Fishing Essentials: The Bottom "Line"

posted May 15, 2011, 1:48 PM by Christopher Hoelscher   [ updated May 15, 2011, 2:23 PM ]

With all of the money anglers spend on gear, it surprises me that even seasoned anglers often overlook the importance of which line they select.  One could match a 300 dollar reel to a 200 dollar rod and toss out a 20 dollar crankbait, but without the proper line and knot won’t end up landing a single fish.

I’ve simplified the line selection dilemma into a few common fishing scenarios.  Hopefully you’ll find some better fishing with these line choices:


Situation #1- I Only Have One Rod and Reel

Not everyone owns eight sets of rods and reels, each set up for a particular type of fishing.  In fact, I’d venture to guess that most casual fishermen/women probably only own one.  If you happen to fall into this category, try spooling your reel with some fresh monofilament line.  “Mono,” as it is often called, has been around for quite awhile, and although not as strong as some of the newer lines, mono has benefited greatly from modern technology that has made it even stronger and easier to cast.

Mono is not the “ideal” line for all fishing situations, but it’s pretty “good” at most, and does not have some of the more significant situational drawbacks as the other lines do.

Situation #2- Topwater Fishing

When throwing your favorite popper or surface plug, try tying on monofilament line.  The main reason for using mono for topwater presentations is that it floats.  The buoyancy of the line allows for a more true-running topwater.  Denser lines will cause your topwater to dive or run slightly below the water’s surface.  This means less “pop” from your Pop-R and more hang-ups when “walking the dog” over weeds.  Mono also has an amazing amount of stretch, which will allow for a bit of play in the line and can prevent the angler from tearing the hooks straight from the fish’s mouth when setting the hook.

When fishing topwater baits in extremely heavy cover (grass mats, lilly pads, etc.), it may be wiser to use braided line, as the stronger, zero-stretch braid will allow you to wrestle fish from the thickest of cover.

If fishing for pike, ALWAYS tie a steel leader to your mono line, otherwise, you will loose countless fish and baits thanks to those toothy critters.

ADVANTAGES:  Cheap, floats, good clarity (depending on which type you buy), stretch, relatively low memory.

DISADVANTAGES:  Lacks sensitivity, not ideal for deep cranking, lacks strength and abrasion-resistance compared to other lines.

My MONOFILAMENT line of choice:  Suffix Siege ($7.99-$9.99)


Situation #1- Fishing in Heavy Cover/Lakes with Zebra Muscles

Braid is the most durable, strong, and abrasion-resistant line made, which is why it is my go to line for fishing in heavy cover.  If you intend to crank practically any lure around thick cover like milfoil, lily pads, bullrushes, and cabbage beds, you may end up needing the extra strength of braid to "cut" through the green stuff. The stronger braid will also allow you to pull fish out of the thick cover, where you would have likely broken off with other lines.  

A similar need for braid presents itself when fishing lakes with Zebra Muscles. Not only do these Eurasian invasives blanket the bottom of many midwestern lakes, but they also attach to the stalks of the lake’s vegetation.  The muscles have a razor-sharp shell that will not only tear up your feet, but also your line.  If you’re going to catch fish cranking (or jigging) in cover, you have to make contact with that cover.  With significant contact will come nicks in mono or fluorocarbon line that may cause break-offs.  No one wants to hear another story about “the one that got away,” so tie on braid in these conditions, and get that big one in the boat.

Situation #2- Fishing Smaller Baits

Braided line has the most sensitivity of all lines, and when you are downsizing to match the hatch, braided line can keep you honed in on the lightest strikes on the smallest jigs and soft plastics.  One advantage of braid is that it has a very small diameter without compromising strength.  For example, 14 pound braid is the size of 6 pound mono or fluorocarbon.  When tying on smaller weighted baits/lures, you can use braid and keep the strength needed to land big fish without altering the feel or action of the bait/lure.

Situation #3- Fishing Pike Infested Waters

Even if you aren't actively fishing for Northern Pike, if you fish many northern lakes, you may still end up battling one back to the boat.  Lures and baits that appeal to bass and walleye are often equally appealing to many small to medium-sized pike, and although their “don’t put me in that boat” freakout can be tons of fun to battle, their teeth can turn a day fishing into a real frustrating experience.  Even if you’re tossing that crankbait out for bass, be safe and go with braid.  The odds are you’ll catch a pike or two in the process.

ADVANTAGES:  Strong, abrasion resistant, super sensitive.

DISADVANTAGES:  Expensive, lacks the invisibility of fluorocarbon and mono, has zero stretch (which can also be an advantage), knots may “slip.”

My BRAIDED line of choice:  Suffix Performance Braid ($16.99-$20.99)


Situation #1:  The Fish Aren’t Biting

Being nearly invisible, a light fluorocarbon line can mean the difference between landing fish and scratching your head all day long.  Not only does fluorocarbon practically disappear underwater, but it also has a respectable amount of strength:  it’s stronger than mono, weaker than braid.  Like braided line, a good fluorocarbon is also quite sensitive.  When fish are finicky, the bite may be nearly imperceptible, so you want all of the sensitivity you can get.

Situation #2:  I Want to Crank Deep

Fluorocarbon line is very dense and sinks rapidly.  When fish are suspended in 10-20 feet of water, it can be difficult to get a crankbait down that deep.  Remember, it takes a fair amount of time for the bill to get that bait to the stated depth, and if you’re not casting 50 plus yards like the pros, you have essentially no chance of getting that bait down far enough.  Fluorocarbon can help get that bait down quicker, and in some cases even deeper than the lure's depth rating states.

Situation #3:  Finesse Fishing

Most soft-plastic (worms, lizards, tubes, grubs, craws, creature baits, etc.) fishing generally falls under the category of “finesse fishing.”  Simply put, most effective presentations involving these baits require the angler to slow down a bit and rely upon the subtle action of the bait to tempt the fish into striking.  Fluorocarbon offers the perfect balance of invisibility and sensitivity, which will allow you to work these baits most effectively.

ADVANTAGES:  Low visibility, strong, abrasion resistant, sensitive, sinks (can also be a disadvantage).

DISADVANTAGES:  Has significant “memory” (more tangles), brittle, expensive, incompatible with many types of knots.

My FLUOROCARBON line of choice:  Bass Pro Shops XPS Fluorocarbon ($16.99)

As you can see, there is a line for every situation, and with more time spent on the lake, you’ll find what works best for you and your equipment. 

*Photos courtesy of &

Looking to Become a Michigan "Master Angler"? Check Out These Spots!

posted Feb 2, 2011, 5:02 PM by Christopher Hoelscher   [ updated Feb 2, 2011, 5:21 PM ]

I know this may sound lame, but I really want one of Michigan's Master Angler Awards.  These certificates and patches are given to anglers who catch a fish of notable size/weight.  Now, I really haven't been trying for one, but every time I pull in a nice one, it does cross my mind.

Take a look at the table I've attached below for a list of Michigan's fish species, the length/weight requirements for "Master Angler" status, the current state record weights, and the bodies of water that have produced the most awards per species over the last 17 years.

All of the data comes courtesy of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources:

Photo courtesy of

If you'd like a PDF of this table to print out and put in your tackle box or to plan your next fishing trip with, check out the downloadable attachment below.


Master Angler Length/Weight(lbs.)/State Record(lbs.)

Water Body/County

Northern Muskie




Great Lakes Muskie


Lake St. Clair/Macomb

Tiger Muskie



Northern Pike



Largemouth Bass



Smallmouth Bass


Lake St. Clair/Macomb

Black Crappie


Stony Creek/Macomb







Rock Bass




Lake St. Clair/Macomb



Saginaw Bay/Bay

Detroit River/Wayne

Muskegon Lake/Muskegon

Yellow Perch




Common Carp


Grand River/Ottawa

Flathead Catfish


St. Joseph’s River/Berrien

Freshwater Drum



Gizzard Shad


Saginaw Bay/Bay

Green Sunfish


Grand River/Ottawa

Hybrid Sunfish


Vandervoight/Grand Traverse


Kokanee Salmon



Lake Herring


Grand Traverse Bay/Grand Traverse

Lake Sturgeon


St. Clair River/St. Clair

Lake Trout


Lake Superior/Marquette


Lake Whitefish



Longnose Gar



Longnose Sucker


Grand River/Kent



Lake St. Clair/Macomb

American Eel


St. Clair River/St. Clair

St. Joseph’s River/Berrien

Atlantic Salmon


St. Mary’s RIver/Chippewa

Bigmouth Buffalo


Detroit River/Wayne

Black Buffalo


Grand River/Kent

Black Bullhead







Grand River/Ottawa

Brook Trout


Dutch Fred/Schoolcraft

Fox River/Schoolcraft

Brown Bullhead



Brown Trout


Lake Michigan/Manistee

Lake Michigan/Mason



Lake Michigan/Benzie

Channel Catfish


Lake St. Clair/Macomb

Lake St. Clair/St. Clair

St. Clair River/St. Clair



Grand River/Ottawa

Rainbow Trout(Steelhead)


Manistee River/Manistee

Redear Sunfish


Coldwater Lake/Branch

Baw Beese/Hillsdale



Flat River/Kent

Round Whitefish-Menomine


Lake Michigan/Benzie




Northern Hog Sucker


Lake St. Clair/Macomb

Pink Salmon


St. Mary’s River/Chippewa

Lake Huron/Chippewa



Lake Michigan(Little Bay De Noc)/Delta




White Bass


Saginaw River/Saginaw

White Crappie


Stony Creek/Macomb

White Perch


Lake Erie/Monroe

White Sucker


Rifle River/Arenac

Yellow Bullhead






Lake Superior/Baraga

White Bass(Hybrid)



Saginaw Bay/Bay

Saginaw River/Saginaw

Titabawassee River/Saginaw

Pinook Salmon (Hybrid)


Lake Huron/Alpena

Chinook Salmon


Lake Michigan/Manistee

Lake Michigan/Mason

Manistee River/Manistee

Coho Salmon


Lake Michigan/Manistee

Lake Michigan/Mason

Get Your Fix! How to Clean a Baitcasting Reel

posted Jan 25, 2011, 4:50 PM by Christopher Hoelscher   [ updated Jan 26, 2011, 4:15 PM ]

Winters in Michigan seem to get longer every year.  If you are in a "four seasons" region, there is a chance that you go through the same withdrawal from fishing that I do, and you would do anything to get your “fishing fix."  You might get your first “fix” of the season by attending a fishing sale, cleaning the boat, arranging tackle, or adding new line to your favorite reels.  With all of the time we sit waiting for fishing season to come, consider cleaning your fishing reels.  Cleaning your reels can bring them back to life, increase their lifespan and could be the ticket to catching your next fish. 

Most reel manufacturers recommend rinsing their reels in clean water after each use to help clean the grit and sand that can accumulate from everyday use.  Most people don’t take this step, and even more people don’t take their other recommendation: which is to break down your reel, clean it and apply oil and grease as necessary.  Most manufacturers recommend using a certified tackle shop, however, you can save a lot of money, time, and get your “fishing fix” by doing it yourself.  Here is what you’ll need to get started:

Reel Oil

Reel Grease

Reel Schematics /Diagram

Reel Wrench/Screwdrivers


Tooth Picks

Tooth Brush

Clean Rags

Cup of clean water

Cup of water with mild soap



Digital Camera


I am cleaning a Tournament Plus TPX10HB (6.3:1 gear ratio) made by Bass Pro Shops.  Find a well lit space to set up your cleaning area.  I like to work on the top of a cardboard file box.  This helps contain any small parts that might be difficult to find.  Find the reel schematics/diagram that came in the box when you purchased your reel.  If you do not have this, most well known brands have their reel diagrams on-line.  Search the internet with the reel's make and model and see if you can find it.  If you still can’t find them, use a digital camera to take pictures of each piece before you take it off the reel (this is a great idea even if you have your reel diagram).


Most reels have a breaking mechanism on the left side that can be removed by pushing a button, or lever on the side plate of the reel.  Once this is removed, you will have access to the breaking mechanism and reel spool.  The right side (with gears and cast control) is held together with a bolt at the end of the reel handle and several screws on the outside and several screws on the inside of the side plate. This may vary depending on your reel.

Don’t think your reel could be that dirty?  Look at the dirt that has accumulated on this gear after one season of use.


Begin to disassemble your reel, taking careful consideration to where the pieces came from.  I like to place the pieces of the reel on my workstation in the order I take them off.  With so many pieces, it becomes difficult to keep track of which pieces go where.  As you remove the pieces, wash them in the soapy water, using the tooth brush and q-tips when necessary.  Rinse the pieces in the clean water and dry them thoroughly before placing them in their correct spot on your work station. Labeling the pieces with a pen will also add assurance that your reel goes back together correctly. 


                            A well organized work station will help you put your reel together correctly.

Once the pieces have dried, apply a small drop of oil to all bearings, the worm gear and the crank shaft.  Grease should be applied to the drive gears, crank gears, pinion gear and all bushings.  A small drop of oil is all a 

bearing needs.  Use a toothpick to evenly distribute the oil around the bearing.  Use the oil and grease sparingly.  Excess oil and grease can attract dirt and dust and could adversely affect of your reel’s performance and longevity. 


Re-assemble your reel in the same order you took it apart.  Reference the diagram and any pictures you took during the process. 

Add a drop of oil to the moving parts of the reel handle grips.  Test your reel to make sure it is working properly.  If the reel doesn’t function correctly, take it apart and reference the diagram and your pictures.  If the reel will not wind, it may be because the ratchet gear is placed backwards (reference the diagram to see which way the teeth are leaning). 

At the end of each season, or the beginning of the next, take the time to follow these steps and you’ll have a reel that will function as well as it did the day you purchased it.  If you are fishing on a budget like me, use the money you’ll save from not buying a new reel to expand your tackle selection. 

Words and Photos Courtesy of:

Marc Granger

Fishing Essentials: Getting Started for Under 100 Bucks

posted Dec 30, 2010, 9:19 AM by Christopher Hoelscher   [ updated Jan 25, 2011, 4:50 PM ]

When one questions whether or not to try out a new sport or pastime, the startup costs certainly come into play.  Despite the old idea that fishing is simply a couple of dudes dropping some worms from cane poles into the local pond, getting into sport fishing can be pricey.  A nice G. Loomis rod can run 500 bucks.  Want the best baitcasting reel on the market?  You’re going to spend well over 350 dollars.  You can easily spend 1000 dollars on gear and not even buy a single lure yet!  Now before you decide to take up darts instead, let me be clear:  fishing needn’t be expensive at all.  Here’s a way to get into fishing for under 100 dollars.

If you’d prefer to just check out the final list from our shopping trip, scroll down to the bottom.


The biggest mistake anglers make when getting into this sport is purchasing an expensive reel.  The odds are that if you’ve never fished before or have fished just a bit, you won’t be able to effectively use an expensive baitcasting or spinning reel.  Don’t waste your money.  The lures you will need will have a far greater impact on your fishing success than what you lob them out there with.


Zebco 33 ($19.99)- Many a young angler grew up on a Zebco product.  I used the 33 form age 12-16, and without a doubt, it’s the reel that got me hooked on fishing.  The reel is extremely easy to use, as it is a push-button spincasting reel.  It is durable, has a drag that actually works quite well, and can haul in fish up to five pounds (I caught two five pounders on my Zebco 33).  The only drawback to the 33 is the slower gear ratio.  At a meager 3:3:1 gear ratio, you will only be able to draw in 18 inches of line per turn, making fast retrieves pretty difficult.  Still, the Zebco 33 is a great starter reel.

Bass Pro Shops Megacast Spinning Reel ($19.99)- If you think that the whole push-button thing is for the kids, then try a spinning reel.  Bass Pro Shops offers a nice entry level spinning reel with the Megacast.  The Megacast provides 4 ball bearings and a gear ratio of 5:2:1 for bringing in your line at a much faster clip of 21 inches per turn.  The Megacast also includes anti-reverse, a double-anodized aluminum spool, and a a lightweight graphite frame for durability.                                                                                                            



Bass Pro Shops Power Plus Trophy Class Trigger Rods ($24.99)- This entry level rod from Bass Pro Shops will give you the backbone needed to haul in a real lunker.  These rods offer aluminum oxide guides and a unique style of fiberglass construction that give them a bit of backbone.  What’s cool about the Trophy Class of rods it that they offer a 6’6, 7, and 7’6 length.  Buy the 7’6 medium-heavy rod and you will be tossing your lures halfway across the lake!

Shakespeare Ugly Stik Spinning Rod ($29.99)- With the Ugly Stik, Shakespeare offers a great balance of durability, performance, and price.  Ugly Stiks are the most popular entry level rods for a reason--they work well and rarely break.  This spinning rod is made from a graphite inner core surrounded by “e-glass.”  The Ugly Stik will give you plenty of sensitivity to feel whatever presentation you are working.  As a bonus, you will receive a free t-shirt with your purchase!

Rod/Reel Combo

Bass Pro Shops Megacast Rod and Reel Spinning Combo ($29.99)- If you’re a fishing novice, there’s no reason to buy both a rod and a reel separately.  You can often get the biggest bang for your buck with a rod/reel combo.  A great deal can be found in Bass Pro’s Megacast Combo.  With this set up you can get up to a seven foot spinning rod with a four bearing reel.  Both rod and reel offer nice features.  The reel comes equipped with Powerlock instant anti-reverse for tackling even the largest of fish.  The rod is made from graphite and includes a cork handle and aluminum oxide guides.  You really can’t go wrong with this combo.

Tackle Box/Bag

Plano Three Tray Tackle Box ($9.94)- The great thing about this box is that it will provide room for you to grow.  You won’t fill up every slot in this surprisingly spacious box at first, but trust me, once you’re “hooked” on fishing, you’ll find plenty of stuff to add to your box.  Once you are ready to upgrade to something larger, you don’t have to feel guilty about passing this box on to another “newbie.”

Bass Pro Shops Extreme Qualifier 350 Tackle Tote Bag ($14.99)- There are some great “soft” bags out on the market these days, and you really can’t beat their ability to hold tons of stuff.  If the tote bag look is what you are going for, check this bag out.  It holds up to five 350 utility boxes and has plenty of pouches to stow away gear.  The only downside to the Extreme Qualifier 350 is that it does not come with the utility boxes.  However, if you wait for the annual Bass Pro Shops Spring Fishing Classic, they usually offer a great deal on this bag or a very similar bag with the inserts included.


Pliers:  Bass Pro Shops 6” Carbon Steel Pliers ($5.99)- Yeah, I know, this isn’t the most exciting purchase, but believe me, if you start reeling in some big ones, you’re going to need a nice set of pliers to get those hooks out.


If you opt for the Zebco 33, it will come pre-spooled with 10 lbs. Stren line--a durable, high-quality monofilament.  Still, you may want to pick up some new line to ensure that you don’t lose any fish.


Berkley Trilene XL Smooth Casting Line- 110 Yards@10lbs. ($3.49)- Trilene provides strength, limpness, low memory, and great durability at a low price.  If you are looking to keep it simple and cheap, you can’t go wrong with Trilene.  


Bass Pro Shops XPS Signature Series Fluorocarbon Fishing Line- 200 Yards@10lbs. ($16.99)- Fluorocarbon lines have revolutionized fishing, and the XPS Signature Series line will give you all of the advantages of the tournament anglers (Kevin VanDam included) who use the exact same stuff!  Fluorocarbon is nearly invisible in the water, is denser than mono, more sensitive than mono, and holds knots tighter than any line.  The only drawback is the price.  Adding some fluorocarbon to your reel will ultimately take a bite out of your tackle budget, but may be worth it.

Braided Line

Spiderwire EZ Braid Line 110 Yards@ 20lbs./6lbs. diameter ($9.99)-  Since you’re just starting out you probably won’t have a whole lot of lures, which means you definitely won’t want to lose any.  If superior strength is what you are looking for, look no further than braided line.  Braided line is the strongest of the line options (three times stronger than steel according the Spiderwire people) and is much smaller in diameter than mono and fluorocarbon.  The only downside to fishing with braid is that it sometimes spins on the spool of spinning gear and is quite a bit more visible under water when compared to other lines.


The most intimidating aspect of fishing is the immense lure/bait selection.  If one is to walk into a Bass Pro Shops, Cabela’s, or any other large outdoors store, there may be anywhere from 10 to 50 aisles of fishing stuff.  Baits, lures, soft plastics, jigs, and all other types of tackle abound.  Figuring out just where to start can be mystifying.  Let me make it simple for you.  If you pick up the following, you will be able to match a presentation to just about any type of conditions that you may find.

Spinnerbait:  Bass Pro Shops Lazer Eye Spinnerbaits-Double Willow (1/4 oz. White/Chartreuse)($3.29)-  There may not be another lure as versatile as a spinnerbait.  These odd-looking baits can be fished a variety of ways:  burning, slow-rolling, yo-yoing, to name a few, but most importantly, they are effective when simply reeled in.  Because they cast a mile, are pretty much weedless, and actually catch fish, spinnerbaits are  a great lure to learn how to fish with.

Lipless Crankbait:   Cotton Cordell Super Spot (1/4 oz. Bleeding Shad)($2.99)- Much like spinnerbaits, lipless crankbaits are versatile and consistently catch fish.  Pike and bass can’t seem to resist the tight wobble and rattle of a lipless crank.  With two exposed treble hooks, you can worry a little less about losing fish.  Be warned though, perfect your casting before lobbing out a lipless crankbait, as they will hang-up in heavy cover.

Topwater Popper:  XTS Speed Lures Popper (2 1/2” Gizzard Shad)($2.99)- The explosive strikes brought on by topwater baits can get any novice angler hooked on fishing, and poppers offer an effective approach to topwater fishing.  Effectively fishing a popper will take some practice, as you will need to be able to snap your wrist, while simultaneously bringing in the excess line.  Once you get this down, hold on tight, because a vicious strike may be in store for your poor popper.

Shallow Running Crankbait: Bass Pro Shops XPS Lazer Eye Nitro Hardbaits-Shallow Crank (1/4 oz. Natural Brown Crawdad)($3.99)- Being able to cover all portions of the water column is essential if you are going to find an effective pattern.  When fish are shallow and feeding, it’s hard to beat a shallow running crankbait.  Toss these baits over grass, around logs, and beside emergent cover for some serious action.

Medium Diving Crankbait: Strike King Bleeding Bait Hook Crankbait (Series 3 Bleeding Gizzard Shad)($4.49)- Once you become more accurate with your casts, you can start to pinpoint and cast to specific structure.  A great place to find fish is along both the deep and shallow edges of weed beds.  A medium diving crankbait will get down to about six feet.  Fish often stage in an ambush position on these edges, and at a diving depth of six feet, you will be cranking right past their strike zone.

Deep Diving Crankbait: Norman Lures Deep Little N Crankbait (3/8 oz. Baby Bass)($4.29)- Once the dog days of summer hit, most fish go deep, and if you’re not into fishing soft plastics, you can call them out with a deep diving crankbait.  The Deep Little N will get down to around 12 feet, which will get your lure close to suspending and bottom-hugging fish.  Make sure to add some pauses and twitches to add some action to your lure.

Suspending Minnow:  Bass Pro Shops XPS Extreme Suspending Nitro Minnow (4” Chrome Clown)($3.99)- When fishing gets tough, you have to change up your presentation.  Simply casting and cranking might not cut it.  A suspending minnow will dive to a certain depth, and if the retrieve is halted, will stop and suspend.  This stop, pause, and erratically wobble away presentation can drive otherwise finicky fish to strike.  Like the popper, the suspending minnow will take a bit of patience and practice to perfect.

Jig:  Stacey King’s Lazer Eye Casting Jig (3/8 oz. Watermelon/Black Flake)($2.49)- There are a variety of jigs out there for a variety of presentations.  This jig should be a good “go to” jig for a novice angler.  Fish your jig slowly in and around cover.  Cast out and let your bait find the bottom.  Add a few pops and twitches to entice those picky fish into biting.

Jig Trailer:  Zoom Soft Plastic Trailers- Swimmin’ Chunk (3” 10 Pack/Green Pumpkin)($2.79)- Add a trailer to your jig for a larger profile and more action.  The swimming legs of the Swimmin’ Chunk will add vibration to the water.  This trailer is salt-impregnated for a natural taste that will keep those fish on your bait just a bit longer

Soft Plastics

Pre-rigged Worm:  Creme Rigged Scoundrel Worm (6” Live Color)($1.69)- We want to keep things simple, as you are just getting the hang of things.  Fishing soft plastics can be a bit difficult.  The angler must put in a lot of thought and work to effectively fish most soft plastics.  This isn’t quite the case for the pre-rigged worm.  With the Scoundrel Worm, you get all of the benefits of fishing life-like soft plastic, with a set-up that can be easily retrieved.  Cast, reel, pause, reel, twitch, pause, reel, fish on!

Tube Bait:  Bass Pro Shops Double-Dipped Tubes (3 1/2” Smoken Bluegill)($3.29)- When crankbaits just aren’t bringing in the fish, it’s probably time to go to some type of soft plastic.  My favorite soft plastic is the tube.  Tubes look like several types of natural forage and are a perfect snack for a hungry fish.  Tubes are also quite versatile: swim them, hop them, flip them, pitch them, drag them, or just let them sit, odds are you will find a way to effectively fish tubes in no time.

Lizard:  Zoom Soft Plastic Baits- SS+ Lizard (6” Junebug)($2.49)- When fish are more active, they can be tantalized by the undulating appendages and swimming tail of a lizard.  Lizards are pretty much idiot proof and can be fished in a variety of locations:  off weed lines, through cover, around docks, through lay-downs and timber, etc.

Worm:  Bass Pro Shops Tournament Series Stik-O (6” Roadkill Camo)($4.99)- These are a knock-off of the famous Yamamoto Senko, but don’t worry, they work just as well.  You can rig these salt-impregnated and anise scented baits in a variety of ways.  Here comes the good news:  the inherent action that these baits have make them almost impossible to fish wrong!


Extra Wide Gap Hook:  Bass Pro Shops XPS Magna Superlock Hooks (3/0 Black/Nickel 4 pack)($1.99)-  Hooks come in all kinds of shapes and sizes, but the EWG hook will be versatile enough to work for most of your soft plastic needs.  Simply hook your bait through the nose, making sure just to push down a half an inch or so before poking the hook back out.  Run the bait down the shank to the eyelet, twist the bait around, and poke the hook back through the middle of the bait.  You’ve got yourself a Texas-rigged soft plastic.


Worm Weight:  Bass Pro Shops Lead Worm Weights (3/16 oz. 25 pack/Silver)($2.99)- In order to get your soft plastic down to the bottom and get a few more yards out of your cast, you will want to add some weight.  Try stringing a worm weight onto your line before tying on your EWG hook.  With a little extra weight you will be able to work your bait closer to cover and add some needed action to your worm, lizard, or tube.

Alright, it’s time to cash out.  Let’s see if we can get you all set up for under 100 dollars!                               

                                                                                                                                                                             RGFB, Kristin, Uses a Zebco 33


Rod & Reel: Bass Pro Shops Megacast Rod and Reel Spinning Combo ($29.99)

Box: Plano Three Tray Tackle Box ($9.94) 

Pliers:  Bass Pro Shops 6” Carbon Steel Pliers ($5.99)

Line:  Berkley Trilene XL Smooth Casting Line- 110 Yards@10lbs. ($3.49)


Spinnerbait: Bass Pro Shops Lazer Eye Spinnerbaits-Double Willow (1/4 oz. White/Chartreuse)($3.29)

Lipless Crankbait: Cotton Cordell Super Spot (1/4 oz. Bleeding Shad)($2.99)

Topwater Popper: XTS Speed Lures Popper (2 1/2” Gizzard Shad)($2.99)

Shallow Running Crankbait: Bass Pro Shops XPS Lazer Eye Nitro Hardbaits-Shallow Crank (1/4 oz. Natural Brown Crawdad)($3.99)

Medium Diving Crankbait: Strike King Bleeding Bait Hook Crankbait (Series 3 Bleeding Gizzard Shad)($4.49)

Deep Diving Crankbait: Norman Lures Deep Little N Crankbait (3/8 oz. Baby Bass)($4.29)

Suspending Minnow: Bass Pro Shops XPS Extreme Suspending Nitro Minnow (4” Chrome Clown)($3.99)

Jig: Stacey King’s Lazer Eye Casting Jig (3/8 oz. Watermelon/Black Flake)($2.49)

Jig Trailer: Zoom Soft Plastic Trailers- Swimmin’ Chunk (3” 10 Pack/Green Pumpkin)($2.79)

Pre-rigged Worm: Creme Rigged Scoundrel Worm (6” Live Color)($1.69)

Tube Bait: Bass Pro Shops Double-Dipped Tubes (3 1/2” Smoken Bluegill)($3.29)

Lizard: Zoom Soft Plastic Baits- SS+ Lizard (6” Junebug)($2.49)

Worm: Bass Pro Shops Tournament Series Stik-O (6” Roadkill Camo)($4.99)

Other Tackle

Extra Wide Gap Hook:  Bass Pro Shops XPS Magna Superlock Hooks (3/0 Black/Nickel 4 pack)($1.99)

Worm Weight: Bass Pro Shops Lead Worm Weights (3/16 oz. 25 pack/Silver)($2.99)

Grand Total:  $98.16

Unlike many sports and pastimes, it doesn’t take a lot of investment to get into fishing.  If you follow this set-up, you’ll be out landing lunkers in no time.  Good luck!

Note: All prices are based on prices listed on  Bass Pro Shops is a great, easy to use site for finding tackle and equipment, which is why I chose it.  With that in mind, you may be able to find better deals elsewhere.  The more you save, the more you can buy, so get out and do your research.

Words and Pictures Courtesy of:

Chris Hoelscher

Fishing Under Pressure

posted Dec 29, 2010, 7:55 AM by Christopher Hoelscher

Paying attention to barometric pressure can give you the angling edge.  Here’s what to use no matter what your barometer reads:

As sport fishing has evolved over the past fifty years, so has the science behind it.  Of all of the scientific factors affecting fish, weather has arguably the greatest impact.  It has been known for a while that atmospheric pressure has a profound impact on many species of fish.  Although many theories abound, to say that the science is settled is not quite true, as scientists are still unsure of exactly why some species, largemouth bass included, react both positively and negatively to changes in pressure.  But as anyone who has spent many hours out on the lake knows, nothing can turn fish on or off quite like a change in weather.

Instead of turning this article into “Weather 101,” I will focus on a more pragmatic take on barometric pressure and bass fishing:  what to use and when.

The Calm Before the Storm

Many anglers can tell you from experience that one of the most productive times to fish is right before a storm.  Generally speaking, atmospheric pressure has just increased a bit and is now steadily dropping.  This quick fluctuation is a tell-tale sign for fish that it is time to feed.  If you don’t have a barometer to see this change, you’ve probably still witnessed it:  after fairly nice weather, clouds have rolled in, the air feels thick, the temperature is usually up a bit, and the wind starts blowing.

Since fish will be most active during this time, go to your quicker, bigger lures.  If the wind has given you that perfect topwater chop, try throwing a Zara Spook, Money Hound, Jitterbug, or erratically retrieve a popper.  With the urge to feed, fish will be more willing to explode on your topwater.

As fish are brought up/out from cover, they are likely to be exploring flats for baitfish and crayfish.  A sure bet is to throw a shallow running crank over a grass or sand flat.  Try a shallow-running Shad Rap, or a square-billed crankbait, like a Bomber Square A or a Mann’s -1.  Make contact with cover.  If vegetation is absent, make sure to dig that tiny bill straight into the sand/gravel to let those hungry bass know where your lure is.

The longer you stay out as the pressure drops, the more likely you are to see some dangerous weather.  The dark thunderheads will start appearing on the horizon and the wind will start to gust.  While it’s probably smart to get off the water at this point, there still is some good fishing to be had, but remember, the longer you wait, the more the pressure is going to fall and the moodier the fish will get, so weigh your odds of landing one more trophy with what’s safest.

If you are boneheaded enough to stay out there (which I don’t recommend), the wind is going to be tough to deal with, so throw something heavy.  Try ripping a lipless crankbait over flats and along transition areas between deeper water and the shallows.  Spinnerbaits can be effective, as well, but the blades and skirt can act like a sail when the wind starts blowing, throwing your casts all over the place.

                                                                                                                                                                              Storms Are Coming?  Try a Topwater

The Extremes

When pressure bottoms out or remains super high, the fishing gets difficult.  The irony of all this is that some of the “best” fishing weather (cooler temps and bluebird skies) come during this time after the storm.  Fish will be trying to adjust to the change in pressure and feeding is often an afterthought.

The theme for fishing the extremes is to SLOW down.  Bring out your jigs, jerkbaits, and other finesse baits.  Even though the fishing will be tough, it doesn’t mean that the fish are impossible to catch.  What it does mean, though, is that you will have to work harder to get ‘em.

On those bright, bluebird days, the fish will be relating to deep, heavy cover.  Often, photophobic bass will even bury within the cover, making them difficult to locate.  Probe deep cover with a jig and pig or jig and artificial craw trailer.  Fish pockets and changes in weed cover.  Even though you can always get a reaction strike, your best bet is to fish slow and methodical.

When fishing finesse techniques like the drop-shot, shaky head jigs, and wacky worming, it may pay to tie on a smaller profile bait.  Try smaller Yamamoto Senkos and Yum Dingers, little flukes, and diminutive finesse worms.  Make the meal easy for the fish, and bites will be easier to come by.

If you’re not one for soft plastics and jigs, jerkbaits may work.  Like with the finesse techniques, your jerkbait presentation will have to be painfully slow.  Pausing your retrieve in between jerks for 30 seconds may be necessary.  Your strikes may be imperceptible, so look for the slightest twitch or hop in your line while pausing.  Since fish are likely to come right up on your bait, try adding a fish attractant to your lure for more strikes.

High Pressure Got Ya Down?

            Throw a Tube!

Stable Pressure

In a day or two, the atmospheric pressure is likely to stabilize.  Fish will leave the heavy cover and begin staging on or near flats, points, humps and shallows.  A variety of baits will work during this period.  Your most versatile baits will be your best bets.  Since spinnerbaits can be fished in a variety of ways, try tossing  a willow-leaf spinnerbait.  Booyah Baits and Strike King offer quality models in a plethora of patterns.  Start fast by burning your bait across weed cover or around submerged logs.  Visit both the deep and shallow edges of the weed lines.  Some bass may be exploring the shallows and flats, so don’t forget these spots.

One thing to note when stable pressure settles in is that that water clarity will have recovered from the storm water runoff of the past few days.  Stick to natural colors:  shad, crawfish, and bluegill colored baits will mimic natural forage.

Swim jigs, medium diving cranks, and lipless crankbaits have the added versatility needed for these conditions.  No matter what you throw, tweak your presentation and don’t spend too long doing the same thing over and over.  Consistent fish catching may not come from any one consistent pattern.

Don’t Crack Under the Pressure

Part of experiencing a successful day on the lake is fishing smart.  Sure, the last time you went out you might have killed them with your topwater frog, but that doesn’t mean that same frog will work the next time out.  Many, many anglers, myself included, become creatures of habit.  We are too quick to just throw what worked before.  Pay attention to the weather and the atmospheric pressure.  You can take much of the "guess work" out of fishing by knowing what to fish and when to fish it.                                               Versatility Is Key!  Just Ask

                                                                                                                                                                                                            RGFB, Kristin

Words and Photos Courtesy of:

Chris Hoelscher

This Way to the Salad Bar: Effectively Fishing Aquatic Vegetation

posted Nov 17, 2010, 5:59 PM by Christopher Hoelscher   [ updated Dec 30, 2010, 9:29 AM ]

Knowing the types of aquatic vegetation and how to fish it properly can mean the difference between consistent "catching" and continuous salad dredging.  Now who's up for a healthy serving of veggies, "Reel" Good Fishin' Buddies style?

Wild Celery (Vallisneria americana)

One of the most widely distributed species of aquatic vegetation, wild celery is native to several continents.  In Canada and North America, wild celery acts as a veritable nursery for young fish.  Several species of baitfish, including pike and bass favorites, bluegill, pumpkinseed, and yellow perch, spend much of their time tucked in between its wavy, grass-like stalks.  Wild Celery can grow as tall as six feet, but most anglers will find it growing between one and three feet in length.  Within the wild celery, the aforementioned baitfish find ample cover, shade, and other small fish and invertebrates to feed on.

Truth be told, where there are baitfish, there are usually fish looking to eat them.  Fish like largemouth bass, walleye, and northern pike key in on these locations and never stray too far away.  When these fish are actively feeding, the vast celery beds of many North American lakes, become a smorgasbord of sorts for hungry predators.  A survey by the US Geological Survey even found that Wild Celery beds held four to six times the numbers of bluegill, pumpkinseed and yellow perch as did beds of other aquatic vegetation, such as Eurasian Water Milfoil.

So what does this mean to you as a fisherman/woman?  When the fish are active, whether day or night, find the celery!

A few techniques work particularly well when targeting beds of celery.  One effective approach is to “burn” or “rip’ lipless crankbaits and spinnerbaits over the top of the beds.  The blades of wild celery are fairly weak and will likely just tear as the bait burns through it.  Add some quick wrist snaps and the occasional fluttering pause to add erratic action to your presentation.  Your quick-moving Red-Eye Shad, Clackin’ Rap, or Rattle-Trap will mimic a fleeing baitfish.  Make sure to throw baits with bluegill, perch, shad, or crawfish colors.

Another effective technique is to try a “lift and drag” technique with Texas-rigged soft plastics.  Simply pull your rod tip up while slowly reeling in the slack.  Follow that with a slow “drag” of the bait across the bottom and repeat.  If skin-hooked weedless, your bait will be able to freely swim, fall, and squirm, as it pops in and out of the celery blades.  Try  a soft plastic lizard, such as Berkley’s  six inch Powerbait Lizard.  Hungry fish just can’t seem to resist those wriggling appendages swimming in and out of the celery beds.

Cabbage Weed (Potamogeton praelongus)

Potamogeton praelongus (White-stemmed Pondweed), along with the other pondweeds, are more commonly known as “cabbage.”  The various cabbage weeds are known for their crisp, wavy broadleaves which sprout from a long, thicker main stem.  Cabbage can grow as deep as 15 feet, but you are more likely to see it in the 5-10 foot range.

Depending on lake conditions, cabbage may appear anywhere from a bright green to a brassy brown color.  Generally speaking, the “greener” the better, but nearly all cabbage beds will hold fish.  One species in particular seems to really key in on cabbage:  the northern pike.  Pike and muskie enthusiasts alike know to fish the cabbage beds, and the thicker the better.  These beds will first sprout up in spring and continue growing until the stubbly, stick-like flower often protrudes from the water’s surface.

Cabbage doesn’t grow quite as densely as some species of aquatic vegetation, so it is often a bit

easier to fish.

Try throwing shallow running crankbaits, like the Bomber Square A over the cabbage beds.  The shallow running depth and short bill of the bait will keep serious hang-ups at a minimum.  When you do get snagged, the trebles can fairly easily be torn through the brittle leaves.  if you start catching the weeds on the bill of our bait, just pause and let the bait float out of the hang-up.  Watch your line, though, because this change in action will often trigger vicious strikes.

If fish don’t seem to be within the beds, try the edges.  Cabbage typically grows adjacent to deeper water, and many predator fish will patrol the edge of the beds looking for transitioning baitfish.  When working the edges, try bucktails, spinners, x-raps, lipless cranks, and spinnerbaits.  If you’re looking to slow things down with soft-plastics, try swimbaits, creature baits, crawfish imitators, and tubes.

Northern Milfoil (Myriophyllum sibiricum)/ Eurasian Milfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum)

I suppose it is kind of hard to have a “favorite” aquatic weed, but if I had to pick, my vote would go to the several species of water milfoil.

Milfoil tends to get a bad rap because of the invasive member of its family, Eurasian Water milfoil, which has been known to choke out native species, but all members of this family offer excellent fish habitat.  Milfoil grows from a vertical main-stem in green whorls of fragile leaflets.  Milfoil is often found growing in dense colonies and in depths exceeding ten feet.  Eurasian milfoil can grow so densely that it will even form mats across the water’s surface.

Both bass and pike will assume ambush positions when feeding, and there isn’t a better place for this predatory behavior than the thick “weed walls” created by milfoil growing on drop-off edges.  The thick colonies of milfoil attract a plethora of baitfish seeking the safety of the dense weeds.

Depending on weather and seasonal conditions, a variety of techniques work well when fishing milfoil weedlines.  A personal favorite of mine is the drop-shot.  A drop-shot rig is basically a Texas-rigged soft plastic bait with a weighted leader extending 12-24 inches below the mainline.  Cast your drop-shot rig parallel to the weedline, trying keep your bait as close as possible to the weeds.  Making contact with the weed edge will greatly increase the amount of hits you’ll receive, as it will disrupt the retrieve, triggering instinctual strikes.  Medium diving cranks, jigs, and slow-rolled spinnerbaits will also often produce.

Milfoil beds provide a means for a completely different presentation come late summer.  This is when the milfoil (especially Eurasian milfoil) will begin laying out in vast mats.  This summer slop can provide some serious topwater action.  Throw plastic frogs, like Yum’s Buzzfrog and Tru Tungsten’s Mad Maxx Frog.  Alternate between slow and faster retrieves.  Make sure you bump up your gear, though.  Medium-heavy to heavy action rods and 30+ pound braid are a must.

When fish are inactive, milfoil should still be your weed species of choice.  Fish adversely affected by cold-fronts and pressure changes will burry themselves in the thick stands of milfoil.  The key to finding these fish are finding the pockets or breaks in the milfoil.  Try tossing jig-n-pig or jig and trailer combos in these pockets.  Keep your presentation slow and subtle, and you may be the only one catching fish that day.  Don’t look past swimming soft plastics over and into these holes either.

Whether it be milfoil, cabbage, and wild celery, or other species of aquatic vegetation (coontail, hydrilla, and lily pads, just to name a few!), if you want to catch fish, you gotta go where they go.  Sure, fishing in the weeds can be frustrating and even seem futile at times, but with enough persistence and time spent working within new presentations, you’ll soon learn the way of the weeds, and in turn, learn to catch more fish.

*Milfoil photo courtesy of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources:

**White-stem Pondweed photo courtesy of Michigan Lake and Stream Association:

***Wild Celery photo courtesy of Indiana Lakes Management Society:

****All other photos appear courtesy of the author

Lipless Crankbaits 101: The Yo-yo Technique

posted Oct 19, 2010, 5:48 PM by Christopher Hoelscher   [ updated Dec 30, 2010, 9:33 AM ]

It’s often said that there’s no wrong way to fish a lipless crankbait.  This statement certainly holds water, as fishermen and women across the world have been burning, slow-rolling, jigging, knocking, and ripping, lipless crankbaits through cover for years.  Depending on the situation, though, there are methods of fishing lipless crankbaits that will outproduce others.  One such method is the “Yo-yo Technique.”

With better engineering in baits like Strike King’s Red-Eye Shad, which has a distinct, slow, vertical wobble as it falls, anglers soon discovered that they could retrieve these baits in a yo-yo fashion.  Whereas a jigging technique would be done vertically, the yo-yo retrieve can be done after full casts, allowing anglers to cover significantly more water.

The yo-you retrieve is really quite simple:  First, allow the bait to sink to your desired depth.  Count a second to a second and a half per foot depending on the weight and engineering of your lure.  Alternate quick, upright pulls of the rod tip followed by a slow, steady reeling in of the slack line.  The speed at which you reel in that slack will affect how deep your lipless crank will sink back down.  Continue this retrieve back to the boat, or combine it with a burning or slow-rolling retrieve.

To a predatory bass, the erratic behavior simulated by the yo-yo looks like a dying or fleeing baitfish.  Once your bait looks like an easy meal or a meal for another competing fish, instinct will take over, often triggering an otherwise passive fish to bite.

The yo-yo works best when bass are suspended, holding tight to weed lines or drop-offs, and when fish are holding deep in grass and weed cover.

In lakes with substantial populations of shad, alewives, or shiners, bass will often suspend near larger schools of baitfish--this is when the yo-yo can bring bass to theboat in a hurry.  Simply cast to where you see baitfish charting on your electronics, or watch for birds and jumping fish to to reveal the location of these schools.  Whether bass are simply hovering below or are actively chasing these forage fish, the erratic action of a lipless crankbait fished in a yo-yo fashion will often mean more strikes.

Throughout most of the year, bass will hold tight to structure.  In natural lakes this often means the edges of weed beds.  In reservoirs and lakes lacking significant weed growth, bass will hold tight to steep drop-offs, rip-rap, and rock piles.  Fish your lipless crankbait parallel to this type of structure, yo-yoing as close and tight to the cover as possible.  Active bass will be assuming an ambush position along these structural lines.  Even sluggish bass attracted to the comfort of the nearby deep water can be tempted to strike a lipless crankbait as it slowly falls.

When bass hide deep in weed cover, most anglers put away the crankbaits in favor of spinnerbaits and soft plastics.  Believe it or not, this is actually a great time to fish your lipless crankbait in a yo-yo technique.  Be warned though, you will want a relatively stiff rod and a high gear ratio reel, as it is necessary to take up a lot of line quickly to avoid the lipless crank falling too deep into the thick cover.  A medium-heavy to heavy action rod will allow you to torque the bait and any bass out from the thick grass and weeds without as many hang-ups and lost fish.

The yo-yo is both a simple and effective way to catch more fish.  What’s most impressive, still, is that it works in so many different conditions.  Whether it’s winter, spring, summer or fall, there’s always a time for the yo-yo technique.  Next time you’re out, give it a try.

*Written with the expert consult of "Reel" Good Fishin' Buddy, Chuck Granger
**Photo(bottom right) courtesy of Strike King Lures
                                                                                                                                        The King of the Yo-yo:  
Words and Pictures Courtesy of:
Chris Hoelscher                                                                                                               Strike King's Red-Eye Shad

A Case for Letting the Big Ones Go

posted Oct 15, 2009, 1:21 PM by Christopher Hoelscher   [ updated Dec 30, 2010, 9:33 AM ]

As a devout catch and release bass angler, I realize what a powerful role my personal fishing philosophy has on the quality of fishing in the lakes I most often fish. I've caught countless bass over the years, some even in the "Michigan Lunker" range of 20+ inches, and have released them all to live, breed, and be caught again.

    With that said, I fully respect one's right to keep and consume what is caught. I certainly don't always apply this catch and release philosophy to tasty panfish. But more than once it has crossed my mind that our state's size limits for "keeper" fish may be a bit misguided.

    Size limit regulations were initially enacted to protect younger, more vulnerable, and less hook-wise fish populations from being decimated by anglers. Sure, this makes sense, but could it actually be negatively impacting fishery quality?

    Taking a cue from evolutionary science, one would note that individuals with certain traits which allow for increased survival rates: size, speed, fertility, predatory behavior, strength, disease resistance, to name a few, will pass those traits on to their offspring. 

    Most would agree that top-tier predatory gamefish (bass, pike, walleye) with such traits are what sport anglers yearn for. Who wouldn't be filled with excitement upon seeing a 6-pound largemouth, hammer your topwater, nearly yank your rod from your hand, and tail-dance its way across the water? Yet, each time we cull one of these fish from the population, we loose a few more of those desirable traits from the breeding pool.

    It would make more sense to enact regulations that keep the strict bag limits for gamefish, but refocus size limits on smaller fish. If more small, weak, stunted fish are removed, then so go their undesirable traits. Conversely, having release regulations for large fish would increase the probability of desirable fish traits being passed on to future generations.

    Now I realize that no one wants to be belabored by the having to clean smaller fish. I know how frustrating it can be cleaning those palm-sized bluegills just to get a fillet the size of your thumb, but a healthier fishery, with large populations of larger fish, could mean more memorable catches. Imagine if 4+pound bass, and 10+ pound pike were the norm?

    In addition to promoting the release of larger fish for the greater good of the fishery, not consuming these larger, older predatory fish may actually be better for your health. 

    Stay with me as I jump back into science mode. Our waters may seem clean and healthy, but studies and sampling show that all waterways within the Great Lakes Region have some degree of chemical/toxin contamination. Although at lower levels than the rivers adjacent to industrial centers, which are rife with PCBs, lead, and mercury, even the most remote northern lake has some level contamination.

    As one follows the food chain from microscopic invertebrates to small baitfish to smaller gamefish to top-tier aquatic predators like, bass, walleye, and pike, these toxins accumulate in the fatty deposits within the fish you eat. This is called "bioaccumulation" and these contaminants ultimately accumulate in our bodies, as well.

    Smaller fish tend to be younger, have preyed upon fewer organisms, and have less contaminants within their bodies. It seems logical then to assume that one would be better off eating smaller fish.

    If you aren't buying the science, then let your taste buds do the talking. There's a reason why walleye under 20 inches tend to be the tastiest. Perhaps I just have a strange palate, but it seems like those larger fish tend to acquire a "muddier" fishy taste. It's that thing called "bioaccumulation" influencing the physiology of our senior citizen fish.

    Ultimately, it's your choice, but the next time you land that five-pound bass, jumbo perch, or 30+ inch Northern, and you start picturing it sizzling in your deep fryer, think about what's best for the fishery. Think about what's best for our great sport.

Chris Hoelscher

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