Swepco Lake NSKA Recap

Winter had one more blast of icy air to launch the Natural State Kayak Anglers into the 2017 season on Swepco Lake. With air temperatures at 29 degrees at take-off and water temps ranging from 68-75 degrees across the hot water lake, it was an interesting setup for the day.

As discussed in this previous article, historically Swepco Lake has not been friendly to recent kayak tournaments. This year was a different story as many fish were caught, including several big ones. Of the 61 anglers who entered, 85% turned in a score-able fish and 44% turned in a limit. Overall a great day of fishing on Swepco Lake, evidenced by 260 fish caught which included eight big fish at 20+ inches.

First place went to Rob Barnica with 89″ and second to Baron Meek with 88.5″ who both fished most of the day up around the discharge area near the power plant. I came in third place with 87.25″ while David Preston took fourth with 83.75″ and Ethan Dhuyvetter with 82.5″ was fifth.

Top 10 finishers:
  1. Rob Barnica
  2. Baron Meek
  3. Jason Kincy
  4. David Preston
  5. Ethan Dhuyvetter
  6. Roy Roberts
  7. Robert Murphy
  8. Justin Wright
  9. Rance Richardson
  10. Wayne Johnson

Rance Richardson won big bass with 21.25″. View complete NSKA – Swepco Lake Results here.

Rob, Baron and David did not provide a tournament recap, but here are mine and Ethan’s look back at the day.

Jason – A week or so out from the tournament I was feeling pretty solid on a game plan, but that was thrown out when the weather took a nasty turn that weekend. Knowing they had the generators running most of the night before it was clear that bass would be feeding early up toward the discharge but I decided to avoid the crowd and to try and find more unmolested water down on the dam end of the lake.

I wasted some time throwing a bit of topwater and tried a few other different things but did not really get settled in until mid-morning and figured out that a combination of some different YUM plastic baits (Thumpn’ Dinger and Kill Shot) on Owner hooks was the way to go. Most fish were in 12-8 feet of water and bit on a slow-moving presentation.  The bite was good until about 11:30 when the clouds began to break up and then once the sun fully emerged the bite shut off for me. As a last gasp effort to pick up a couple of inches I went up to the discharge area for the last hour but couldn’t cull a fish.

Ethan – I decided to fish this event because I thought it would be a great way to meet people and get out on a lake I’ve never been to. I was very hesitant because of the cruddy weather we had the day prior but opted to fish last minute. Having never fished a kayak tournament, I was a bit nervous that I would screw something up, but Jeff explained everything well so I had no issues.

When I got out, I figured an A Rig would work but after hearing the water temp, I quickly put that down and started tossing a jig. A football jig and a drop shot Roboworm accounted for all my fish. The fishing seemed to be best when there was cloud cover. I was catching my fish on transition banks in 5-10 ft of water, they all seemed to be pre-spawn to me which I found odd with the water temps as high as they were.

 

Lake Swepco NSKA Preview, or History Lesson?

What happens to one of Arkansas’ most well known winter bass lakes meets up with scores of kayak anglers? Swepco Lake in Gentry, Arkansas, is the first trail event of the year for the Natural State Kayak Anglers (NSKA) and historically has been stingy on tournament day.

I have competed now in three kayak fishing tournaments on SwepcoNatural State Kayak Anglers - Swepco Lake Lake and looking back at some numbers, the anglers haven’t bagged as many, or as big of fish as you might think for this premier early spring spot.

My first kayak fishing tournament there was the 2014 AKA Christmas Classic big bass event and was my first kayak tournament. On that December day there were 51 anglers on the lake, with only 31 (61%) of participants even carding a keeper. The big bass on this day was 19″ – a nice fish, but not huge for legendary Swepco Lake on a December day.  I was extremely happy to take 10th with a 16″ fish in my first event.

For March 2015 tournament recaps describe the day as very, very tough with bluebird skies and little to no wind. There were 71 anglers entered and Tim Hotchkin won this event, including big bass by blowing away the field with 80.25″ and 20″ for the big bass. Of the 71 anglers in the event, 46 anglers (65%) carded a keeper.

Anyone there in 2016 remembers how bad the wind was that day. It was downright dangerous on the water if you had a small kayak. This Swepco Lake tourney had 61 participants, with only 37 (61%) recording a keeper.  Nathan Bohannon took the win with 72″, while big bass was caught by Jason Klingman for 17.5″.  17.5 for big bass out of 61 anglers on Swepco?! (note – there was word of a 20″ fish caught but no score-able photo submitted) Only eight anglers turned in a limit on the day, with 87% of the field falling short of five fish. Was a disappointing day for me finishing 16th for the event with only two keepers.

So what do these numbers tell us about what to expect this weekend on Swepco Lake? A few takeaways:

  • A good portion of the field, approximately 40% is likely not to card a keeper on tournament day,
  • If you catch a 20″ you have an excellent chance to win big bass for this event,
  • A limit of five keepers likely gets you a spot in the top 10-12 places based on past history.

Swepco Lake may be a big bass lake in the winter months, but it can get finicky at tournament time. Why? Who knows? But the weather clearly changes this time of year and the schools are harder to find. Extremely high winds are frequent in March as well, which can make fishing difficult for kayak anglers. Maybe it is because having 60-70 anglers on that lake at once really pushes the envelope in finding unmolested bass.  Whatever the reason, there will be fish caught this weekend, including some big ones…just not very many.

 

Bending Branches Angler Pro Paddle Review – The Ultimate Kayak Fishing Paddle

As a competitive kayak fishing tournament angler I am a big believer in the importance of having a quality paddle while fishing. Other than your kayak and your PFD, it is the next most important piece of equipment you can have on the water. In this Bending Branches Angler Pro Paddle Review I’ll share some thoughts on why this is the ultimate paddle for kayak fishing.

Angler Pro Paddle Review
Pro Angler blade in Camo color.

My fleet consists of three kayaks (Wilderness Tarpon100, Wilderness Ride115, and Hobie Pro Angler 12) and four Bending Branches paddles (Sunrise, Angler Ace and two Angler Pros). Bending Branches is my preferred brand because of their superior

engineering, durability, flawless construction and they are assembled in the USA. Within their paddle lineup, the Angler Ace is a great option, but this is an Angler Pro paddle review, so we’ll focus on that model.

More Power, Faster Speed

Whether using a full paddle with my Ride115 or a half paddle on my Hobie PA12, the 104″ surface area of the blade on the Angler Pro provides maximum water displacement to help move you along  quickly or to make a turn easier and with less effort. The T-700 Carbon shaft makes a long day on the water easier on your shoulders and joints by providing just the right amount of flex to maximize your paddle stroke and minimizing strain. At only 30 oz. this paddling power comes in an amazingly light package.

Tough as Nails

When I got my first Angler Pro it was a thing of beauty, I was sooo paranoid about scuffing it or messing it up because it looked awesome. Soon though I was using it to fend off everything from rocks to docks and have really put a lot of stress on the blades. This thing is practically indestructible and still looks great. For off the water toughness, just read this previous article about how I used my paddle to help rescue someone on the side of the interstate. The blade on this paddle stands up to anything I’ve been able to throw at it thanks to multi-layer fiberglass blades.

Pro-Level Features

In addition to paddling power and toughness, the Angler Pro comes with several other elite features that make it the ultimate paddle for kayak fishing:

  • Comes either with a three hole snap-button ferrule feature allowing you to feather the blade angles, and also available with a telescoping ferrule for an adjustable length.
  • Tape measure imprinted on handle…I use mine sometimes to
    Angler Pro Paddle Review
    Chasing bass with a Pro Angler in Sea Green.

    determine water visibility by putting one end of the paddle down and measuring with the handle.

  • Stylish color options include Sea Green, Camo and RealTree Max5. I have one in Sea Grean which is a high visibility color for safety on the water and one in Camo which is a sharp, understated look.
  • The Angler Pro with a snap-button ferrule comes in sizes ranging from 220cm to 260cm, in 10cm increments. With the Plus ferrule, the Angler Pro is available in adjustable lengths of 230-245cm and 240-255cm. For larger sit on top kayaks, or taller anglers, lean toward the longer length.

Although the price of $329.95 isn’t cheap, you truly get what you pay for. And, what you get with this paddle is unparalleled performance and toughness to give you a competitive edge on the water.  I hope you enjoyed this Pro Angler paddle review and will consider it for your kayak fishing needs.

RTT Kickoff Classic Tournament Recap

This past weekend I competed in my first tournament of the season. The 2017 Razoryak Tournament Trail Kickoff Classic brought together the top kayak anglers from around the state of Arkansas for a three day online event open to fishing any public waters. This a brief recap of my 8th place finish out of 56 anglers.

First of all, congratulations to the top finishers:

  1. Dwain Batey – NSKA
  2. Rob Barnica – NSKA
  3. Terry Brown – KBA
  4. Scott Acord – KBA
  5. Justin Brewer – NSKA

The tournament was a bit disappointing to me because I felt like I had really dialed in Lake Swepco in Gentry, Arkansas, in recent weeks, catching a lot of quality fish. After a week of record high temperatures, a windy cold front moved in and turned everything upside down and I just couldn’t adjust well enough to be a top competitor. I also made some mistakes that cost me early on a couple of big fish.

Friday – Day 1

I hit Swepco on a day of very high winds and temps in the 40s steadily dropping into the 30s later in the day. Even with this, I stuck with my plan to start out with some topwater (Heddon Zara Spook) on this power plant lake and although it generated some bites, I lost the first six fish that I hooked, including a couple of large ones. It wasn’t the hooks, clearly something was off with my hookset and technique which was resulting in the bass pulling off. After this setback I was pretty dejected but remembering my pre-tournament plan I transitioned to a Norman Mad N crankbait and picked up a good sized and a mid-range keeper fairly quickly.  Later on l I hooked into an absolute monster (using a YUM Dinger) which I fought for what seemed like forever…until I pulled up a 4-5 lb catfish and I literally went on a verbal anti-catfish rant. Not wanting to give up, I stuck with this YUM Dinger approach and picked up a couple of keepers to add to my total but still only had one good sized bass. Now was the time of day where I was ready to go to my bread and butter approach with a Norman Deep N crankbait, which yielded me a 17″+ and 18″+ to round out my limit for the day, finishing with 77.25″ for day one where I was feeling pretty good in the standings until my buddy Dwain Batey submitted 90″+ that evening! For a great recap of his eventual tournament win, go give this a read. This pushed me down to 3rd for day one, which was good but I was frustrated about missed opportunities that day.

Saturday – Day Two

The cold front had really set in and temps were below or at freezing until late morning so I didn’t hit the water until around noon. As expected, nothing that worked for me on Friday was working today and I really scrambled to try and increase my limit total, trying all sorts of techniques. A pretty neat (but bittersweet) experience was sitting on the water within just a few feet of Rob Barnica as he was pulling in big fish after big fish. He was on fire with those bass and kept pulling in one after another…I believe I saw him catch four between 17″ and 21.5″ in about an hour. Although I was in the same place and throwing a very similar bait, they didn’t like my technique and didn’t bite for me. A big mistake I made on this day was spotting a big bass on a deep bed that was hard to get to, but I didn’t stay there and try to get it to bite. After putting in a bit of time on it I moved on not wanting to waste my day, in retrospect I should have stayed as long as it took since that one fish would have made my Saturday successful in upping my total. As it is, I only added a few inches and finished with 84″ on the day, culling with a couple of mid-size keepers that I caught on topwater again. (People say I’m addicted to topwater baits…)  At the end of day two I’d dropped to 5th place.

Sunday was the third day of the event, but after seeing the leaderboard after day two I could see that a win was no longer possible I decided to sit it out and spend some time at home. When the tournament ended I had fallen to 8th and finished in the top 10 which is a minimum goal for every event I enter.

A couple of equipment/setup keys I’d mention that I believe really helped in this event:

  • Was able to really give my new Shimano Citica 7:2:1 reel a workout as my main topwater and crankbait reel. It was smooth as silk and was really impressed with it.
  • As usual I used Fish Allure scented tabs on my hard baits which helped give me a good confidence boost, particularly on topwater baits.
  • Two of my keepers in my best five came on a crankbait I had never used before, but had ordered a Norman Mad N for this event to match some baitfish I’d been seeing shallow while prefishing – this definitely paid off.

All in all it was a good warm-up for the year which got me back into tournament mode and also let try out some new equipment and some new rod/reel setups under pressure.

VIDEO – Largemouth Bass on Bandit Crankbait

Caught this Arkansas largemouth bass while kayak bass fishing at Swepco Lake. Hooked it in two feet of water using a Bandit 100 in Green Speckled Craw pattern armed with Owner Stinger treble hooks. Was 20″ and weighed 5.55 pounds.

Gear setup: Hobie Pro Angler 12, Bending Branches Pro Angler Paddle, Dobyns Fury Rod, P-Line 12lb Floroclear, Owner Stinger Trebles and Fish Allure Scented tab applied to back of bait.

Please Help Start My YouTube Channel

I need your help, just getting started to YouTube and need 100 subscribers, please visit Kayak Fishing Focus YouTube Channel and hit Subscribe!  More and better videos on the way if I can get there. Thank you.

 

2017 NWA Natural State Kayak Anglers Season Preview

One of the largest kayak bass fishing tournament tNatural State Kayak Anglers (NSKA)rails in the country, Natural State Kayak Anglers, is about to start for 2017 and we contacted some veteran NSKA anglers for their take on the upcoming season schedule. The Natural State Kayak Anglers (NSKA) tournament series is a great way to improve your fishing skills, meet other anglers and most importantly to have a lot of fun on the water.

The 2017 NSKA Tournament Schedule

Jeff Malott is the tournament director for NSKA events this year, we asked him some general questions about the upcoming season:

What’s the best change you made this year to the NSKA tournament trail?

Jeff – Changing tourney management over to 100% use of tourneyX.com will be a real game changer. No more long waits at weigh in and the ability to follow a live leaderboard should take our events to another level.

Knowing you are not fishing the tournaments this year, what’s the one event you will miss fishing in the most?  

Jeff – To ensure the NSKA events go smoothly I won’t participate locally this season. The one event I’ll miss most will probably be the NWA Road Runner, only because I historically do really well, lol.

Which event will have the most impact on the AOY race?

Jeff – With there being only 1 drop this season (best 5 of 6 count towards AOY), all events are going to have a huge impact, but a good start is essential so probably Swepco in NWA and Spadra in the River Valley.

Roundtable – NSKA Angler Season Preview

Natural State Kayak Anglers Taylor Frizzell, Justin Phillips, Rob Barnica and myself shared predictions and thoughts on the upcoming schedule for 2017:

Which NSKA event will produce the longest length? 

Jeff – The longest string should come from the road runner event, folks can really tune in on the handful of big bass lakes around NWA and the River Valley.

Taylor – I think the NWA road runner will produce the the longest length. Only because there will be so many bodies of water in play that you won’t have 60+ anglers on the same lake. I feel like someone will end up with a area pretty much to themselves and be able to really work the body of water.

Jason – To me it is clearly the online event, anglers will have multiple days to put a limit together.

What’s the key in getting off to a fast start for the season?

Rob –  For myself it simply placing top 10 in a tournament. This is my first year fishing kayak tournaments.

Justin – For me it comes down to preparation, practice and homework. All of these have one thing in common. Trying to maximize control over known variables. In short, take care of what you can and when hiccups come you’ll be less inclined to get rattled and more inclined to formulate a solid Plan B.

Jason – I’ll be happy if I can get any sleep the night before tournaments. It’s hard for me to do because I’m excited and ready to go.

Which event do you have circled where you want to do the best?

Rob – The first one at Swepco Lake. It’s a huge confidence booster to know you can compete in your first year with so many great anglers.

Taylor – I’m looking forward to the KBF/NSKA event the most only because I feel like turn out will be amazing and it will give a lot of competitive NWA guys a chance to prove themselves on a larger scale. It’s going to be a lot of fun to have that opportunity to fish a big event and not have to travel hours to do so.

Jason – Probably the NWA Road Runner…there is so much strategy involved on where to go it is interesting to see where anglers wind up fishing.

Swepco Lake is notorious for being a wind tunnel in March. How might this impact how anglers attack the lake? What’s the winning length going to be?

Justin – It really depends on how much wind and what anglers are willing to put up with. Wind can be great in some circumstances but if it’s white capping not many will want to deal with that. The protected pockets may become so packed a guy will be able to walk across the water and not get his feet wet.  If it’s not too bad it may keep everyone more dispersed. I predict 84 inches will win.

Rob – The wind is simply a mindset. Between anchors and pedals I don’t feel it’s a huge obstacle. Winning length on Swepco will be 90+ inches.

Taylor – The wind tunnel in March is always interesting. It makes you really be on your toes and you have to be able to adapt to this on a whim. I think the paddlers will hug the banks and try to attack the coves and the peddlers will have more of an opportunity to fish where they want. It will also make the finesse guys figure out a strategy to put fish in the boat. I know last year I had to change tactics several times based on the wind. It tends to make it really hard to keep your position when Texas rigging or Jig fishing. I used a Ned rig a lot last year but when the wind picked up I had to change my plan of attack. I think for the winning length at Swepco will be over 90 inches because of the size of fish that are in that lake.

The NSKA/KBF event is on Beaver Lake in April. Last year the lake was high and muddy, so far this year it is low and very clear. How do you expect this change to affect this event?

Justin – If it stays as it is the low water will keep the fish pooled in tighter areas. With the decent year on Beaver Lake last season that may prove to provide great regardless of your style. However, I wouldn’t get overly excited just yet. The spring rains may flood and upset the apple cart. If that happens the water would probably become muddy and power fishing techniques will come more into play. 

Rob – Hopefully it keeps the big boats away from several spots. Obviously the lake and all structure has changed. Let’s pray we don’t have a torrential downpour the week before our tournament.

Jason – Should benefit the finesse anglers mid-lake to the dam. A lot of others may run up closer to the river looking for some stained water. I’m happy we’ll get a shot at Beaver Lake before the FLW pros do. Last couple of years they hammered the lake right before our event.

With the NWA River Road Runner focused on river fishing, where do you think the hotspots for anglers will be for this event?

Rob – Illinois, Kings and White would be my best guess.

Justin – I’d like to look at War Eagle, could be a solid choice.

Jason – There are some great river fishermen in NSKA and I’m not one of them. Have heard great things in the past about the Illinois and Kings. Might be that there’s a honey hole on a little known creek or river that may be the secret to victory.

For the NWA Road Runner, strategy comes into play big time for this event – big bass lakes can pay off or burn you. What’s the best high risk high reward destination for this event?

Taylor – The NWA roadrunner high risk high reward destination is Swepco Lake. The fact that there are so many large fish in that lake makes it a go to option but the time of year makes that lake a coin flip. If that water is hot the angler who knows how to fish deep and entice the fish to bite could have a winning outcome, but at the same time it could set them up for failure.

Jason – When I think about the biggest bass in NWA I tend to think Lincoln Lake. That place has the ability to provide a good limit with two to three 20s in it, but it can be fickle sometimes. I’d say Lincoln is the best home run chance.

There is a weekend online tournament in July, that is obviously a different type of deal than a one day event. How should anglers approach this differently than a normal tournament?

Rob – Due to being my first year, I really don’t know the answer. I’m still learning myself.

Taylor – The summer slam online is going to be an interesting event. I feel like Anglers should stick with what they’re comfortable with but at the same time it might take stepping out of that comfort zone to win. I personally won’t run to the “go to” lakes that we normally would in the spring. It’s going to be a hot summer I think and I feel like the rivers are going to have an advantage over the lakes for this particular event but with fishing you honestly never know where the money stringer is going to be.

Jason – Those who fish the most over the weekend won’t necessarily win, I think it will be the angler that picks the right spots at the right time.

Get Ready – It’s Go Time!

Check out the Razoryak Tournament Trail website for info about NSKA as well as the River Valley, Central Arkansas, and NE/North Central trails. If this is your first tournament season, read this article on Five Catch Photo Release (CPR) Protips and the one on a Kayak Fishing Tournament Packing List for helpful information.

Like this article? Check out other recent kayak fishing posts:

Tear Em Up Fishing – Making the Outdoors Great Again

Mark Collier is on a mission to get anyone and everyone out fishing and his new brand Tear Em Up Fishing is designed to do just that. I’ve fished with Mark before and he’s a good guy who’s also a great ambassador for the sport of kayak fishing. I was intrigued by what he was doing with Tear Em Up Fishing and asked if he’d answer some of my questions about his new movement.

Tear Em Up Fishing Logo

What is Tear Em Up Fishing?

Tear Em Up Fishing is something I have wanted to do for a very long time. As long as I can remember, if anyone asked if we were catching anything, my stock answer was always, we are tearing em up! It didn’t matter if we were catching a boat load or nothing at all. We were…TEARING EM UP!

I started fishing at a very young age with my parents and have been fortunate to have fished on both coasts, the Midwest and in the South. It doesn’t matter what part of the country you are in, everyone says tearing em up when describing their fishing success (or lack thereof). The average Joe can relate to Tearing Em Up and that is our target audience.

What made you start Tear Em Up fishing?

The inspiration was a desire to have fishing apparel at an affordable price and available to the average Joe. And, I wanted to encourage folks to get out and go fishing. Young or old, short or tall – go fishing and experience the thrill of tearing em up!

What are your goals with Tear Em Up Fishing?

As I’ve mentioned, we want to spread the word about Tear Em Up Fishing. We want to build a brand the average outdoorsman can relate to. We want to offer products that ANYONE can afford, offer products that people will like, find comfortable and be a little different. Tear Em Up Fishing is definitely not ever going to be a cookie cutter business!

I know you’ve created and marketed Tear Em Up apparel. If someone wears your branded apparel, what does that say about them?
Tear Em Up Fishing Kayak Mark Collier
River fishing in the Ozarks.

Yes. We are in the process of launching our website to get the word out about the Tear Em Up Fishing brand. We are also working on getting our name trademarked along with some other marketing activities. Our brand says, “We love to fish, are passionate about the outdoors and like supporting the little guy.” The brand will not be the big name apparel that you can get at a box store.

Tear Em Up fishing has been sponsoring or donating prizes to some kayak or fishing groups, which ones and why are you supporting them?

Some of the groups we have sponsored or donated to include: Hooked On Heroes; Malvern Boys & Girls Club; River Bassin Tournament Trail; Kayak Bass Series Tournament Trail; and Kayak Bass Anglers of Central Arkansas. Supporting Hooked On Heroes is easy – look at what they do for our Veterans!

We support the Malvern Boys & Girls Club because of what they do for kids – they are our future! Take a kid fishing, introduce them to what we all love. There is nothing better and more rewarding personally than introducing a young person to fishing.

We also sponsor some great tournament anglers around the country who are really helping us advance the brand. Tear Em Up Fishing has Pro-Staff  in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Missouri and Ohio.

You have been working some fishing shows recently, what are you working to accomplish and how has the reception been?

We had a booth at the Wichita Sports Show and we also had one at the Big Bass Bash at Lake of the Ozarks in the fall. Tear Em Up was received very well at the shows. Wichita was our first big show, with our Tear Em Up towels, hats and T-shirts selling very well very well there. We are planning on setting up at FLW events in Arkansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. We want Tear Em Up Fishing in the public for folks to see. The more exposure we get the better for our brand. Along with Tear Em Up apparel, we are dealers for Carrot Stix rods, Cal Coast Fishing, and Glo-Pro lures. We will also be carrying, hunting, fishing and other outdoor merchandise.

What is the best way for people to keep up with Tear Em Up Fishing and what all you have now and into the future?

Right now, the best way to check out our merchandise is on our Facebook page, and our website www.tearemupfishing.net should be launched this month . People can also follow us on Instagram, YouTube channel and Twitter.

I noticed a phone number on your Facebook page cover photo which is unusual for a company to do. Why publish a direct phone number?

Phone number is for anyone to call with questions, wanting information or wanting to make an order. We want people to be able to talk to someone personally if they need to reach our customer service. Folks fish for a reason – usually a personal reason and we want to be responsive and available to Tear Em Up Fishing’s customers.

Mark and the Tear Em Up Fishing team are headed in the right direction and from what I’ve seen their brand is catching on among anglers who are looking for their own voice in the average Joe fishing space. Great things seem to be headed their way due to their clear vision of message and no-nonsense approach. We have little doubt that a year from now when we ask Mark how it’s going, we’ll know what he’ll say – “We are TEARING EM UP!”

Carolina Rigging for Trout in Arkansas

Rainbow Trout Caught on Carolina Rig at Lake Atalanta, Rogers Arkansas
Arkansas lake Rainbow Trout.

Fishing in Arkansas during January can be a hit or miss situation with the weather. One day it could be mild and in the 50s and the next day you may encounter sleet and ice and below freezing temperatures. One thing that you can count on is lake water temps dropping well into the low 40s and even the high 30s in some small lakes.

This is a great time of year to do some trout fishing in Northwest Arkansas, either in the White River tailwaters of Beaver or Table Rock lake or in some select clear water lakes in the area like Lake Atalanta in Rogers.

As primarily a bass fisherman I don’t own a fly rod, but you can use some bass techniques for some easy trout fishing. One of these techniques is to fish Carolina-style, but with a different and more finesse setup.

Owner Fishing Hooks - Mosquito size 8 Model 5177-031
Use size 8 or 6 hook.

One of the keys to making this work is to have a good quality sharp hook in the appropriate size. When using an egg-style floating bait, I’d select an Owner Mosquito Hook in size 8, or size 6 if you prefer. These Owner hooks are reliable and needle-sharp which is critical in a situation like this. They also have very small barbs that are easily pinched down depending on the waters you fish. If your local tackle store doesn’t carry these, you can find Owner Hooks on Tackle Warehouse.

Simply set up your rig by using a lightweight spinning rod and Shimano reel and attach a small swivel to a 4lb (try P-Line) leader with a small bullet weight and glass bead on the main line. Tie your Owner Mosquito hook to your leader, making it anywhere from 1 to 3 feet depending on water depth. Apply your floating bait egg

Close up of Owner hook in Rainbow Trout Caught on Carolina Rig at Lake Atalanta, Rogers Arkansas
The Owner Mosquito Hook in size 8 is the perfect small size for trout, but is needle sharp for a nice hookset.

on the hook, adjusting so just the tip of the hook is showing.

To fish it, simply toss it upstream in a current allowing it to then slowly bounce along back to you, taking up slack as it goes. This is a great system for fishing ponds or lakes with trout because you can either cast it out and leave it until you get a bite, or periodically move it a bit. The floating bait will look like a natural snack for the trout. Once you get a bite, the sharp Owner hook doesn’t require a strong hookset.

Give this technique a try the next time you want to try some trout fishing on a cold day. It’s an easy transition for a bass fisherman to find some success with trout.

Golden Retrievals With Crankbaits

I once heard Bassmaster Elite Series Pro Angler Greg Hackney say that he can “…make a fish bite with a crankbait.” He continued by saying “…because a fish is kind of like a dog. No matter how good of a dog he is you can make ’em bite.” Since poking a stick through a fence won’t work for a bass what’s the magic formula to making it bite? The answer may partially lie in the art of presentation via the retrieval. Let’s look at an example to illustrate some points:

It’s a beautiful day. The sun is out, a slight breeze is blowing and it’s lunch time. You settle down to enjoy your meal and suddenly a pestering fly takes on the persona of Tom Cruise in Top Gun. Ole “Maverick” is coming in to buzz your tower and spoil your peace. First it flies right by your noggin causing your head to flinch. Next it hits your fingers holding your beloved BLT sandwich. You flail your hand to try and shoo the quarter inch pain in the posterior away. Next, as a coup de grace, the fly zooms up to your face and hovers a mere inch from your eye. You instinctively grab for the fly with your Cheeto stained free hand.

Your head moving, your hand shooing, and your grab for the pest are all reactionary actions. You don’t think about it, you just do it. This is why a crankbait is considered a “reaction bait”, because the fish isn’t necessarily biting out of hunger. It’s biting because your goading it into an involuntary, non-hunger induced reaction.

So, let’s put yourself in the place of the fly and run through some progressions. You’ve got your favorite Skirmish crankbait tied on and you’re going to give Billy Bad Bass enough incentive where he can’t ignore your masterly hand painted crankbait any longer.

First Progression: The Steady Retrieve
Probably the retrieve most new anglers use. Throw it out and real it back. It can be effective but the fish need to be in a more aggressive, or arguably a hunger driven, mood. Like the fly buzzing by your head in the example above, a crankbait rolling in and steadily rolling on can cause an action but not necessarily the aggressive bite reaction we are looking for.

Second Progression: Bang It Into Something!
This is a big one and where most strikes occur. Make sure your crankbait is either bouncing along the bottom or colliding into something. Like the fly above your hand will move if a fly runs into it. It’s just instinct. If the bass are relating to wood, brush, or rock don’t be afraid to send that Skirmish hunter killer in there and let it deflect off of that cover. Hitting something near the bass causes the crankbait to rapidly change direction and, as a by-product, creates a slight pause in the retrieve. Bass are opportunistic predators and many times nature will dictate that they react by biting.

Third Progression: The Pause
Here’s a nugget I’ve watched some of the best crankbait fisherman I know, or watched pros, do. Let’s say you’re moving down a bank that doesn’t have a lot of cover. Like the fly above that hovers in front of your face we want our crankbait to do the same. You can reel the crankbait down to running depth, and then give it a short pause. Real it a few turns and then pause. Or, like I’ve seen Elite Series crankbait expert Kevin Short do, the pull and pause. Just like it sounds you reel down the crankbait to running depth, pull the bait, pause while reeling back in the slack and then pull again. Rinse and repeat. In this action you try to mimic our hovering fly with the pauses. A bass will have trouble passing up an easy meal that swims up and pauses right in front of it.

While you’re out this season with your Skirmish crankbait tied on try these methods and watch your strike percentages increase. If your friends take notice and ask you what your secret is, just smile and say “fly fishing!”

— Justin Phillips

MTI Kayak Fishing PFDs Review

The most important item for a kayak angler other than the kayak itself is a quality PFD (Personal Flotation Device) which is there to protect you in the event of an accident on the water. When I first began kayak fishing, I bought a very cheap life vest from a big box store and almost immediately began not to where it while on the water…it was too bulky, too hot, and overall just didn’t fit well.

I quickly realized I needed a new vest and based on seeing some fellow kayak anglers here in Arkansas with MTI, I made the choice to purchase the MTI Solaris F-Spec. I’ve recently also been trying out MTI’s auto-inflate options, the Helios 2.0 and the Neptune. In this article I’ll do a brief review of each inflatable PFD, including strengths and weaknesses.

The Solaris F-Spec has been a great PFD for me over the last couple of years, taking me safely through a couple of hundred fishing

MTI Solaris F-Spec PFD is loaded with extra features.
MTI Solaris F-Spec PFD is loaded with extra features.

outings and in more than 40 tournament events. MTI makes PFDs specifically for paddlers, so it is has a really nice design to make it comfortable while in the yak. First of all, as a more traditional non-inflatable PFD, it isn’t bulky and has high back design, keeping it from getting in the way between you and the back of your kayak seat. It also has many handy features that really make it convenient to keep everything you need in reach on the water. There is a pin-on retractor holder, multiple lash points, D-ring attachments, zippered pockets on the chest and an innovative drop-down fishing bridge that is great to use as a mini platform while tying baits or for a quick storage of small items. When in this vest, I have my phone, survival knife, keys, whistle, line snips and other tackle stowed in the PFD – making it extremely versatile. It’s comfortable, can easily fit a larger angler and extremely durable.

Mine is still in great shape after many, many hours on the water. Overall, the Solaris F-Spec is lightweight at 1.7 lbs, is USGC III rated, and is worth every penny of the $89.95 price point. The only negative at all with this PFD is simply that although it breathes well for a foam PFD, it still covers your back shoulders and chest, which can be hot in an Arkansas summer.

Inflatable PFDs
The Helios 2.0 PFD from MTI is lightweight and extremely comfortable.
The Helios 2.0 PFD from MTI is lightweight and extremely comfortable.

I’ve recently been trying out a couple of MTI’s inflatable PFDs, the Helios 2.0 and the brand new Neptune. The obvious advantage of the inflatable PFD is that it covers much less of your torso and is cooler when the weather is hot. They also can provide a greater range of movement to the angler than some traditional PFDs. In using both versions, I don’t have a clear favorite between the two versions, and choosing which to wear really comes down to whether or not I wish to have auto-inflate or manual inflate on the given trip. Read more about auto-inflate vs manual inflate PFDs here.

Both the Helios 2.0 and Neptune use a quality Halkey Roberts inflator with a bayonet-style CO2 cylinder with a handy arming status indicator window and are USGC III rated. Both also have a very comfortable neoprene neck collar, easily adjustable harness straps and a zippered pocket with safety whistle included. They each are lightweight, with the Helios at 1.6 lbs and the Neptune coming in
at 2.1 lbs. So far, in my experience I have really been surprised h

MTI has a new PFD, Neptune on the market with an auto-inflate feature for added peace of mind.
MTI has a new PFD, Neptune on the market with an auto-inflate feature for added peace of mind.

ow much I enjoy these inflatable PFDs, they really are quite a bit more comfortable than a traditional vest. They also are very well constructed, although they are lightweight and flexible, you can tell how durable the materials and stitching are. The Neptune is a little longer than the Helios on the chest, which doesn’t bother me but could be an issue for a shorter angler. The only negative with these inflatables is that although comfort is at a maximum, there are very
limited storage options due to only one pocket, no D-rings or lash points. While giving both of inflatable PFDs an “A” overall, I probably will most commonly use the auto-inflate Neptune for maximum safety just in case something happens and I can’t pull the jerk cord on my own.

Although I haven’t tried them personally, the Calcutta and Fisher PFDs also look like solid options. In some conversations with them you can really tell they are passionate about safety, quality and the outdoors. Finally, a word about MTI (Marine Technologies International), they are a 25 year old company based in Massachusetts where paddlers make PFDs for paddlers and kayakers. The care they put into each vest really comes through in the products they make. If you are considering a new kayak fishing PFD, please take a moment to look at what I believe to be the best quality vests available.

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