Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Wet Shoes and Electricty

By Sean Ostruszka

It was a night you praise the inventor of rain gear.

A couple weeks ago, Mike Steuck of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources invited me and FLW Walleye Tour pro Chris Burns of Davenport, Iowa, out to watch the Iowa DNR do its annual fall electrofishing – aka. shocking.

Having never watched this before, I was pretty excited. I mean, how often does an angler get a chance to watch walleyes suddenly float up all around the boat?

All and all, it was a great time. Steuck explained how the tool used for electrofishing works on the same principle as a police stun gun. Every electrofishing boat is equipped with a generator. In the case of the Iowa DNR, their boats’ generators pump out 220 volts, or enough to power some refrigerators. Attached to the generator is a dropper, which is lowered into the water and releases an electrical field. While water is a great conductor for electricity, the field given off by the dropper only reaches 5 to 6 feet in any direction.

For fish farther away from the dropper, the electricity will cause a slight tingle. However, for fish that swim into the field, it is instant incapacitation. When electricity comes in contact with the muscles of a fish, or any animal, it causes the muscles to contract. And if there is enough electricity, every muscle in the body will contract at the same time, completely incapacitating the fish. While the phenomenon isn’t the most pleasant of experiences, the contraction does no damage to the fish. It simply becomes rigid and, because of its air bladder, floats to the surface. From there, Burns and I got to net them up and drop them into a livewell.

Of course, not everything went smoothly. A weather front moved in the second I arrived in Davenport and didn’t leave until I left (something I found a little eerie). That weather system drenched us all night long. My rain gear took it like a champ. My boots, not so much.

Still, some wet feet were easily worth getting a chance to be on the boat. Here are a few pictures I managed to take that night while hunkered underneath a rain coat.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Pounders = Ouch

I hate "pounders."

It's been five days since I took a trip with my dad to Cave Run Lake for some fall muskie fishing. I woke up this morning and parts of me still hurt. My hands are raw. My back aches. And my left tricep is still very upset. If today was the day after the trip I'd think nothing of it. Fall muskie fishing for me always involves giant lures that can make an angler sore. But this is five days later, and last I checked I'm not 60.

Hence why I hate "pounders."

To be more specific, "pounder" is the affectionate nickname given to the Musky Innovations Super Magnum Bulldawg. Basically, the lure is 16 ounces of pain. You read that right, 16 ounces. Launching a cast with one of those things requires physics I'm not smart enough to figure out. Forget loading up the rod. All you can do is swing the lure back, and when it starts swinging forward, use that momentum to get it airborne. Some 25 feet later, it will hit the surface of the water like a goat dropped from an airplane.

Why did I throw that monstrosity you ask? Partly because the guys I was fishing with, longtime friends and guides Tony Grant and Scott Salchli, wanted to see how long I would throw it, and partly because they catch fish… though not for me. I threw that thing around a fair amount over two days, resting often to check for hernias, and never moved a fish. Luckily, there are the "lighter" Magnum Bulldawgs (7.8 ounces) and Chaos Tackle Medussas (8.25 ounces). Now those lures did the trick. Over the weekend I had four bites and two follows between the two, along with boating a 37-incher on the Medussa.

There are three things I'll take away from the trip along with the pictures. The first was lure color. The first day, all the action on the giant soft plastics came on firetiger. However, on day two I never moved a fish on the bright lures and instead caught my fish on natural colors. The water temperatures didn't change. The sun was still shining both days. The locations were the same. Yet had I not switched between the two I may have never caught a fish.

No. 2 was watching the moon. Fall muskie action almost always comes in windows. And those windows often revolve around moonrise and moonset. Like clockwork both days, once we got within an hour of moonset the fish started showing up. Of the 14 fish my dad and I moved, eight came in two one-hour windows in the evenings around the moonsets.

However, the most important thing I took away was how to work the giant soft plastics over weeds. Salchli is one of, if not the best at working weeds with giant soft-plastic jerkbaits. And he showed me what he calls his "bunny hop." Instead of jerking or ripping the lures over the weeds, Salchi points his rod up and does a series of quick pulls to keep the lure just ticking the tops without getting fouled. It’s not easy and it takes some practice to feel the lure just ticking the tops, but once I got it down I caught fish.

Now it's time for more Advil. Man I love muskie fishing!

Slam the hooks!

Sean Ostruszka

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Crankbait “Dives-To” New Depths

By Jason Sealock

For some reason, crankbaits overtook other lures this year in the speck of cyberspace inside my head that is my attention span. My wife gets annoyed that I can’t hear other words when I’m singularly focused on one task or noise. The problem is compounded when it involves something to do with fishing.

Back to my original train of thought, this year we’ve caught so many fish in so many different scenarios on so many different crankbaits that it started me on this quest to understand what it is about my favorite crankbaits that has made them … well, my favorite crankbaits.

Some crankbaits I’ve been throwing for years. Some I only started throwing this year (like the Jackall MC/60 I wrote about earlier).

What is it, though, that compels us as anglers to stock a box full of similar looking crankbaits, yet reach for the same ones day in and day out. Obviously catching fish has something to do with it. The depth you’re trying to hit has something to do with it. I think, however, as we become better anglers, we learn to quickly assess when a crankbait will catch bass or just cramp our arms all day in given scenarios. In fact, I’d argue, all of fishing really boils down to that single premise – assessing the best tool for the given situation or scenario.

Rapala DT Series Background

David Fritts didn’t invent crankbait fishing, but he’s certainly in the discussion as one of the forefathers of it. I recently caught up with Mark Fisher, Director of Field Promotions, for Rapala. Mark has been with Rapala for 9 years now and was a pro-staffer for 12 years before that. So his mind houses more than 20 years of experience with their wide-range of products. We got on the subject of the Dives-To (DT) Series, a subject dear to his heart.

“The DT Series is an evolution of Fritts’ many years of experience and his intense study of the properties of Balsa and what you could do with it,” Fisher said. “The Fritts system of cranking employs 10 pound line and snap casts to achieve specific depths. All the crankbaits in the DT line were designed along this system. That’s why we say an actual depth and not a range.”

Some crankbait companies look for a certain shape and then figure out the depth range it runs. Rapala attacks bait design from the standpoint that they want to be sure a bait does what they say it will do. If they say it will run 20 feet, then anything shy of that is a failure to them. Fritts worked painfully long hours with Jarmo Rapala to get the baits in the DT line perfect.

Building on Reputation

One interesting note is that Rapala has the technology to basically take an existing balsa bait, scale it down 70 percent and reproduce the bait again at the reduce size. But Fisher pointed out several drawbacks to sizing baits.

“We have a basic silhouette, but we also have the capabilities to shoot an element and take it like you would in a copy machine and reduce it 50 or 75 percent,” Fisher said. “We lose some of the action just straight reducing though. The dynamics of the baits change, so we have to play with lip angles, body widths and where the pull point is on the lip. All those aspects impact the action of the bait. All the baits maintain a family appearance but each one is slightly modified and presents refined actions and characteristics that differentiate it in the family.”

Rapala has a tongue and cheek statement around the office – no one ever returns a lure because it won’t catch fish. But for them it’s the standard by which their designs live. There is a mystique about Rapala. They know several folks who literally took their father’s favorite Rapala to the grave, and it became a family heirloom.

“We think about that when we’re building our crankbaits,” Fisher said. “If we’re building a DT4, then it’s critical to us that the bait does what we say it will do. Our engineers are as good as the world’s best Swiss clock makers.”

The early DT 20 didn’t hit 20 feet consistently and had some swimming issues. A lot of that was just getting the designers to understand terminology in terms of what a crankbait does like hunting or kicking out. Turns out it was simply a problem with the pull point on the lip and now the baits hit their mark.

“When we build a bait to hit a specific depth in the Dives To line, not only do we hit that depth but we learn through the process of testing and tweaking what action is the best action at that depth,” Fisher said. “I love to crank. I did before I ever came to Rapala. We don’t ever knock any other crankbaits because there are a lot of great crankbaits out there. But so many things have been incorporated into the DT series that give me such a confidence that when I tie it on I’m going to hit the depths I need to and it’s going to look appealing to the bass when it gets down there.”

One of the most impressive things to me has been how consistent the baits are. Now there are some anglers I talk with that believe one rattles a little different than the others and will go through 50 DT’s to find the right noise in one. The baits are designed with a baritone rattle but to me that is not the key. The key is that almost every one I’ve ever thrown runs true right out of the box. These are mass-produced lures, but they still fish like handmade lures.

“The balance, action and depths are incredibly consistent,” Fisher said. “We’re rolling hundreds of thousands of these baits out. Part of that goes to the consistency of the balsa we use to maintain that tolerance in every bait. And it shows in the success people have with them. Fritts said the DT 6 is the finest grass crankbait ever made. We get calls from guys all the time to thank us for making the baits that won them so much money.”

Common Misconception

One of the things Fritts taught Fisher in their work together is that most people will put down their crankbaits when the fishing is slow and pick up some other lures. Fritts learned that by changing the depth, action and profile on certain days, you can get the fish triggered again. So when others reach for a spinnerbait, topwater or a worm, Fritts just picks up a flat-sided crankbait or a round-belly bait or a deeper or shallower model and keeps “plugging” away at it.

Cool Trick

I like to learn how people very fluent with a crankbait’s capabilities, work it to achieve a desired response from the bass. Fisher offered a great trick for fishing around grass. When he’s cranking around grass, he’ll reel the bait like normal, but occasionally, he’ll pop the rod tip and then throw slack back toward the bait by dropping his rod tip, much like you would while walking the dog. The slack allows the bait to pivot 180 degrees on its axis while still in its downward facing position.

Next, he reels up his slack and sets the hook. Most of the time, he never feels the bite, so he sets the hook to be sure. Then if he doesn’t have a fish, he’ll start reeling again. Most of the time the bass will engulf the bait while it pivots, but if not, the change in direction afterward often triggers them. This technique works better with the bigger DT’s like the DT 16 and DT 20 but will work with the others as well.


It’s not feasible to make every color for every angler, so good lure manufacturers have a base of proven colors. Rapala believes that base is not only good colors nationally but also the hot regional colors that are specific to an area of the country.

“We find out that regionally a certain color might be the hot ticket and we look at that every year to make sure we have a good solid nuts and bolts offering,” Fisher said. “But then we also want to make sure we have those regional hot tickets for further acceptance of the baits. It’s cool to see the trends in color not necessarily on what baits sell the most but what baits you always see in good anglers tackle boxes. And honestly with David Fritts, Larry Nixon, Dave Lefebre, Terry Bolton, Tom Mann Jr. and the other pros, we have the knowledge to build the best crankbaits, and we wouldn’t be able to otherwise.”

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Running the new Yamaha SHO V Max 250 LA

By Jason Sealock

Waking up to rain at 6:00 am didn’t dampen the excitement of testing the new Yamaha outboards. The air was cool but not cold, and the rain was spitting and misting on the 45-minute drive to the test facility in Bridgeport, Ala. A quick safety meeting got everyone on the same page, and then a run down of the SHO outboard came next.

SHO stands for Super High Output 4-stroke technology. The old 3.3L engine has been upgraded to a 4.2L engine. The outboard is 34 pounds lighter than the V MAX Series II 2-stroke engine it replaces in the Yamaha product line. No other outboard with the same horsepower is lighter in fact. At 505 pounds, the 250 purrs like a kitten at idle. Actually it sounds like the low rumble of a high performance sports car. But when it was time to hit the gas, the engine was surprisingly quiet, even without any muffler, a first for the Yamaha 4-strokes.

Many folks don’t realize that a 4-stroke means no oil reserve under the back deck. Owners can actually very easily change their own oil through a filter that is very easy to access. It is even tilted upward with a scoop under it to remove any of the drip problems (i.e. smoke from spilled oil) from the whole process.

I asked pro angler Dave Wolak how much oil he went through last season on tour with his 3.3L F225 4-stroke, and he changed his oil only twice. We’re talking maybe 12 quarts in a year of hardcore competitive fishing. That’s impressive and this engine is even better. That’s hundreds of dollars saved in oil if you fish and run your boat a lot, thousands over the life of the outboard.

You might hear the engine referred to as the VF250LA. The V is for VMAX, and F is for four-stroke. The LA stands for L shaft length which is the 20-inch model and A for the first generation of this outboard. But the thing to keep in mind here is we’re talking about a 4-stroke engine that has springs and cylinders and more parts than a 2-stroke. All these things add weight, yet these outboards are as light or lighter than 2-strokes.

Okay, the proof is in the pudding – namely how does it handle on the water in real life. Well two of us jumped in the boat. We idled past the no wake zone, and Wolak leaned over to ask, “Are you ready?” “Let it rip,” I said. In an instant we were on pad and rapidly approaching 60 mph. Then 65. Then 70, 71, 72, 73 and 74 mph. Wow. The Z520 is running 74 mph going up river against a heavy current. Unreal.

He came off pad for a second and then jumped back up on plane in an instant. Then back down to a low speed and we jump back into full speed. This was just a sick display of not only the incredible hole shot but also the mid-range power the outboard has.

One nice thing I noticed is there wasn’t that “clunk” when you went into and out of gear. I was also very impressed with the responsiveness of the motor. No hesitation and immediate power. It was smooth, quiet, and powerful, and it was a 4-stroke.

While coming back down the river, Wolak demonstrated a situation that any angler who has fished a shallow fishery has encountered at least once. You’re fishing a really shallow area or you have a problem while running and have to shutdown in shallow water. You can either idle for a long time to get to deep enough water again to get on pad or you can drive in a circle until you build up enough speed to get on plane.

In half a turn, the boat was buoyed up to the surface, and we were on plane. Unreal!

Anglers and boaters have a choice of 200, 225 and 250 hp models in the V MAX SHO line. All the technologies are the same just some different size and horsepower options.

The secret is in increased airflow, lighter weight and borrowed technology of plasma fused metals in the bored out cylinders. The result is increased displacement which means more power. But the other advantage is these metal powders are passed in front of a plasma arc and bonded to the cylinders to create an ultra thin layer on the actual cylinder that is 60% harder than steel.

A side effect is that microscopic pockets form in the metals. These pockets hold oil. The result is no more cylinder scrapes and greatly reduced friction, a natural thief of power. Also because the friction is down, the heat is down and the overall cooling in the engine is increased.

The thing is most folks won’t even see all the little things they fixed, lightened, redesigned, and designed from scratch to achieve this three-year-in-the-making motor. The overlying message I found while studying the engine is that there are so many things that make this engine a great investment and add to its performance that you can’t say it’s just one thing that makes it better.

Small things like retooled water intake to make sure the engine gets enough water pressure in all types of situations to the redesigned air intake and transfer system to make sure the air is not only cooler but more abundant. Engines run better on cooler mornings because the fuel and air are denser then. This is one thing that Yamaha can simulate to make the outboards perform better.

I think these engines will set a new bar. For those that don’t know, 2-strokes are going away. Manufacturers will stop producing 2-strokes very soon because of EPA regulations. In fact, Yamaha said only the 150 and 175 2-strokes will remain after January 1, 2010. The dealers who already have the other 2-strokes can continue to sell them, but no more are going to be manufactured.

I am seriously impressed with this 4-stroke outboard. I thoroughly enjoyed being able to test the motor on both a Ranger Z520 and the new Skeeter FX 21. The weather certainly won’t rain on this parade. Check the website later this week for a lot of technical information on all the new offerings from Yamaha for 2010. We’ll have more updates on the other products soon as well.

Hop over to our YouTube channel to see some videos from the outboard test this morning.

Monday, November 16, 2009


By Jason Sealock

Game Changer? It's definitely going to be a drool inducer. We were invited to an early viewing of the new 4-stroke outboards from Yamaha. Today we were only privy to images of the new outboards and tomorrow we'll actually get to put them through their paces on several different boats.

Most notably in their introduction to bass anglers is the all new YAMAHA V MAX SHO line of 200, 225 and 250 horsepower outboards. These are 4-stroke outboards but they completely reinvent what a 4-stroke outboard "can be." Most notably, the engines are 34 pounds lighter than their counterpart V MAX 2-stroke cousins. According to Yamaha engineers, no other V6 bass outboard of equal horsepower is lighter including two-strokes.

The engines incorporate the first marine application of plasma-fused sleeveless cylinders. This is basically a high-tech aeronautical and performance automobile technology that has been ported over and applied to marine technology for the first time. They get a larger bore which results in much more displacement, in fact the largest displacement in its class.

The result for bass anglers and boat owners is more response, power and the fastest hole shot acceleration in its class, even more than the V MAX Series 2 two-stroke models.

Tomorrow morning we'll be testing these outboards along with a slick new 70-hp, four-stroke that will be a sweet option for a lot of aluminum model boats. Just like its big brothers, this outboard is lighter, faster and more fuel and oil effecient.

I'm actually very excited to run the boats tomorrow, and it will be interesting to see the new Skeeter boats being unveiled tomorrow as well. We'll hopefully have video from the test runs along with tweets from the event tomorrow. Check back to see more or follow us on Twitter.

Until then, here are a few photos compliments of the great folks at Yamaha. I'm already drooling and scheming on how to get a Ranger with the new outboard next year.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Do You Know What Your Jig is Doing?

By Jason Sealock

I like to look at lures in the water. I constantly do this with new baits and we're going to be incorporating a "water-eye-view" into some of our product photography in future issues.

Today we took several jigs and dropped them into the tank along with a bunch of plastics to study their actions. It was pretty eye-opening.

Here are a few of our favorites:

A couple different football jigs

A flippin jig with a big Zoom Chunk

And our favorite of the day - The Talon Series Shibui Ookii Jig

Doesn't that look like a Venus Fly Trap or something. You should see it move in the water. Just unreal. We'll be doing a First Look on this jig soon! Very cool.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Tackle Storage is a System

By Jason Sealock

My storage system for tackle is not complex, but it works really well. Being the editor for a fishing magazine means you fish a lot in “someone else’s boat.” That translates to me constantly being the “co-angler” and lugging tackle to and from different boats. Rods, reels, tackle, tools, and more have to get from my garage to some remote destination. And over the course of 25 years, I’ve collected what my wife terms a stupid amount of gear. I’m probably the worst about going to a tackle shop and buying something I already have because “I might run out.”

That leads to a lot more tackle than a person (or boat for that matter) can physically carry. So how does one keep it all organized yet have it readily accessible when heading out the door? Well obviously having some method to all this madness helps. Sure I’ve got unopened packages hanging on pegboard, and tubs full of plastics still in their bags. But that’s not very efficient to organize on the fly.

The key is being modular and organized from box to box. If you only have 20 crankbaits, put them all in a Plano StowAway® box labeled crankbaits. However, if you have 300 crankbaits, you might need to be a little more organized. I store all my crankbaits two different ways. I store them by brand (so I can easily grab all my Rapalas or all my Lucky Crafts if I want). But I also store them by running depths. I’ll have a Rapala box, a Bomber box and a Norman box. But I’ll also have a shallow box, a medium box, and a deep diver box. I even have a custom painted box.

I do the same for other lures like topwaters, spinnerbaits, swimbaits, jerkbaits and more.

The labeling can be something as simple as masking tape and black marker, or you can use a label maker to make them all easily legible. Certain boxes store baits better than others. I keep most of my big crankbaits in the staple Plano StowAway® ProLatchTM 2-3600 or a 2-3700. But recently the 2-3701 and 2-3601 have been even better for storing baits. They are the thin versions of the old standbys and neatly store baits in a low profile container. Of course you’ll need more but it saves having a tangled mess every time I reach for a shallow running crankbait.

I also really like the XL ProLatchTM StowAway®. It’s one big box perfect for storing tools, fishing line and bags of soft baits in bulk. I keep several under my work bench. One holds jumbo spools of line, one holds filler spools of line, one holds tools for making jigheads and skirts and others hold plastics in bulk. I can easily grab one and throw it in my truck when I head out the door.

But the key to the system is storing everything on shelves where they are easily seen. Plano’s Storage Shelving works perfectly in our tackle room at the office and took less than 10 minutes to put together. We use two of them as well as some standard shelves to store everything. One shelf holds six of the XL StowAways or a pile of the 3601 and 3701 StowAways.

Keep about six to eight empty StowAways on hand always. When we have a field assignment or just a fun trip where we want to put some new products through the paces, we load a few baits from several different boxes into the empty boxes and hit the road. Sometimes, however, like when we know there is a hot crankbait bite, we just grab whole boxes and go.

This system works the same for me at home. When I get ready to go, I generally do my research and know what I should take depending on season and fishery. So I load up what is needed and only end up most of the time needing one or two boxes and some plastics in my bag.

This is a modular system that has worked for me fishing all over the country and even locally. When it’s winter, I know the fish won’t be hitting my Spro Bronzeyes or Zoom Horny Toads. When I’m fishing muddy water I know I won’t need my Optimum swimbaits. So I travel with only what I need for the trip. That saves me from lugging whole boxes just because one or two baits from that box are needed.

Obviously it takes some time to build up to this system, but if you’re like me, asking me to throw out a pack of plastics is like asking me to throw out a tool I don’t use often. If there’s a chance that it may be the perfect tool for a certain situation, then I’m going to hang on to it.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Fish that Indiana U Will Remember Forever

By Jason Selaock

This one bass turned around their whole tournament. They had a meager 4 pounds after day one. Then on Day two they went with their gut instincts and hit a spot that yielded a 3 and this fish that weighed nearly 5 pounds. We were fortunate enough to be filming Jesse as he fought the bass and Dustin as he netted it.

It was great to see their reaction and the other anglers fishing on the bank and in their boats clapping and cheering for them. It was an awesome thing to witness because this was the exact moment that turned the tournament around for them.

See it unfold here in these photos taken by Sean Ostruszka
(click the photos to see a larger version).