Read Steve's Blog Entries
Fall Patterns - Monday, Aug. 31
Fast Food - Friday, Aug. 28
Fishing A New Lake - Thursday, Aug. 6
Strengthen Knots With Braid By 30% or More - Tuesday, Aug. 4
Working With a Guide... - Tuesday, July 28
Wolfe and Walleyes - Thursday, July 9
The Right Line - Thursday, July 2
Pierced - Thursday, June 25
Rod Actions Do Make a Difference - Thursday, June 18
Improving Hook-up Rates - Thursday, June 18
Steve Pennaz is a leading expert on pike and medaled in both World Ice Fishing Championships he has fished.
For the past 19 years, Pennaz has been Executive Director of the 440,000-member North American Fishing Club. For 14 of those years he served as editor of North American Fisherman magazine.
As host of "North American Fisherman" television show on Versus, Pennaz he has fished in more than 30 states, nearly all of the Canadian Provinces, Central America (almost eaten by a shark in Costa Rica), South America and Scandinavia. He spends anywhere from 75 to 100 days a year on the water.
Steve’s work has won awards from several organizations including Outdoor Writers Association of America, Association of Great Lake Outdoor Writers and Minnesota Monthly Magazine Publishers Association.
He is a long-time board member of Wildlife Forever, a non-profit dedicated to preserving fish and wildlife habitat.
Monday, Aug. 31
This morning I noticed a maple tree in my backyard is starting to change from green to gold. Is fall really almost here?
With apologizes to my friends in areas that actually warmed this year, I must dub 2009 as the year without summer. What does 90 really feel like? Heck, has it been 80 anywhere?
My kids claim the water is warm enough for swimming, but the only time I ventured in my legs turned blue and quit working after a few minutes.
So I am not surprised the fish are so messed up this year. Summer patterns? There is no such thing when you have May weather in August.
Friday, Aug. 28
Newly-widened, newly-paved Highway 53 is beneath me as I write this with slightly greasy fingers and an empty Hardees bag at my feet. North American Fisherman producer Brad Hadsall is driving as we head to a lake on the border of Minnesota and Ontario. The walleyes are going says Joe Ebel, of Ebel’s houseboats on Namakan Lake, and I hope so because I’d like nothing better than to enjoy a meal of fresh walleye right now.
Call me if you’d like to know what’s best on the fast food scene right now. After four months on the road I, unfortunately, have been to most as of late. I’ve become skilled at eating without spilling, even on bumpy roads. And when the use of a fork is required.
There was a time when my favorite fast food was wahoo broiled over a bed of hot coals and served with fresh lime. You don’t find this on the menu at Long John Silvers, which just happens to be coming up.
Brad, you hungry?
Fishing A New Lake
Thursday, Aug. 6
The more popular segments in NAF-TV are those in which we pick a new lake or river and start the trip knowing little or nothing about that exact body of water.
These segments are popular, I believe, because most anglers today don't need lessons on HOW to fish as much as they want information to help them FIND fish.
It's not an easy task to consistently find fish, and to be totally truthfu, I get nervous the night before each of these shoots because time is money when you are taping for television, and swinging and missing too often gets expensive.
This past week, Doc Talk host Dr. Hal Schramm, a fisheries biologist with Mississippi State University and a serious bass angler, hooked up in northern Minnesota on a lake neither of us had ever fished prior to taping. The premise of the show was simple--Hal would look at the fishery through the eyes of a biologist/angler and I would look at it through the eyes of someone who has years of experience fishing northern natural lakes.
In many ways, these lakes are relatively easy to fish--bass and other species tend to load up on the outside weedline, but there can be some sleeper spots such as downed wood which are often ignored in many areas.
What surprised me, sort of, was the fact that Hal's approach to finding fish was similar to mine--we both looked at water clarity, prevailing weeds and other cover, along the number of dwellings (docks can be good in mid-summer), potential forage and size of the bass, before moving ahead with our plan.
The funny thing I notice when I fish a new lake is how fast I fish campared to lakes or rivers that I know. When fishing new waters, there are no memories of past trips to tap, and in many ways that makes it easier for me to notice things on lake maps and on the water that make me more effective.
I do tend to start slow, but excel at making adjustments until things begin to click.
If you are stuck in a fishing rut, try fishing a new body of water and do so with an open mind--you may be surprised at how you approach things.
So how did Hal and I do? The show airs this winter!
Strengthen Knots With Braid By 30% or More
Tuesday, Aug. 4
It's important to recognize that very few fishing knots work well with all types of lines. In general, you can assume a knot that is good with monofilament is also good for the various fluorocarbons. But don't assume the same hold true for braids.
In fact, during the weeks of testing we've conducted for Knot Wars on NAF-TV, we noticed that many of the best knots for mono failed miserably with braids.
The issue became very apparent when we watched knots fail in slow motion. Unless the failure was catastrophic (and failed instantly) most knots with braid didn't break they slipped--usually when about seven pounds of pressure was applied (we did tests with 15-pound FireLine Tracer Braid).
In most cases, at least with a number of species in freshwater, seven pounds of pull is generally enough to land a hooked fish. This has led many angler to believe knots like the Improved Clinch work just fine with braids because they have yet to experience a failure.
In truth, they should be expecting 20 pounds or better knot strength when using this same line and tying a solid Knot (see animated instructions on tying the Fishing Fool to Palomar Knots).
We did learn an easy way to strengthen a knot that slips with braid--use heat to cut (and melt) the tag end of the line. We used the Berkley TEC HotWire Line Cutter early in testing for the last Knot Wars series and learned the device lead to significantly different results than those achieved when cutting lines with a scissors. In some cases, knot strength for even bad braid knots like the Improved Clinch increased 30 percent or more depending on the knot because the little glob of molten line that formed prevented the knots from easily slipping. I don't smoke, but I would imagine a lit cigarette, cigar or match would allow you to enjoy the same improvement.
The results still don't come close to the best braid knots, but then I know how hard it is to stray from tradition.
Working With a Guide…
Tuesday, July 28
Let’s face it, hiring a guide is not an inexpensive proposition, especially when a boat is involved. I’ve seen rates from $275 to $600 dollars a day in recent times, unless you are talking an off-shore charter and that’s a whole other ballgame.
The good news is, when you find the right guide, the return on investment is superb.
I expect three things from a fishing guide:
1. Intimate knowledge of the waters to be fished; knowledge that’s current and correct;
2. The right equipment in good working order;
3. A person with good people skills; I don’t want to spend eight hours with a stump.
In the same vein, there are some things a guide expects of me (and you):
1. Show up on time and ready to go (dressed, with drinks/lunch, sunscreen, etc.)
2. Follow advice given.
3. Make clear, up front, what my goals and expectations for the trip are.
4. To understand that certain things, like weather, are beyond control.
One of the best guides with which I have ever worked is Capt. Jim Willcox (305.393.1128) based out of Bud N’ Mary’s Marina in Islamorada, Fla.
I’ve taken three in-shore trips with Jim, and after the last one (in which we landed numerous redfish, snook, goliath grouper and sharks), I realized there are two other traits that make the best guides so successful.
First, they are passionate about their sport. Willcox studies his craft and lives for the hookup, and his anglers feed on it. Secondly, like other guides (and tournament anglers) who successfully fish waters that are constantly changing (like rivers, reservoirs and saltwater), Willcox is amazingly versatile.
Willcox battles both tides and weather on a daily basis, and because he targets so many different species on a given week, he always has Plans B, C and D available in case Plan A doesn’t come together.
Knowing that makes it easy to follow his advice and the results consistently speak for themselves.
Wolfe and Walleyes
Thursday, July 9
Easing down the mighty St. Lawrence River in the pre-dawn of a recent day, I found myself thinking more about British General James Wolfe than walleyes.
Stepping back to 1759 is not easy in this modern day, but then Quebec City is not typically either. History breathes here.
Wolfe died within musket range of where local guide Sebastien Lord and I started fishing. We each tipped our 1-ounce leadhead with a Berkley Power Worm followed by a piece of nightcrawler, then lowered it to the bottom. Heavy current required the use of the heavy jig, and even with all that weight, staying vertical and on bottom was challenging at times.
Wolfe died during a siege on Quebec City that also took the life of Louis-Joseph de Montcalm, the commander-in-chief of the French Forces in Canada. If you tour the battlefield known as the Plains of Abraham (and I recommend it), don’t be surprised by the odd sensation that you are never alone here.
We found walleyes in places you’d expect to find them—anywhere they could find a break from the current. We found them on points, along rip-rap banks, and above and below wing dams in waters ranging from 4 feet to 44 feet.
The river here is heavily influenced by the tides here, which range from about 14 to 21 feet or so depending on the moon phase and other factors. It was running 18 feet when I was there, and during the outgoing the currents were as strong as I’ve fished anywhere.
We landed a number of fish including walleye, sauger (which Sebastien called black walleyes), smallmouth bass, sturgeon and several channel cats. Most walleyes ran 1 to 3 pounds, but there are some true giants there, too.
Want more information on Wolfe? For more information on walleye fishing contact guide Sebastien Lord.
The Right Line
Thursday, July 2
You’d think at some point the learning would stop and you’d know everything there is to know about fishing.
In my case, I realize daily how little I actually know.
Let’s talk fishing line for a moment, and specifically fluorocarbon.
Fluoros made a name for themselves as a tough, nearly-invisible leader material that made fish more apt to bite in clear water. As the move to build “fishable” fluoros took off, the temptation to key on the invisibility factor was overwhelmingly strong for many anglers, me included. What I have since learned is, fluoro’s other benefits might be even more important that visibility.
For one, fluoro sinks better than any other line (other than lead core) and in situations when you need to reach bottom and stay there, fluoro offers benefits over mono and braids.
Fluoro is also very sensitive, though it does offer some beneficial stretch as well. I find light bite easier to detect with fluoro than mono, and it’s more fishable than braids in some situations—like vertical jigging for walleyes in rivers or casting jigs for bass.
Last week on the St. Lawrence River in Quebec, we found walleyes as deep as 44 feet and the currents strong. Yet, fluoro allowed me to stay in the effective fish zone and stay out of trouble (snags are a real problem when you can’t stay vertical).
As I said, the lessons continue….
Thursday, June 25
When my son and fishing partner, Pierce, was born eight years ago I wondered what the future would hold. Neither Karen nor I had any experience with Down Syndrome and, frankly, I was petrified. With the diagnosis I went from wondering when I could teach him how to work a plastic worm to worrying that his heart was weak and that he’d never be able to say “daddy.”
Well, Pierce is finishing second grade next week and playing second base tonight on our local little league team.
He’s also bragging about the “big northern” he caught last Saturday. The three-pound pike made the mistake of eating a crappie Pierce was winching back to the boat. His spin cast reel groaned with each run, but paid out line as needed while Pierce hung on with both hands.
Pierce is not blessed with an abundance of patience so we fish bluegills and crappie most often. He always insists on casting himself and does so very well. Tangles are common, but then they are for most beginners.
What I never expected from Pierce were the lessons he teaches me. Like to savor the cry of loon…that water bugs are awesome…that “Boo Boo Nose” is sometimes a good name for a fish.
I’ve also learned not to fear Down Syndrome.
Rod Actions Do Make a Difference
Thursday, June 18
The only thing more confusing than figuring our which line to fish is selecting the best rod for the job. After all, you need to consider action, length, power and, if you carry it further, material (glass or graphite), the reel seat, number or guides and other considerations.
Let’s focus on action-only for now, as it is a confusing topic, but an important one.
Rods come in three primary actions:
- Fast Action - soft tip, stiff mid and butt sections
- Medium Action - soft tip and mid sections, stiffer butt
- Slow Action - soft tip, mid and butt sections (rod forms a big “C” under heavy pressure)
I find the fast action rod is best for applications like jigging that require superb sensitivity. The fast action rod is the easiest to cast accurately, an important consideration when trying to lay a bait a few inches on the nose of a tailing redfish or cruising bass.
A medium action rod is a good option when a little give is a good thing such as when fishing cranks, spinnerbaits or other lures fished with a tight line.
A slow action rod is best for specialized applications like downrigging or when fishing big fish on light line (rod acts as a shock absorber).
Length is another consideration, but we’ll have to cover later because I’m going fishing.
Improving Hook-up Rates
Thursday, June 18
I had an interesting conversation with a North American Fishing Club Life Member from Missouri yesterday. The caller had issues with a comment made on North American Fisherman about hook-up rates.
In the time we talked, we covered everything from the angle of the line tie, to improving the designed of weed guards (must avoid the centerline of the hook, per the caller), to the problems with today’s popular short-shank treble hooks (resulting angle of the hook point is incorrect under pressure of a hook set).
And you know what? The guy made sense, even when arguing for the placement of hooks might be best on the top of crankbaits (places hooks in the roof of the mouth, he theorized)!
I am fresh off a tournament where a single additional fish would have had a big impact on prize money, so this conversation found fertile ground for consideration. After all, the little things do make a difference.
For example, which hook is best for fishing live bait? A straight shank? An eye up hook (hook eye bends away from hook point)? An eye down (hook eye bends inward)?
I haven’t thoroughly tested each hook, but can tell you I don’t like the fact that the eye up design, unless snelled, tends to discourage hook penetration under pressure. I also don’t like the eye down design because it reduces access to the hook. Yes, I fish straight shank hooks now.
Majoring in minor matters? Maybe. But I sure hate missing a bite!