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Calling Your Shots

The Outdoor Sports, May 2005

Babe Ruth may be the greatest baseball player of all time.  There was an occasion when “the Babe” came up to the plate and pointed at the outfield fence and then proceed to hit a homerun over that fence.  Being a tremendous fan of striper fishing, I was just as impressed, if not more so with a fisherman who can point to a fishing rod that’s been baited and placed in a rod holder, and declare “That one is about to get a bite” and watch as the rod suddenly begins to bow over with the weight of a hefty Lake Hartwell striper.
I should not have been too surprised however as the fisherman calling the shots was my buddy Steve Crenshaw who has been a hybrid and striped bass fishing guide on Lake Hartwell for over fourteen years.  The scene occurred during mid April when April showers of “April shower bring May flowers” fame were threatening to give me, my longtime fishing partner Chuck Young and Steve a hard time.  April and even early May can be a transitional time in the Upstate as many turkey hunters can attest.  You never know if the day will bring warm weather with bright sunshine or wet and windy weather that can even be a bit cool at times.  Generally speaking, responding to nature’s call to spawn will be somewhere on just about every fish that swims agenda.  But don’t be fooled into thinking that every fish will go to the shallows and stay there because they’re in the mood to spawn.
Transition means some fish will be spawning while others have finished and others are still preparing.  Transition means that fish can be moving between shallow water spawning grounds, deeper water recovery areas, and mid depth staging areas between the two.  Because it is such a transitional time for all fish species, not just the striped bass, it pays to be prepared to meet the fish on their own terms.  The key to fishing anytime is finding the fish and figuring out what pattern they are in.  It is possible to visually see signs of active fish, especially this time of year.  However, 90% of the time the fish you catch will not be seen before they bite.  This is where quality electronics comes into play.  I cannot imagine in days gone by how fishermen were able to target fish before the usage of electronics.  Fish finders, depth finders, graphs, flashers, LCRs, called by many different names but all refer to sonar equipment, Navigation, and Ranging.”  It was developed as a means of tracking enemy submarines during World War II.  A Sonar consists of a transmitter, transducer, receiver and display.
In the simplest terms, an electrical impulse from a transmitter is converted into a sound wave by the transducer and sent into the water.  When this wave strikes an object, it bounces back.  This bounce back hits the transducer, which converts it back into an electric signal.  This signal is amplified by the receiver and sent to the display.  This process repeats itself many times per second.  Most of us have some type of sonar unit installed on our boats and we obligingly cut them on each time we head out on the water and might even look at them from time to time when fishing.  I believe if they were honest, at least half of the fishermen out there who own sonar equipment would admit they either don’t know how to read them or could greatly improve upon their knowledge and usage of the equipment.
This is what I was thinking as Chuck and I were diligently staring over Steve’s shoulder while he was explaining the pattern we would be fishing this day.  Steve had located stripers and hybrids holding out over the main river channel in the Tugaloo River arm of Lake Hartwell.  Cooler weather was still holding the fish out in deeper water and Steve admitted this pattern would break as soon as the water temps rose a few more degrees.  True to his word, we began graphing fish suspended over the main channel, holding, around 45 feet in almost 100 feet of water.  While most other striper anglers were pulling freelines or flatlines closer to the shore, Steve assured us he could get these fish to bite if we presented our baits at the appropriate depth, right in their face.  Our presentation on this day was a technique known as downrodding.  Steve uses 7 foot medium heavy rods outfitted with hight capacity bait cast reels spooled with 20 pound test monofilament line.  The terminal tackle was setup with a Carolina rig.  Here, the main line is threaded with a 1 ½ oz. egg sinker followed by a barrel swivel to prevent line twist.  An 18 to 24 inch mono leader is tied to the other end of the swivel with a 1/0 kahle hook tied to the leader.  Steve’s choice of baits is a live 4-5 inch blue back herring, hooked thru the nose.  This setup allows the herring to swim freely and struggle without the worry of the bait swimming into and tangling the other lines.  The rod is then securely placed in a rod holder once the bait is at the appropriate depth.  Ordinarily, the angler would count down the bait to reach the appropriate depth.  QA good rule of thumb is to count the number of pulls from the reel to the first guide on the rod as 2 feet.  “Drop the bait under the transducer and let it free spool until I tell you to stop it”, Steve instructed us.  While the bait was in free spool a faint line appeared on the graph.  Chuck and I both watch mesmerized as the faint line ascended deeper toward the fish arches we had anchored over.  “Now” Steve informed us as the falling bait and the fish arches intersected on the graph.  This was repeated 2 more times until we had three rods baited and secured in rod holders.  “One’s coming up to take a look” Steve informed us pointing to the right rear rod in Babe Ruth fashion without taking his eyes off the graph.  Almost on cue the herring began to relay distress signals up the line that made the rod tip jiggle.  Two seconds later the rod tip buried itself in Lake Hartwell and Chuck was there to set the hook.  “Luck” I thought to myself.  Luck is pointing to left field and hitting a homerun once in a lifetime.  Luck is not calling your shots SEVENTEEN times in a row.  On the way back to the dock that day I make myself a mental note to find the Owner’s manual for my depth finder and spend some serious time with it.  Apparently there’s something I’ve been missing.
To book a trip with Guide Steve Crenshaw on Lake Hartwell, contact him at (864) 261-6319 or cell (864) 608-2763.  Tight lines and good fishin’!