Welcome to our new blog. We plan to feature articles by Texas fishermen who are skilled in the art of catching sunfish. If you would like to join our group please feel welcome. If you would like to post on this site please contact me at lilburn@uwmail.com. I have contacted many of you, and I await hearing from you and receiving your first article. Please limit your posts to how-to articles and stories about your fishing experiences. The more pictures the better. Controversial items, criticism of TPWD, and such should best be posted on the TFF or other forum. If you decide to post on a regular basis I will need a picture of you, your real name and your website if you have one. You will be added to the sidebar as one of our fishermen. No handles or avatars, please.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Exotic Fishes in Texas Waters

While fishing for sunfishes in Texas waters you may encounter strange looking fish that take your bait. In this post we will discuss some of the more common exotic fishes.

First, let's understand that most of these fish were not put there by TPWD. They are the result of "bucket stocking" by individuals who dump fish in the lake either because they have outgrown their aquarium or because of a misguided belief that they would benefit the lake. In particular a number of Asian species have made their way into our lakes and streams in because they are prized food fishes back home. Others are native to the US and are moving into more and more waters in Texas as global warming advances north. And a few are the result of legitimate research programs by TPWD.

The Cichlids

The most common family of exotic fish you are likely to encounter is the Cichlids.

Rio Grande Cichlid (Rio)

The Rio Grande Cichlid (Rio) was first found, as the name implies, in the southern parts of the Rio Grande River. However, the fish has now established breeding populations in large springs and rivers of Central Texas' Edwards Plateau including the San Marcos, Guadalupe, San Antonio and Colorado rivers. Our TFF members in the San Antonio area frequently catch large fish. Chuck Dewey, who writes under the pseudonym of Banker Always Fishing recently announced that he had caught a new state record Rio which weighed 2.02 pounds on Lake Dunlap. The fish was a little over 11 inches in length and had a girth of 12.25 inches. The new record fish is shown below, courtesy of Chuck.

The TPWD website states:" Rio Grande Cichlid are distinctive in that they exhibit cream and turquoise colored spots, giving them a speckled look. Background color varies from very dark to light olive. Lighter colored specimens usually exhibit five dark vertical bars. Both dorsal and anal fins are long and tapered extending behind the caudal peduncle (fleshy portion of the tail). Unlike tilapia and most sunfishes, which typically have three spines on the anal fin, Rio Grande Cichlids are equipped with five to six anal fin spines. Adult males may also develop a pronounced "hump" on the head which is not present in tilapia."

The Rio is a vigorous feeder, which can be taken on a wide variety of baits, such as worms, crickets and dough baits. The fish fights like a bluegill.

Temperatures cannot go below 50 degrees Fahrenheit if the Rio is to survive and breed. In suitable water the fish is a prolific breeder.

Blue Tilapia

Another common Cichlid is the Tilapia. Blue Tilapia were introduced to Texas waters because of their value as a food fish. In particular Lake Fairfield and other power plant lakes provide an excellent habitat. A temperature of 60 degrees is required.

Because Tilapia are not classed as game fish they are usually caught in cast nets. It is illegal to possess a Tilapia that has not been gutted.

The Tilapia are omnivores, meaning they eat both plant and animal life. They are caught on small pieces of worm, and are reported to be vigorous fighters.

Aquarium Escapees

A large number of  exotic fish are released into Texas waters by hobbyists who buy or are given aquarium equipment and enthusiastically set forth to raise the larger captive fishes. After a few weeks or months the honeymoon is definitely over. Maintaining filters, heaters, air pumps and lights definitely take the thrill off watching the little devils eat 5 bucks worth of food. So the fish are dumped in a local pond, lake or stream where some of them grow to considerable size before they are killed by a cold winter.


The Oscar is a Cichlid, which grows to 18 inches in length and 3.5 pounds. It is a colorful bad-tempered fish which will eat just about anything that falls into the water, including  crayfish, worms, and insects such as flies or grasshoppers. They even eat small mice. Crickets are also good live bait. Since these fish eat fruit in the wild, it can also be used as a type of bait.

The Oscar is reported to be a good food fish along with the other Cichlids. If caught it should be killed. It is illegal to return the fish to the water. A temperature of 55 degrees F. is required, so in Texas power plant lakes are the primary habitat, although reports of Oscars being caught in warm reservoirs are not uncommon.

Pacu and Piranha

Pacu is a common name used to refer to several species of omnivorous South American freshwater fish that are related to the piranha. Pacu and piranha have similar teeth, although the difference is jaw alignment; piranha have pointed, razor-sharp teeth in a pronounced underbite, whereas Pacu have squarer, straighter teeth in a less severe underbite, or a slight overbite. Additionally, full-grown Pacu are much larger than piranha, reaching up to 60 pounds in weight in the wild.

Piranha have the reputation of existing in large schools, which attack any animal, including humans, unlucky enough to fall in the water. South American fishermen frequently have circular scars from the razor-sharp teeth.

Fly fishing for Pacu in the Amazon has become a popular tourist destination.

When bait-fishing in Pacu-stocked ponds, anglers in are advised to use circle hooks, size 2 or larger, and wire rather than nylon leaders which are easily broken by the Pacu's teeth. Since pond Pacu often nibble at the bait before taking it, anglers should let them swim away with the bait. If the angler simply allows the line to tighten, the circle hook will slide to the side of the fish's mouth and embed its point there.

The Pacu and Piranha have invaded Texas waters. A confirmed report recently appeared in the media. While I worked in Lake Weatherford Marina several Piranha were brought to the marina for identification, although we suspected the person who brought them of being the one who raised them.

They are considered excellent food fish.

Any exotic fish caught in Texas should be killed rather than released, except of course for the Rio, which is a prized native fish.

First offense for possession of prohibited fish species is a Class C misdemeanor in Texas, with a maximum $500 fine. But subsequent convictions boost the charge to Class B and Class A misdemeanors, which carry possible jail time as well as heavier fines. A person caught releasing a live, prohibited fish in Texas faces a Class B misdemeanor for a first offense, and repeated offenses can bring state-jail felony charges.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Matching the Hatch

Today's post is by Michael Cox, a popular fisherman from Selma, Texas, who often fishes with Chuck Dewey. Mike is retired from the Marine Corps. He posts on the TFF as USMC_Gy_09. Mike shares with us the advantages of baiting the fish with their natural prey .

Matching The Hatch
Michael Cox

Matching the hatch is a popular phrase that has been used by fly fisherman to describe the process by which they select certain fly patterns. While this procedure is generally used for trout fishing, I believe the same principles apply to fishing for sunfish as well. There are many types of insects and other aquatic life that spend most of their life cycle either in or around the water, and this makes them perfect forage for sunfish.
I recently experienced  a terrific example of using the matching the hatch philosophy while fishing Lake Dunlap; a river lake located just outside of San Antonio in New Braunfels. I was fishing with my friend Chuck and one of the first things we noticed while walking down to our first location was the amount of mayflies that were in the area. They were everywhere you looked; along the docks and boathouses, in the bushes and trees, and many dead in the water itself. Even with all these visual clues, I started fishing with worms (my personal favorite bait) as usual and the bite was fair. A lot of the time, though, the fish were approaching my bait, studying it, then turning away. Very frustrating!
 A mayfly landed on my hand and it triggered a memory of something my daughter Rebecca did. A dragonfly landed on her hand when she first started out fishing. She managed to catch it and I jokingly told her that it would make good bait. She surprised me by sticking it on the hook and throwing it out there. Not more than a second or two after it hit the water, her bobber went down and she reeled in a nice sized redbreast. Meanwhile, my worm is sitting out there unmolested.  She continued catching and using the bugs she found around the water and proceeded to out fish me by a large margin.  Something I hadn’t thought about in some time.
Back to the recent trip on Dunlap with Chuck. Well, I grabbed the mayfly and threaded it on my hook. I threaded on the hook through the thick part of mayfly’s body, much like you would thread a cricket. I pitched my line back out there and the results were amazing. Not only did the fish not hesitate; it attacked the mayfly with enthusiasm. I set the hook and reeled in the biggest redbreast sunfish of the day. I thought this might have been a fluke, so I caught another of the thousands of mayflies around, threaded it on, and the result was the same: no hesitation on the part of the fish. I continued this for many more fish and tried going back to worms. It was like night and day. Where I was getting a bite on every mayfly I used, the worm would produce maybe half of the amount of strikes.
Here is a picture of how I hooked them

The hatching of mayflies, stoneflies and other aquatic insects usually happens in spurts with many insects emerging at once. Their adult lives are short-lived, especially with mayflies, so taking advantage of the hatching period is important. Obviously, the best time use similar looking baits is during this major hatching period. That does not mean a big bluegill or other sunny won’t bite a mayfly while no hatch is going on, but you will have much better luck if you fish during these periods. However, the larvae of these insects may live in the water for up to 4 years or more.  Fishing with the larvae of these insects can be effective year round for this reason. Although much harder to come by due do the fact they live underwater, artificial lures resembling the larva can be effective.
Matching the hatch isn’t exclusive to aquatic insects. The same concept can be applied to terrestrial insects, fish, and other aquatic life. While the use of minnows and frogs is usually thought of while fishing for other larger predatory species of fish like bass and crappie, many sunfish will aggressively feed on newly hatched fry and tadpoles as readily as any bug. On Lake Calaveras, southeast of San Antonio, one of my favorite baits to use is little slivers of cut shad. Shad is abundant on the lake and is the main forage source in the lake. Terrestrial insects that live near but not in the water are easy prey when they fall in. Look for overhanging bushes and tree limbs. Sunfish will sit and wait near these areas and wait for grasshoppers, caterpillars and other insect to fall.  A good place to fish is under trees with the tell-tale “webs” of webworms and tent worms. They are hard to miss. It will look like a tree has been taken over by a giant colony of spiders.
The main advantages of matching the hatch are quantity and familiarity.  There will be a lot of bait in the water and fish will be aggressively feeding on it.  Insects, fish, and amphibians usually lay eggs in the hundreds or thousands to ensure some of the young will survive until they can reproduce. Since the hatch is native to the area, the fish will readily identify it to eat. There are some disadvantages to trying to match the hatch as well.  The hatches are generally short-lived, so it may provide difficult to fish this way on a consistent basis.  A lot of the insects are fragile, and they will usually only last for one bite which means constant rebaiting.  Generally speaking, you will have to catch your bait to use as well.  I think the end result of using natural bait found around an area outweighs some of the disadvantages. So go out, look around and give a shot. Flip over some rocks or logs. Look in the trees and bushes. You might surprised by what you find. (Just watch out for poisonous creepy crawlies).

Friday, September 23, 2011

Cooking our Catch

Cooking Your Sunfish Catch

Now that you have your sunfish filleted, washed and chilled it is time to cook a meal.
I usually serve a dinner of sunfish, potato and cornmeal muffins.

Because of the cooking time I usually get the muffins into the oven first. Here is the recipe:
1 cup regular flour
1 cup fine yellow corn meal
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/4 cup Canola oil
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees while you are mixing the dry ingredients with a wire whisk. In a separate container mix the eggs, milk and Canola oil. Whisk well. Add the liquid to the dry ingredients. Pour into muffin tins greased with spray Pam and bake for 14 minutes in the 425-degree oven. Let the muffins cool for 5 minutes and then remove them from the pan. Run a knife around them if they try to stick. Serve the muffins with honey and butter or margarine.

The potato can be either French fries or potato salad.

To prepare the French fries cut large potatoes into strips 1/4 inch thick by 3/8 inch wide. Heat an iron skillet filled with at least one inch of Canola oil. Carefully drop the potato strips into the hot oil. Cook until golden brown, stirring occasionally. Be careful not to break the fries while stirring. Remove the fries from the hot oil with tongs and drain into a paper towel. Pat the fries dry with the paper towel.

If you have to watch your cholesterol then substitute German potato salad for the fries. The potato salad can be made from fresh potatoes or Hungry Jack dried potato flakes. There is little or no difference in taste.

Here is the recipe:
3 cups mashed potatoes prepared from fresh boiled potatoes or potato flakes per the carton instructions
1/2 cup Vlasic brand sweet relish
1 tablespoon French's yellow mustard
While the mashed potatoes are still warm mix the ingredients thoroughly. Adjust the mustard to taste. Serve the salad warm.

Spread the sunfish fillets on a piece of wax paper. Then add seasoning to your taste. I spread the fillets with yellow mustard and sprinkle with black pepper. If you are allowed salt then salt lightly. There are all sorts of seasoning available. If you have a favorite seasoning use it instead.

Use the same pan and oil you prepared the fries in. Roll the fillets in corn meal and drop them into the hot oil. Cook until golden.

By the way, I tried one fish just scaled and gutted. It was not a happy experience. Although the tail tasted good like a crispy chip, I got a mouthful of fine bones when I tried to eat the fish. Advocates of "cook 'em whole and eat them all" may be able to eat the bones, but I am afraid of getting one lodged in my throat or stomach. I think I will stick with filleting.

Serve the meal with Lipton's ice tea and a home made cobbler. This one is from blackberries from my berry patch. We also raise peaches so sometimes it is a peach cobbler.


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Cleaning Your Catch

How to Clean Sunfish
Before we get into actually cleaning the fish, take a look at the tools we will need. First, we need a cutting board to hold the fish. I use an old commercial board with a spring clip. Then we need a sharp knife. For the small fish I use a 4-inch blade Rapala knife. For larger fish a 6-inch blade is useful. Then you will need a bowl of clean ice water for the cleaned fish and a bucket for the trash.
There are two basic ways to clean a sunfish.

Some folks simply cut the heads off, scale them and gut them and fry them whole.

A much better way in my opinion is to fillet them. Critics say that filleting wastes too much. Actually if well done filleting gets all but a small fraction of the edible fish. It is simply a matter of do you throw the bones away before or after you eat the fish.

Step 1. Place your victim on the board with his head in the clip. Make one vertical cut just behind the gills all the way across the fish, being careful to stop the cut when you feel the backbone.

Step 2. Turn the blade flat and along the backbone.

Step 3. Cut along the backbone stopping just short of the tail.

Step 4. Fold the fillet back so that it is flat on the board.

Step 5. Cut the fillet loose from the skin.

Step 6. With the fillet flat on the board cut out the set of small bones.

Place the fillet in the bowl of ice water while you do the rest of the fish. The ice water will keep the fillets crisp and fresh.

Next time we will cook our fillets.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Lake Mineral Wells

Saturday, September 17. I went out to Lake Mineral Wells this morning. It was a beautiful morning - nice and cool with the air washed clean. The lake got 1-1/2 inches of rain yesterday. Lake Mineral Wells is an old handicapped fisherman's dream. It has bass, crappie, catfish, rough fish and sunfish. More importantly, it has a lighted deep water fishing pier with handicapped access. From the pier the fishing is usually good. It is much better in other parts of the lake. But I can fish off the pier without falling on the rocks or rough shoreline. And it is 12 minutes from my house. Admission for old coots is only $3.00.

Early I fished for the little channel catfish. I still am not catching over 1 in 5 bites. They love stealing the blood dough bait.

When the sun came up I switched to the ultralight rig baited with worms. I prefer crickets but I fed all my crickets to my daughter's school bearded dragon. I kept it while school was out this summer.

I caught the usual assortment of sunfish with an exception - a redear. Since I usually use crickets I almost never catch a redear. This one is the first I ever caught at Lake Mineral Wells. It is pretty short stuff compared with the ones Chuck and his buddies catch at the South Texas spots.

I kept 12 plus the redear, and threw back all the rest. I am going to use the 13 to illustrate an upcoming post on cooking your catch. My wife and I enjoyed eating them.

The sunfish at Lake Mineral Wells are always small. I have fished out there for 15 years and caught literally thousands of sunfish in the 6 to 6-1/2 inch range. A park ranger saw me catch the one in the picture and told me he had seen others at least twice as big caught there. That would be 13 inches. He also told me the lake came up 4 inches last night, while the flood gage measured only 2-1/2 inches. That helped me with calibration of his eyeballs.

The fish were all caught in one spot in six feet of water. When the worm was placed in one spot I caught fish. Two feet away and I caught nothing. I figured that was where they were bedding but the fish ranged in size from 2 inches to 6 inches and several different species. They would not be bedding together. There was something down there they liked.

When the wind switched and became brisk the fishing stopped. I came home to make photos and clean fish. My wife and I had filleted bluegill for supper. They were delicious with corn muffins and potato salad. An upcoming post will talk about filleting the fish and another will show you how I cook them.

Friday, September 16, 2011

A Word About Tackle

This week's guest blog is from my daughter, Stephanie Suesan Smith, Ph.D. Stephanie is a writer, photographer, and Master Gardener. She maintains a number of web pages for herself and others. See her work at http://www.stephaniesuesansmith.com/.

"It is easy to get caught up in the “tackle wars.”  Remember that while nice tackle is cool to have, fishing is about making memories.  Memories of catching fish, of spending time with kids and family, and of having fun.
Some of my earliest, and certainly best, memories are of fishing with my Dad.  We fished on vacations all over North Texas.  Sunfish are great to catch with little kids because they bite when nothing else does and there are usually a lot of them. 
Kids get bored if they are not catching anything.  So do adults, for that matter.  Taking a kid bass fishing is an invitation to disaster.  However, take the same kid fishing for sunfish and you can set them up for a lifetime of enjoying the sport.
Dad talked about the old men at Toledo Bend.  I remember getting to go fishing and keeping my Dad busy unhooking sunfish and re-baiting hooks.  With my sister and I fishing he could just barely keep up.
I also remember when we took the son of a friend of my parents fishing and he hooked a 13 pound catfish.  I thought it was a log as it just didn’t move when I tried to free the line.  My Dad managed to bring that big fish into the boat on a tiny hook and line that was not rated for that fish.  I was afraid of the huge catfish and threatened to jump overboard if it came in the boat.  Both the catfish and I made it to shore in the boat, but I was not happy.
I still fish.  I went with Dad to Fairfield Lake and we caught sunfish so big they straightened the hook when we lifted them out of the water, and ended up flopping on the bottom of the boat about half the time.  That was about a week before the fish kill that ruined that lake.
Recently we went to another lake reputed to have big fish and caught nothing but babies, but had fun spending time together.  Just about the time we would get bored, a little school of babies would attack the bait and wake us up.
The point is that you can make memories with a cane pole and some string, or you can be miserable with the finest rod and reel, line, and terminal tackle in the world.  Fishing is to enjoy yourself and make memories with your family, not “best” your buddies.  So don’t feel you can’t go fishing without the stuff everyone else has.  Get what you can, rig it correctly, and have fun."

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Red Wiggler

Crickets are the bait of choice for Bluegills. Nothing gets old Mr. Gill motivated like a live cricket. But for Redears and Rios a Red Wiggler (Eisenia Foetida) is a must. The Red Wiggler is the "Cadillac of Worms". That phrase was a household word in 1978 when the popular TV series WKRP in Cincinnati starring Loni Anderson was aired.

Long before Loni was a gleam in her father’s eye ads appeared in the back of popular magazines promising to make you rich selling Red Wigglers for fish bait. For a nominal sum the advertiser would sell you a kit consisting of a quantity of breeding stock and a bag of media. Some offered to buy back the worms you raised. Obviously the ads were a scam. The worms proved to be difficult to raise and were never good enough to be bought back.

The scam continues. Ads on Amazon.com and individual web pages sell the red wiggler to help you generate garden compost that will perform miracles of plant growth. That much is absolutely true. But the scam comes in when you open the bag of red wiggler breeding stock which is supposed to contain 1000 healthy worms. The first bag I bought might have had fifty worms, but no more. When I complained I got another bag that might have had a few more. I was greatly amused when one young woman counted her worms. She found that her bag of 1000 worms contained 306 and the vendor refused to replace them.

The little boxes of red wigglers sold in the bait stores, Walmart or Pet Smart for $3.95 contain 30 worms. That is $0.13 per worm.

Obviously if the worm farms cheat and the bait stores are expensive, the solution is to grow your own. Although not nearly as easy as it sounds it can be done.

The first requirement is a container. The container does not have to be deep and a cat litter box bottom makes a good worm house. I have A Walmart storage box that I used because we had them. The worm lives about 2 inches below the surface so the container does not have to be that deep. Put the container in a place that does not get too hot or too cold. Mine is in the basement. Dad used to have an old #2 washtub in the shed behind the house in Lubbock. He raised a lot of worms but a cold winter would kill them.

First one must manufacture the worm media. Put about 4 inches of potting soil in the bottom of the container. Use the kind that does not have fertilizer or insecticide added. On top of the soil put about 4 inches of shredded paper from your document shredder. Wet down the paper and soil, then let the media dry until it is moist but not wet before adding worms. Maintaining the proper moisture will be your biggest headache in raising the worms. Too wet and the worms will drown. Too dry and they will die.

When you get your worms place them on top of the media in a darkened room. They will immediately burrow into the media.

You can feed your worms kitchen scraps like potato peels and such. A cup of corn meal sprinkled on top of the media is good. The worms will eat whatever you provide and also the shredded paper. One TFF forum member reports excellent results with dried cow paddies. He harvests them when completely dry in the winter and stores them away from ants and other varmints. The worm gurus say the worms will eat almost anything that is not contaminated with chemicals. If you have a water softener use bottled water. The salt will kill the worms.

When it comes to buying your breeding worms you are on your own. I can tell you that one guy who advertises on Amazon.com will give you short count. Some of the TFF members have reported good service from Uncle Jim’s Worm Farm. I have not bought from him. He will sell you a bag containing 1000 worms for $17.95 plus $10.95 shipping or a complete starter kit for $54.95 plus $15.95 shipping. If you buy through Amazon the prices are almost double. Obviously building your own kit is much cheaper.

Remember to check the media often and keep it moist. Give the worms a couple of months start and you should have all you need. Thread him on a #8 Gold Aberdeen hook and fish him near the bottom. Redears, Rios and Bluegills and other sunfish will not be able to resist the Cadillac of worms.

Raising Your Own Crickets

Raising your own Crickets for Sunfish

Bait is expensive, Not only that, it is hard to find several of the most popular baits for sunfish. Walmart sells night crawlers and "trout worms" if you have one of the big stores in your area. Night crawlers are not very good bait for sunfish. To be usable at all they have to be cut in one-inch lengths. Pet Smart has a variety of reptile feeds that can be used as bait. However, they do not care for their crickets and worms and the baits are sickly and very high priced.

Faced with that problem I decided to raise my own. First I tackled crickets. Crickets are difficult to raise. First one must construct a suitable habitat. The requirements are temperature, food, water and a place to hide.

I used Walmart storage containers. I cut a square hole in the lid of the container and covered the opening with fine window screen. Crickets escape easily and get out in the room where they cheep endlessly.

I bought a very expensive reptile heater and thermostat from Pet Smart that put out about 25 watts. My habitat is located in the basement and it gets down to the low 60’s in a cold winter. Crickets need 75-85 degrees. I quickly discovered I had wasted my money for the reptile heater. More heat was needed. I drilled a hole in the side of the container and used a lamp socket and a 125-watt brooder bulb. I controlled it with the thermostat from the reptile heater. The brooder bulb was intended to warm baby chicks. This project would have been in trouble without the poultry industry.

Crickets need a constant supply of fresh water. They are dumb creatures that will drown themselves if they can. The answer to the problem is a poultry chick-watering dish. This gadget is a plastic bottom that screws onto an ordinary Mason jar and dribbles water into the pan. See the photo. The pan is deep enough for the crickets to drown. Cut or buy a foam donut to go into the watering dish. The crickets will suck water from the foam and cannot drown themselves.

Another requirement is healthy food. The crickets will thrive and grow on the cheapest of dry cat food and a bag will last a long time.

The last requirement to keep crickets is a place to hide. Egg cartons will work. I use the cardboard cores from paper towels. The crickets will hide in the towel rolls and when you want to go fishing just shake the crickets from one or more rolls into your carrying cage.

So far we have covered how to keep crickets until you need them. If you want to hatch and raise crickets you will also need a flat pan about 8 inches by 8 inches by 2 inches deep filled with clean potting soil. Avoid the brands that have fertilizer or insecticide added. Moisten the soil. The female crickets will deposit eggs in the moist soil. The bad news is the soil must be kept moist at all times but not too wet until the baby crickets emerge. Too wet and you drown the babies. Too dry and the eggs will not hatch. Remove the pan after about 10 days and place it into another habitat. Continue to moisten the soil. If you leave the babies with the adults they will be eaten.

You can see that keeping and raising crickets is a lot of bother. Wgpj on the TFF suggests that Sunfish fishermen freeze the adult crickets in prescription bottles when they receive them from the hatchery and take a bottle or two out when they need them.

There are several good cricket farms to get your crickets. I always get the 2/3 grown crickets so they will live longer. Adult crickets only live about 2 weeks but if you buy the young ones they will live a month. The two farms I use are Armstrong’s and Fluker's. Fluker's usually runs a little cheaper. The best buy is 1000 crickets. Before the Anthrax scares in the post office a few years ago crickets were shipped Priority Mail for less than $5.00. Now they must come Fed Ex or UPS. The shipping actually costs more than the crickets.

Next time we will discuss raising red wrigglers.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Life's Lessons

Our first guest post comes from Kurtis "Roofish" Rudolph who was the first to request that we start a Sunfish blog. Kurtis wants me to post it just as it is without editing. Here it is just as received.

True story, I wrote Jan 2010

This is about SKILL, KNOWLEDGE, LUCK and being UNLUCKY. And LIFE'S Little Lessons

I'm from Maine originally, I did alot of saltwater fishing of course, growing up on that beautiful coastline.

I got to Texas when I was 10, grew up in Houston so we, my dad & I, continued to fish the coast mainly with occasional(sp)visits to Rayburn, Livingston and Conroe.

We fished from the bank or pier as we never owned a boat, on the coast fishing from a bank or a pier teaches you alot about fishing, without producing alot of fish.

Well in 2007 just before my dad passed away, he said something profound.
"Why did I do things in life the way I did. Stressing, worrying about $$, people, and life in general. Not doing the things I always wanted to do. Like buying a boat for fishing, shooting a deer. I never got to do the things I really wanted to do, I wasted so much time"

I'm a single Dad with 3 sons, I told them what their Grandpa had said, and that I felt he had told me this for a reason.

Up to this point in my life, I gained alot of fishing knowledge, without becoming what would be considered a great freshwater fisherman.

Well, with my dad's words ringing in my ears, I decided, even though, I was struggling for cash, that I would purchase a kayak, which a couple of weeks later turned into 3 kayaks, (I still have 2 sons 17 &1 3 living with me, 3rd son is in college).

So armed with my knowledge and my new kayaks. I now had an advantage that I'd never had before.
I was on the water with the fish, able to move to the locations that I had known for so long held fish, and use tactics that I learned from so many days on the bank and pier.

Up to this point in life, I had never caught any LMB to write home about.

My 17 year old son and I, we're in our kayaks here in Central Texas.

Would'nt you know it but I broke my rod tip while launching.

My son asked if I wanted to leave, and I said "H%ll No, we just launched and we're here, and we're gonna fish"

It was a beautiful day, however their were lots of powerboats, and fisherman, on the Lake.

We'd been fishing awhile, my son already caught a few dinks and he kept telling me he "was whuppin me" he felt bad I broke my rod and I was'nt catching any" he knows I live for my Sons & Fishing.

Meanwhile, I'm watching these guys about 100 yards away in their Bassboats burning up to this rock cliff, casting to it hot and heavy, several boats did this for about 30-45 minutes, not catching anything and burning off to another location.

I told my son "that spots fishy, let's paddle over there" we get over there and he hooks 2, 6 lb'rs right away and me still nothing.

So I cast under this cliff and I get a hit, does'nt seem to be anything major just a hit, this fish begins to go around my kayak and my son starts screeming "Oh my God, that things HUGE". I still have'nt seen this fish but my son has and does'nt stop yelling.

Here I am broken tip, not having caught any all day, when I get a glimpse of what appears to be a very large fish, and at this point he starts to fight and pull my kayak and me in it.

My sons yelling this whole time "dont lose him , he's HUGE, bring him in"

However with all my knowledge and skill and luck, there's a couple of things you should know.

I have no knowledge of the ShareLunker Program, nor do I have a camera, mine had fallen into the water, 2 weeks earlier at Lighthouse Lakes in Port A.

What did I catch, a LMB 25.5" and between 13-15lbs.

I was dumbfounded, my son was in Awe.

That wonderful experience, we all live for, catching a dream, once in a lifetime bass me and my son that day on the water could not believe this beautiful creature was in my lap on my kayak.

I have no picture, I have no proof, other than, the experience my son and I shared that day on the water, because of what My Dad had said GOD REST HIS SOUL

And as strange as it may seem, I felt like my Dad was there with us that day too
That beautiful fish was released, hopefully I'll catch him again when I have my camera

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Terminal Tackle for Sunfishing

When fishing for sunfish less is more. The least amount of hardware on the end of your line the better. Do not ever use snap swivels. Tie the hook or lure directly to the line. Even the micro snaps are too much. Save them for Crappie or Bass.

When my two daughters were small our family went on a fishing vacation to Toledo Bend. We rented half of a doublewide trailer. Two old men from Waco rented the other half.

 I owned a small bass boat with a 25 horse Evinrude motor. The four of us fit in nicely. I rigged the kids’ lines the way I will describe with only a hook and sinker, baited with a cricket. We motored out the channel to the standing timber and found a likely looking tree. We put the lines in the water and found the depth where huge Bluegills were hanging out. The girls filled my wire basket to the brim. I carried my full basket I could hardly lift to the fish cleaning station and scaled and gutted the fish. That was before I learned to fillet the Bluegills. The cleaned fish half filled my large ice chest. Before cleaning my fish I visited with my two neighbors, the two old men from Waco. They too were fishing for Bluegills, but they had not been able to catch any. I showed them my overflowing basket and gave them directions to my fishing spot.

 When one has a wife and two young girls along one does not get out on the lake early. About 10AM we motored out to our spot and there were the two old men from Waco tied to my tree. No problem. Toledo Bend has lots of trees. We soon found another with fish about 100 feet from our neighbors. We could see them and they could see us. The girls set about filling the basket and when it overflowed I made them stop. We motored back to the camp and on the way I asked our neighbors how many they had. They had three fish. I showed them our basket again. I asked what they were using. One of them held up his line. It was rigged with a big bell sinker and about a number 1 or 2 baitholder hook with a large night crawler on it. I showed them our rigs and offered to give them suitable hooks and sinkers. They huffed that they did not need any 35-year-old telling them how to fish. I went back to clean the fish that finished filling up our ice chest.

The next morning the men were gone. I asked the guy in the camp store about them. He said that something had really hacked them off and they had checked out last night declaring there are no Bluegills in Toledo Bend. What a shame. Their trip was ruined because of the wrong terminal tackle.

First let's discuss line. Sunfish are line and hook shy. Use the smallest line you can depend upon not to snap when old Mr. Bluegill grabs your bait. Most of us use 4 or 6 pound test line and most sunfish anglers like monofilament. Braided line in small sizes is hard to knot. Good brands are Berkley Trilene XL or Stren.

If you are using live bait such as worms, minnows or crickets the best all around hook is the Gold Aberdeen in size #10 through 6. I find a size 10 is a good choice for the smaller species and a size 8 is best for large Bluegills and Redears.

If you live in an area where the fish are larger then a size 6 hook may be better. Chuck in the San Antonio area uses a number 6 hook because he routinely catches Rios and Redears that would straighten a number 8 or 10. I should have that problem!

Some experienced fishers prefer a cricket hook. The cricket hook is an Aberdeen hook with a longer shank. The advantage is it is much easier to remove. Unlike the Aberdeen the cricket hook usually comes in bronze instead of gold.

A number 8 cricket hook is a good all-around choice. Again, some use a number 6 but I find that is getting to be a large hook and the hook-shy fish may refuse to take it. We in the USA use larger hooks than our friends in Europe who go for very small hooks and baits. If you are using maggots or meal worms the number 10 Gold Aberdeen is definitely better.

Lately there has been a lot of interest in circle hooks, which are supposed to cut down on the number of swallowed hooks that kill the fish. Bryan Maggard writes: "We’ve had several outings now using Eagle Claw Lazer Sharp Octopus Circle Hook L7226BPG-8 hooks I could find locally, catching sunfish of all sizes, and I’m really convinced. About 100-200 fish caught between us in the 4-10" range, nearly all lip-hooked, and only one green sunfish who required getting out the forceps. I also haven’t noticed any decrease in effectiveness in hooking fish, or with getting them in. We just got in a mail-order with some Gamakatsu and Owner circle hooks in the 6-8 size range, which we are looking forward to trying."

My experience with circle hooks has not been nearly as good. I find the fish are hard to hook and the mortality rate is about the same as regular hooks. However the ones I have are not the premium hooks Bryan uses and are smaller. I suggest you try them for yourself.

Usually it is necessary to add weight to your line in order to be able to cast the bait. The only suitable weight in my opinion is the lead split shot of the non-reusable configuration. Use the minimun size necessary to cast or to match the bobber. For the bobber I recommend the number 3 split shot is ideal. Pinch one about eight inches above the hook. Although they are called non-reusable they can be easily removed from the line with a sharp knife and reused. The reason I do not use the reusable kind with tabs is that they cannot be pinched on the line as tightly and they slip.

If you want to fish straight down or at a distance on the bottom a hook and weight are all you need. If the fish are suspended and you cannot get over them a bobber or wobbler is required. Another reason a float may be required is if the bottom is rough or weed covered and you hang up on every cast. A float can be used to hold the bait just far enough off the bottom to prevent hang ups.

Floats can be rigged in several combinations. If the line runs through the float and the float slips on the line it is a slip bobber. If the line runs through the float and is attached on the line at a fixed depth it is a fixed bobber. If the line is attached on one end only it is a wobbler. A wobbler can be fixed or slip.

The Thill company makes by far the best floats. Their premium balsa floats cannot be surpassed. Eagle Claw makes essentially the same product and they are more readily available at Walmart.

The Thill or Eagle Claw slip bobbers or spring wobblers come in several sizes. The 7/8-inch diameter is the best over all size. It matches exactly the number 3 split shot.

If you are fishing in less than 3 feet of water the fixed float is the best. For deeper water the fixed float becomes too cumbersome to cast effectively. The slip bobber or wobbler then becomes the best choice.

A slip float requires a bobber stopper. The bobber stopper must hold the float at a fixed depth without slipping and at the same time go through the rod guides and into the reel without hanging up. No one bobber stopper is perfect. There almost as many bobber stoppers as there are fishermen. The simplest is just a knot in the line and a glass bead. The knot is suitable if the depth does not have to be changed often. A knot in the line weakens it and is hard to change. Some people use a rubber band knotted on the line. That type gives poor performance both from a slippage standpoint and going through the reel. The same can be said of the type that consists of several turns of braided line wound around the monofilament. A glass bead can be used by itself if the line is run through the bead twice. The bead will not go through the reel without problem so it will not work for water deeper than the rod length. I have found that the Gizmo made by Rainbow Plastics is the best type of bobber stopper. It consists of a small rounded rectangular piece of plastic about 1/16 inch by ¼ inch in size. It has four small holes to thread the line through. It is used with a plastic bead just large enough to not go through the rod tip guide. The Gizmo comes in two sizes. Get the BS-4 that is made for 2-12 pound test line. The BS-3 is for larger line and it will slip on the light line. I find the BS-4 size at Walmart, but Bass Pro Shops and Cabalas only handle the size with the large holes.

We now have enough information to rig our tackle. Thread a Gizmo bobber stopper on the line, then a small plastic bead. Thread a 7/8-inch slip bobber on the line. Then pinch on a number 3 split shot and 8 inches below it tie a number 8 cricket hook on the line with a Berkley knot. Adjust the bobber stopper for proper depth. Bait the hook with worms for Redear and Rios and crickets for Bluegill and other sunfish. Toss your bait into a likely spot. When the bobber moves at all in any direction gently set the hook. Hold on and prepare for a battle. Later we will talk about cleaning and cooking your catch.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Reels for Sunfishing

Four types of reels are in use for sunfishing. They are the bait casting reel, the spincasting reel, the spinning reel and the fly reel.

Bait casting reels are the oldest type. They are most useful for casting heavier baits and lures and are the favorite type for catching black bass and other large fish. Small ones are sold for use with ultralight rods. Most of the people I know who use bait casting reels for sunfish use them for straight down fishing in brush.

The next type and my personal favorite is the spincast reel, otherwise called push button reels or closed face reels. To my mind they are by far the best reels for sunfishing. Spincast reels got a bad rap when they were first invented because of their large somewhat clunky design and poor quality construction. They were primarily used for casting by people who could not learn to cast with the only other kind of reel available, the bait casting reel.
Experienced fishermen jeered the early spincast reels. They cast aspersions on the ability of those who use them, claiming the lack of precision. Today with my quality spincast equipment I can outcast most anglers with bait or spinning outfits.

Most of the early spincast reels were very inexpensive compared with bait casting reels. Unfortunately, most of the spincast reels sold today are cheap plastic. Avoid at all costs the Zebco 202 and 404 series and their colorful plastic equivalents or the Shakespeare plastic reels.

The Zebco 33 was the first popular spincast reel with some claim to quality. Today they are made in China with little regard for quality. They still cast well if you are prepared to discard the reel when it begins to wear.

 The little Zebco 11 series works well when first purchased but wears out soon. The brake system is quickly ruined if you hook a large fish while sunfishing.

Modern spincast reels are of high quality and not all are inexpensive.

The Daiwa Goldcast reel represents the top of the line in spincast reels. At about $50.00 it is more costly than a Shakespeare, Zebco or other low cost reel but the difference in quality and years of service more than makes up for the cost.

Daiwa Goldcast Reel
Zebco 11T Triggerspin Reel
The trigger spin reel is a variant of the spincast reel. Its sole purpose is to use the closed face reel on a spinning rod handle. I cannot recommend that anyone use the trigger spin. Most of the ones I have seen are of low quality and have all of the disadvantages of the spinning handle without its advantages. However, spinning rods are much more available in ultralight than spincast rods, and the trigger spin allows one to use them.

The next type is the spinning or open-faced reel. It was invented to cast small lures or baits with little chance of the backlashes common to bait casting reels. It is the second most popular type of reel, although I cannot see why. With its clumsy bail system and left-hand retrieve it is most awkward. Spinning reels range in price from under $20.00 to hundreds of dollars. The Shakespeare USP25 is a very popular sunfishing reel. Paired with the SPL 1102 5-foot Ugly stick it is a great way to catch the little fishes.

The last type is the fly fishing reel. Fly fishing is a world of its own and has more web pages than any other type of fishing. If you are interested in learning there is ample web material and I would not presume to add to it.

I plan one more blog on tackle where I will discuss how to rig your terminal tackle – bobber, weight and hook. Then we will move on to more interesting subjects with the other fishermen sharing their experiences.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Rods for Sunfish

We will begin our discussion of the rods used to catch Sunfish with the oldest of all: the pole. The fishing pole, usually from cane, bamboo or willow, introduced the older generation to fishing. Usually about 12 feet long, it was rigged with a line made of cotton twine a foot or so shorter than the pole. The bobber was a cork from a bottle, trapezoidal in shape, pierced with a needle to allow the line through the center. The weight was the pinch-on long slender type, and the hook was a common j-hook, nearly always too big for optimum fishing.

As a young boy in parched West Texas I lived for the annual trip to Hico or Roulette where there were ponds and creeks to fish from. My relatives always loaned me a cane pole to use and I caught small Sunfish to my heart’s content.

Now the cane pole, usually in segments for easy transport, is still available in most bait stores. However, the more progressive or affluent fisherman now uses a telescoping fiberglass pole. The pole is still rigged in much the same way, except with a line made of braided nylon and a round plastic bobber.

Now days, most fishermen use a fiberglass or graphite-fiber rod. A number of parameters must be considered in choosing a Sunfish rod. The most important are length, weight, action, material, type of handle and cost.

The best length for a Sunfish rod is a hot topic for debate among experienced fishermen. The two most popular lengths are a short rod measuring 4 to 5 feet or a longer rod measuring 6 ½ to 7 feet. I have several of both lengths, and they are both extremely useful in catching Sunfish. If you are fishing from a pier the shorter length wins hands down, because the pier is usually crowded and the long rod gets in other’s way. The same is true from a crowded or small boat. If you have plenty of room and no overhead obstructions the longer rod is better because it will usually cast farther and give better feel for the fish.

As for weight, an ultralight or lightweight rod is a must. Fishing for sunfish with a medium or heavy weight rod is like using a baseball bat for a rod. The feel for the light-biting Sunfish is just not there, and the fish has little chance to fight. The weight of the rod also determines the line weight to be used with it. For Sunfish a 6-pound test line is a good compromise.

Action refers to the shape of the bend of the rod when a weight is suspended from it. A fast action rod bends at the tip and is stiff through the rest of the length. A slow action rod bends about the same through the entire length of the rod. A really good explanation of rod action is given at http://www.flyfishinggear.info/buyers_guide/fly_rods_fast_action.shtm . Although the author is addressing fly rods his explanation is applicable to all rods. So which weight should you choose? In my opinion a fast or medium action rod is best for panfish. Casting a slow action rod is much like casting with a wet noodle.

The two most popular rod materials are fiberglass and graphite fiber. Fiberglass rods are cheaper and all the low cost consumer rods are fiberglass. They are built as the name implies, by laying fiberglass fibers and bonding them with an epoxy or resin. Graphite rods are the latest and best materials for rods. They are stronger than fiberglass for their diameter. Graphite rods are built from fibers that have been processed at high temperatures and bonded with special resins.

The type of handle depends entirely on the reel you plan to use. We will talk about the types of reels later, but in general there are two types of handles: casting and spinning. A casting handle has a trigger, which allows one to wrap the forefinger around the trigger and control the reel with the thumb. The spinning handle is just straight.

As for cost, the old adage applies: you get what you pay for. A good serviceable fiberglass rod starts at about $10.00. A top of the line graphite rod may cost more than one hundred dollars, but a good graphite rod can be had for around $40.00 or less.

Now for a few recommendations:
The best fiberglass casting short rod I have found is the Bass Pro Shops Microlite. See the ad here. http://www.basspro.com/Bass-Pro-Shops®-Micro-Lite™-Glass-Casting-Rod/product/36945/-894858. The rod is 4 feet 10 inches long, ultralight and costs less than $20.00. I bought 2 of them several years ago and they quickly became my all-around favorites. Unfortunately, I was fishing for LM bass with a friend of mine using a heavier rig and at the same time catching sunnies with my Microlite rig, and I laid the Microlite rod down with the lure dangling off the side of the boat. A big bass grabbed the Sunfish lure and jerked my Microlite rig into the water, never to be seen again. The remaining one of the pair continues to be my favorite.

My short spinning rod is a Shakespeare Ugly Stick SP1146-1UL. See http://www.shakespeare-fishing.com/index_rods.html .It is a 4foot 6 inch ultra light graphite rod. The Ugly Sticks are available in a variety of styles and lengths. They are also often sold as combos with reel.

I have a dozen or so other ultralight rods in various lengths. I recently bought a pair of Shakespeare ACA 6070 2 UL 7-foot graphite rods which I am still evaluating. The rod is too long for pier fishing but it should be ideal for fishing from the boat.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Identifying Our Prey

As we kick off the new sunfish blog it seems appropriate to discuss our prey. First off, he is a Sunfish. He is not a perch or a bream or any of the other misnomers one sees on the TFF and other places. If you call him a perch he will not bite for you. If you call him a bream you have used a name dignified by time but not really correct.

The Sunfishes are of the family (Centrarchidae) of the 27 species of freshwater ray-finned fish belonging to the order Perciformes. One genera is the Lepomis, a Greek word meaning "scaled gill cover". The most common members found in Texas are the Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus), Green Sunfish (Lepomis cyanellus), Longear Sunfish (Lepomis megalotis), Redbreast Sunfish (Lepomis auritus), Redear Sunfish (Lepomis microlophus), and the Warmouth (Lepomis gulosus). The male sunfish sleeps around and fertilizes the eggs of any female Sunfish, so there are all sorts of hybrids, making identification difficult.

The Sunfishes also include the Black Bass and Crappie but we will leave those for their fans and concentrate on their smaller brethren.

One other fish is usually included with the Sunfishes, although he is not related. He is the Rio Grande Cichlid (Cichlasoma cyanoguttatum), usually referred to as the Rio.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) has a good discussion and a copyrighted picture of each fish at
http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/landwater/water/aquaticspecies/inland.phtml, so we will not repeat them here. The TPWD also has all the wrong names included for each fish in the "other names" section. I jumped all over the biologist one time for that and he explained they had given up on ever getting people to use the correct name. I have not given up.

In articles to come we will talk about how to rig your tackle, the bait to use and presentation. Hopefully, others will also cover other topics and share their experiences.