Fishing's Best-Kept Secrets

From chumming with fish scales to using ripe mulberries for bait, top fishermen (reluctantly) share family secrets for scoring more strikes.

Outdoor Life Online Editor

Everyone has secrets, but good anglers, it seems, harbor more than their fair share. My Uncle Guy was one such fisherman, and he had a doozy of a fishing trick. It paid off for him in more ways than one. He hung out at the pool hall when he wasn't doing carpentry work, and the men there-crappie anglers every one-contributed to a weekly pot that was awarded to those who caught the biggest and the most crappies. Often as not, my uncle took home all the money.

I fished with Uncle Guy numerous times on the Mississippi River oxbows he loved, but I remember one spring morning in particular when he turned to me as we were launching the johnboat and asked me to take an oath of secrecy.

I was captivated by the proposition he presented.

"I'm going to show you how I catch all those big crappies," he said. "But you have to swear that as long as I'm still breathing you won't tell another soul."

I swore. And now, may Uncle Guy rest in peace, I'll tell you the secret.

His technique was simple, but its effect was astonishing. When he caught the day's first crappie, he pulled out a dinner spoon and scaled the fish over a coffee can. He then added enough water to keep the scales moist. Every so often, he'd take a big pinch of scales and toss them near a bush or treetop. Then he'd drop his minnow-baited hook in the spot where he'd pitched the scales.

I can't say for sure why it worked, but something about those sparkling scales fluttering enticingly down through the water column was irresistible to those oxbow slabs. They'd rise from their lairs deep in thick cover, rush straight toward the cloud of glittering scales and gobble up our minnows.

An important part of the trick, Uncle Guy told me, was always to present the bait so it was suspended above the fish. "A crappie never looks down" he observed. "It'll only eat what's above it in the water." Had my uncle possessed the formula for Coca-Cola or known the names of the 11 herbs and spices that make the Colonel's fried chicken so special, he would have shared that information more quickly than his little crappie fishing secret.

Anglers harbor many secrets like that. Everyone has moments of weakness, however, and occasionally someone lets down his guard. We've rounded up a few fishermen willing to spill the beans about the secret tactics and techniques that work for them in the spring. Just keep this information to yourself, okay?

[pagebreak] Buzzing Jigs for Bucketmouths
Catching trophy largemouths is the specialty of bass-fishing professional Mitch Looper of Dayton, Ark. He has scores of bass ranging from 9 to 14 pounds, but he rarely catches lunkers using conventional tactics. Looper's style of fishing jigs during the pre-spawn period is a case in point. His approach teases bass, goading them into making reaction strikes.

"When largemouths are moving up to the bank in early spring, I cast a jig into thick emergent vegetation and reel it back as fast as I can," he says. "As bass cruise the weeds, they scare bluegills and other small fish, which dart away. At this time of year, a fast-moving jig seems to mimic a frightened forage fish better than anything else I've tried."

Lure: Booyah's new Swim'n Jig has an arrowhead shape, a flattened bottom and an in-line tie, which helps the jig avoid gathering loose weeds. The lure weighs ½ ounce. Looper favors darker colors.

**Tackle: **Besides a 6½-foot medium-heavy All-Star rod, Looper uses a Pflueger Trion reel with a fast 6.3:1 retrieve ratio and 25-pound-test line.

Technique: Hold the rod high, crank the reel handle quickly and keep the jig swimming about an inch under the surface.

Waking Up Nighttime Stripers
Fishing guide brad Wiegmann of Springdale, Ark., knows striped bass don't stop feeding when the sun goes down. In Beaver Lak an Ozark Mountains reservoir in northwest Arkansas, he catches big spring stripers when other anglers have put up their rods and headed home for the day.

"As the sun sets," he says, "stripers start prowling the shallows, feeding on spawning shad. Nighttime action during spring can be exciting, if you learn to 'walk the dog' with a Cotton Cordell Pencil Popper. This lure has a weighted rear end, so it can be cast far. I usually fish it around points that run out into the main lake. Because most other anglers have left, these points are undisturbed, and the stripers feel more secure feeding there."

**Lure: **A 6-inch-long, 1-ounce Cordell Pencil Popper in pearl-and-blue finish is Wiegmann's choice. If stripers show a preference for subsurface lures, Weigmann ties on a gold or silver Cordell Red Fin minnowbait (shown below), either the 7-inch (1-ounce) or 5-inch (5/8-ounce) model.

**Tackle: **To handle heavy lures, Wiegmann uses a 6-foot, medium-heavy-action Shakespeare Ugly Stik. It's matched with a Pflueger Trion bait-casting reel loaded with 14-pound-test Excalibur Silver Thread.

**Technique: **To avoid spooking fish, Wiegmann positions his boat within casting distance of points using only a trolling motor. Then he casts the big lure as close as possible to the shore and retrieves it with a walk-the- dog action.

[pagebreak] Dancing Lizards for Smallmouths
On tennessee's dale Hollow Lake, smallmouth guru Stephen Headrick has developed his own unorthodox method to entice big bronzebacks when they move to the shallows to spawn.

To coax strikes from these fussy fish, the Celina, Tenn., native uses 6-inch Zoom soft-plastic lizards or salamanders he rigs using a "secret" style favored by local anglers. First he removes a plug of plastic from the nose of a lizard with a .22 bullet cartridge. Then he inserts a 1/16-ounce bullet weight pointed-end-first into the hole and seals it up by melting the plastic with a lighter or match.

Headrick then uses a length of thin wire, with a small eye bent into the wire at one end, to pull a length of line through the body of the lizard. He pushes the sharp end of the wire into the lizard between its front legs, then passes the end of the line through the loop and pushes the wire and line through the body and out at the base of the tail. Headrick reinserts the wire into the lizard at the base of the tail and draws the line out at the bend in the lizard's tail. Once a No. 6 short-shank hook is tied to the end of the line, the hook is then embedded in the tail or left exposed, depending on cover. The lizard will spin on retrieve and twist the line, so Headrick trims the rod end of the line to 3 inches and ties on a high-quality ball bearing. "You might think that little hook won't hang on to a five-pound smallmouth," says Headrick. "But trust me, it will."

**Lure: **Zoom Lizard (6-inch) in pumpkinseed or other bright colors.

**Tackle: **
G. Loomis Model BCR803 rod (6 feet 8 inches; medium-heavy action), 12-pound-test Berkley Vanish fluorocarbon line and Abu Garcia Ambassadeur bait-casting reel with 6.2:1 gear ratio.

Technique: "Cast the lure and let it sink to the bottom," says Headrick. "The weighted nose stays down and the tail with the hook in it stands straight up. Shake the rod tip slightly so the tail dances. You don't want to move the lizard much, if at all. Nine times out of ten, the bass will grab the tail of the lure first, which is why the hook is there."

[pagebreak] ** Cranking Rocks for Crappies**
Jigs or minnows are the most popular enticements for crappies of all sizes. But when Oklahoma crappie expert Todd Huckabee (shown at right) is fishing for the biggest slabs, he uses modified Bomber crankbaits to catch fish feeding on threadfin shad around shoreline riprap and rocks.

"My favorite lures for early-season crappies are Bomber's Fat Free Shad, Fat Free Fry and Fat Free Guppy," notes the Eufaula tournament pro and guide. "But here's the trick: I modify each lure by removing the back treble hook and placing a 2-inch VirbraKing tube jig over the treble. First I pinch off the head of the tube and push the body and skirt over the hook's shank, with the skirt end down. Then I replace the treble on the O-ring and reattach it to the lure. The skirt gives the lure more action."

**Lure: **Bomber Fat Free Shad Jr. (3 inches long, ¾ ounce; dives 8 to 14 feet), Fat Free Fry (2 inches long, ¼ ounce; dives 4 to 6 feet) and Fat Free Guppy (23/8 inches long, 3/8 ounce; dives 4 to 6 feet). Fire tiger, Tennessee shad, citrus shad and chartreuse are Huckabee's favorite colors. For the skirts, he likes chartreuse or hot pink.

**Tackle: **Ten-pound-test Super Silver Thread monofilament loaded on a Quantum Energy bait-casting reel with 5.1:1 gear ratio, and a Quantum Tour Edition PT 7-foot medium-action rod.

Technique: "The key is to find concentrations of shad close to the rocks where you can see them," says Huckabee. "The crappies position themselves beneath the baitfish, usually in five or six feet of water. Get the lure down to their level and hang on." y favorite lures for early-season crappies are Bomber's Fat Free Shad, Fat Free Fry and Fat Free Guppy," notes the Eufaula tournament pro and guide. "But here's the trick: I modify each lure by removing the back treble hook and placing a 2-inch VirbraKing tube jig over the treble. First I pinch off the head of the tube and push the body and skirt over the hook's shank, with the skirt end down. Then I replace the treble on the O-ring and reattach it to the lure. The skirt gives the lure more action."

**Lure: **Bomber Fat Free Shad Jr. (3 inches long, ¾ ounce; dives 8 to 14 feet), Fat Free Fry (2 inches long, ¼ ounce; dives 4 to 6 feet) and Fat Free Guppy (23/8 inches long, 3/8 ounce; dives 4 to 6 feet). Fire tiger, Tennessee shad, citrus shad and chartreuse are Huckabee's favorite colors. For the skirts, he likes chartreuse or hot pink.

**Tackle: **Ten-pound-test Super Silver Thread monofilament loaded on a Quantum Energy bait-casting reel with 5.1:1 gear ratio, and a Quantum Tour Edition PT 7-foot medium-action rod.

Technique: "The key is to find concentrations of shad close to the rocks where you can see them," says Huckabee. "The crappies position themselves beneath the baitfish, usually in five or six feet of water. Get the lure down to their level and hang on."