarChart, varying shades of blue reveal changes in depth, highlighting channels, drop-offs, and other features that help boaters quickly gain a better situational awareness and offers inland and coastal anglers clear, visual cues to identify fish-holding structure.
“SonarChart Shading is a natural progression of SonarChart,” said Marcello Albanese, Navionics director of sales and business development. “It puts to use the enormous amount of depth data we’ve amassed from proprietary surveys and crowd-sourced contributions in the form of a completely new visual display for our customers.”
SonarChart Shading can be viewed on the same GPS chartplotters that are compatible with HotMaps Platinum and Platinum+ satellite overlay and with the same options, including selectable overlay on land, land and shallows or full overlay. Adjustable transparency allows customers to view the new imagery blended with either the SonarChart bathymetry map or the Nautical Chart.
At closer zoom levels, SonarChart Shading is replaced by the actual satellite imagery over water, allowing boaters to see a bird’s eye perspective of sandbars, marshes and backwater channels. In addition to SonarChart Shading, Platinum+ and more than 2,600 lakes HotMaps Platinum lakes will offer updated and optimized high-resolution satellite imagery. Some lakes may have partial coverage.
SonarChart Shading is expected to be available beginning in mid-spring with HotMaps Platinum for U.S. and Canada. Coastal coverage will follow with updated Platinum+ marine charts for U.S., Europe, Canada, and Central America, then South America and Australia by mid-summer 2019. Availability for other regions is expected by Q4 2019. To learn more, visit www.navionics.com.
Navionics products include a one-year subscription for daily updates to Nautical Chart, SonarChart and Community Edits as well as access to advanced features, such as SonarChart Live, Dock-to-dock Autorouting, Advanced Map Options and Plotter Sync. As coverage areas are released, customers who own a Platinum+ or HotMaps Platinum chart with an active subscription will also be able to download or update the combined satellite overlay and SonarChart Shading layer for their region via the Chart Installer.
Dialing in muskie can be a tough task, especially if you’re searching for the biggest ones. So we sat down with Captain Eric Grajewski a Michigan muskie guide to ask for his best advice to get tight to these apex aquatic predators!
This is probably the most obvious to fishermen. You find structure, you find fish. There is your visual structure which can be rocky or sandy shorelines, weeds or a log sticking out of the water, and shoreline points. These spots are easy to find and are worth fishing but they can get fished a lot because they are so obvious. So let’s talk about structure, that can’t always be seen by the naked eye. This is where electronics are so important. Use your electronics for locating a patch of weeds or a rock pile in deeper water. Structure can be as small as a slight change in the bottom such as changing from sand to rock or even just a six-inch change in the depth of water. Much like reading a river’s water current where you have seams and pockets think of the bottom of the lake in the same way. Those changes can and will hold fish.
Muskies are predators. They will be in areas where there are good amounts of forage. Some lakes have many structure locations discussed earlier and some have very little to none. Having great structure with lots of bait is ideal but what about when you don’t have that. Use your electronics or even visually look for bait. This sometimes can be out in the middle of the lake with no structure but there is lots of bait. Don’t be afraid to try those spots even when they seem like they are in the middle of nowhere. You will be surprised how often these spots hold fish and big fish.
I am a big believer in the ideal that Muskie generally have feeding “windows” most days. Once in a while, you get the great day where fish are active all day. But most of the time you will find that they are really only active during smaller parts of the day. These windows may last an hour or two or can be as short as 20 minutes. These can be brought on by a weather change or moon phase, but many times it is not totally understood why this happens. So keep in mind just because you didn’t move any fish when you fished a specific area in the lake does not mean the fish weren’t there. They may not have been active at that particular time of the day. If you have an area that has really good structure or lots of bait and you didn’t see any fish, revisit that spots multiple times throughout the day. Soon or a later you will hit that spot at the correct time when the fish are active. Unlike some fish, muskie will not always follow or eat every time a fly or bait crosses their face even when presented perfectly. I mostly fish a lake that at any given time I know there can be 50+ fish in that area and I will fish sunup to sundown and may only get two 20 minute windows throughout the whole day where those fish decide to start moving. So keep hitting those higher confidence spots. Soon or later they will pay off!
Daily Moon Phases (Majors and Minors)
Fisherman knows about fishing new and full moons. But let’s talk about everyday moon phases, the moon majors and minors. The major is when the moon is halfway between the rise and set (directly overhead) and halfway between set and rise (directly underfoot). The minors are the moon rise and set. With consistent weather conditions, it is believed that Muskie will be more active during these moon phases. I will say I did take three years of data keeping track of all adult fish hooked. Statistically, I did not find any correlation that the fish were more active during these events than any other time of the day. However, there are a lot of Muskie fishermen that I respect greatly that believe in moon phases. Because of that I will never discount a moon minor or major. If I moved a large fish or know the location of a large fish, you bet I will be hitting that area again around a moon major or minor.
Two characteristics of flies that I want to discuss is movement and color. If I had to pick one that is probably more important I would say most of the time it is fly movement over color. I typically like a fly that glides back and forth with each strip. That’s not to say a fly that rides straight or dives up or down won’t have its day, I just have found that flies that have this glide movement seem to get the most action from Muskie. When it comes to the color choice I try to have one angler fish something dark (usually solid black, black and red, or black and orange) and something light or natural (yellows, whites, tans). If I am going to change color, it is usually going to be a drastic change like going from dark to light or light to dark. Going with a couple of colors you have confidence in and has worked for you in the past is usually better than changing a bunch of times. Much of the time it isn’t going to be the color you have on that isn’t working but more the fish aren’t active at that time.
Fly retrieve. Most of the time anglers are going to use the conventional strip/pause retrieve. This works much of the time but doesn’t be afraid to mix in a two-handed retrieve. This is tucking the rod under your arm and with both hands stripping in the line hand over hand. It doesn’t always have to be a fast burn as sometimes they just want a steady fleeing baitfish versus imitating a wounded/dying baitfish. There are days where this is the only retrieve that will get a Muskie to eat. This is a retrieve that can be successful on rivers too especially ones with slower currents.
Captain Eric Grajewski is a master of Muskie fishing on Lake St. Clair. If you have musky on the brain and want to check this beastly fish off your bucket list, check out his website or check him out on Instagram.
We’re four events into the Elite Series season – five if you count the Bassmaster Classic — and I have to say I’m surprised at what I’ve been throwing. Honestly, I’ve been throwing a Neko rig more than I ever have, and I caught most of my fish on it at Winyah Bay and Lake Lanier.
I build my Neko rig with a wacky-rigged Yum Dinger with a Swagger 1/32-ounce tungsten nail-weight in the head. I use an O-ring to attach a No. 2 Gamakatsu G Finesse hook, and I pretty much only fish green-pumpkin.
It’s really good in spring, especially around the spawn. That’s because you can go down a bank looking for sight-fish, and you can keep throwing the Neko rig ahead of the boat and swinging it around as you move. You don’t need to pay attention to it – you just reel it up after you pass, and a lot of times you pick up fish as you’re looking for spawning fish.
Sinking stickbaits like the Dinger have always been a favorite for blind-fishing bedding areas. But I feel the Neko rig is an improvement to the straight Texas-rig Dinger for spawning areas, because it changes the action.
The 1/32-ounce nail weight isn’t a lot of weight, but it’s enough. The Dinger by itself falls horizontally, which sometimes is what you want. But the tiny nail weight makes it fall straight, so it cuts through the water and falls much faster. When you’re casting around spawning areas, you need to be on bottom, and the faster drop is so much more efficient.
You don’t have to wait for the Neko rig to sink and hit bottom – it goes straight there, so you can concentrate on looking for bedfish. I’ve really leaned hard on it this spring.
When I do see a bed, then I usually throw something else, like a Yum Crispy Craw, because I can use a heavier hook and flip it on 20-pound line. I’ve actually started using white for bed fishing. I was never a big fan of the color, but for some reason the conditions this spring have made it tough to see. There are two schools of thought on bed fishing colors, and I’ve always preferred naturals. But I’ve found this spring that white is much more efficient in deeper or dingier water.
Topwater transition coming
For everyone out there fishing right now, the next month or so should still be really good for the Neko rig. And if things start to change to where you’re getting fry-guarders, the Neko rig is still a big player for those fish. Pretty quickly, though, things transition and topwater becomes a bigger deal for those fish still up shallow. And from there, depending on the lake, the bass will start bunching up and moving out to deeper water. That’s when the crankbait starts working.
But if you like to fish shallow water, the Neko rig is a great choice anytime – especially in clearer water.
I’ve had a lot of questions about the season and how I feel about my finishes so far. The answer is that I feel fine about my performances. Over the four events so far I’ve finished 29th, 19th, 46th and 42nd. I’m 10th in the Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year Race, and I’m glad to be in a position where I don’t have to dig myself out of a hole.
Normally I’m behind the 8-ball in the points and always needing a good finish, but now I think I’m a little more in the driver’s seat this year than in years past. I do feel I should have done better at Winyah Bay. I’d located a really good section of the Cooper River, but I didn’t want to make the run all the way there on Day 1. So I fished close, where I thought I could catch 9 pounds. I only caught 7. The next day I made the run and caught 9 1/2 and barely missed the cut. If I’d made the run the first day, I probably would have made it.
We’re coming to a lake near you! The TacticalBassin crew is hitting the road so keep an eye out the next time you pump gas, head for the launch ramp, or pull up along side a boat on the freeway. Our first stop as we head cross country is Elephant Butte, New Mexico. The trip started off with a bang as Matt landed an unexpected Grand Slam on this amazing fishery!
The bass in Elephant Butte had to survive terrible conditions in recent years. The lake was drawn down to only 3% of capacity at its worst but is now well on its way to filling back up. The fishing has begun to rebound with many big bass being caught this Spring. Matt, CC, and Sierra chose the lake as their first stop as they travel. across the US to find out if the fishing in New Mexico is as good as they’d heard. They weren’t disappointed and you won’t be either!
Keep an eye out for the TacticalBassin crew in your area. We’ll be traveling all through the South, Midwest, and much of the North. We’re making as many stops as possible so you just don’t know where we will show up next… but word is that Texas and Oklahoma anglers should keep an eye out first.
Below is a breakdown of the baits and gear Matt and CC used on Elephant Butte.
Glide Bait- S-Waver 168 (Light Trout): http://bit.ly/2aiu8Sh
Finesse Swimbait- Keitech 4″ Easy Shiner (Silver Flash Minnow): http://bit.ly/2bxJK6H
Finesse Swimbait Head (1/8 oz): Revenge Darter Hedz: http://bit.ly/2cHMZbm
CC’s Glide Bait Rod…
Rod- G Loomis IMX Pro 893C JWR: http://bit.ly/2R4f2Ud
Reel- Curado HG: http://bit.ly/2tHewEh
Line- 65 lb Power Pro Maxcuatro: http://bit.ly/2clBRiQ
Leader- 20 lb Maxima Ultragreen: http://bit.ly/2ae97J9
Matt’s Finesse Combo…
Rod- Daiwa Aird-X 7′ Medium: http://bit.ly/2P7Z3Vu
Reel- Shimano Sahara 1000: http://bit.ly/2XhhM43
Line- 15 lb Power Pro: http://bit.ly/2aFg46b
Leader- 8 lb Maxima Ultragreen: http://bit.ly/2ae97J9
Minn Kota 15′ Talons: http://bit.ly/2F0QBSP
Minn Kota Tilt Brackets: Source Locally
Humminbird 360 Imaging: http://bit.ly/2K8jPl4
Banshee Lock: http://bit.ly/2vt3ilq
Bob’s Hydraulic Jack Plate: http://bit.ly/2RtsHc