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Archive for May, 2009

Jade Keeton of Florence claimed the All-American co-angler championship and will fish in the FLW Cup championship in July. (Photo: FLW Outdoors)

Jade Keeton of Florence claimed the All-American co-angler championship and will fish in the FLW Cup championship in July. (Photo: FLW Outdoors)

Jade Keeton probably had to be pulled down from Cloud 9 and tethered to the stage Saturday in the Walmart BFL All American after bringing in the only five-bass limit in the division.

In tough conditions on the Mississippi River, Keeton’s catch weighed 8 pounds, 10 ounces and gave him a 3-day total of 18-5 for the co-angler championship. It was worth $70,000 and a berth in the FLW Cup championship in late July in Pittsburgh.

Keeton lives in Florence and attends the University of North Alabama. He fishes on the UNA Lions club team and also competes on the FLW National Guard College Fishing circuit, which will make a stop June 6 on Wheeler Lake during the FLW Stren Eastern tournament out of Ingalls Harbor.

Keeton won by 3 pounds over Dickson Adams of Georgia. He fished with boater Chris Baldwin, who opted to stay close to the launch ramp and have more fishing time.

“We turned in right before we went in to the dam in Pool 16,” Keeton told FLW Outdoors. “We stayed in there for most of the day until about 12 or 12:30. We fished two or three different spots along the rock walls and we came out and fished an isolated section of a rock wall that had a wing dam on it. We made four or five passes there and I was able to limit out right there. I caught them on a black and red tube.”

I’ve always said the All American is one of the toughest tournaments not only to qualify for but also to win. As far back as the old Red Man days when Mike Whitaker ran Operation Bass, the qualifying events typically attract good, competitive fields.

There are more opportunities to fish now than during those Red Man days, when a state might have five or six events and that was it. Some bigger states might have two division, like the Okeechobee in Florida and one up north, but that wasn’t the norm. The old “Bama Division” put anglers on a challenging variety of waterways, from the rivers at Camden or Gadsden to the big reservoirs like Wheeler or Eufaula. You had to be versatile, suck it up and if you won a brass spittoon, you had done something.

But even with today’s expanded opportunities, the BFL circuit still remains a great way for anglers to get the feet wet. Just like the BASS Federation Nation events, they’re designed for weekend guys who want to fish and those who maybe want to begin working their way up via the qualifying ladder to the middle or highest levels.

Gettys has top 10 finish

Edward Gettys of Scottsboro finished in seventh place with a total of seven bass weighing 17-8.

Gettys was second after the first day but couldn’t reproduce that magic. It seems winner Adam Wagner of Tennessee was the guy who had the hot spot as he went wire-to-wire for the win with 14 fish weighing 38-6.

Tennessee woman first BFL qualifier

Belinda Lewis of Lawrenceburg, Tenn., became the first woman in 25 years to make it to the All-American after qualifying through the Bama Division last year.

She finished 43rd but that’s beside the point. Doing well enough and making it to the big show is pretty darn cool. She weighed one bass that was 1-3, and so she’ll be logged into the FLW Outdoors record books … kinda like making a free throw in the championship basketball game. You don’t care how you do it, as long as you get listed in the scoring.

Lewis won a boat at the FLW Tour’s season-0pening event during the final weigh-in in a drawing at the Von Braun Center.

Information obtained from FLW Outdoors press releases.

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Catching up on a few things …

Ed Gettys of Scottsboro slipped in the standings at the Walmart BFL All-American on Friday, falling from second to sixth after catching just one keeper bass. He had a total of six fish weighing 15 pounds, 2 ounces.

The field is fishing on the Mississippi River out of Davenport, Iowa, and it’s tough. The area was hit by severe flooding last year and that tore out a lot of grass beds. But it’s obviously not a terrible fishery because the leader, Adam Wagner of Tennessee, caught 14 keepers and remained in first place with a total of 19 pounds, 6 ounces.

Wagner leads by more than 5 pounds, which seems to be an incredibly safe margin. I think he probably would be able to win without weighing a fish at all. But I’m sure he’ll want to bring in five just to make sure.

The winner earns a berth in the FLW Cup at the end of July in Pittsburgh.

Gator registration opens Monday

Online registration for Alabama’s fourth alligator hunting season will begin Monday, June 2, at 8 a.m. through the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources site.

First, you should read the regulations and details about the process and the hunt:

http://www.outdooralabama.com/hunting/alligatorhunthome/regulation.cfm

Then you can go to the registration link:

http://www.outdooralabama.com/hunting/alligatorhunthome/registration.cfm

The hunts will be in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta Aug. 14-17 and Aug. 21- 24, and in Barbour, Henry, Houston and Russell counties Aug. 21-31. The area in the four southeast counties has been expanded from only on Lake Eufaula to other waterways, and those are detailed in the regulations.

Registration ends at 8 a.m. on July 13. The cost is $6 to apply and you can register as many times as you wish. Only Alabama residents age 16 years or older may apply for an Alligator Possession Tag. Hunters will be randomly chosen by computer to receive one Alligator Possession Tag each, and the tags are non-transferable.

The gator hunt is one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. The first year, I visited in Mobile with the Conservation officials and game wardens to record the event. During the first Eufaula hunt, I was fortunate enough to be able to hunt with a group and we killed a fine gator. Like a moron I didn’t get my photo made with the group … and so I have only the great memory. But what an incredible rush and ton of fun.

If you apply for a tag do not go into the process without being prepared from start to finish. It’s a damn shame people get drawn and then don’t show up or aren’t prepared appropriately. Set a strategy, get a crew, get your gear in order and make plans to do something with the gator after the hunt.

Two boat ramps closed on Guntersville Lake

The public boat ramp at Mud Creek in Jackson County, just off of U.S. 72 on Guntersville Lake, has been closed due to problems presented to anglers loading or unloading boats.

Boaters are urged to use the public ramp at BB Comer Bridge off of Alabama 35 on the south side of the lake, at Stevenson Park on Crow Creek and the Stevenson Boat Ramp (both on Alabama 117), and possibly the TVA ramp at Bellefonte.

Also closed is the ramp at Morgan’s Cove in Marshall County at Buck’s Pocket State Park due to unsafe conditions with the dock and piers. State officials plan to demolish and rebuild them when money is available.
Anglers wanting to launch there could use the South Sauty Creek ramp on Marshall County 67 or the South Sauty Resort facility, which charges a $2 launch fee.
Conservation Fisheries crew is honored
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has presented a Regional Director’s Conservation Award to  Fisheries Division officials with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division.
Accepting the award for the division were Fisheries Section Chief Stan Cook, Assistant Chief Nick Nichols and Dr. Paul Johnson, Director of the Alabama Aquatic Biodiversity Center in Marion.

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Always remember to wear a safety harness when using a tree stand and be sure all components on both are new or secure.

Always remember to wear a safety harness when using a tree stand and be sure all components on both are new or secure.

The good folks at Hunter Safety System, an Alabama company based in Danville, had some great recommendations recently for anyone who climbs trees and wears hunting safety vests.

Right now — about 5-6 months before Tennessee’s and Alabama’s bow seasons open — is the best time to get out your vest or harness to check for wear and tear. Remove all the straps to inspect them for tears or fraying, check buckles for cracks and examine any other connections or seams.

Do the same with your safety ropes, too. Having a vest in proper order won’t mean a hill of beans if the safety rope that would catch you in a fall is damaged.

Hunting items get stressed over time through normal use. We turn, twist, climb and tug. We may get a little fatter. Sun, wind and the elements can cause damage. Taking an hour or so to really give your safety gear and your treestand a thorough examination is a no-brainer.

Visit www.huntersafetysystem.com for more tips and info.

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Ed Gettys, a longtime legend on Guntersville Lake and threat to win just about any tournament he enters, is in second place after the first day of the Walmart BFL All-American championship on the Mississippi River out of Davenport, Iowa.

Gettys lives in Scottsboro and is a regular in events on the Big G. He finished the day with five bass weighing 13 pounds, 10 ounces. That’s almost 2 pounds behind the leader, Adam Wagner of Cookeville, Tenn., who had 15-9.

This championship certainly is being eyeballed by the Bassmaster Elite Series field, which will stop in Davenport in two weeks for its seventh tournament of the season. Last year’s flooding on the river wiped out many of the primo grass beds but reports have them rebounding slowly. The plus is, apparently, the flood brought in some other trash and cover in shallow areas that is being hammered by the All-American field and will be targeted in two weeks by the Elite pros.

Wagner said he flipped a 3/4-ounce jig and a Sweet Beaver around wood cover, grass and lily pads for his top catch. The tournament has a potential payout of $1 million and a berth in the Forrest Wood Cup championship at the end of July in Pittsburgh.

Weights behind Gettys ranged from 12-5 to 8-14 in the top 10, with four of the leaders catching just four keepers. Good bites obviously are at a premium.

Jade Keeton of Florence, Ala., is second in the co-angler division with 9-11. He trails the leader by more than 2 pounds. Roger Brown of Tallassee, Ala., was eighth with one bass weighing 4-8.

The tournament ends Saturday.

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Alabama’s Conservation Advisory Board met May 16 in Montgomery for the final time this year, unless something earth-shattering requires another formal meeting, and once again the issue of using dogs to hunt deer was a dominant topic.

I covered the CAB meetings for 15 years and attended almost every one of them. There were two a year for a while until a third was added a few years ago. Personally, I’d like to see the board meet at least once a quarter on top of their current trio of meetings, spread out the meetings around the state’s parks and if nothing else have scheduled events for the public to attend, comment and hear the board’s thoughts.

But, they don’t ask me and never have. My suggestion and $4 will get you a grande vanilla latte at Starbucks. Big whoop. (Get the whole milk and an extra shot of espresso. Add three packs of the “raw” sugar, stir well and you’ll be looped for a few hours. Or so I’ve heard.)

New board members

A few board members’ terms expired and new members have been appointed to six-year terms, while a few were reappointed.

Board chairman Dan Moultrie of Vestavia Hills was reappointed to a second term, which will expire in 2015. The chairman does not vote except in case of a tie. Moultrie has provide a steady hand as chairman, even in his first two years providing a Parlimentarian familar with Robert’s Rules of Order to help get things on an even keel.

Dr. Wayne May of Eutaw and Ross Self of Enterprise have been reappointed through March 2015. Both have been dilligent in their duties and have, in my opinion, done a fine job.

New to the board but not to conservation issues in the state are Grady Hartzog of Eufaula and Brock Jones of Tuscaloosa. Their terms also run through 2015. Both have served on committees and with conservation organizations for years, and should be fine additions.

Dog deer hunting vote

At the most recent meeting the board decided to try again with the dog deer hunters and landowners who have argued off and on for more than 25 years. In 1995 one of the first meetings I covered included firey rhetoric from the dog hunters and a stern warning from Dr. Tom Lawson of Huntsville. He said, paraphrasing, to clean up your act or we’ll shut it down! Fifteen years later we’re still hearing the same complaints from both sides.

Some bad eggs among the hunters put a black eye on the entire lot but, to the CAB’s credit, instead of just outright banning the practice they’ve tried various things through the years to keep it intact. Those have included rules about being close to a road, loaded guns in vehicles, tags with names-addresses on dog collars, etc., and still there are problems. Some hot spots the board has deemed apparently “unfixable” have been hit with bans on use of dogs.

Two weeks ago, the latest tweak came about with the CAB’s approval of a permit system to be used as a last resort in problem areas before consideration of a ban. The permits will be on a county basis and not a mandatory statewide basis; other hunters using dogs, such as for rabbits, quail, raccoons, etc., will not be affected.

The board approved the proposal with an 8-1 vote and it was supported by the Alabama Dog Hunters Association. The ADHA president, Don Knight, has been a voice of passionate reason over the years and has tried to work with the hunters and DCNR.

It isn’t an immediate solution, though, because the board will have to consider each scenario requiring a permit system and, if that doesn’t work, consideration of a ban. Permits already are required in five counties or portions of them, most in the southeast corner of the state, and the CAB also approved permits for Macon and parts of Choctaw and Pickens counties.

Fifteen counties or portions of them currently under a ban will not have the ban lifted.

A good move for kids

Approval to expand the youth deer season should cause a dip in school attendance throughout the state in November.

The board added two days to the special youth-only deer season, which falls the weekend prior to the general firearms opener. This year it will be Nov. 13-16, which is a Friday through Monday. That also will include the opening of the special muzzleloader season and kids will be able to take part in that.

“Nature studies” will be a good excuse for the kids to submit to teachers. “Assistance with family in the field” also could be turned in.

Dove season, again?

I never, ever, ever have figured out why Alabama’s dove season opens in the middle of September but other Southeastern states open on Sept. 1 and enjoy the Labor Day holiday weekend as the traditional kickoff.

Dr. Wayne May of Eutaw always has had something to say about the dove season dates. Move them up … move them back … it’s too hot … there’s no birds … we’re shooting our local birds … blah, blah, blah.

May believes early September dates bother the population. Balderdash and poppycock. Dove populations are fragile anyway … the birds barely live to be 2 years old and are about the lousiest parents possible, making a twiggy nest that looks like something a 4-year old cobbled together in Vacation Bible School.

Moving up the season dates to Sept. 1 for the North Zone and Sept. 15 (or so) for the South Zone would be just fine.

Mississippi opens on Sept. 1, as does South Carolina. I’ve had great hunts in both of those states during that early time when … gosh, there were no birds! I guess I was shooting into thin air and retrieving dust birds or something. Ghost birds. Invisible birds. They damn sure ate well that night.

Tennessee opens on Sept. 1 while Arkansas, Louisiana and Georgia open about a week later. But in Alabama, we have to wait until the middle of the month. Why? Why is it so dadblamed hard to just make the season-opener Sept. 1 and let everyone enjoy the holiday weekend? Dove hunting is a huge social deal anyway … cookouts, kids, family, football games on the radio and then after a weekend or two everyone pretty much wraps it up and waits on deer season.

Sheesh. It’s not that difficult.

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Jim Hardy of Deatsville caught this 4-plus pound largemouth on a new NetBait 15-inch worm at Old Spring Hill Plantation, where the management plan has paid off with an improved fishery.

Jim Hardy of Deatsville caught this 4-plus pound largemouth on a new NetBait 15-inch worm at Old Spring Hill Plantation, where the management plan has paid off with an improved fishery. (Photo/Alan Clemons)

If you checked in last weekend or take a look at the post below, you’ll see a few words about pond management and removing bluegills to help prevent them from overpopulating.

I’ve been doing that lately in a neighborhood pond and can’t tell if I’m making a dent. I’ve removed 108 fish in the last three days ranging from less than 3 inches to almost fillet size. Every single time I drop my cricket by the dock, I get a bite. Every stinkin’ time. I could sit there for hours and fill buckets with small bluegills that apparently are starving.

It’s fun to catch them, but it’s also a bit of work. Panfish are voracious eaters and after spawning a couple of times they’re stiff competition for food in the lake with the bass. So, out come the bluegills. If you have a lake, consult a fisheries biologist with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources or your state DNR for advice or a private company such as Southeastern Pond Management. They’re good folks and can lend a hand.

Management paying off

One place that has undergone intense management for bass and bluegill the last five years is Old Spring Hill Plantation, the beautiful home and some of the land of former U.S. Senator and Alabama Gov. Braxton Bragg Comer. He was governor from 1907-11 and had about 30,000 acres on which he primarily grew cotton.

Comer later moved to Anniston and then Birmingham, established Avondale textile mills and was quite successful. The home, if you’ll take a moment, was built in 1841 and has been restored to its amazingly simple beauty. Ceilings are high — maybe 15 feet or more? — and the windows are leaded glass. Walk into the front door and there are two bedrooms that share a bath on the left side of the house and two rooms on the right side that are reclining parlors. Some of the old servant quarters have been moved to the property and restored … and whatever you believe about Alabama’s storied and dastardly history, I believe it is important to preserve things instead of discarding or hiding the past.

Sorry to veer off on a history lesson. Old Spring Hill is one of my favorite places to visit because it’s quiet, secluded, historical and just a great place to relax. Phil and Brandy Anderson do a bang-up job of making you feel comfortable from start to finish.

There are four lakes on the 3,000-acre OSHP property but the “big lake” is a 50-acre doozy fed by a couple of small creeks. When I say small, I mean small. But when it rains, they help do the job because the terrain drainage is just about perfect. In the lake is a shallow area of stumps and old timber, a bit of a channel, some flats and shoreline timber.

Bass up to 12 pounds have been caught or shocked during checking. The shellcracker fishing is super and there are shad in the lake … but no crappie or catfish.

OK, OK … get to the point

Five years ago the lake was overpopulated with dinky largemouth bass that would stretch your string to the tune of 80 to 100 a day.

Sounds like fun, right? It was if you liked primarily fishing with finesse worms or flukes and catching 1- to 2-pounders. If you caught a 3- or 4-pounder, well, that was a pretty good one. I saw a couple over 9 pounds and caught one myself that was probably 8-9 pounds. A few others in the 5- to 8-pound range … but not a lot of them. It’s not like you’d catch a big fish for every 10 dinks. It was maybe every 20 or 30 dinks per big fish … not a good ratio.

Anderson said during a recent visit that when he took over as OSHP manager about five years ago they decided to work hard on the lake. It had been a great one in its early years but a previous owner’s philosophy of not removing any fish created a nightmare.

So they began the process of removing 3,000 bass that were at least 14 inches or shorter. That’s a lot of fish. The next year it was 2,000, and then 1,000 and then 500 last year. In that span they have removed, give or take, about 6,500 bass from a 50-acre lake during a period of drought, through spawns and now, this year, in a time of plentiful rainfall that has almost put the lake over its banks a time or two already.

They worked on the bluegills pretty hard as well. I’m unsure how many pounds they removed each year but it was a lot. Interestingly enough, they only took out the male bluegills and left the females. That ensured the spawn would provide forage for the bass that were finding less competition for food from their own ranks and growing with the available panfish and shad.

The results have been quite amazing. I’ve been fortunate to visit OSHP the last five years in spring for a few days of fishing. This year it was courtesy of Daiwa, Lee Sisson Lures, NetBait and Davis Baits. Our first day on the lake we used Daiwa Shock ultralights for bream and although Jim Hardy and I struggled to find the hot spot, several other teams hit the motherlode of shellcrackers in the 1-pound range. Weather threw us a curve ball as well with a cold front and aggravating wind.

That afternoon and the next day, we fished for bass and found the “dinks” to be few and far between. Average size of the largemouth has increased to about 2.5 to 3 pounds. Instead of catching 14-inch fry-guarders and 75 other little ones, we were catching 40-60 between 3 and 5 pounds on everything from a new 15-inch NetBait worm to Spooks. Those of us who have been there each year and witnessed the transformation were impressed with the work and improvement of the fishery.

Wildlife management, which includes ponds or small lakes, takes work. There is no magic bullet, no wand to wave where everything goes “poof!” and it’s automatically perfect. You have to plan a strategy, seek assistance and then follow through on that plan to achieve your results.

If you want to fish at Old Spring Hill Plantation, which can handle small and large groups, visit http://www.oldspringhillplantation.com and check it out.

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Catching panfish from ponds is a great way to spend a day or even an hour, and also help the lake by removing some of the fish that can overpopulate and throw things out of balance. (Photo/Alan Clemons)

Catching panfish from ponds is a great way to spend a day or even an hour, and also help the lake by removing some of the fish that can overpopulate and throw things out of balance. (Photo/Alan Clemons)

Managing land for wildlife is one of the most popular things going right now in the outdoors industry, with millions spent each year on supplemental food, equipment, game cameras, feeders, plants including mast trees, prescribed burns and other things.

Pond management is just as important when it comes to having a stable, fishable and enjoyable waterway. From weed control to fertilization to removing fish, they all work together when done properly to help the lake and its users.

I don’t know squat about vegetation control, other than too much is a bad thing. I like having some weeds in a lake or around it to provide shade, areas for insects and habitat for fish and fry. Wiping out all the weeds in a lake so it looks ‘pretty’ is insane unless you don’t plan on having fish.

Fertilization? Better get some help from a fisheries biologist. Screwing up the fertilization process can lead to algae blooms, low oxygen and dead fish. It’s best to check with a qualified biologist or management specialist.

As for removing the fish, well, I can do a pretty good job of that with a rod and reel. In a lake that has only bluegills, bass and maybe some ‘pond minnows’ of some type, the two predator species turn on each other for food. Bass spawn earliest and then have to chase away the bluegills trying to eat the eggs or fry. Then the bream have their turn and the bass hang around for the small morsels.

One problem in many lakes, and sometimes it happens too late, is taking out fish. BASS founder Ray Scott preached about “catch and release,” which can be a good thing. But it also has instilled a crazy mentality that every fish must be put back, that every bream is a piece of food and every bass could grow up to be the next world record.

Well, that’s horse manure. Fish need to be removed from public and private waterways and that includes bass. God forbid anyone from keeping a few bass on Guntersville or Wheeler or Eufaula … the heavens would split and lightning bolts would fry their shiny Ranger boat for putting one in the livewell to release in Lake Crisco.

In a private lake, the results of too much “catch and release” and not enough “release in Lake Crisco” can be more easily seen. One lake I reguarly fish in is like this and the bluegill population is out of control. Friday night I caught 39 ranging from 3 inches — hey, it takes massive skill to catch the little ones — up to about half the size of my hand.

These aren’t titty bream, the kind you have to hold against your boob to remove the hook. These are the kind that flip and flop and can stick a spine in you if you’re not careful. They don’t get much bigger, do nothing but lingrer around and eat whatever is available. They need to be removed from the lake.

Cane poles and crickets are good. I prefer a Fenwick spinning rod and Garcia Cardinal reel with 4- or 6-pound test Vicious Panfish line, a Tru-Turn Aberdeen No. 2 hook, a weighted bobber and crickets. Stick a split shot about four inches above the hook if the fish aren’t biting on the surface. Ours swarm at the top looking for anything that hits the water, so a floating or slow-sinking cricket is like a sinner a televangelist convention.

If you have a pond, seek professional assistance from a Conservation Department fisheries biologist or a management specialist, such as with Southeastern Pond Management. They can help recommend what to do and when to do it to get your pond in shape.

Check back Monday for an update on another lake where I fish and the management strategy that has improved bass fishing in just five years from 100-fish days of dinks to 40-60 fish days of solid 3-pounders and up.

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