By the time I was 18 I had organized a youth fishing tournament in California where I grew up, but soon moved to Florida to hone my fishing skills. I joined the fishing club in college and in 2013 I became a professional angler. I can’t express to you how much it means to me to be doing what I had dreamed of as a kid. This was what I wanted to do for as long as I can remember and I am humbled and honored to continue to compete in fishing tournaments and host Sweetwater TV.Read More
It felt like forever, but the wait for warmer weather is now over, and with the coming of summer conditions, comes some prime boating conditions.
I am fortunate enough to spend a bunch of time on the water throughout a year, and over my many years of boating experience, I learned to accept safety as one of my most important priorities while on the water- in fact, I should say it is THE MOST important.
Since taking the boat to the lake is likely going to be one of your top priorities too, during the next few months, here are some things to keep in mind about some safe boating practices.
Rules Of The Road
Though it might seem like driving your boat like Mad Max is completely acceptable, there is actually an equally complex set of rules for driving on the water, as there are on land. Knowing the fundamentals of the "rules of the road" when it comes to boating really is essential.
Here is a brief, and very basic, refresher course of the rules of the road while boating:
Remember "red, right, returning" which, in a nutshell, means that red channel buoys are on your right (starboard) side when you are returning from open water, while green markers should be on your left (port) side when returning from open water.
Always stay to the right on a channel when passing other boats- just like the driving on a street.
If a boat is coming towards you in a crossing situation, to your right, it is your responsibility to avoid them by turning right and continuing on at a safe distance behind them as they pass.
If a boat is coming towards you from the left in a crossing situation, you technically have the right of way, but still use caution as you proceed on.
Always use caution and give the right of way to boats and vessels that have less maneuverability.
Though there are many rules to follow on the water, there are also many variables that may require you to improvise, but the key to making safe decisions is to be aware of your surroundings and use extreme caution when navigating anywhere near other boats, and never assume other boaters know the rules of navigation.
The Right Stuff
I'll be honest, when I first started operating a boat when I was younger I really was quite lax on making sure I was keeping, and using, the correct safety equipment that the USCG recommends-and in many cases legally requires.
After more than a decade of working in Alaska as a fishing guide, my experiences have changed my overall attitude towards boating safety. I know theres a big difference between the perils of the icy cold waters of The Last Frontier and the bathwater of the Tennessee River, but one thing I have learned is to never underestimate any waterway, or be careless on the water. Most of the same safety gear I keep in my boat in Alaska, is the same that I use down here, and for good reason.
Here are my must-haves anytime I launch the boat:
Life Preserver (PFD): This is an obvious item, but one that many neglect to properly use. Have one for each passenger and wear them!
Class IV Throwable: A Class IV flotation device is a throwable float, usually in the form of a life ring, or square cushion.
Kill Switch: This is essentially a switch that is attached to a lanyard, where if the lanyard is pulled, the engine will shut down. You should always attach the lanyard to your person, or clip it onto your PFD. It won't work if you aren't wearing it.
Fire Extinguisher: Know where it is, know if it works, know how it works, and know how to use it!
Sound Emitting Device: Your boat's horn is of course handy for making audible distress signals, but I think you should go as far as attaching a small whistle to your PFD for good measure.
Visual Distress Signal: Whether you select flares (always a good choice for day or night) or some other sort of high visibility (usually orange in color) device, this can save you from a similar fate to Tom Hanks in that one movie.
Water: Yes, you are surrounded by it, but it's always nice not to have to drink pond water when battling dehydration. Carry several bottles of water per passenger, and be sure to drink often, because once dehydration sets in, it is very difficult to battle it.
Sun Screen: Because your momma told you so.
Protective Clothing: Wearing clothing that has SPF protection can be a much better alternative to trying to apply sunscreen every two hours. My favorite shirts are the HUK hooded sun shirts, and I also often wear Buff Gloves, and obviously never forget my Buff face mask.
In the end, I know many of these things on this list are cliche, and things you have heard before, but as your friend, I feel they merit mentioning again, because having a fun time on the water is the goal for everyone during the summer, and theres nothing fun about having an incident, that could have been prevented, put a damper on your outing.
Have fun in the sun this summer, and BE SAFE!
Joey and I have been very fortunate to be part of Sweetwater since the very beginning. Over the last three seasons we have been humbled by the show's growing success, but we are also very grateful for the opportunity to be part of so many great fishing adventures across the country.
Though our first few seasons have continually raised the bar, I firmly believe that Season 4 is going to be our best yet- and we kick it off with a striped bass extravaganza that neither Joey or I will soon forget!
Graham's Striper Heaven
We are fortunate to work with some very talented photographers while we are filming, and one of them is Graham Tayloe, who is also an extremely skilled outdoorsman, and intuitive angler.
Graham had been telling Joey and I about the striped bass he had been catching, and we had seen a multitude of photos on his Instagram, so we knew he was legit. So, when the stars aligned and we were able to schedule a trip to come up to the Coosa River to join him, we naturally jumped on the chance.
Without giving too much away, all I can say is that I have never experienced striper fishing even close to the caliber that Graham showed us during this episode. First off, the stripers (and massive hybrids) were much more skeptical and cunning than I had ever though possible with that species of sportfish- and I certainly hadn't been giving them their due credit. Also, it was absolutely incredible the size of the fish we were targeting, and we ultimately able to catch.
Of course, I don't want to get into too much detail because the show will be debuting VERY soon on Waypoint TV and I don't want to spoil it for you. What I will say is that it is some of the most exciting striper footage you likely will ever see, and Im excited for you to see it.
We all at Sweetwater TV have had a blast this year filming for our fourth season, and we hope that the episodes you will be seeing hit Waypoint TV will continue to carry the torch and represent what Sweetwater is truly all about- adventure, outdoors, friendships and family.
Stay In Touch
I will openly admit, I consider myself a bit obsessive compulsive when it comes to my equipment, and in recent years my boat trailer has received the most attention when it comes to my obsessive tendencies. My intense attention to detail with my trailer comes from a major mishap on the road many years back that left my boat and trailer stranded at a truck repair lot in the middle of nowhere for over a month, all due to an issue I could have easily prevented by paying attention to my equipment regularly.
Since that experience, beyond making sure my lug nuts are tightened and tire pressure is to spec, the biggest thing that I pay attention to when towing a trailer is the condition of the bearings and hubs. Moisture and heat are the two major killers of bearings, and usually both are present in the event of a bearing failure. That being said, I highly suggest that every time you stop for gas, you take a moment to walk around and touch each hub to feel for excessive heat. Warm hubs are normal, and a little more heat will be present on axles that are equipped with brakes, but if the heat is such that you cannot hold the hub for more than a couple seconds, you need to get your bearings checked. Excessive heat can also be due to faulty brakes that remain engaged, which is another issue that needs immediate attention. I also inspect the hub for any possible damage that could let water into the hub- which usually is easily recognizable by seeing grease spatter on your wheels originating from your hub. If grease can escape, water can get in!
The Right Height
While trailering your boat, or any kind of trailer, one of the most essential- and often overlooked- factors that can ensure a safe towing experience, is the height of the trailer ball in relation to the height of your trailer and truck.
As a general rule, when your trailer is hooked up to your vehicle, the trailer hitch and chassis should be parallel with the ground rather than having the trailer hitch sloping towards the ground or angled up. Having a trailer with the hitch angled too high will result in a less stable towing situation, as well as increase the risk of bottoming out the rear of the trailer (or your engine) while entering and exiting parking lots with inclines. When it comes to trailer hitches that are too low, you again reduce the stability of your trailer while in tow, and also increase the risk of bottoming out your hitch or trailer entering and exiting areas with inclines.
I recommend getting a quality adjustable hitch that you can adjust the height of the ball, because when I go from my bass boat trailer to a box trailer that is a bit lower to the ground, I want to be able to adjust on the fly. For this reason, I choose the B&W Tow and Stow adjustable trailer hitch because I can adjust the height of my hitch quickly and easily to get the perfect height out of any trailer. Another great feature of this hitch is that you can not only change the height but also choose between either two or three ball sizes on the fly, so I always have the right towing gear for any job that comes up.
Be Your Own Pit Crew
Over the years touring the country fishing tournaments and filming Sweetwater, I have acquired quite a collection of tools that have helped me maintain my equipment, and often fix issues before they become even bigger issues.
Though the amount of tools and spare parts I carry with me might be excessive for the average person who tow’s on occasion, I can’t overstate the importance of being prepared on long trips. Issues with a trailer can be one of the most inconvenient and dangerous situations on the road, so I want to help you equip yourself with a basic kit to help you keep your trailer rolling safely behind you, even if you are hundreds of miles from a service center.
Here are the basics I recommend you invest in:
-One or two short 4”x4” blocks of wood for chocking wheels.
-Standard bottle-style hydraulic jack (optional, but very helpful for quick and easy lifting jobs)
-Cross-style lug wrench.
-Spare hub, or spare bearing assembly, and trailer bearing grease.
-Adjustable wrench big enough to remove hub nut for hub replacement.
-Spare pins to keep trailer tongue in locked position if a pin breaks, bends, or is lost.
-Emergency air compressor for tires.
This list may seem excessive to carry around with you but if you log a lot of miles with a trailer behind you, being prepared for the most common things that leave trailers stranded is simply good trailering practices in my book!!
Be safe out there!
I’ve never been a big fan of sight fishing for bedding bass.
Sure, there is the moral dilemma of catching a fish that is trying to spawn- which I tend to avoid at all costs during fun fishing- but in a tournament perspective, I would say my distaste for the tactic is more deeply rooted in the fact that I am an impatient person, and I don’t like putting time into catching a single fish, when I could be covering water in search of more aggressive fish.
With this in mind, I am also aware than during the spring it is often a necessity to target fish in some phase of the spawn, and thus I have formulated a strategy for catching spawning fish without sight fishing for them.
Fishing For Ghosts
Just because you can’t see a bed doesn’t mean that you can’t effectively fish for bedding fish. This is why I like to focus on dirty water areas where I know the fish are spawning, yet other anglers likely avoid the areas because they cannot see the bottom.
In many cases fish that spawn in dirtier water are much easier to catch, as they are ultra aggressive and less picky. Also, in dirty water, fish will generally spawn in much shallower water, so shallow water power tactics are effective.
Essentially, I look for areas of a lake that have dirtier water, but also have the other qualities of a suitable spawning area, such as hard bottom, shallow flats and protection from harsh wind. Once I find an area like this, I then start using my imagination to guess where the fish are bedding. This is actually very simple, since bass are very predictable.
Bass like to spawn around isolated cover, like stumps, laydowns, dock posts or types of isolated grass. They like to have something to make their bed up against so they can be more effective at protecting it on all sides.
With this in mind I will use a two-pronged approach, based on speed and precision, to catching these invisible bedding bass.
As I mentioned before, bass in dirty water tend to be less picky, and much more aggressive than visible bass.
For instance, at a recent Florida tournament I had a dirty water pattern fishing for bedding fish, casting a Grass KickerZ around the shallow cover they were spawning around. The fish were literally rushing from over eight feet from their beds to attack my Grass KickerZ, while the fish I could visibly see would barely give a small bait expertly pitched into their beds a second look.
This is why I believe that when they are less pressured, bedding bass are easily fooled by fast moving reaction baits.
In situations like this, I like to choose baits that I can cover water quickly, but also drop vertically into likely spawning areas. This is why I like to use either a Grass KickerZ or a Project Z Swimjig.
Both of these tactics allow you to cover water for reaction strikes, but also allow you to stop on a dime and drop the bait down to a spot where you imagine a bed to be.
With both of these baits, I stick with color patterns that imitate bass enemy #1- bream, sunfish or bluegill.
In situations where reaction techniques aren’t working for bedding fish, this is when precise tactics are essential.
Depending on the thickness of cover, I have a variety of baits that I use to make precision casts to likely bedding areas and slowly work a bottom bouncing technique until I’m confident there is not indeed a bed there.
If I am fishing around grass, or heavy cover, I like to pick up a flipping stick and start pitching either a Boar HogZ or a Palmetto BugZ around likely areas. I like to focus on isolated pieces of cover that have enough room at the base of them to have a bed. I will generally make a quiet pitch into the area and slowly drag in a few feet. If I do not get a bite, I then make another presentation to the next piece of cover.
If I am fishing light cover, such as dock posts, the occasional stump, or a laydown, then one of my favorite presentations is a Ned Rig with light line. I make the same presentation, dragging the dainty bait through bedding territory.
Between fishing with speed or fishing with precision, you can easily catch bedding fish that are invisible to other anglers and keep up with the “looking” crowd.
Seek the bite!
Without a doubt, Flipping and the variations of the technique- Pitching and Punching- are my favorite techniques to target bass. In my book, there’s nothing more exciting than getting up close and personal with bass that are dug into their heavy cover lairs and forcing them into submission in my livewell.
Flipping is a technique that requires very specialized tackle in order to be successful getting your presentation in, and getting big fish out, of heavy cover.
Here are my rod choices for various types of Flipping:
Light Flipping & Pitching
In my book, “light” flipping is also what I would consider “pitching.”
When you are faced with flipping hard cover, such as shoreline brush, laydowns, stumps or docks, these are the situations I consider to be light flipping situations. I would also consider flipping sparse grass and reed stalks to be light flipping and pitching on many occasions.
Usually fishing this type of cover you want a rod that is both suitable for braid and heavy fluorocarbon, without being too stiff as to cause break-offs with the later. Most of the time I am also fishing small creature baits, like a Zman Palmetto BugZ, or Boar HogZ, as well as a small flipping jig between 3/8oz or 1/2oz.
With these two things being considered, I prefer to use a rod with a very fast action and a Medium-Heavy powered backbone. The rod that I have a ton of confidence in is the Fitzgerald Vursa Series 7’6” Medium Heavy casting rod. This rod has an excellent backbone for guiding big fish out of cover, but it also has a tip that flexes enough on a powerful hookset to help reduce break-offs when using fluorocarbon. It also is a very nimble, light, and comfortable rod that helps me maintain efficient and precise pitching and flipping throughout the day.
All Around Flipping
Anytime you are on a lake with lots of grass, more than likely you will be using a traditional flipping tactic to go after fish in moderate to heavy cover.
Faced with matted submergent grass, heavy reed lines, light hyacinth mats and pads, you need a rod that has a strong backbone but is also easy to use all day long.
The standard for all around heavy cover flipping has been the 7’6” heavy-action Flipping sticks that are the industry standard, and this is no different for me. I have really come to trust the Fitzgerald rods “Okeechobee Rod,” which is a heavy-action rod that is easy to use all day long, but can handle lure weights from ½-ounce to 1-ounce very easily and is perfectly suited for braid up to 80-pound test.
I have come to like this rod for almost all my heavy grass techniques, such as for the Zman Grass KickerZ, frog fishing over mats, and using buzz-style toads.
For the most extreme heavy cover environments- such as dense junk mats, hyacinth mats and thick submergent grass mats- you must have an equally extreme rod to handle the task.
When I’m forced to use the heaviest braided line and weights ranging from 1 ¼ ounce to 2-ounces, that is when I select a 7’8” to 7’11” heavy power rod that gives me the ultimate backbone to pull a juiced-up “bear-man-pig” of a bass out of the slop.
I have entrusted my punching endeavors with the Fitzgerald “Big Jig/Mat Flippin’ Rod” which is a 7’8” xtra-heavy power rod that handles these situations perfectly.
I cannot emphasize the importance of selecting the right rod for flipping tactics. Matching any of these three rods with a Quantum Smoke HD reel and you will have the perfect setup to help you catch more fish in the bass jungle!
One of the most frequent questions that I receive from anglers looking for an edge is "how can I become a better angler?"
Well, although this can be a difficult question to tackle, here is my perspective on the subject.
Fish Your Strengths
When you look at all the greatest anglers, they all may be versatile, but they all have certain strengths that they are known for.
In my own fishing I have recently looked back on all my best finishes, as well as my poor finishes, and the common thread has been that when I do well I am using techniques I consider my strengths, but when I do bad it is because I'm using tactics that may traditionally do well on a particular lake, but I am not as familiar with.
So, my primary advice is to always focus on your strength techniques- the ones you have confidence in and have the most experience with. In my own fishing, I have found that when I'm fishing my strengths I not only have more fun, but I fish with confidence, and I am able to make better decisions.
Build Better Strengths
Although my personal approach to fishing is to always make my strengths work under all circumstances, the only way I can truly be an angler that catches fish under a variety of conditions and seasons is to build a portfolio of different techniques that work in different situations.
I love flipping and pitching, and would say it is my primary strength, but there are certain situations that those techniques won't work, so I have built strengths that can help me fish other situations.
For instance, I really like throwing a Carolina Rig, so when I have to fish deep I have the C-Rig to help me catch more fish in that situation. I have grown strong at finessing fish in clear water with the Ned Rig, shakey head and a wacky rig, so although I am not strong with a drop-shot, I have those other finesse tactics to help me succeed in clear water situations.
To me the key to success in fishing is not being decent at all techniques, but rather being truly great at a handful- or even just one technique that is able to be used in different situations.
I will end this word of advice with a quote from one of the greatest in a different arena, but who's wisdom fits very well here too:
"I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who had practiced one kick 10,000 times." -Bruce Lee
Seek the bite!
I love implementing power-fishing techniques to find big bass in vegetation, so it is no surprise that I was very excited about fishing the most recent, and final, Bassmaster Open on the Atchafalaya Basin in Louisiana.Read More