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Going fishing with the pros; to become a good fisherman rather than a pole sitter, tackle the sport with confidence, say the experts.


Summertime, and the fishing is . . .easy? Sing that line around a group of seasoned fishermen and they're likely to change your tune. It's not easy to hit a lake or a reservoir and land a stringer of "keepers." It takes time, patience, and practice to enjoy consistently great fishing.

The experts are the first to admit it. In our May/June issue, Jerry McKinnis, the host of the television outdoor program "The Fishin' Hole," tipped off our readers on winning trout tactics. In this issue, Babe Winkelman, Al Lindner, Billy Westmorland, and Steve McCadams pass along their angling expertise on catching walleyes, bass, and crappie.

No, successful fishing isn't easy. But with some inside tips from these outdoor champions, the sport may at least become a little easier.

Largemouth Bass

Mention "bass" at a board meeting or a town social, and you're likely to turn more heads than E.F. Hutton. In the past several years, bass fishing has become a sporting phenomenon. The Bass Angler's Sportsmen Society (B.A.S.S.) has, by 1986 estimates, more than 1,600 different chapters. This figure doesn't include the noncompetitive bassin' that takes place all over the country.

Why all the attention? The largemouth bass, a highly pugnacious fighter that becomes a water warrior when hooked, delivers a "reel" challenge to the angler. And bass offer a delicious, flaky white fillet.

Al Lindner, the host of the popular "In-Fisherman" TV specials, has logged some long hours zeroing in on largemouth tactics. "Fish are always found around food sources," Al says. "When you're fishing a bay, a cover, or an underwater point, try to pick a place that hosts a constant presence of food sources around it. You can learn to read these factors on your depth finders or graphs.

"If it has signs of life on it, fish it," Al emphasizes. "If it doesn't, don't fish it."

The second key to successful largemouth angling demands an awareness of the immediate environment. "You must develop the ability to understand water clarity," Al explains. "Generally speaking, fish that live in clear-water lakes are spookier. They like smaller lures and lighter line. Largemouth in clear water will hit free-running baits, like a deep-dive lip crank, more often than fish in dark, dirty water conditions."

Water clarity also affects the ideal time of day to catch the feisty game fish. "Fish in clear-water lakes are prone to being more active early in late- to low-light hours: early morning, late evening, and on overcast or windy days," Al says. "Go to dark, dirty water and it all changes--a lot! The fish are active generally in the middle of the day, and night fishing is poor. You can use heavier lines and much bigger lure."

The magic lure--a fisherman's dream--will remain an illusion. "There's no such thing as a magic lure, nor will there ever be," Al confirms. "Your spinner baits are the closest thing to a universal largemouth-bass lure. It'll catch largemouth bass all year long."

Al warns: "Nothing in fishing is 100 percent. The tips I'm mentioning here might nudge the odds to about 70 percent in your favor. And with those kinds of odds, you know you're fishing right."

But the element that separates the good fisherman from the rest has nothing to do with the environment or the fish: "Confidence makes things happen on a lake for you," Al Lindner believes. "It's the strongest lure in your tackle box. The unfortunate fact is that probably 95 percent of the fishermen don't really understand it. Confidence is the missing link. It determines the difference between a good fisherman and a great fisherman."

Smallmouth Bass

If you're fishing to pick a fight, hook a smallmouth bass and you've got a big one on your hands. This spunky relative of the largemouth packs a wallop in the water.

No stranger to the smallmouth challenge, Billy Westmorland, the featured host of the popular outdoor fishing program "Billy Westmorland's Diary," has earned a reputation as one of the country's leading stringers of the species. "Smallmouth bass sure are one of the hardiest fighters," the avid sportsman says.

Although some states have better fishing than others, smallmouths are largely accessible throughout the United States. "The smallmouth bass can be found in northern Alabama and throughout the central U.S., as far west as Missouri and north to Canada," Billy says. "Some states have better fishing as far as quantity of the catch goes , while other states produce larger-size fish.

"The best smallmouth lakes are clear and deep," he says. "When fishing for smallmouth, use small lines, small lures, and lightweight rods and reels."

For a fisherman, the best time to fish is all the time. Billy thinks the seasons do make a difference, though. "Springtime in the Kentucky, Tennessee, and Alabama regions, between April and May, is the ideal season, because the fish are spawning. In the northern states, the species spawns in May, June, and July." He looks forward, however, to old man winter in Tennessee, his home state: "We can fish here in winter months because there is no ice on the lakes," the angler says. "They're not as crowded, and the water temperature stays in the 47-to-69-degree range for several weeks, from November through January.

"The fish will strike better when the water temperature is in the mid-50s to upper 60s," Billy says.

Location si also important. "Smallmouth normally will be in deeper water than their cousins, the largemouth," Billy says. "They prefer rocky shorelines and rocky points where crawfish are present."

Choose any bait small in size, such as crayfish, small minnows, and small eels. If you're using artificial tackle, pick lures that simulate crayfish, he says.

Catching a smallmouth takes skill, but for many an angler like Billy Westmorland, the knockdown fight is just plain fun.


Ask Babe Winkelman what his favorite fish is and he's likely to reply, "Whatever I have on the end of my line." But the author, educator, and star of the television program "Good Fishin'" has a special spot in his heart for walleyes. "Attribute that to my upbringing," Babe says. "I grew up in the upper Midwest, where the walleye has always reigned as the No. 1 game fish."

Elusive and unpredictable, walleyes were once found only in the triangular area extending across Canada and south to Alabama. But thanks to widespread stocking, they are now found in almost every state and province.

What is it about walleyes that garners so much enthusiasm? Fishing for them is not nearly so action packed as some other types of fishing. The walleye, not a spectacular fighter, doesn't perform the acrobatics of a largemouth bass or match the brute force of a fighting musky, or muskellunge.

"One obvious reason is the eating quality," Babe quickly points out. "Anyone who's ever enjoyed a shore lunch of fresh walleyes and tasted the delicious, flaky white meat knows the walleye takes a back seat to no fish as a taste delight."

For Babe, however, there's more to it than taste. "Walleyes offer the ultimate challenge," the author admits. "The walleye has a unique personality among fishes. He's a cool, calculating critter who defies the angler to outwit him on his own terms. He can't be provoked--he must be outsmarted. He's not a glutton--he's a connoisseur. Seducing a walleye doesn't require brawn. . .it takes patience and skill."

Although there's no way to condense the copious amount of research in his books and lectures, Babe offers some invaluable guidelines: "At night the big female walleyes will feed on perch until the perch are finished spawning. When the perch dissipate and spread throughout the lake, the walleye will also leave the shallows, spreading throughout the lake, looking for other forage to capitalize on."

As Babe explains, the season dictates the movements of the walley's food source: "In late May and June, larvae attract minnows, and when the larvae start turning into flies, more minnows congregate. Consequently, big fish congregate there. But as summer rolls around, bait fish hatched in the spring have grown large enough to catch the walleye's attention. So the fish spend more of their time in deeper water, where temperatures are cooler and light levels more to their liking."

Walleyes have extremely light-sensitive eyes. As a rule, Babe advises, the best walleye-fishing occurs during the early morning and late afternoon, and at night.

Stacking the odds in your favor always includes doing a little homework. When fishing a strange lake, contact several people in the region. "First, see a conservation officer. Talk to the owner of a bait shop," Babe coaches. "He talks to dozens of fishermen every day, and every one knows where to catch a bunch of fish. But play your cards right. If you had a lake that was producing some nice fish, would you send hundreds of tourists out to ruin the fishing? Talk as intelligently as possible, letting him realize that you are conservation conscious. If he suspects you're a skilled fisherman and care about nature, he might just take you under his wing."

Check out the weather conditions, he says. Cloudy or rainy weather usually spells good walleye fishing, but thunderstorms will send the walleye to hide in the weeds or to move into deeper waters. A good, long storm can keep the fish from biting for two to three days.

Overlooking the schooling tendencies of walleyes can result in very serious fishing errors. "Walleyes are curious. When one walleye hits the bait, the others out of a school are likely to follow, hoping to pick up some scraps," Babe says.

Once you find the fish, the presentation is the key to angling success. "There is no one lure that catches fish all the time," he emphasizes. "The keys to successful fishing are first, being versatile enough to experiment with different families of baits, and second, to have confidence that what you're fishing will produce. One without the other is worthless."

How to know which lure is catching the fish? "The best way I know to build confidence is from hands-on fishing--and catching--experience," Babe relates. "Maybe you're pretty accomplished with a Lindy rig, but haven't experienced much success with a jig. The next time you get into a good bit, cut off that rig, and try a jig. After catching a few fish, you'll learn what it feels like when a walleye picks up a jig. You'll discover when and how to set the hook.

"My credo has always been, 'Ask the fish what they want on a particular day.' If the fish are not responding to the bait, try something else. It's what the fish want that's important. Patience and skill--these are the keys to tackling the walleye.

"There's an awful lot to fishing, in general," Babe concludes. "It's simple and yet complicated. It's an absolute science and a learned science. It's not something that you can learn to be good at. Anyone can. That's the one thing that's great about the sport of fishing.

"Hey, besides that," Babe says with a smile, "you can have an absolute blast at it, no matter what the fish are doing."


If you bump into Steve McCadams, you're probably on Tennessee's Kentucky Lake. Steve spends at least 240 days a year fishing for his piscatory partners. The rest of the year he lectures, speaks at seminars, writes outdoor articles, and serves as a professional guide--all in devotion to his favorite pursuit of finding and catching crappie.

"Crappie are the king of panfish," Steve proudly says. "They are found in every state, from small farm ponds to huge rivers, and are the most sought-after species of fresh-water game fish."

Not only are crappie abundantly available throughout the United States, but the panfish feed consistently throughout the year. "Unlike their neighbors of the underwater world, like bass, catfish, and bluegill, crappie habits place them on a year-round feeding spree," Steve explains. "They don't fall into a dormant stage. Thus, sport fishermen capitalize on the crappie's year-round feeding habitats, with techniques ranging from ice fishing in Minnesota to drifting patterns in Florida. Crappie will strike a bait every season of the year, but anglers must learn to change methods and move with the fish." Crappie are closer to the shoreline during spring, he says. Spawning takes place then, and bank fishermen can harvest a full stringer, Steve suggests, by fishing around the roots and limbs of trees, bushes, and weed beds, where the fish are laying their eggs.

"If hunting for the best lakes in the country," Steve points out, "you'll have to consider some of the larger, man-made reservoirs of the Tennessee Valley and through the Mississippi Delta. However, both sides of the Mason-Dixon line often excellent crappie fishing."

What signs on a body of water hint at great crappie fishing? "Some of the ingredients for the recipe of above-average crappie fishing are lakes with moderate climates, shallow-to-average depths of 8 to 12 feet, stained water, and an abundant habitat for spawning," Steve says.

Steve McCadams, no stranger to crappie success, follows some general guidelines when stalking the spunky sunfish: "Successful anglers know that versatility is the key for consistent angling. Moving with the fish and reading sonar equipment is very important," Steve suggests. "Modern technology has drastically improved crappie fishing, as anglers begin to utilize electronic devices like sonar, graph recorders, and liquid-crystal screens to monitor movement of the fish and submerged structures, like brush and stump rows."

The type of bait used relates to the environment you are fishing. "From the strip pits of Indiana to the shallow grass bed of Florida's Lake Okeechobee, a fisherman can utilize a variety of techniques where both artificial and live bait are used," Steve says. "Rubber-skirted jibs, which mimic bait fish, are quite popular and come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. When live bait is the trick, shinier minnows are ideal in the two- to three-inch range. Light wire hooks and light tackle are the most popular, but the major reservoirs often require heavy line and strong tackle for working the thick, brushy areas where crappie seek refuge."

But don't just listen to these fishermen gab. They all agree--practice makes perfect.
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Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Perry, Patrick
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Jul 1, 1986
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