Pluggin Time

The unofficial water temp for the true beginning of topwater season is 60F, but 65F is when they really turn on.  Whether or not this is because the water temp is when the bait fills in or just that the fish are fired up is a subject to debate.  At any rate, we have been above 65F for a week now and the bite is definitely on fire.  Ralph and I launched midweek last week after I committed the cardinal sin amongst topwater fishermen…I overslept my alarm and despite my best efforts I was still about 20 min too late to the landing.  

Ralph with a chunky trout on top. Note the overcast conditions.

We early morning pluggers know that ever minute is precious.  You have about 45 min of twilight before the sun rises and then till the sun gets about 10 deg above the treeline until the action slows or stops.  A younger Ralph would have (rightfully so) left my sorry-ass at the landing, but present-day Ralph is much more understanding.  

The Rapala Skitter V is a winner for trout plugs.

Lucky for both of us, this day was overcast for most of the morning, and we enjoyed a fast and furious topwater bite for a few hours.  Our experience (and later backed up by my fellow big trout junky Justin Carter) was that the fish were super-aggressive and were knocking the plug out of the water or making a huge splash.  But, they were pretty difficult to get a hook in.  Now, if you try to set the hook on a topwater strike, you’re gonna miss most of your fish.  But we know better than that.  Just wait till you feel the line tighten before you come tight.  Even still, whether or not you come tight is a crap shoot sometimes.  For me, my odds were pretty terrible, maybe 2 for 8 on the landed to strike ratio.  Ralph was considerably better, maybe 60% landed.  It’s better to get a blow up and miss than no blowups at all though.   

The fish were all quality – 16-19″ on average.  No big girls today but that’s okay, big trout are unicorns.  

New visors available on our store, are proven fish magnets

Our choice of plug was one that has worked wonders for us in the past few years, the Rapala Skitter V.  If you haven’t tried them, you should.  There are also lots of p-nut menhaden around and a Mirrolure Heavy Dine is a great choice.  If you really want the extra sauce, put one of these on your topwater or suspending plug. 

This one fell for a Heavy Dine with a VMC bladed treble

Another thing you’ll notice when you catch a trout right now, is that they fight like a fish twice their size.  They are getting ready to fatten up to spawn, and have spring fever!  

Please consider releasing all trout over 20″ to pass on the survivor genes, and especially the big girls fat with eggs.  Let em spawn!  

Jig Supplies Update

Just a heads-up that we remain open, although shipments may be delayed at times due to higher priorities in life.  We plan to remain open as long as we are legally able to be, and the USPS remains open.  

All our jigs have always been Made in the USA, and wherever possible we source from the USA also.  An exception is hooks – there are no domestic makers of quality fish hooks.  Because of delays in business and commerce there are a lot of backorders of hook supplies nationally.  We received word that some of our major suppliers are shut down by governer’s orders in their states, being non-essential businesses, for an unknown period of time. 

This means that we will not be receiving restocking of jigs or samples of our new products for a while.  Good news is that we have a good inventory in stock so we will be good until supplies run out.  Hopefully that doesn’t happen, but its a possibility. 

No hoarding! 🙂

Thanks for all your support and hope you stay safe and smart and get a chance to do some fishing during all this craziness…

 

Silver Linings

Strange days, indeed.  As we weather this unprecedented time in our history, one of the silver linings is having family home and together with not much to do.  A side benefit is with factories closed, less transportation, etc, the environment gets a much needed time-out.  At least as long as our public landings remain open, it is a nice opportunity to go fishing.  My youngest son Ian has been home from UofSC and I offered a day fishing to help break the boredom – he gladly accepted. 

It turned out to be a beautiful day, with low winds and moderate tide.  I rigged up some small lures as a result of my prior trip with John (see above).  In this case I rigged up some 1/8 oz Trout Eye Finesse jigs with Z-Man Slim SwimZ 3″.  One in Space Guppy, and one in Pearl (pure white).  

As we arrived at our first spot we started making exploratory casts, and it wasn’t but a few minutes before I got a solid thump and landed a 22″ trout.  This is a good sign!  We drifted a bank trying to locate more fish and had a few quality trout but they were very spread out.  So, we ran back to the scene of the crime and tried again.  

Ian made a cast and located a pocket where some nice redfish were holding in a small pocket.  We landed three over 24″ in short order.  

As the tide slowed I made a guess that the fish were moving down the bank so we drifted again and found a few more quality trout.  

Around midday, the wind went from completely still to South at 20+.  We moved to some other areas and Ian was able to find a couple 19″+ trout despite the very difficult conditions.  

I was proud to watch him work his lure slowly and manage his line in order to feel the bite and set the hook.  He’s become a very good artificial lure angler.  

As usual for us, our fish were carefully handled and released to spawn and catch again.  We did keep a few smaller ones for dinner, but only to eat fresh, not frozen.

The best part was spending the day together fishing.  The excellent catching made it all the better!

Social Distancing with SCDNR

John Archambault, SCDNR

Yesterday it was my honor to have one of my heros on board the SS Eye Strike: John Archambault, a fisheries biologist from SCDNR.  I knew of John for a long time, because whenever I caught a fish with an orange tag, meaning it was tagged by DNR, it had John’s name on it.  I met John last year when I volunteered to go electrofishing in the Cooper river.  That was an extremely memorable trip, and you can see the report here if you are interested.  Since then, we have kept in touch, comparing notes about fishing, trout in particular.  So, we finally got to go fishing and had a really great time with very good results.  

Lately, I’m a once a week fisherman, so I don’t really have the fish patterned too well.  But, conditions lined up for a few patterns that have worked in the past.  The water being now 61F, I had tied on a topwater plug and was hoping to get my first fish on top this year.  John mentioned that it should work but in his opinion they are still keyed in on small baits.  At that point he pulls out – of all things – a shad dart.  If you don’t know what that is, its basically a worm body with curly tail or paddle tail, usually chartreuse, and the whole thing is under 2″ long.  He rigged it on a tiny jig head (smaller than anything we currently make).  I’ve never personally seen anyone fish a smaller jig inshore besides for shad.  

We pull up to spot #1 and first cast he rears back on a solid trout.  I cast my plug in the same general area without a sniff.  He unhooks and releases the first trout and casts back in an he’s tight again!  This made me scramble to find my smallest rig and I’m glad I did.  After making a few passes in this spot we had a lot of nice fat trout and he caught one up to 20″ on this little rig.  So cool, there is always something to learn.  

We headed off to spot #2 and after running the bank for a bit we finally found our target.  Another group of solid and heavy trout.  Nothing over 20″ but plenty over 17″.  Later we explored the jetties and saw a few false albacore chasing baitfish, and John even caught a sheepshead on his little rig.  A very rare catch in SC. 

I’m already looking forward to my next outing with my new friend, John.  

The day ended by picking away at a few more nice trout in different spots.  It was really fun to have a very good trout bite after a long winter. It should only get better in the next few months.  

Since nearly everything else is closed for COVID-19, a good way to keep yourself from driving your family crazy is to hit the water.  The fish are biting!  See you out there.

Gnat Season

March fishing in the lowcountry can be miserable if you’re not prepared. If there is low wind, you will be surrounded by clouds of no-see-ums (actually, you will see em – in a cloud!) and if you’re not ready for them they will drive you to insanity! I once had one bite me on the white of my eye!

There are a few good products like No-Natz that work pretty good, but I take a completely different approach.

I cover up.

One of the best inventions in fishing to me is the buff.  There are a million variations around there but they are just a thin fabric in a tube shape that you can put over your neck and pull up over your face.  These IMHO are the best gnat deterrent you can buy.  Wear closed shoes, socks, long pants, long sleeves a buff and a hat and you’re all set.  Pull that buff up over your face and ears and up the back of your head.

This will allow you to fish through the clouds of gnats.  But!  You might still get bit on the white of your eye….I haven’t found a solution to that yet 🙂

See you on the water, through a cloud of gnats!

Don’t Be So Cranky!

My article for the March, 2020 edition of Coastal Angler Magazine – Charleston


Every year Ralph and I auction off an “educational” fishing trip to help teach people how to better fish artificial lures. One year I tried an experiment. We had two novice anglers that day. I offered to one of the anglers a rod with a 1000 size spinning reel. The other was using a 2500 sized reel, a common reel for inshore fishing. I then watched and waited. Sure enough, the angler with the 1000 reel caught more fish, almost 2 to 1, over the other angler. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
People want to crank their reel. Heck, I’m guilty of it sometimes too. As I discussed in last month’s article, fishing slower equates to more fish caught – not just in winter, but pretty much all year. How much line retrieved per crank comes from two main factors, the gear ratio (number of revolutions of the spool per crank), and the diameter of the spool.
To demonstrate, I laid two lures on my driveway, one connected to a 1000 spinning reel (5.0:1 gear ratio), and one with a 2500 spinning reel (5.6:1 gear ratio). I then made one full crank of each. You can see that the 1000 retrieved about one third less line than the 2500. That’s a significant difference! Incidentally, the shorter of the two retrieves was still 27 inches; the longer, almost 40 inches.

More than you would have guessed? Probably.

Next time you purchase a reel, many times you have a choice of gear ratios. I always purchase the least ratio I can. Because I, too, like to crank – but I will be 30% slower with the same amount of crank – and therefore fishing slower.

In summary, I hope your takeaway from all this is that we are human, and we like to crank our reels – and we all will have better results fishing artificial lures by simply cranking slower.

Give these methods a try this month and let us know how it works.

David Fladd
Partner, Eye Strike Fishing
dfladd@eyestrikefishing.com
eyestrikefishing.com

Fish Slow In February, but How?

My article for the February 2020 Edition of Coastal Angler Magazine Charleston:

Our water temps historically bottom out mid-January, but they are still awful cold in February. Since fish are cold blooded, they are going to be pretty sluggish as a result. You’ve probably heard the following advice; “If you think you are fishing slow enough, slow down”. It’s good advice, but how is it applied?
Think about what your lure is doing underwater. This month we want our lure on the bottom, and for it to move just a couple inches at a time. Watch your rod tip and consider how small a motion equates to a couple inches on your lure. At the end of a 6 to 7 foot lever (your rod), the amount of motion required is tiny. A very small motion of your wrist is all that is required. If you have access to a swimming pool, try this and you will be surprised to find you’re lure probably moves a lot more than you thought.
A good technique is to use very small hops bringing your rod tip from about 10 o’clock to 12 o’clock a few inches at a time, then take in line as you slowly lower the tip back to 10 o’clock. Manage your line! How much reeling is this? Maybe half a turn depending on your reel.
A cold redfish will suck that lure in and often it won’t feel like a bump, but rather kind of a mushy weird feeling. Unlike other times of year, you might need to give him a second to eat before setting the hook. Similarly, a February trout bite will often go unnoticed, even with the best gear. All you will feel is a mysterious weight that wasn’t there before and pulling up the rod will reveal tell-tale headshakes.
A small finesse soft plastic rigged on a light jighead makes a good choice. A favorite is the Z-Man StreakZ 3.75” with a TroutEye Finesse jig. The ElaZtech material is buoyant, allowing the tail to stick up when sitting still.

Give these methods a try this month and let us know how it works.

David Fladd
Partner, Eye Strike Fishing
dfladd@eyestrikefishing.com
eyestrikefishing.com

Jail Bait Reef Jigs – Opinions and Personal Experience

Since we have released our Jail Bait Reef Jigs, we have heard some strong opinions from hard-core sheepshead fishermen that generally fall into the following categories:

  • Sheepshead will be afraid of the enlarged eye.  What is the eye for?  The eye is a turn-off.  Etc
  • Sheepshead can’t fit their mouth around them
  • There is not enough relief between the lead and hook so you can’t get a hook set

I’d like to address some of these concerns, based primarily on my personal experience fishing them.

“Sheepshead will be afraid of the enlarged eye.  What is the eye for?  The eye is a turn-off.  Etc” – So, in the prototype stage, this was also a concern of ours.  Would sheepshead be afraid / wary of the lead on the back of a fiddler.  Fishing these in clear water where we could actually see the fish, that concern was quickly put to rest.  Sheepshead are curious fish and instead will swim up to the jig to check it out.  They go to it and immediately try to bite the crab.  This makes sense because all day long they are biting at crustaceans on rocks, seawalls, pilings, etc.  They are used to having a crab or bait attached to something.  The eye in the case of this product is not “functional”, in other words unlike our other products, it’s not intended to act as an eye.  Honestly, it’s more for marketing – everything we make has a large eye.  It does add to the appeal of the product as it looks better than raw lead.  In the future in fact we may replace the pupil eye with other patterns that represent a crab carapace or something like that.  Will it make a difference?  I doubt it!  Sheepshead are absolutely not afraid of the Jail Baits.  Claims to the opposite are BS.

“Sheepshead can’t fit their mouth around them” – While this may be true, it doesn’t matter.  They are not designed to be swallowed by a sheepshead!  These fish crush the crab with their incisors, then go back and swallow the bits.  The Jail Baits are designed so that when the fish goes to crush the crab, they get hooked in the lip. In just about every pic you see that is where they will be hooked.  Yesterday, fishing at the reef, we caught many sheeps that were around 6″ long, and a few that were approaching 6 pounds on them.   

“There is not enough relief between the lead and hook so you can’t get a hook set” – This is not an issue in my experience.  I have personally experience a great hookup ratio with them.  A trusted guide who has fished them extensively claims the hookup ratio factor approximately 2X better. 

Some general thoughts about fishing Jail Baits in comparison to the typical “Carolina Rig” consisting of an egg weight and short leader with a small hook.  Fishing both at a 40 ft reef yesterday, I am confident that the feel of a bite is significantly better with the Jail Bait.  If you keep a finger on the braid you will feel every slight touch.  For that reason, I was able to catch a juvenile red snapper, an octopus(!), a sheep approximately 5 lbs and a few very small sheeps, easily out-catching two others using the Carolina Rig.  When the current and wind/waves picked up (at end of trip was 4-5 ft waves and 12 knots out of the NE), I was not able to use the Jail Bait in that depth of water due to not enough weight.  Switching to the traditional Carolina rig in swifter water, the rigs got cleaned off much faster due to piercing the crab shell with a hook and also not being able to feel the bite as well.  We did lose a few big fish to broken hooks on the Carolina rig – a problem that won’t happen on the Jail Bait.

I know that some people will make a snap decision and never try something new.  That is fine, but we suggest that if you’re on the fence, to give these a fair shake and decide for yourself.  

A few pics from yesterday’s trip.

Artificial Intelligence – Coastal Angler – January 2020

Rule #1 For Artificial Lure Fishing:  Master Your Line

As the title of this column suggests, I’ll be writing about the art of deceiving a fish into believing a piece of plastic and metal is something to eat. A bit of an introduction first. I started saltwater fishing in 2006 and started in the way probably many of you did: I was invited by a friend trout fishing in the Fall and thus began an obsession that is now a large part of my life. I’ve been very fortunate to stand on some high-profile shoulders and learn from the best, most notably my business partner Ralph Phillips. Another mentor is Bob Sanders of Trout Trick fame. If you know Ralph you’ve probably heard him needle you a bit if you caught a fish on shrimp or bait. To Ralph, if you didn’t catch it on artificial bait, it doesn’t count! Not surprisingly, a few years ago I decided to fish artificial lures exclusively, knowing my catching was going to suffer for a while until I figured it out. Countless times I would be standing by as Ralph wore me out using the same tackle, in the same hole. Slowly but surely and with a lot of work, I began to understand why. My goal with this article is to pay it forward. Not having a strong fishing pedigree and learning the same as anyone else I hope will make my column relatable. If I can do it, you can too. Being an engineer, I’m a pretty analytical guy and I’m going to interpret what I’ve learned along with personal experience and try to help you become better at fooling them too. There are a lot of benefits to catching fish on artificial lures. One of which is not needing to net bait or visit the tackle shop for minnows or shrimp. Once you have felt the subtle tick of a big trout on a jerk bait you will find it’s an addiction that will last the rest of your life.
In my opinion, the single most important thing a new artificial lure fisherman must master is line management. It’s the reason one fisherman may have a banner day, while the other gets the dreaded skunk, even if fishing the same lure and fishing where the fish are. Pretty much every fish is going to hit a lure on the fall, in other words, when the lure is dropping toward the bottom. The thing most people do wrong is drop their rod tip after jigging a lure up. This causes a bow in the line and dampens the sometimes very subtle bump of a fish. Most people will never feel the bite if they do this. Its imperative that you keep in semi-contact with your lure by minimizing bow in your line. This is done by jigging the lure up, then keeping the rod tip high – only lowering it slowly as you slowly reel in a very small amount of line as the lure falls. It takes practice, but I promise you that you will feel many, many more bites than you ever did before if you follow this simple advice. Its one thing to fool a fish into biting plastic, but it usually won’t be long until it spits the lure back out, realizing the mistake it just made. Make sure you set the hook after feeling that bite by simply raising your rod tip and holding it there until you feel some head shakes. Try it and be sure to let us know how it works for you!

David Fladd
Partner, Eye Strike Fishing
dfladd@eyestrikefishing.com
eyestrikefishing.com

 

Coastal Angler Article Series for 2020

We were approached by Coastal Angler magazine recently about advertising in their magazine.  We agreed to give it a shot, and put together a piece we are happy with (below).  In addition, they mentioned they were always looking for authors.  Truth be told, I have considered doing one for a while but I have so many things on my plate I was hesitant.  But I decided to give it a go.  The local section of the magazine is full of reports and “What’s biting now” kind of pieces.  I thought that a fresh take would be to do a series on techniques associated with fishing artificial lures.  

I racked my brain for a while on what to call it, and found one I really like:  Artificial Intelligence.  I have a genuine fear of AI in the future, but that’s another story.  So, its kind of tongue-in-cheek for people that know me.

I’m going to publish each article as a blog post and I’m thinking of including a video companion to each one as well.

Hope you like them and get something out of them.  

If you have further questions, contact me through social media and I’ll answer as best as I can.