Stan Fagerstrom is a member of both the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame as well as the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame. Stan is also known internationally for his casting skills. Stan welcomes your e-mail comments at [email protected]
June 30, 2015
Bluegills -- The Pride of the Panfish, Part 1
by Stan Fagerstrom
I cut my fishing teeth catching bluegill, crappie and perch.
There's nothing unusual about that. So have tens of thousands of other fishermen around this wondrous country. Most have likely gone on to concentrate on the larger species of sports fish. Even if they have, I'll bet most of them still retain a fond spot in their fishing memory book for panfish.
If they're like me, that's especially true when their thoughts get around to that scrappy little devil we call the bluegill. Ask an experienced panfish angler the following question sometime: "How do you rate bluegill when it comes to fun and fight?" Watch the eyes of the person to whom that question is directed. Chances are they'll light up like mine do whenever my thoughts turn to those scrappy little devils you find in the majority of lakes, ponds and puddles all over the United States.You're missing a whle lot of fishing fun if you don't get aquainted with these little guys called bluegills. They are tough little buggers. If they got much bigger than they do they'd run the rest of the fish out of the lake! They're great in the frying pan too.
If another fish has provided more angling fun for millions of Americans, I don't know what it would be. I've never known a serious angler who didn't have a high regard for the pugnacious bluegill. If they were the same size, those little devils would run every bass out of the lake and eat carp three times a day.
Bluegill aren't big. You're never going to really enjoy fishing for them unless you scale down your tackle to match the size of the fish. I'll take a look in my next two columns at the basics of bluegill fishing. I've caught thousands of these good eating, hard fighting panfish over the past half century. I'll share some of the thoughts I've come by as a result.
You can, of course, catch bluegill on natural baits. Worms fished on a small hook beneath a light float catch bluegills wherever they are found. But it's my contention that natural bait isn't a necessity. It lowers the sport to its lowest common denominator. You can catch all the bluegill you want on small artificial lures. The two best ways to go about it are with a light spinning outfit or a fly rod.
Use your smallest plastic grubs or worms on a small jighead like those shown here. Don't select a jighead that has a hook that is larger than a number 10. The bluegill has a tiny mouth. They won't get hold of a grub hooked on a jighead with a large hook.
In this first column we'll consider only bluegill fishing with spinning tackle. Ultralight spinning gear is made to order for bluegill. Get a light action rod of 5 ½-feet to 6 ½-feet. Equip it with a lightweight open-faced spinning reel. Load the reel with 4-pound test line and you're ready to do business.
Let's consider finding bluegill before we get into how to catch them. If you know the lake you're on holds these wonderful little panfish, ease along the shoreline and watch for feeding activity. Bluegills sometimes give their location away by dimpling the surface as they feed. They make a distinctive little glurp as they take something off the top.
If you spot such activity, don't run over the feeding fish. Stay back 30-feet and cast into the area where the fish are. Bluegills aren't loners. They like company. All year long where you find one there will likely be others, often lots of them. Whenever you catch one, work the entire area carefully. Hit it right and you may wind up catching 50 fish or more without even moving your boat.
You won't find a better way to introduce your kids to fishing than to teach them about catching bluegills.
You won't catch those 50 fish without knowing what lures to pick and how to use them. The most effective small lures I've found for 'gills are miniature plastic curly-tailed worms used behind tiny leadhead jigs in the 1/16th-ounce to 1/32nd- ounce class. The one you'll need depends on the depth at which the fish are holding. If they are fairly deep, use the 1/16th- ounce head. If they are up near the top, switch to the 1/32nd-ounce head.
Whichever leadhead you select, check its hook size carefully. A number 10 hook is ideal for darn near all kinds of bluegill fishing. It's small enough to catch average or larger bluegill, but it's too big for those teensy little guys you don't want to mess with in the first place.
I like to carry at least three basic colors in miniature plastic worms I throw for bluegill: black, white and yellow. I've caught fish on other shades, but these three will usually get the job done. How you manipulate the worms is as important as the color you select. If one color doesn't get results, switch to something else. Let the fish tell you what they want.
As I've mentioned, once you've got a bluegill school pinned down, stay back and cast to it. Let your jig sink, then start a slow retrieve. Make little flips of the rod tip as you reel. The lake I lived on the shore of in southwest Washington State was loaded with bluegill. I don't how many thousand I caught there in five decades of fishing, but it was a bunch. I often fished with a barbless hook to save time and to make it easier to handle the little buggers. Teensy plastic grubs like those pictured here are ideal for bluegill fishing. Use them on a lightweight spinning rod with 4 to 6-pound line.
One area I fished was elevated so I had opportunity to observe just how bluegill went about taking an artificial lure. I found what they often do is slide up behind the jig. They may follow along with their little blunt nose just a couple of inches behind until the lure. If the lure darts forward like it might be getting away---they grab it. Then they turn and take the lure going away. That's why I stress the importance of flipping your rod tip during the retrieve.
It's also important to not fish your tiny jig and worm too fast. If you're not getting hits up near the surface, let the jig sink and work it back as slowly as you can without hanging. The deeper bluegills are, the more difficult it is to detect strikes. Learn to be a line watcher. If you sense a difference in the feeling being transmitted up your line or if you see the slightest little twitch in your line where it enters the water---set the hook.
You shouldn't have difficulty finding miniature curly tailed plastic worm that are such super baits for bluegill. Stay with the really small sizes. If you're fortunate to get into some spot where the bluegill run big, and I've not found those places often, you may be able to go up in size a bit. Always remember that the bluegill has a very small mouth. Larger worms just won't get the job done.
Keep the size of the bluegill's mouth in mind when you select the miniature leadhead jigs you'll use with your tiny curly tailed worms. Even leadheads as light as 1/32nd-ounce won't work worth a toot if it comes with too large a hook. Again -- a Number 10 is ideal.
In my next column we'll take a look at fly fishing for bluegill.
April 01, 2015
You Better Learn To Look - Part 2
by Stan Fagerstrom
Somehow I just knew that fish was going to hit.
If you read my last column you know I told about being up to my boot tops in Southwest Washington's beautiful Kalama River. I'd felt what I thought was a spring steelhead pick up my bait but it didn't stick with it.
My bait of eggs still looked all right after I'd reeled in. I had noticed what appeared to be a tiny white spot on my leader a few inches up from my hook. It didn't look like it was big enough to pose a problem. Besides, I just couldn't wait to get my bait back out there again.
I cast and my bait plopped into the river. I felt my sinker bumping and thumping its way along the river bottom. Then there it was again---that hard to define sensation that my bait had stopped but not because my sinker had hung up. I hesitated a heartbeat and then snapped back with the tip of my rod.
Fish on! If you've ever had to good fortune to tangle with one of those early spring steelhead on the Kalama you'll know I'm not exaggerating what happened next. That fish went absolutely berserk! It came bursting up through the surface and hurled and twisted itself up so it was as high as my head. I brought my rod into position to try to fight this first Kalama springer I'd ever hooked. My rod was almost pulled from my grip as the fish boiled up again and then there was that sickening slack in my line and I knew the fish was gone.I hope someone took the time to teach this little guy just how important it is to always look at your gear between casts to be sure it's in good shape.
You better hope your line, leader and knots are in good shape when you get a good steelhead in as close as I had this one. Taking time to take a little look at your gear between casts will give you that assurance. My heart was still pounding as I reeled in. Remember that teensy white spot I'd seen on monofilament not far up from my bait just before I cast? That's where my leader had parted.
And that's why you see why the title I selected for this two part column really fits. I learned a lesson that day. It's one you'll eventually learn yourself if you do much fishing. Perhaps you already have.
Certainly it's extremely important that you make sure all your gear is in great shape before you even start fishing. You can't stress too much the importance of tying your knots properly, having sharp hooks, etc., etc.Do you check your knots to your lures from time to time. This is so important after catching a fish or sometimes when you've had to keep yanking and stressing your knot after hanging up on a snag.
But what's often overlooked, and there are plenty of occasions when it's probably even more important, is not checking your gear repeatedly after the fishing actually starts. Actually, it was a recent suggestion from somebody who knows just how darn important what I'm writing about is that you're seeing these last two columns.
I shot the picture you see here of a youngster fishing steelhead on a Washington State River a long time ago. I hope someone took time to teach him how important it is to continually keep an eye on your tackle.
One such individual who does is my good friend Bob Schmidt, the general manager of a tackle company called Mack's Lure. Bob's the guy who calls the shots at this growing Washington State tackle company that's enjoying a steadily increasing impact of its products among anglers all over the country.It's important, of course, to have the hooks on your lures sharp before you ever cast one out there. Be just as sure they remain in good shape by looking them over carefully once the fishing starts.
Here's that Bob had to say when he sent me a recent e-mail: "I have an idea," Bob said, "for an article you might want to do sometime. I know in the past you've done stories on getting your gear ready to go. The idea I have is different in that it would stress the importance of checking knots and leaders while you actually out there fishing."
Bob, my friend, I wish you'd of been around to share that truth with me back there when I hooked my first steelhead on the Kalama. Why? Because if I'd of simply followed your advice I'd probably have put that fish on the bank.
Schmidt, unlike certain tackle makers I've known and worked with over the years, is a fisherman himself. And he's a dang good one. I've fished with him often enough to know. I also know he'll be the first to tell you he's made mistakes of his own---but when he does he learns from them and unlike some of the rest of us he doesn't make ‘em again.You're looking at an expert who has "learned to look" at every item of his gear each time he's on the water. Here he displays proof that his approach gets the results he's after. Bob Schmidt is the general manager of Mack's Lure, a company located in Washington State. Among other things, Bob's company has introduced those wondrous little Mack's Lure Smile Blades that have attracted the attention of anglers all over the world.
"As an angler," Bob says, "I well know the frustration of a knot failing. I have even had it happen when fishing with professional guides on knots they had tied to their swivels. Checking knots, and checking your line for nicks at the start of the day, and after a catch, and especially after temporarily having snagged up is always a good idea. A season has yet to go by where I haven't been glad I replaced a leader or retied a knot at least one time."
Let's face it, that's just about as solid advice as you can come by. I didn't have any trouble at all coming up with how I managed to lose the first spring steelhead I hooked. And as much as I hate to admit it, I don't have the slightest difficulty remembering other occasions where if I'd simply followed the advice Bob has shared it would have also meant more fish in the boat.
What hurts even more is that the type of common mistake he details often involve some of the biggest fish you'll ever get a hook into. It has happened to me twice on Mexico's Lake El Salto and when it did both times I felt like kicking my butt all the way back to the bank!
Don't wait until you've been around as long as I have to build checking your gear often and repeatedly each time you're out there on a lake or stream. Learn to look---and don't wait until you have a stringer empty of fish but full of regrets for not having done so.
January 30, 2015
An Expert Picks His Products - Part 4
by Stan Fagerstrom
Allan Ranson's third lure choice is probably going to surprise you as much as it did me.
If you've read my past three columns you know they've been devoted to sharing certain thoughts of one of the country's top experts on bass fishing and the building of the baits that catch ‘em.
That man, Allan Ranson, is one of the top executives of the Strike King Lure Company. Strike King needs no introduction to knowledgeable bass anglers. For years the company has been producing some of the most consistently productive baits you can hang on a rod.
I got Ranson to agree to name the three lures his company markets that he'd select if they were the only ones he could use on his own next three fishing trips. One of the reasons I asked Ranson that question wasn't just because he's been up to his butt in the business of building baits for decades. My primary reason for seeking his response is I knew he was just as deeply involved as a bass angler himself as he is in bringing to market the baits that help you, me---and him---put more bass in the boat.Few men in this business of fishing have a broader knowledge of lures today's bass anglers are throwing that the man you see here. He's Allan Ranson, a top executive of the Strike King Lure Company and for decades an ardent bass angler himself.
In my last two columns I've named the first two lures Allan selected. Both were specially made Strike King worms. One was the Super Finesse Worm; the second was another type of worm called the Zero. I've also detailed why this Strike King executive named these lures as well as telling you how he uses them.
But like I've indicated, it was his third choice that threw me for a couple of loops. It has been out there but I'd never heard of it. My guess is you might not have either. Something else Ranson had to say indicates I might be right on both counts.
The hard bodied bait he named as his third choice is the Strike King Wake Shad. The lure is a specially designed top water version of the jointed King Shad. Like I said, I didn't know it existed.The lure you're eyeballing in this picture is a Strike King Wake Shad. Allan Ranson will tell you few lures turn bass on like this ones will do when conditions are right. He maintains it's the next best thing to dynamite when the water is quiet and bass as well as some other species of sports fish spot the interesting wake this lure is leaving on the surface. There are times when those fish seemingly can't resist taking a whack at whatever it is up there that's doing it.
But though I hadn't heard about this specific lure, when Allan detailed for me exactly what this lure is designed to do it kicked my bass fishing memory in the rear big time. Allan's third and final third lure selection reminds me, you see, of one of my own first bass fishing experiences.
It was way back when I was in my early teens and just getting into bass fishing. I lived in the city of Longview, Washington at the time. Longview is located in the southwest portion of the Evergreen State and borders the Columbia River.
One of the kids I went to school with was from Alabama. His dad and his dad's brother were experienced bass fishermen. My classmate asked if I'd like to go along when he and his dad and his dad's brother went to one of the nearby log ponds to do some bass fishing. These ponds were backwaters of the Columbia River and used by local lumber mills for log storage. At the time these ponds contained an abundant population of both bass and panfish.
I was brand new to the Pacific Northwest having just arrived there a year or so before from North Dakota. I didn't know beans about bass fishing but I'd been reading every darn thing I could find about it. I was really interested in how my friend's father and his brother would go about trying to catch a few.
The first lure they both used when we reached the log pond was one called a Heddon Basser. They threw this lure out to the edge of the log pond shoreline and then left it alone for a few seconds before twitching it around a bit. Keep the name of this lure in mind because I'll be mentioning it again.This picture clearly shows the fish-attracting wake the Strike King Wake Shad leaves on quiet water. That's what it's designed to do and you can still keep your rod in position to set the hook when a fish grabs it.This is a close up of Strike King's Wake Shad. These interesting and effective lures are presently still available in a variety of different surface shades. This one is a gizzard shad.
It was what the two men did a little later that really got my attention. The water in the log pond as late evening came was completely quiet and flat. Long shadows were moving out from the western side of the pond's shoreline.
The two men changed lures. What they did with these lures was to cast them way out into the pond and just leave their lures alone until all of the disturbance of their splashing down had gone away. Then they started reeling them back ever so slowly. Their lures were just barely wiggling as they started back but that movement was sufficient to leave "V" shaped wakes behind them on the pond's quiet surface.
The lure my friend's father was using was about halfway back to the bank when---Wham! The bass that had smashed it turned out to be just a tad less than 4-pounds. That fish branded a memory into my brain that's every darn bit as clear today as it was all those years ago.
I made sure to find out the name of those wake-leaving lures those men were both throwing. Both turned out to be those called Heddon Vamp Spooks. You won't find either the Heddon Basser or the Heddon Vamp Spooks being marketed today.
There's a reason, of course, why I've shared these memories. Even as new to bass fishing as I was at the time I knew it had to be the wake those large Heddon lures were making that had gotten the attention of the pond's bass.
Just listen to what Allan Ranson has to say about why the new Wake Shad was developed by Strike King. "Using a wake creating lure," Allan says, "is a neat technique used most often during the post spawn period on deeper lakes around the country. On a calm day the wake the lure leaves spreads out on a lake's surface and can attract bass from a long way off.
"The problem with lures used for this purpose in the past was that they had to be reeled excruciatingly slow while holding your rod tip up to keep them from diving and losing the fish attracting wake. We designed the Wake Shad for the angler to be able to do this at faster speeds without having to hold his rod tip up and not getting a good hook set as a result."
See why I shared that little bit of my own memory of my early day bass fishing? I saw exactly what Allan Ranson is talking about actually happen. I've used a technique similar to what I'd witnessed so long ago off and on down through the years. I've not used it often because as Allan says the lures I tried to do it with were usually next to impossible to get to perform in a fashion that would give me exactly the results I was after.
Now I'll be danged if Strike King hasn't come up with a lure especially designed to get that job done. Let me also share a couple of Allan's other comments in this regard. "Stan," he told me, "my own use of this lure has caused me to fall in love with it. I've learned there are times when the fish simply go wild over it. I've seen largemouth, smallmouth and hybrid stripers go absolutely crazy over it and this was after they wouldn't hit other topwater baits fished in a normal fashion. I've found it is also great sometimes to fish it fast like a buzzbait over flooded grass and other cover."
It's another statement Allan also made that brought about some action on my part. You may recall that I mentioned this in an earlier column. I don't care how good a lure might be in the hands of someone who knows how to use it, the company marketing it won't continue to do so unless it sells. I've had to deal with this myself more than once in my own bass fishing lifetime. Listen to what Allan Ranson has to say about this.
"Our Wake Shad has not been discovered by bass fishermen and our sales of it are so low we may have to drop it, but that would crush my heart! It's too bad so few guys know about it and the ones that do are trying so hard to keep it a secret. Rest assured that if we do have to discontinue making it I will have plenty for my own use before it happens."
Remember that Heddon Basser I saw in action for the first time all those years ago at the long pond? When I lived on the actual shoreline of Washington State's best bass lake for 35 years a Heddon Basser in a perch finish was the most effective lure I owned. It had to be fished just right, of course, but once you learned how to do that it was tough to beat.
But what did the Heddon Company which brought that lure to market do? They dropped it! I couldn't wait to find out just why in the hell a company would quit making the best bait I had in my tackle box. My longtime friend, the late Homer Circle, was handling public relations for Heddon at the time. The answer he provided was simple and to the point: "It's just not selling well. We drop those lures that don't."
As I've already mentioned a couple of times in previous columns Allan Ranson is my friend. I know what he stands for and I'm aware of the integrity and experience he has brought into the building of bass baits. He tells it like it is. Strike King may one day have to drop their new Wake Shad. Like Allan says he's going to have a few in event that does have to happen. So will I. As a matter of fact, I already have.
If you fail to do the same it won't be because I've not told you about what might happen. And if you know Allan Ranson as I do you won't waste any time getting a couple for yourself.
January 09, 2015
An Expert Picks His Products – Part 3
by Stan Fagerstrom
There's no mystery why one of the most knowledgeable "Behind the Scenes" bass fishermen I've ever met selects the lures he does whenever he climbs in his bass boat.
That man is the friend I've told you about in my past two columns. Allan Ranson is a top executive of the Strike King Lure Company. For years, he has helped develop and direct the activities of this record setting Tennessee based lure building operation.
I called Ranson a "Behind the Scenes" bass fishing expert because I like to think I know one when I see them. My qualifications? Well, for starters I began writing about bass fishing way back in 1946. I've covered professional fishing events all over the United States for decades. You're looking at a man who has a whole lot to do with producing some of the lures you probably use in your own bass fishing. He's Allan Ranson, one of the top executives of Tennessee based Strike King Lures.
It all started when I covered the first bass Bassmasters Classic on Lake Mead in 1971. Among other things, I covered all but two of the first 30 Bassmasters Classics and for most of these events, I was actually in the boat with one of the Classic qualifiers as he did his best to walk away this most wanted to all bass tournament trophies.
I've also had the good fortune to witness the competitive events of other bass fishing organizations ranging from the former Red Man operation to Bassin' Gal and Lady Bass a number of others.
And finally, at the risk of being accused of thumping my own tub, you'll find I've been voted into the National Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame as well as the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame. So I like to think I do know my bass from a hole in the ground and that I really know bassin' expertise when I see it.
Allan Ranson himself neatly sums up why I pin that knowledgeable expert label on his Strike King shirt. "I love to catch fish as much or more than the next guy," he says, "so I am always trying to increase the odds in my favor every way I can. Certain lures have a knack for catching more fish than others and those are the ones I like to be using.
Three of the lures Strike King makes are my favorites because they are unique and deadly at tricking fish into biting. Each of these three lures has proven over and over to me to be really special."
If you've read my last two columns, you're aware that I've managed to get my friend Allan to name the three Strike King Lures he'd select if they were the only baits he could use on his next three bass fishing trips. That's a darn tough question for someone in his position, but he has managed to do it.
The first of the three lures Allan named was the Strike King Super Finesse Worm. In my last column I detailed why he had made this choice. In this, the third column in this series, let's look closely at his second selection.
What three lures would Allan Ranson select if that's all he could use for his next few fishing trips? These Zero Worms would be one of them.
"The second of the three baits I'd pick," he says, "is the Strike King Zero. The Zero is a Senko style stick worm that is made out of our ElaZtech material. What makes these baits so good is that when they are falling to the bottom on a slack line they shimmy or shake along the way. Each end of the lure is wiggling back and forth as it falls.
"To make a plastic bait do this, they need to be really soft and contain lots of salt. The more salt you put into such baits the faster they sink. The problem with so many of these baits you see on the market is that they tear up so easily as a result of being so soft and having so much salt. The ElaZtech material of the Zero is certainly more durable."
Ranson will tell you he loves to fish this worm Texas Style. He fishes it weightless and gets the rate of fall he wants by changing the size of the hook he uses with it. The larger the hook, the faster the bait drops.
Allan Ranson has spent a whole lot of time in a bass boat himself. He has fished all over the place with a huge variety of lures.
He often uses a 6-foot, 9-inch fairly heavy action spinning rod with 20- to 30-pound braided line to skip cast the Zero up under bushes, piers and docks. "It's a ‘Killer Technique", he says. "If I'm fishing around grass, I'll rig it Wacky Style."
Ranson says Strike King considered calling this bait the "Census Taker" when they first introduced it. "It's one of those baits," he says, "that you feel like if a bass just sees it they're going to hit it."
"You'll find that the more you throw one of these Zeros," Allan says, "that it's going to eventually lose some of its salt. It's still not going to tear up on you, but you may want to change if it's not dropping as fast as you want."
Allan Ranson often fishes these Zero Worms Wacky Style. He also likes to cast them up under potential bass holding cover.
In one of my earlier columns, I mentioned that one of the lures Ranson had picked as one of his favorite three caused some action on my part and that you might feel the same way. Keep an eye out for my next column. I'll tell you what that third lure Allan Ranson named is and why I feel as I do about it.
It's something you might not be using in your own approach to bass fishing – and you're missing one heck of a great technique if you aren't. You'll find all the details right here beginning Feb. 1.
-To Be Continued-
October 31, 2014
An Expert Picks His Products — Part 1
by Stan Fagerstrom
I'm one of the luckiest old timers who ever picked a tangled backlash out of his level wind reel.
And when I mention luck, I'm not thinking of the wondrous opportunities I've had to fish from the Amazon to Alaska or the fish I've put in the boat from Nevada to New Zealand.
What's kicking around in my head as I sit down to do this column is just how fortunate I've been to get to know some of the guys you don't often read about in the fishing reports.
But the men I have in mind are every bit as important in the fishing world as those who do get the headlines — even more so. The men I'm thinking about are those who operate behind the scenes. They are the men who create and oversee the production of the lures you, me and those dudes who do get to walk away with the tournament trophies use to put fish in the boat.
When I mentioned my good fortune, I was thinking of a few such individuals I've been especially blessed to be able to call my friends. I want to tell you about just one of them in this and my next column.Allan Ranson started out with the Strike King Lure Company, of Collierville, Tennessee, 18 years ago. For years he has helped guide the activities of this highly regarded producer of many of the nation's top fishing lures — especially those used to put bass in the boat.
The man I have in mind was still in the fingerling stage when he got his introduction to bass fishing. His dad used to take him along on his fishing adventures near the family home at Lake Hamilton down in Arkansas. By the time he was 12 years old, he was into tying his own flies and polishing the skills required to put fish in the boat.
Four years later when he was 16, he took Mark Davis — a winning bass tournament pro you have read about — for his first ride in a bass boat. Mark was 13 at the time. The man I'm writing about stayed associated with the tools required for bass fishing when he was out of school in the summertime by working at a local sporting goods store.
This kid was just as good with the figures and facts he encountered in school as he was with his bass baits. He graduated from Lake Side High School at Hot Springs, Arkansas in 1978, was in the Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity at the University of Arkansas and graduated in 1982 with a degree in accounting. He went on to become a CPA, a craft he was engaged in for the next 14 years.Allan Ranson has spent has spent more time in a bass boat than some of the professional bass tournament winners you read so much about.
Fortunate indeed are those relatively few individuals who are able to merge their God given talents with the love they have for their favorite recreational interests. I make that comment in part based on my own good fortune to have done much the same thing.
That's exactly what the man I'm writing about has done. Today this man, Allan Ranson, has been with the Strike King Lure Company, headquartered at Collierville, Tennessee, for the past 18 years. Since 1997, he has been the company's chief operating officer. He became a minority owner in 2002 and today is in charge of all Strike King operations except sales.
Ask anyone who knows him as I do and they'll tell you — Allan is also one of the most respected and well liked individuals in his field of endeavor. In the beginning, I mentioned how fortunate I felt having had opportunity to get to know a few of the individuals who operate behind the scenes in the field of fishing lure production. Allan Ranson is the very first of these individuals who came to mind. I'm proud to call him my friend.This executive of one of the nation's top lure marketing companies puts his faith and his family at the very top of his daily existence. He's also manages to share his knowledge and love of bass fishing with his family. He is pictured here with his son Alex after they had won a bass fishing contest.
I could probably devote the next three pages to detailing why I feel as I do about Allan, but I'm only going to get into one of the thoughts knowing him immediately brings to mind.
If you know a bass from a bullfrog, you're aware of the up front and center place the Strike King Lure Company plays in the role of fishing lure production. The company has provided more than its share of the tools that some of the nation's top bass anglers have used in their record-setting careers.
It was a question I once asked Allan that provided the primary basis for what you're reading right now, and the theme that will be continued in my next two columns. The question was simply this: "What three Strike King lures would you select, my friend, if that's all you could use on your next three bass fishing trips?"Allan Ranson's wife will tell you she'll never be up to ears in bass fishing. Be that as it may, Rhonda Ranson does get her share of fish when she does choose to do it. This nice fish was just one of the many she boated when she accompanied her husband to Anglers Inn on Mexico's fabled Lake El Salto.
Just pretend, if you will, that you're standing in Allan's boots as you attempt to answer that question. Here you are, a much respected top executive at one of the country's top fishing lure producers. You could walk through the front door of the Strike King Lure Company today and walk out with all the lures you could carry with no questions asked.
But what would you select if you could only take away three? And why would you select them? The more experienced you are, the more difficult it would probably be to answer. That's because you know darn well what's really more important on any bass fishing trip is that it's what those fickle buggers with the big mouths want that really counts.
I posed that three lure question to Allan Ranson earlier this year. He took some time to answer. I could hardly wait to find out what his answers were going to be. That's partly because I'm fully familiar with his background. I knew just how broad is the base of experience and knowledge from which his selections were to be made.Allan Ranson will tell you he always keeps one of his rods rigged with a certain Strike King lure lure every time he's on the water looking for bass. Watch for the details on what that lure is and how this internationally recognized expert uses it in the December issue of this column.
Allan, you see, besides being immersed daily with reams of intricate details regarding bass lures and an almost unlimited knowledge of the variety of techniques in which these lures are used, is just as deeply involved as a bass angler himself. He has spent darn near as much time in a bass boat as some of the pros. And some of the estimated 2,600 days he has spent in those bass boats has been in company with some of the bass fishing pros whose names you'd recognize in a heartbeat.
He fishes just as much as you and I do — maybe more. And as his father did when he was a kid, Allan does a lot of fishing, including several youth tournaments each year, with his two teenaged sons. Besides bass, he has fished for everything from peacock bass in the Amazon to trout and salmon in the Rockies and Alaska. He has caught tarpon in Florida and Costa Rica, bonefish in Mexico and the Bahamas as well as steelhead in the Pacific Northwest.
So what was Allan Ranson's answer to that question I posed? If you're a bassin' man yourself, you're probably as interested as I was in hearing what he has to say. Stay tuned. I'll provide the answers in next month's column.
Besides telling me what those three lure categories are, Allan also provided the reasons for his answers. I will share this much with you right now.
One of his answers will probably bring some immediate action on your part — I know it already has on mine.-To Be Continued-
July 02, 2014
The Smallmouth of Steelhead Country - Part 2
by Stan Fagerstrom
I've not fished anywhere in the Pacific Northwest now for years but I know one of the places I'd put on my "Must Do" list if I was to get out there next week.
That place is the one I talked about in my previous column. I'd head for Fossil, Oregon and hook up with my friend Steve Fleming for some smallmouth bass fishing on Oregon's John Day River. Darn few Pacific Northwest river guides have put their clients on more smallmouth than Steve Fleming. Steve operates Mah-Hah Outfitters out of Fossil, Oregon. The smallmouth one of his clients is holding here is typical of what you can expect on a summertime John Day trip.
Steve has been guiding out of his Mah-Hah Outfitters operation at Fossil now for 25 years. I fished with Steve several times when I lived in that part of the world. The experiences I had then are why I say I'd like to get back again now.
Look at a map of Oregon and you'll find the small community of Fossil located in the central part of the Beaver State. The John Day eventually dumps into the Columbia, but it's that isolated part of this beautiful river on up a ways above Fossil where Steve most often takes his clients.
I mentioned having had the good fortune to experience what Fleming has to offer. One of them is that each time I've been with him, we rarely saw another boat. It's been years since I made my last trip so that might have changed a bit, but I doubt it.
I got an e-mail message from Steve back in March. It was right after he'd hung up his winter steelhead gear and just started guiding for smallmouth bass again. I know darn well you aren't going to find many bass anglers out there on the John Day in March.
The weather and water that early in the Pacific Northwest will leave you with frost on your fingers and maybe on even more tender parts of your anatomy if you're not prepared to deal with it. I lived there for most of my life and I make those comments from personal experience.
Here's what's Steve had to say in that March e-mail I mentioned: "Today we boated an even 30 smallmouth bass in 44 degree water with a 1/8 oz jighead and a Yamamoto 4-inch single #134 tail grub covered with Smelly Jelly garlic. We fished more than 10 different set-ups, but only caught those pesky smallmouth bass on the above described set-up."Here's a close up of the Yamamoto bait that has caught so many fish for Steve Fleming on the John Day.
As I mentioned in my previous column, Steve had been introduced to that particular Yamamoto grub by a retired Oregon fish biologist named Errol Claire. It has turned out to be one of Steve's most effective lures on the John Day. He loves it and so do those John Day smallmouth fish.
But hold the phone! Remember what I wrote about in my last column dealing with lure makers no longer making the lures you like best? Well friends, that's exactly what Steve found himself dealing with where the #134 4-inch Yamamoto grub is concerned.
Last month, I wrote about the Heddon Tackle Company dropping the Heddon Basser, one of my most effective bass lures on my home lake. However, it wasn't selling well elsewhere, so it was dropped. That was obviously what happened with that Yamamoto grub Steve found so effective on the John Day.
Fortunately, Fleming learned that particular grub was going to be dropped from the Yamamoto lure lineup before it actually happened. "When I learned the #134 was to be dropped," Steve says, "I contacted the company and bought their remaining inventory. I also bought about an equal number of the #134 double tailed grubs."
Yamamoto #134 grubs were a shade of smoke with large red flakes. Today, Steve still uses those he has, but does so sparingly. Sometimes Steve simply removes one of the tails from the double tailed #134 grubs and uses it as a single tail.
Something else Fleming will tell you he learned from his friend Errol Claire was to rig one of his singled tailed #134 grubs as a trailer for use with a white skirted Hildebrandt Pro Series half ounce spinnerbait. The combination has been a big winner for John Day smallmouth.
"This combination," Fleming says, "has produced my largest fish each year since 2009. Some of those fish have won the In-Fisherman Catch & Release contest for the nine Western states."
Fleming uses this spinnerbait-grub combo especially when the river is up and off color. "I've known for a long time," he says, "that when the river color drops and is not clear to go to items with red in them. The #134 Yamamoto grub with the big red flakes is a winner."
It rains a bit in Oregon. Whenever the John Day gets a bit discolored Steve Fleming turns to this spinnerbait and grub combination. It has also caught some of the largest John Day River smallmouth he has put in the boat.
This veteran guide will be among the first to tell you that Yamamoto does continue to offer a single tail grub of a shade similar to the #134. That one is the #178 smoke with black and red flakes. Steve says it is similar but not identical to the one he's using.
So, what's the technique Fleming has found most effective with his favorite grubs on the John Day? "The best technique," he says, "is to cast into the current seam on the slack water side and then very slowly swim it back to the boat. Fish your lure just as close to the bottom as you can. Let the lure bump bottom once in a while. Making three little twitches of the rod tip during the retrieve can also help create interest.
"The most important thing, and also the hardest, is what you should do when you feel a bite. When that happens, immediately lower your rod tip. Larger smallmouths suck a bait in and typically get only the tail of the lure in their mouth when they first pick it up. Once you lower the tip, count to two or three and then set the hook hard and you'll get a hook up."Great smallmouth fishing is just one of the things you'll get on a trip down the John Day River with guide Steve Fleming. He serves a noontime meal right there on the river that will have your taste buds doing a toe dance all the way home.
I could tell you a bunch of other reasons why you'll enjoy making a trip with Steve. Those smallmouth bass on the John Day aren't all he has going. He also has access to a dandy little private largemouth lake in that same isolated area. I've taken fish of 8-pounds there myself. Odds are, he'll show it to you if you're interested.
And then there's the delicious lunch Steve serves right there on the river come noontime. The food he serves has been cooking all morning in the Dutch Oven he fires up in the boat before you start drifting downstream. You'll find the chow Steve provides is just as delicious as those aromas you've been sniffing all morning have indicated it might be.
Again — if I was heading into the Pacific Northwest tomorrow, I'd make sure I had Steve Fleming and his Mah-Hah Outfitters in Fossil on my "Must See" schedule. You're missing one heck of an enjoyable experience if you don't do the same.Guide Steve Fleming also offers his clients access to a private bass lake. Here I display one of the beauties I caught there myself.
May 30, 2014
The Smallmouth of Steelhead Country, Part 1
by Stan Fagerstrom
It's something even experienced bass men who should know better find it difficult to believe.
And just what is the "it" I'm talking about. It's just because a lure that always seems to get the best results on your home lake may not be all that great someplace else. If you don't realize this already, you dang well better wise up because you eventually will.The beautiful John Day River runs through the quiet country of central Oregon before it dumps into the Columbia River. The river supports the migratory fishes like steelhead and salmon but it's also loaded with smallmouth bass. Nobody knows this great Oregon stream better than Steve Fleming, the operator of Mah-Hah Oufitters at Fossil, Oregon.
I've been around for awhile. I can remember two or three times when one or another of the country's top lure makers has suddenly quit making a lure that was one of my very best baits. I thought they had lost their marbles.
Those "loose" marbles were mine. One of my good friends at the Heddon Tackle Company brought this to my attention decades ago when the company announced they would no longer be marketing a beautiful old lure called the "Heddon Basser."
"What in hell are you guys doing?" I asked my friend. "That Basser is one of the best lures you've got. When conditions are right I catch more fish on that thing than anything else in my tackle box."
"Stan," my friend responded, "there a few others like you here and there who catch fish on it but that Basser you're talking about just isn't a good seller for us. Lures that sell are what lets us stay in business. We just can't continue to carry the ones that don't in our inventory. It's really quite simple---if they don't sell they don't stay."Book a trip with guide Steve Fleming and he'll take you to isolated stretches of the John Day above Fossil. You'll drift downstream and fish for smallmouth as you go. Here Steve launches his drift boat at the start of a trip.
I didn't like that response, but even a bullheaded old Scandinavian like yours truly had to admit it made sense. It has happened to me a couple more times since that Heddon Basser experience.
Did this mean I had to change tactics? No way! As soon as I learned that the lure was no longer going to be available I made darn sure I got a supply of them that would last me down through the years. I'll do the same thing again tomorrow if a lure I like and am catching fish on is about to disappear from the market.
All this came to mind recently when I had opportunity to visit with one of the most experienced outfitters and fishing guides in the western United States.
The man I'm talking about is Steve Fleming, the veteran operator of Mah-Hah Outfitters on Oregon's famed John Day River. Steve headquarters in Fossil, Oregon. As you'd expect, Steve guides for the migratory fishes for which the Pacific Northwest is famous. But his superb guiding efforts don't end there.The John Day River got a plant of 80 young smallmouth for the first time back in 1971. Guide Steve Fleming shows us here how well that plant made 43 years ago has turned out. He took the beauty he displays here in mid-March of this year.
What you might not realize is that the John Day also carries an abundance of smallmouth bass. An Oregon State Department of Fish & Game biologist named Errol Claire planted 80 smallmouth bass in the John Day River in 1971.
To merely say those young smallmouth liked their new home doesn't get the job done. They flat out loved it! "The plant Errol made was the only stocking of smallmouth ever made on the John Day," Steve Fleming says. "Today you'll find the river holds about 1,000 smallmouths per mile of water. Some of these fish exceed 5-pounds in weight."
Fleming has been running his Mah-Hah Outfitters operation on the John Day now for 25 years. During that time he's guided anglers from all over the country at one time or another. One of them happens to be the same retired fish biologist who made that original plant of smallmouth in the John Day.
"One of the advantages," Fleming says, "of getting to fish with lots of different folks is that they introduce you to new lures and techniques. This happened when I started taking Errol Claire smallmouth fishing on the John Day."
That's not surprising because besides being technically qualified as you'd expect an experienced fish biologist to be, Errol is also a cracking good angler. Today Steve will tell you his retired biologist friend turned him onto the lure that now is his number one producer in the cold water of early season fishing.Here's another example of the excellent smallmouth fishing to be had on Oregon's John Day River.
He'll also tell you that this valued friend introduced him to the tackle and technique he now employs to nail some beautiful big John Day smallmouth when the river is up and discolored. One of these set ups has produced John Day smallmouth that have won top honors in the "Catch & Release Contest" conducted by In-Fisherman magazine in the nine Western States.
But right here's where my friend Steve Fleming ran into that same problem I mentioned in the beginning. That problem is no longer being able to continue to get the exact lure he'd been clobbering the fish with because it's no longer being produced.
Don't miss my next column. I'll reveal what that lure is and how Steve Fleming uses it to produce even when conditions are less than ideal. It's bound to give you ideas you can use in your own fishing.
You'll find that column right here beginning in July.
-To Be Continued-
February 28, 2014
You Can Make Your Practice Pay
by Stan Fagerstrom
You and your best pal are going fishing in the morning.
You've been thinking all afternoon about what you need to do to be all set when he comes by to pick you up in the morning. As you think about it, you become more aware of just how darn few things you can do that will actually help assure catching a few fish.
You can't, for example, do a blasted thing about what the weather will be. You don't have any kind of control over the water temperature, barometric pressure, wind velocity or direction or any number of other factors - all of which might affect the fish to one degree or another.
As I've mentioned, there are just so many things you can't do anything about as you prepare for the trip. Developing the ability to handle your gear so you can place your lure on target time after time isn't one of them.
Actually, accurate casting is one of the few variables associated with fishing that we can control. Sadly, and as I've endeavored to point out in my last two columns, not all that many anglers do exercise this one controlling factor that is available to them.A level wind reel is one of the best fishing tools there is. I don't care what the advertising says, you're going to have to accept the need for practice to really learn how to use it.
Let's suppose you're one of those rare newcomers to angling who does recognize and accept the need for practice. What's the best way to go about it? I'm assuming, of course, that you've been successful in finding quality equipment to work with.
The first step is to get yourself a selection of practice casting weights. Be certain that you have weights of 1/4th-ounce, 3/8th-ounce and 5/8th-ounce. These three different size practice casting weights are essential for your practice sessions.
You'll also want different size targets. They needn't be fancy. You don't have to have water for your practice sessions. That's one of the easy things about it. Just get your gear and head for the backyard or the front lawn. Either spot will work just fine.
Hula Hoops work well as targets if you're doing your practice in your back yard or a neighborhood park. Different sized cardboard boxes also work well.
I like to use a small kiddies' plastic wading pool as a primary target. You can fill it with water if you choose. Your casting weight won't bounce out of the plastic pool if it is filled with water. You can get the same result by placing something like a blanket in an empty pool.
Whatever targets you select - and this so important in the beginning - don't set them way out there somewhere. Forget all about distance as you begin your practice. I'll make you a promise: Concentrate on learning to hit your targets consistently close in. Once you do, you'll find that it's no sweat to reach out farther when it's necessary.
I stress this because it's so darned important in developing good casting techniques. Unfortunately, distance is often what beginning casters are prone to give the most attention to. Don't make that mistake. Again, learn to hit the targets you've positioned fairly close in the beginning. If you do it the other way around you'll be in trouble from day one.I've had the good fortune to share thoughts and demonstrate casting over a sizeable chunk of the world. This picture is from one of a number of appearances I've made in Brazil.
So what's a good distance to work with in the beginning? I recommend setting your primary target 25 to 30-feet away. There's little physical effort involved in casting that far if you've got good quality, balanced equipment to work with.
If it's a level wind reel and casting rod that you're working with, tie on a 5/8th-ounce practice weight in the beginning. You'll find the heavier weight handles with less effort. A practice plug that size also brings out the action of the rod and helps give you the "feel" for what good casting requires.
You'll eventually want to switch to lighter weights for some of your casting practice with a level wind reel but hold off doing so until you've got a good sense of what's required. Your level wind reel will never perform the way it should if you screw all of its spool tension devices way down tight. Practice will enable you not to have to do that.
Someone is sure to ask what test lines should they choose for their practice sessions. I favor 12 to 14-pound test on the level winds where monofilaments are concerned. With quality braids like Power Pro, my choice is 20-pound test.
With the open faced spinning reels my choice is usually 6-pound test with monofilament and 10-pound with braid. Incidentally, if you've not used Shimano's Power Pro braid on your open faced spinning reels, don't hesitate to do so. It spools beautifully. You won't quite get distance as easily as you do with monofilament, but as aforesaid, distance is overrated where accurate casting is concerned.
Closed face spinning reels come already loaded with monofilament. If you're teaching a youngster how to use one, and those reels are a great choice for kids, pick one that's small enough for them to easily handle.
Like most anything else, you'll generally get about what you're willing to pay for in purchasing a closed face reel. One of the best I've found is a Daiwa Goldcast. It's a dandy. The smallest of these quality reels, and that's the best size for kids to handle, is the Daiwa GC80.
If your wife, like mine, doesn't want to get into fishing up to her ears, but wants to be able to enjoy herself when she does choose to go, a closed face is also a good choice. Years ago, I got her a Daiwa Goldcast closed face. I taught her how to use it properly early on and she's pretty darn good with it.
There's a whole lot more to be said about the importance of casting practice and how to go about it. But I'll make you a promise: mastering the gear you'll be using for actual fishing will have just one result - that's more fish in the boat.
If that doesn't make you happy, I don't know what would!
November 26, 2013
The Stan’s Spin Spinnerbait - Part 2
by Stan Fagerstrom
The Mack's Lure Stan's Spin spinnerbait I talked about in my last column can be a fish-catching son of a gun when it's in the hands of an angler who knows how to use it.
If you read my previous column you know I urged readers to get away from the habit that so many bass anglers share when it comes to spinnerbait fishing. That habit is to simply keep throwing these lures hour after hour without ever varying the speed of retrieve or trying certain other techniques that can sometimes make a dramatic difference in results.
One of the lakes I used to fish contained lots of piling. These piling were a favorite hang out of some of the lake's largest bass. Most of the pilings were located in water that ran from 7 to 10-feet in depth.
Rarely did I take bass on a spinnerbait by simply firing one up next to a piling and then just start reeling back in. What sometimes did work was to cast just as close to the piling as I could get, then just let the lure drop on a slack line. I counted the lure down as I picked up the slack. Once I knew it was near bottom, I flipped my rod tip sharply to cause the lure to dart up and away.
This simple procedure helped me boat some of the largest bass I ever took from that lake. More often than not I had my best success when I added a trailer to my spinnerbait hook. Sometimes I used a plastic trailer, but more often I'd tip the lure with an Uncle Josh pork rind strip. It doesn't matter where you're fishing largemouth bass, a quality spinnerbait is going to get its share of fish. It may get more than its share if you use the right one in the proper fashion. The one these anglers are about to boat came out of Clear Lake, California.
The Mack's Lure Stan's Spin works wonderfully well for this procedure. The main reason it does is because of the lure's lightweight Mylar plastic spinner blade. To observe what I'm talking about, drop your Stan's Spin in clear water next to your boat and watch what happens as it falls. You'll find that the lure's plastic blade has a unique helicopter-style action as it drops.
A swimming pool provides an even better place for you to get a look at what I'm talking about. Cast your Stan's Spin into the deep end of the pool, let it drop and then flip your rod tip once it gets down a ways.
That old pot bellied bass down there in the cover you're fishing has probably seen more spinnerbaits than you have. But she's never eyeballed one like the Pro Model Stan's Spin. Every now and then that ‘copter blade action and the darting get away it makes when you flip your rod tip are sufficient to trigger her short fuse. She'll smash the living daylights out of that bait and you better have a good grip on your rod when it happens.See that white skirted Stan's Spin spinnerbait? It got this fish from the cool waters of Siltcoos Lake on the Oregon Coast.
In my last column I also touched on the importance of slowing down your retrieve sufficiently so your Stan's Spin bumps into the underwater cover where big bass often hang out. I love to use this approach whenever the cover happens to be submerged timber.
If you've ever had the good fortune to fish Mexico's Lake El Salto you know what I'm talking about. This wondrous bass fishing paradise is loaded with wood cover. I've had a chance to fish it half a dozen times and always I come away amazed at the number of bass just one cluster of partially submerged trees might hold.
Often, depending on just how thick is the cover you're fishing, plastic lures of one kind or another provide the best chance to take fish. But this doesn't always apply. Never overlook a spinnerbait, especially in stretches where the partially underwater wood thins out a bit.
I'll never forget what transpired one evening at El Salto just before it was time to head back to Anglers Inn Lodge for our evening meal. The guide eased our boat along a steep bank where partially submerged trees were scattered all along the shoreline. This picture doesn't do justice to the size of the fish. The fish my guide is helping me get out of the net weighed 10-pounds, 4-ounces. I caught it at Mexico's Lake El Salto.
I'd made about a dozen casts with a blue skirted Stan's Spin and---wham! Fish On! That heavyweight bass had to be one of the largest I've ever hooked at El Salto. I've caught largemouth down there of almost 12-pounds so I know what a trophy fish feels like.Look close and you can see the blue and black skirted Stan's Spin spinnerbait that put this nice fish in the boat.
I was never to find out the exact size of that bass. The guide had the net poised and was all set to use it when the fish came unpinned. The line didn't break and the hook was as sharp as when I took the lure out of its package. The fish just hadn't been well hooked.
As soon as I'd determined my Stan's Spin was in good shape, I went right back to casting. Whenever possible I cast up between the trees that poked slender fingers up above the surface. Then I'd let the lure drop and endeavor to make it bump off the larger underwater limbs I couldn't see but I could feel as the lure came back to me.
I'd made just such a cast, felt it bump off one of those larger submerged limbs and again---wham! Fish on! This one didn't get away. When we finally got it onto our Boga-Grip scales it weighed 10-pounds, 4-ounces. We shot a couple of quick photos of that old girl and back into the water she went.
A guy like me who has spent most of a lifetime fishing bass in the Pacific Northwest doesn't have that many chances to eyeball a bass of 10-pounds or more. There just aren't that many of them around. You can be assured I was one happy camper when the fishing was done that day at El Salto.
This two-part series on the Stan's Spin spinnerbait still just scratches the surface on the tricks and tactics you can use with it. Perhaps you have developed even better methods of using it effectively. If you have, by all means let me know. I'll be happy to hear from you.
While the lure that carries my name is one of my favorites, let me make something else abundantly clear. The Stan's Spin is not "always" going to catch fish. Neither will any other single lure you have in your tackle box.
Be that as it may, few lures are more dependable day in and day out than a spinnerbait. The Mack's Lure Stan's Spin has some things going for it that the others don't. You're missing a bet if you don't let the fish in your area tell you whether they like it or not.