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Posted by Don on April 13, 2008 in Angler Improvement Articles with No Comments

by Don Allphin

A reader reports that the ice is mostly off on Deer Creek though Jordanelle is still ice-bound.  Strawberry still has an incredibly thick sheet of ice but the afternoon slush is acting like glue to most four-wheelers and even snow machines.  My point here is simple:  maybe it’s time to shift gears from battling spring ice conditions on your favorite haunts and look to ice-free Utah Lake for some walleye action.

Walleye spawn at a prime temperature of 48 degrees.  They have no problem pulling in and out of spawning areas depending on weather conditions.  They stage in areas within several hundred yards of their future nests but may travel up to a mile or two up a river in one night, if the urge hits them.

Anglers report that fishing for walleyes on Utah Lake is still slow in comparison to years past.  I recall from a journal entry that I caught 6-fish limits of walleyes in 1978 in early February.  However, with warmer weather forecast over the next week or two, and the full moon on its way this week, it just might be the time to hook into some great “eyes.”

Rather than going over each bait or lure used to catch walleyes, I hope a little analysis of where and how they spawn might get you in the mood to do some exploring.  First, always remember that walleyes stage for up to a month at times before they spawn.  The females find sand bars in and among the rocky, gravely areas they will ultimately use to lay their eggs when the timing is right, and they will remain almost lifeless on the bars, waiting and preparing for the big event.  Then, when its “their time” they move to the shoreline and with several males surrounding them, they deposit their eggs.  Generally four males accompany each female but I’ve seen up to seven or eight with a particularly large female.

I fish with ¼-ounce red marabou jigs, and I do so early in the morning or late in the evening.  Sometimes I’ll put two jigs on at a time with a split swivel  but that is not necessary.  Then I fan-cast from the shore to an area

Posted by Don on September 17, 2007 in Angler Improvement Articles with No Comments

By Don Allphin

September 13, 2007

Over the past 10 years I’ve taken scores of friends and family fishing on Strawberry in the fall. Teaching my guests to cast and retrieve a lure is the easy part; the tough part is coaxing the fish to bite. I believe that “seeing” fish is the first step to catching them.

If you can spot individual fish, many times you can entice them to strike, so I never launch my boat without first putting on a pair of polarized sunglasses. Polarized glasses remove the glare from the water and isolate your eyes so you can see into the depths. The funny thing is that many of my guests bring polarized glasses, but still don’t seem to be able to spot the fish. So, bear with me as I suggest a specific brand of eyewear to solve that problem.

I wear Cocoon polarized sunglasses in the amber color. Though I’ve tried every brand from Costa Del Mar to Solar Bat, and have paid upwards of $200 dollars for high-end glasses, I always return to Cocoons. They cut glare and protect my eyes. And, for comfort, durability, and price, there simply isn’t a better pair of sunglasses on the market. Cocoons can be found at Cabela’s, Camping World and other leading retailers, and they sell for around $45 dollars. Visit them on line at www.liveeyewear.com.

Originally, I needed sunglasses that would fit over the top of my prescription lenses, and for that purpose nothing beats Cocoons. But now, since I’ve had corrective eye surgery, I still wear Cocoons because they are extremely comfortable do a great job.

Next, learn to throw and retrieve jerkbaits. I recommend Pointer Minnows made by Lucky Craft in Ghost Minnow, Brown Ghost, or Rainbow Trout. Rapala makes great suspending jerkbaits in the same basic colors for about a third of the cost. Either brand will work. The key to throwing jerkbaits is to vary the retrieve. The more erratic the retrieves the better they work. During the retrieve, stop the lure and wait—wait for up to 10 seconds. Curious trout will appear out of nowhere to inspect the lure. Then, twitch the lure once, then again; sell the presentation to the fish. Eventually, the trout won’t be able to stand it any longer and will attack.

Look for fish on and around major points first. If you don’t see any chasers or curious followers, then carefully and methodically work your way towards the backs of the coves. Fish run in schools this time of year. See the fish and you’ll catch them, I guarantee it.

Posted by Don on August 13, 2007 in Angler Improvement Articles with No Comments

by Don Allphin

August 13, 2007

The annual C.A.S.T. (Catch A Special Thrill) was held on Rockport Reservoir this past Saturday. C.A.S.T. events bring together volunteers including members of the Utah Bass Federation, the BASS Federation Nation, and others who take physically challenged children fishing. This year 34 children were involved. Each of these events is special but the memories of this particular one will stay with me the rest of my life.

My fishing partner was a diminutive looking boy approaching his fifth birthday. His name was Emery Robinson. Emery and his father Jeff Robinson boarded my boat at roughly 7:30 a.m. Jeff explained that Emery was deaf and had never been on a boat before. I sat Emery on my lap, started the big motor, and we headed out onto the water.

“Emery likes to drive,” Jeff Robinson said after just a few minutes in the boat. “He’s all smiles.” It took us about an hour to locate some feeding smallmouth bass, but as soon as I hooked the first one, there Emery was, ready to reel in the fish. When the fish was hoisted inside the boat he wanted to hold it and put it in the live well. He had no fear, he just beamed each time he had the opportunity to handle the fish.

“Emery is our Primary child,” Jeff said. “He spent the first 80-plus days of his life in Primary Children’s Hospital. He was born a month early and had severe problems. Even now, he still can’t swallow. We feed him through a tube hooked to his stomach.”

You’d never know the health problems Emery has faced in his short life by watching him in my boat. Several times during the day, he held his two hands in the 10 O’clock and 2 O’clock position with both thumbs up and acted as if he were driving. “He wants to drive the boat again,” his father said.

At one point, Emery hugged my leg while I was using the foot pedal to maneuver the electric trolling motor, and as I looked down, I realized he was hugging my leg for balance as he tried to operate the foot pedal too.

Emery caught 14 smallmouth bass, and drove the boat around and around the small reservoir. In the process, he also drove home the importance of exposing all children to the outdoors. This young boy, even with his health challenges, enjoyed every moment on my boat, and I felt enormously privileged to have been a part of his life for a few hours. Thank you Emery!

Posted by Don on June 11, 2007 in Angler Improvement Articles with No Comments

by Don Allphin

June 11, 2007

Last week I spent a few days on Starvation Reservoir. Though fishing was not the primary reason for the trip, I was able to steal a few hours each day to target a few smallmouth bass, walleyes and perch. One dilemma, in which I constantly find myself, is not having the tackle ready to shift gears from bass to walleyes or perch. I have 14 rods in my boat and none of them is set up for anything but bass. If the walleyes are hitting crankbaits or jigs, I’m generally alright; but if they want live bait for example, I’m hopelessly lost until I can make a quick run to the bait shop.

So, I went prepared with a few night crawlers this time just in case some walleyes or perch showed up unexpectedly. While playing lifeguard to a bunch of teenagers in canoes, I noticed some fish on my finder in 14 feet of water. All I had rigged was a dropshot on light spinning tackle. I quickly threaded one half of a night crawler on the dropshot hook, dropped it down to the bottom and immediately hooked a two-plus pound walleye. And then, over the next two hours, I boated five more fish with the largest approaching four pounds. I also caught several perch that measured 10 to 11 inches in length.

I had never really thought of using a dropshot to target walleyes, but conditions at Starvation were perfect for that presentation. To refresh your memories, a dropshot rig is one in which the weight is on the bottom and a hook is tied directly to the line above the weight. This presentation allows the weight to touch bottom while the hook and bait hover above. A large mat of grass covered the bottom from the shorelines out to at least 20 feet deep. The dropshot rig kept the bait just above the grass where the fish were feeding.

Sandy areas precluded the growth of grass but as soon as the sand transitioned into rock, the grass appeared. It was on one of those transitions that I found the fish. From then on, I had no problem finding perch or walleyes. And catching them was as easy as dropping my line straight beneath the boat.

The next few weeks should provide some great perch and walleye action. Those who target walleyes all the time will have other methods for catching the tasty critters, but my little dropshot method would compete nicely I’m sure. Give it a try and as always, let me know of your successes.

Posted by Don on January 15, 2007 in Angler Improvement Articles with No Comments

by Don Allphin

January 15, 2007

Those who have followed this column over the years will most likely remember my off-handed comments about regulations relating to “burbot” caught in Flaming Gorge. Burbot look somewhat like cod and were illegally introduced some years back. They’re called “poor man’s lobster” around the country and are excellent table fare. They’ve stayed mostly in the upper end of the Gorge in the Blacks Fork or Green River arms, and they compete with other species in the reservoir for food. However, fishery managers continue to send mixed signals as to how they plan to deal with this new predatory threat.

The inconsistencies and mixed signals are most recognizable within the proclamation itself. Anglers are told they must immediately kill all burbot they catch, but then, the DWR sets a limit of 25 burbot per day. This tells me that although this species shouldn’t be in the reservoir, the decision has been made to manage it rather than to attempt to eradicate it.

In a recent article produced and distributed by the Division of Wildlife Resources entitled, “New Ice Fishing Adventure,” the unnamed author passes on some great tips for targeting burbot through the ice. “The best areas to start fishing are near the Firehole boat ramp, the Lost Dog area, and any rocky points in the Blacks Fork River arm.”

The article continues with a description of how to locate burbot within a given area. “Burbot feed in low-light conditions … from sundown to a few hours after dark. Try fishing between 20 and 25 feet deep over rocks and near deeper water.” Burbot tend to roam within a few inches of the bottom and feed on crayfish this time of year. “If you can only fish during the day,” the article continues, “try fishing deeper (50 to 60 feet down) in the old river channel.”

Burbot must feed on sucker sometime during the year because jigging spoons and jigs tipped with sucker meat are the most popular baits to use through the ice even though burbot feed on crayfish during the winter. The article recommends using “glow’ baits to attract the fish, and then when the fish come in close to inspect the glow bait the sucker meat seals the deal.

I have yet to see a burbot, but all this talk has me very curious. I just might have to take a trip out to the Gorge to see for myself. If a few of you would like to accompany me on an exploratory excursion, drop me an email and I’ll see if that can be arranged.

Posted by Don on April 10, 2006 in Angler Improvement Articles with No Comments

by Don Allphin

Apr 10, 2006

For the better part of 30 years I’ve been hooked on fishing with minnows for most of the game fish I pursue.  Of course I use other lures but if you took a good look around my boat you’d quickly observe that I have at least one minnow bait tied on at all times.  “Why?” you might ask — because minnow are what most fish actually eat.

I know this flies in the face of those who wish to think that all fish are happy little vegans that respect the lives of fellow fish, but the sad truth is that most fish species would just as soon eat their own offspring as someone else’s.  It’s a simple fact that fish eat other fish, and to quote Mr. Miyagi, “Nature rule, Daniel San, not mine.”

Recently, an 18 pound 2 ounce giant rainbow was caught through the ice at Strawberry.  And, what did Sherm Holdaway use to catch the monster?  That’s right, a frozen minnow.  Pointer minnows and Rapalas have been my go-to lures for years on Strawberry, but nothing beats the real thing as Mr. Holdaway just proved.

Many readers have confessed that they still don’t know how to use minnow baits. Okay, now that confessions are behind us, let’s review some basics about fishing with minnow-type lures.

Minnow lures are called crankbaits, jerkbaits, or stickbaits.  They possess various characteristics ranging from floating to suspending or sinking.  I prefer suspending lures for year-round use.  They can be fished with either spinning or bait casting reels and can be used with light or heavy line.

In the springtime, fish will first show up on points, and then will move towards the backs of coves, or into creeks and rivers.  Always remember that minnow baits will attract fish even if they won’t bite.  So, if you’re throwing a bait and don’t see fish activity after a few casts, move a few yards to another area and keep trying.

I try to watch the lure as I retrieve it.  This requires a good set of polarized sunglasses.  I use Cocoons.  Sunglasses enable you to watch the lure to note any fish activity below or behind the lure.  Stopping, starting, twitching, or burning the lure back in might trigger a response.  When fish are located, the fun will shortly follow.

Don’t be afraid to experiment with minnow baits.  I’ve trolled with them, fished them with a weight on the bottom and have used them while dropshotting.  My advice:  don’t fight it, give fish what they eat day in and day out – minnows!

Posted by Don on February 12, 2006 in Angler Improvement Articles with No Comments

by Don Allphin

Feb 12, 2006

From wolves to elk oysters to catfish, the moon and its orbit has an astounding affect on earth life. We’re now just beginning to understand how moon phases affect game and fish activity.

To say that the moon is the key to behavior changes in animals is oversimplifying the issue. What I’m writing about here is electromagnetism, the interaction between the earth, moon, sun, and for that matter other planets in our solar system. The reason the moon gets singled out as the director of this phenomenon is that each month we are able to measure game and fish behavior against the backdrop of an ever-changing moon. Let’s review some basics on how to use phases of the moon to enhance the angling experience.

The two best times each month to be on the water are first, during the full moon and second, during the new moon. For some reason, three day prior to and three days following either phase, fish tend to be more active. Throughout the year most species of fish spawn during either or both of these periods. A wise angler would choose to schedule a fishing trip as close to the new or full moon as possible.

There are also mini cycles that occur daily, regardless of the moon phase. The moon is either directly overhead or underfoot once during each 24-hour cycle. And again, because of the electromagnetic interaction, fish tend to eat better during those times. Of course, air and water temperatures, wind, weather, and other factors can certainly affect fish behavior and must be considered.

The very best way to limit the influence of these factors is to fish through ice. The water under ice is more stable than at any other time in the year. Wind doesn’t affect it, air temperature is meaningless, and even snow storms do little to affect the water under the ice. Of course, when the barometric pressure drops fish may relocate to a different depth, but in general, even then it is just a matter of a few feet one way or the other.

If you don’t already have a source to assist you in determining the best times to be on the water, take a moment and search the internet. You’ll be amazed at the resources that are now available in the form of watches, calendars, and journals that will allow you to pinpoint the best times to fish. If the internet is still a mystery to you, your local sporting goods store should be able to help. Then if you still don’t catch fish you can always just blame it on the moon.

Posted by Don on October 10, 2005 in Angler Improvement Articles with No Comments

by Don Allphin

Oct 10, 2005

Fall is always a great time of year to catch fish no matter what species you pursue. Colder weather signals the fish that it’s time to store up, eat as much as possible before winter sets in. And, if the fishing reports I’ve gleaned over the past week are any indication, this particular fall fishing season should be one of the best we’ve seen in years.

As water levels increased this year in most of our reservoirs, fish seemed to lose contact with the shorelines. That is, they had plenty of cover and food off shore, spread out over wide areas. Now that temperatures have dropped and the first few fall storms have stirred up the water, the fish have finally found the shorelines again and with them, a plethora bait fish and other food.

Last week a couple of friends and I spent a day on Strawberry. The fishing was absolutely spectacular. “I’ve never seen so many big fish,” said Dave Bartholomew of Pleasant Grove, after we netted the first few giant fish.

He was right. The fish we caught averaged 23 inches, with several measuring several inches longer than that. On an average fall trip to Strawberry I’ll catch a few fish over 22 inches but the majority will average 17 to 19 inches in length. What’s more, the fish were roaming the banks looking for food, and finding plenty. The air was filled with the smell of fish oil from bait fish that had been attacked by the marauding cutthroats.

We targeted the backs of bays and the middle sections of points with Pointer Minnows and Rapalas that we retrieved three to five feet under the surface. The large trout aggressively chased our baits all over the lake. John Bartholomew, Dave’s brother and my other companion for the day learned just how aggressive the fish could be on a single cast.

Bartholomew threw his Pointer Minnow to the shore and almost immediately, a very large cutthroat exploded on his bait. He set the hook and for an instant we all glimpsed the huge fish. Then, inexplicably, the line went limp and the fish was gone. There on the end of his line was a partially digested 10-inch chub hooked in the tail by his lure. The cutthroat must have had the chub in its mouth yet still struck John’s presentation. John had pulled the bait right out of the fish’s mouth.

Don’t let the fall pass by without getting out to one of our local reservoirs to experience the incredible fishing.

Posted by Don on July 18, 2005 in Angler Improvement Articles with No Comments

by Don Allphin

July 18, 2005

A reader writes, “I’m new to nymphing for trout and am having problems recognizing when to set the hook. Can you give me some suggestions?”

Detecting a strike in moving water is one of the most challenging aspects of fly fishing. And, don’t let the veterans tell you they feel each strike they get, it just doesn’t work that way. Studies have shown that anglers detect only a small fraction of the actual strikes they get. So, first and foremost, don’t beat yourself up over missing a fish or two – everyone does.

The best possible way to illustrate the problem of detecting strikes while nymphing is to watch trout as they feed. This can be done on almost any clear stream by getting above the water, either on a bridge or on top of a steep bank. Then, after putting on your Cocoon sunglasses (polarized), simply note how they eat. We picture in our mind’s eye a trout slamming into our fly with abandon because at times they do just that. But most of the time, trout allow the current to act as a food conveyor, sort of like a buffet tray that parades in front of them. They make their selection, position themselves downstream and merely open their mouths. If a No. 22 Brassie drifting above a split-shot and moving with the current is a trout’s choice of food, you might never actually “feel” the strike.

Take heart, however, because you can learn to detect strikes in other ways.

Most nymphing rigs include two nymphs, one tied on the main tippet and a second or “dropper” tied on a leader to the back of the hook of the first fly, and a split-shot or two placed above both flies. In most cases, you should “feel” the weight as it moves downstream, or you at least want to know that the weight is moving along the bottom. So, when the line stops, hesitates, or changes in any way during the drift — set the hook. Sure there will be times there won’t be a fish on the line, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Placing a strike indicator (found in any fly shop) on the line will also help you watch your line as it drifts. Look for any changes in the drift and once again, don’t be afraid to set the hook.

Remember that nymphing is a skill to be developed the same as casting; and as a result, time on the water is the best teacher when learning when to set the hook.

Posted by Don on April 7, 2005 in Angler Improvement Articles with No Comments

By Don Allphin

April 07, 2005

For more than 30 years, spinnerbaits have maintained their popularity with bass anglers though over the years, hundreds of competing lures have entered the market, from life-like soft plastics to expensive foreign-made hard baits. Through it all, the simple, inexpensive, and straight-forward spinnerbait has not only weathered the competitive storms it remains a standard in most anglers’ tackle boxes. Whether they are among your favorite go-to baits or are reserved for special situations only, a few pointers from the pros should improve your confidence in this long-lived and versatile bait.

Spinnerbaits, for a variety of reasons have been cubby-holed by some amateur anglers to be used only within a narrow range of conditions. When the wind blows, during periods of low light, or in stained or dirty water are really the only times many anglers turn to “blades.” But over the past five years I have interviewed the majority of the world’s top professionals, and to a man, they believe that to cubby-hole a spinnerbait is very short-sighted. Though each professional might reach for a spinnerbait at different times, they all respect and admire it as a great fish-catching tool. Let’s look at several of the pros’ best spinnerbait techniques.

Fish Shallow and Wear Sunglasses

“Even before I throw my first spinnerbait,” says Kevin VanDam, former Bassmaster Classic champion and a truly gifted bass professional, “I put on a good pair of polarized glasses. It’s crucial to be able to see the structures I’m trying to fish, an underwater rock, or clump of grass, or a light spot on the bottom — polarized sunglasses allow me to see more targets.” Rick Clunn agrees with VanDam but says it in a different way.

“I actually see the bass strike my spinnerbait around 70 percent of the time,” Clunn says. “That’s why I believe it’s so important to watch the lure throughout the entire cast.” His comment provides a hint as to how deep Rick likes to run his spinnerbaits. Even in clear water, visibility is generally limited to between five and 10 feet, so for the most part, spinnerbaits should be fished quite shallow.

One of the few exceptions to that general statement comes from B.A.S.S. professional Stacey King who explains: “There are times when the water is really hot and the fish are really deep, that I will throw a very heavy (one ounce or larger) spinnerbait. I will throw the bait as far as I can and let it helicopter to the bottom. Then I’ll slow-roll the bait back in. I’ve had bites in 30 feet of water in the dead of summer with this presentation.”

Keep Your Spinnerbait in the Strike Zone

One of the things I notice each time I’m in the boat with a professional angler is how far they cast and how long during the day their baits are wet. In other words, a professional knows that dry baits can’t be good when trying to catch bass. This same principle applies to fishing spinnerbaits.

“You’ve got to try to keep your spinnerbait in the strike zone for as long as possible,” says Scott Nielsen, long-time Ranger boats professional. “When possible try and keep your spinnerbait at the same depth for the duration of the cast.” Nielsen is one of the best shallow-water anglers in the West, and believes in giving the bass every possible opportunity to take the bait. Kevin VanDam explains the same principle in a slightly different way but with similar results.

“I position my boat so that I can cast parallel to the bank or structure that I’m fishing,” he says. “Whether it’s a grass line, a sand bank or even a line of trees, I try to keep that bait in front of the fish for as long as possible. If you fish on an angle to the bank, some might say ‘quarter’ towards the bank you will be able to keep the lure squarely in the strike zone for the majority of each cast.”

Always Use a Trailer Hook

“I will not throw a spinnerbait without a trailer hook in place,” continues VanDam. “Too often a fish will strike at the bait without actually taking it completely into its mouth, but with a trailer hook I have a better opportunity to hook more fish.”

There are several schools of thought in regards to trailer hooks. Some pros invert the hook so it rides in the opposite direction as the primary spinnerbait hook, while others opt to have the trailer hook mirror the primary hook. Some professionals use a smaller rather than larger trailer hook, and yet others demand a larger hook than even the primary hook. On average, those I interviewed prefer a 2/0 or 3/0 hook as their trailer hook.

Another school of thought is centered on whether or not to keep the trailer hook stationary. When choosing a trailer hook most pros I interview turn to a hook with and enlarged eye so that it easily fits over the point of the primary hook. Then they either place a rubber or plastic “stopper” on the primary hook behind the barb so that the trailer hook can’t come off during a cast, or they thread a piece of rubber or plastic tubing onto the primary hook and then secure the trailer hook firmly to the tubing so that the trailer hook cannot move around freely on the shank of the primary hook. Scott Nielsen is quite adamant as to which hooks he uses and how he likes to rig his trailer.

“I prefer a Gamakatsu trailer hook,” says Nielsen. “They make a good, sharp hook, and with a keeper in place the hook will ride freely on the shank and look just as it should – as an extension of the main hook.”

View Structure as Your Friend

Most anglers that use spinnerbaits try to come close to structure: next to a rock or limb, close to a dock or ledge, etc. But the pros I fish with take “close to structure” to an entirely new dimension.

“I don’t think I’ve made a good retrieve unless I’ve smacked a piece of structure on my way back to the boat,” says Kevin VanDam. “It seems that when a spinnerbait hits structure, the bass think it’s a weak or hurt baitfish and are excited by the bump. And that’s exactly what I want – a bass to react to the spinnerbait.”

In Western lakes such as Lake Powell and Lake Mead, the structures might be different than they are in other parts of the country, but the results are the same. “At times I’ll throw my spinnerbait right in the middle of a bunch of tumbleweeds,” says Scott Nielsen. “Or I might purposely allow the spinnerbait to hit a rock wall and slide down the side and into the water. Fish responds to the noise created when baits suddenly stop or move out of position.”

If you’re still not sure when or how to throw a spinnerbait, do what I did a few years ago: for a couple of weeks don’t even put another lure in your boat. If a spinnerbait is the only lure you’re able to fish, it’s amazing how quickly you’ll be sold on (as the pros are) the many, many uses of this incredible, yet simple bait.

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