Silently guarding the bait in Venice.
Trying to hang on for one more fish.
Nature showing off on Lake Allatoona.
A jumping tarpon off the Venice Beach pier.

Category Archives: Tips and Tricks

The Life of a Co-Angler

I’m not going to even being to pretend I’m the worlds greatest co-angler, or even a good one.  If anything, I’d say I’m mediocre at best.  But, I have spent a fair amount of time fishing from the back of the boat in both FLW and BASS events.  And in that time, I’ve learned quite a few valuable lessons.  For anyone looking to step up into a larger tournament circuit, I honestly believe the co-angler divisions are a great way to get exposed to the “next level” of competition.

With that said, being a co-angler is not as easy as it sounds.  When I first started, I thought being a co-angler would be easy, no practice, no choice in spots and no need to bring a boatload of gear.  I couldn’t have been more wrong!

Tournament Preparation

Sure, on game day you aren’t driving the boat, but I’ve been asked quite a few times by boaters if I had any spots I wanted to try.  Usually that question is being preceded by a brutally tough fishing day.  Granted, there is a good chance you may draw a boater who doesn’t get a bite all day, and will continue to try and grind out a miracle, but there are also guys who will be unfamiliar with the lake, or just not able to adjust, and they will ask for your opinion.  I even have a friend who made his way to the All American on the co-angler side, and a big part was due to a boater taking him to fish he had found in practice.FLW Five

Not only is it nice to have a back up plan, should your boater ask, but practicing allows you to get some idea of what the fish will be doing.  Again, you may draw a partner who is fishing a totally different pattern, but if you know what colors have been working well, or what style of baits will/won’t work that time of year, then you are ahead of the game.  Not only does it make packing for tournament day much easier, it will help keep you calm if you know fish are biting better in the afternoon, or they have been really keying in on green pumpkin red instead of green pumpkin pepper.

Packing for the Tournament

Since you are in the back of the boat, your storage space is going to be limited.  Some boaters will leave a rear compartment open for your gear, and others will not.  It’s never a bad idea at the tournament meeting to ask your boater if there is any space available for extra gear.  Personally, I will plan on packing with the understanding that everything will have to be kept in the floor, at my feet.  This is where practice will come in handy.  If you’ve already whittled down your tackle, it’s much easier to travel light.  But, I do bring all of my gear from home.  You never know when you might want a special color worm, or particular spinnerbait.  Because of that, I’ll bring a majority of my tackle to the tournament, and then whittle it down the evening before the tournament.


Now, as far as the rods go, I will normally take no more than 5.  Depending on the lake I’m fishing, I feel like I can cover just about every technique with five rods, especially since some can be used for multiple techniques.  The biggest tip I have for your rods is to use rod sleeves.  They will save you tons of time later in the day.  As you fish, and pick up/shuffle your rods around, they will get tangled up.  The five seconds it takes to slide a rod sleeve over a rod when you fish using it, will more than pay off later in the day, when that rod has made it to the bottom of the pile, and you’re trying to grab it in a hurry!

Another thing that will speed up your fishing is to create a “go-to” box.  This will be just a plano box with the main things you think you will use that day.  For instance, I’m going to be fishing Guntersville as a co-angler in a couple weeks, and my “Go-To” box will have an extra umbrella rig with the swimbaits already rigged, two different rattle trap style baits, a couple jerkbaits, a couple crankbaits and a chatterbait.  If I had to guess, those would be the baits I would be looking for during the day.  Since I know I can find them all in one box, I won’t have to spend time digging through my tackle box, trying to locate them.  I will carry spares, but this box is there for quick access.

Tournament DayFLW Three

When tournament day finally rolls around, it can be very exciting and very nerve racking at the same time.  Most boaters will ask you to launch their boat, so if you are not comfortable backing a boat in the water, TELL THEM!  Every tournament there will be a wreck in the parking lot, from someone not familiar with pulling a trailer.  Once you get in the water, it’s time to get in the zone.  One thing about fishing as a co-angler is that generally, the weights in the money will be lower, and one fish will make a big difference.  There are very few tournaments I’ve fished where a limit didn’t do very well, even a small one.  I’ve even cashed a nice check with one fish, granted it was almost 7 pounds, but that one bite is all I needed to be in the money.  So, even if you are having a tough day, don’t give up.  Keep casting, and keep your mind in the game.  Until the last cast, you are still in it.

That’s it, a quick rundown on fishing a co-angler.  As I get back to fishing more, I plan on adding more detailed tips, but that should give the first timer a good idea of what to expect!

Staying off the Main Stream

I’ll freely admit it, the Strike King 6XD is one of my favorite crankbaits, ever. There is just something about it that seems to catch a lot of fish for me. I don’t know if I just picked it up for the first time, and just the right time, and built an unusual amount of confidence in it, or if it really is just that good. But, when you go digging through my tackle box, that is one of the few big brand name baits you will come across.

A few years ago, my wife and I started Home Brewed Tackle (which is now Home Brewed Outdoors), because I had fallen in love with the boutique tackle manufacturers. There was a new worm manufacturer that popped up pretty close to us, and they didn’t have an internet presence at all, so we became the first online retailer to carry their products. That worked great for a few years, until some personal issues within the company caused them to shut down. But, that experience sent us on a quest to discover all the “Garage Tackle” we could. As we started bringing in more and more product, I started noticing how much effort went into producing a quality product. I think when someones name is directly tied with a product, they take extra care in making sure it is a quality product.

As I’m sure any fisherman would do, from time to time I have to grab a bait or two out of inventory for “testing” purposes. Not to mention, when all of your friends fish, and you have a tackle store in your basement, they tend to like to “hang out,” aka go shopping, quite frequently. Many of them are now also hooked on the hand made tackle.

One of my favorite topwaters now is the Bass Hound Prop Bait.  It is designed and carved by Kip Carter, who happens to fish in many of the same tournaments I do.  I feel like I have personally donated enough money to Kip to put his kids through college.  I mean, this guy is the epitome of a “Local stick.”  If you stick his name in Google, you will get pages and pages of articles about him winning this or that.  So, when it comes to designing and building a bait, you can bet if he is involved, it will be good.

Why do I bring that up?  Simple, if you only shopped at the major online retailers, you would never find Kip’s baits.  That’s why my wife and I started Home Brewed Tackle a few years ago.  Our goal is to create a central hub for all of these manufacturers.  Over the years we have grown, and changed our name to Home Brewed Outdoors, but the idea has remained the same.  We are always looking for new products, and new vendors.  So next time, before heading out and making that purchase at a big box store, take a look around at some of the smaller guys.  You may just find your new favorite bait!

Avoiding the Summer Crowd

If you are like us, and fish a lot of the large reservoirs in your area, then there is a good chance you will be able to relate to this article.  Last weekend was one of the busiest boating holidays of the year (Memorial Day), and if you live near a popular lake, you will know that busy does not even begin to describe the boat traffic.  If you are like me, and hate to miss a weekend of fishing, there is one way I have found to really avoid a majority (not all of) the boat traffic, even in the middle of the day.

Almost every lake is going to have some type of river flowing into it.  After all, something has to flow water into the lake.  Now, if you have been on the lake for a while, many times you will hear people talk about where the river gets “dangerous.”  Usually what this means is there is a bit of timber or rocks under the water, and if you are not careful, you may be replacing a lower unit very soon.  But, that is the area of the river you want to learn!  If you can learn how to navigate that stretch of river, you can almost guarantee that you will be one of the very few boats in the area, and a more peaceful day of fishing.

Every summer you can find me way up the Etowah river on lake Allatoona.  That has become our refuge from the summer boat traffic.  Sure, we will still have the occasional boat/jet ski come through, but for every 1 we see in the river, you would see close to 50 on the main lake.  Also, many times the rivers will offer you a different style of fishing than the main lake.  For instance, Allatoona is very much a finesse fishing lake.  However, if you get far enough up the river, you will have current, and can even do some power fishing.

So, with summer in full swing now, it may be worth your time to break out a map.  You never know what opportunities lie just to the north of your favorite lake.

Catching a Fishing Rod

I can’t take full credit for this one, but this is a great thing to keep in the back of your head in case you ever watch your favorite rod sinking to the bottom of the lake. All you need to retrieve it is one of the metal style stringers, a couple ounces of weight and a flipping stick. I went to Wal-Mart and bought one of the metal stringer because I could not find one at any of the local tackle stores.

The first thing you need to do is cut off any excess chain on the stringer, so you are left with just the section of chain with the clips on it. Then, tie a swivel onto the line of your flipping stick (braid is my favorite for this). Open the swivel and clip on both the stringer and your weights. I used trolling sinkers because I just happen to have some in my striper fishing gear. I wanted a sinker that would not get too hung up on the bottom, and the trolling sinkers seemed like they would be perfect.  I also like to clip the weights to the front of the stringer, so I know the entire thing will be dragging along the bottom.  If you put your weights on the back, there is a chance that part of the rig will be pulled up off the bottom as you move it.

Run to the way point you marked as the rod was sinking and, if you have them, drop a marker. Back off the marker and start casting. Once the stringer hits the bottom, just slowly pull it like a Carolina Rig.

If you feel weight, keep constant pressure on it and slowly reel.  It could be a stick, but it could also be your gear.  Don’t jerk or stop reeling.  The constant pressure *should* keep everything tight and hooked up.

The last two rods that have gone overboard, I have been able to drag them up a few days later with this technique. Aside from some oxidation (I guess that’s what it is) on the thread wraps, they have been in great shape. This rod spent over a week in Lake Allatoona on the bottom in 30 feet of water. I’m still amazed I was able to catch it, and it only took 4 casts.

Drop Shot 101

If I could only use one technique to catch fish consistently, it would have to be the drop shot.  Thanks to the urging of some close friends, I finally picked up the drop shot about 5 years ago, and since then, my fish-less days have become much fewer and much farther between.  Some people will claim the drop shot only catches small fish, but I have a photo album full of big fish, especially big spotted bass, that have all fallen victim to the drop shot.

The great thing about the drop shot is that you can custom tailor it to almost any fishing situation.  It is so versatile that you  can fish it with 6lb fluorocarbon and a #4 hook or 80lb braid and a 5/0 straight shank flipping hook.  While I could probably fill a book with the things I have learned about the drop shot, that is not the point of this post.  This post is geared to the fisherman who has never picked up, or just picked up the drop shot.  The number 1 key to learning to fish this, and any technique, is confidence.  Hopefully this article will give you just enough that you can stick it out a few days and see just how great a technique the drop shot can be.

The body of water you are fishing will really dictate the direction you go as far as your line, hook and weight sizes.  I normally fish deep, clear lakes with spotted bass making up the majority of the bass population.  These lakes are highly pressured, and finesse is usually the name of the game.  However, if you are fishing a shallow lake with heavy cover, the concepts will be the same, just not the line/hook size.

The first thing you need to do is tie on your hook.  This is very simple.  If you can tie a Palomar knot, you can rig a drop shot.  Tie your hook on with the Palomar knot, but leave a long tag end (approx. 12 inches).  Once you have your hook tied on, take the hook and hold it between two fingers.  Hold it so that the hook point is up, and then run your tag end of line back through the eye of the hook.  Let go of the hook, and finish pulling the tag end through the hook eye.  Once the tag end is fully through the eye of the hook, grab your line above the hook in one hand, and below the hook in the other.  Pull it tight, and your hook should be situated so that the point is facing up.  This is very important to ensure you are hooking up with the fish that bite.  After that, all you need to do is clip your weight on the tag end and hook your bait on the hook.

Now, there are two basic ways to rig your bait, and it will usually depend on if you are fishing around a lot of cover or not.  The first is with the hook point exposed (nose hooking/wacky hooking) and the second is with the hook point buried inside your worm (Texas/Texposed style).  Generally I will rig my worms with the hook point exposed.  The area I usually fish has very little for the hook point to get hung on.  However, when I fish in heavier cover, I will go to a re-barb hook or even a heavy duty flipping hook to help keep from getting hung up.

Once you have everything all rigged up, the next step is to decide if you are going to fish vertically or cast your rig.  Vertical fishing will rely on your sonar reading skills, and your ability to get over fish, drop your bait down and tempt the fish to eat.  This can be extremely productive when the fish are schooling on your local body of water.  Lakes with a lot of vertical timber (such as Lake Lanier in Georgia) or brush piles, a vertical approach can be deadly.  If you have a lot of brush piles on your local lake, I would suggest rigging up a drop shot and sitting over those piles for a few moments and make a few drops straight into the pile and give it a few shakes.  You may be surprised what you pull out!

If the fish aren’t schooling, and you don’t have a list of brush piles to fish, don’t fret!  Most of the fish I have caught on the drop shot have been from actually casting it.  On my local lake, we have a lot of bluff walls, and I will fish down those with the drop shot, and many times be very successful.  Just with any technique, you will need to fish where the fish are, but the drop shot will give you a unique presentation over the typical Texas rig, jig and shakey head.  Simply cast your drop shot out over any are you feel may hold fish.  Let it sink to the bottom and then reel up a majority of the slack, but not all!  You will want a little bit of a bow in your line, and then start shaking.  You will want to make the bow in the line become tight but try not to actually move your bait any closer to you.  Of course the bait will work its way to you, but you will want to move it as slowly as possible, while still shaking it as much as possible.  It seems like some days you cannot shake the bait fast enough, while others they barely want the bait moving.  Just experiment until you start catching fish.

The final key to the drop shot is the hook set.  Depending on the style of hook you are using, your hook set will vary.  If you are using the Texas/Texsposed style rig, set the hook like you would with any other worm!  However, if you are using a nose hook the last thing you want to do is jerk to set the hook.  Simply lift on your rod to slowly apply pressure and reel like a mad man.  This will tighten the line up on the fish and the little bit of pressure will be plenty to drive the smaller hooks home.

Hopefully this little post will be helpful to some of the new drop shotters out there.  If you have any questions, feel free to post them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them!

Finally, never let anyone tell you big fish won’t eat a drop shot.  This is a 5+lb spot that I caught on 6lb line, a #2 hook and a tiny fluke.  And this isn’t the only one, I have caught quite a few quality bass on the drop shot over the years!