Bucket List Trip: Gulf Red Snapper

Deep sea fishing is vastly different from your average freshwater fishing excursion. Ask any angler and they will attest to the fact that everyone who loves to fish needs to go deep sea fishing at least once in their lives.

There are many reasons to love offshore fishing on the open ocean. The fish are bigger, they fight much harder and you never know what might be on the end of your line when you begin to reel. The vastness of the ocean can be intimidating and there is also the dreaded possibility of getting seasick, but serious anglers brave the elements because deep sea fishing is the ultimate outdoor adventure.

Offshore fishing is a totally different experience altogether from anything you’ll ever find on a river or lake, and some might prefer to stick to freshwater angling. Regardless of where your favorite fishing location is, one thing is certain: deep sea fishing absolutely must be on each angler’s bucket list.

I recently went on a trip that was one of the best fishing adventures I’ve ever experienced. My close friend and fishing buddy, Frank Tomberlin, and I have organized an annual deep sea fishing trip for the past five years and it’s our goal to continue this yearly tradition as long as we can. We refer to it simply as “the fishing trip.”

This year, we had a group of six guys who were each as excited as the other to be heading out on an offshore adventure. We all hoped that this year would be remembered as one of those great fishing stories we will be proud to tell our grandchildren about many years from now.

We were joined by my brother, Josh, who went on his first deep sea fishing trip a couple years ago. Josh loves fishing more than any other person I know. I joked with him before our trip that year that deep sea fishing would essentially “ruin” him from wanting to do any kind of freshwater trips later on. As luck would have it, he turned out to be the first one to reel in a fish on that trip and, after landing a decent-sized amberjack, he immediately turned to me, smiled and said, “I’m ruined.”

Cole was another member of our party and had been fishing on the ocean several years ago. Opey and Nick were the only two members of the trip who had never experienced offshore fishing. Both were absolutely stoked to be going on their first ever deep sea fishing trip and I was all the more excited just to accompany them on their maiden voyage.

We arrived just before 5:30 a.m. at the harbor in Destin, Florida. It was June 2—the coveted opening day of “Snapper Season” in the Gulf of Mexico.

The boats around the docks were buzzing with anticipation as deckhands rushed back and forth to prepare their vessels and men gathered around, smoked cigarettes and sipped coffee while sharing a few fishing stories before we boarded the boats.

There was a bit of tension amid all the laughs and chatter near the boat. The tickets to the 10-hour trip were sold with no guarantee as to where each angler would be fishing on the boat. Everyone stood on the dock next and patiently waited for permission to board the vessel. Each spot was offered on a “first-come, first-served” basis and some of the fishermen were already eyeing the few highly sought-after spaces near the stern.

One determined angler decided to seize the opportunity to claim his spot before everyone else. He carefully walked around the roped barrier onto the boat as those nearby looked on with disdain at someone willing to blatantly break the rules. The man made his way over to the corner of the boat where the starboard side meets the stern. He began to tie a rag onto the rail in an effort to reserve the space before a calm, but firm voice broke the silence.

“That’s my spot,” said an older, rather rotund gentlemen who was sitting on a cooler adjacent to the boat’s entrance. He sat facing the marina with the boat’s stern directly behind him, patiently waiting for the captain’s signal to come aboard.

“First-come, first-serve, ain’t it,” said the man still attempting to mark the spot with the tattered rag.

The older man’s demeanor indicated that he did not intend to relinquish the space to a newcomer who insisted on unfairly marking the spot, or anyone else within earshot. He stayed seated and turned his head only slightly, his eyes barely looking over his shoulder toward the man.

“That’s my spot. That’s where I fish every day,” he replied more loudly, with his gaze fixed on the hands holding the half-tied rag.

The fellow who had encroached upon the boat and tried to steal the spot slowly untied the rag and sheepishly looked around at other men in the crowd snickering at the short altercation.


We soon boarded our boat, the Gulf Breeze, which is owned by Olin Marler Fishing Charters. This would turn out to be one of the most professional fishing charters I’ve ever used and one that I highly recommend to anyone.

The waters off the coast of Destin are teeming with aquatic wildlife and many other species of animals that thrive in one of the most picturesque beaches in the Gulf of Mexico.

We were on what is known as a “party boat” or a “head boat” that is larger than most other sportfishing vessels and can hold dozens of fishermen for one single trip. For anyone looking to try their hand at deep sea fishing, I would recommend seeking out a party boat as it is much cheaper than a private charter and you can choose the length of time you’re out at sea, ranging from a quick five-hour trip to a two-day adventure at sea.

We claimed our seats along the port side and the boat crept away from the dock as the sun began to peek over the horizon. We left the “no-wake zone” and throttled into high-gear out of Destin’s harbor in a long convoy of fishing boats speeding to their chosen destinations in the muggy morning hours.

The salty air was mingled with exhaust fumes from the boat and the occasional cigarette, but the scent of fish soon became more apparent as the deckhands busied themselves at the stern, cutting bait for the day’s trip.

Our group was busy sharing laughs and pointing out the occasional dolphin, sea turtle, or other sight we passed on our way. We were sprayed with a few drops of water as our boat plowed through the swells and charged onward into the morning. Everyone soaked in the beauty of the sunrise shimmering through the clouds and eagerly awaited our arrival at the fishing spots our captain steered toward.

Nervous excitement grew each minute along the two-hour ride as we motored more than 30 miles offshore into the Gulf of Mexico. The high-rise condominiums and other structures that dotted the shoreline soon faded into the glowing horizon and we were completely surrounded by an endless emerald-green and blue desert that stretched as far as the eye could see.

As we drew near to our destination, the deckhands began to rush around the boats, preparing everyone’s’ rods. Bait buckets filled with sliced mackerel hung from every space along the railing, swinging back and forth with the gentle rolling of the sea.

Once the captain slowed down near our fishing spot, the lead deckhand called everyone to the boat’s stern. We all gathered around the two large coolers where the crew had been cutting bait and tying hooks all morning.

The lead deckhand gave a short speech on proper use of the bait and tackle, which would prove to be exceptionally helpful to anyone on their first deep sea fishing trip. He also announced some of the strange customs to which sailors strictly adhere to while at sea.

“If you have any bananas on this boat, throw them overboard right now,” the deckhand sharply insisted a no-nonsense expression. “You may laugh, but bananas are associated with death at sea, and we will not allow anyone to have them on this boat.”

“One other rule we observe is no whistling,” he stated. “You’re liable to whistle up a storm and if the captain hears anyone whistling, he’s likely to come down from his cabin and throw you overboard.”

Before we were dismissed to return to our designated spots, we were given some words of motivation.

“Guys, we are coming a little farther out than we usually do so we can fish some really good, deep water,” he said. “We’re going to be fishing in some water that is much deeper than we usually go to, but we need everyone to keep their lines tight so we don’t get tangled. If we get tangled up too much, we’re going to have to take it back closer to shore, but we want to stay out here as long as we can and fish this deep water.”

We made our way back to our spaces, stumbling to and fro and gripping the railing for balance as the sea effortlessly tossed the massive boat over the small waves.

Everyone baited their hooks with slices of freshly-cut mackerel and prepared to drop their lines into the water. The captain’s solemn voice came over the boat’s loudspeaker with an air of bridled anticipation to be starting another opening day of Snapper Season.

He reiterated what the deckhand had said earlier and his speech was what one might expect from a man who had spent the majority of his life on the open ocean. His last words before we started fishing certainly caught the attention of my brother and I, and was something that we quietly considered to be a good omen.

“Y’all be particular and keep your lines tight,” he stated.

My brother and I looked at one another as we both recalled the old familiar saying that was commonly used by our great-grandfather.

“Be particular” was an old-fashioned way of saying “pay attention and don’t screw up.”

The boat’s motor soon grew quiet as she came to a stop. A short “beep” sounded on the loudspeaker, indicating that it was time for everyone to drop their lines and begin fishing. Splashes could be heard in quick succession around the boat as our heavy sinkers plunged the baited hooks into the water and down below the surface.

Not long after our bait had hit bottom, someone nearby yelled “fish on!”

Fishing in such depths is somewhat grueling compared to freshwater excursions due to the amount one must reel to reign in their catch, and also the fact that many fish can weigh much more than what most anglers are used to catching in lakes and rivers.

I took my Penn Senator reel and soon began to find a “sweet spot” in which I would get more bites than others near me on the boat. Our rods were rigged with two circle hooks and a 22-ounce sinker in what is considered to be a “drop-shot” rig in the bass fishing world.

After dropping my bait in and waiting for what seemed like and eternity for it to reach the bottom, I would wind the slack up just enough to keep the bait off the bottom. I found that more fish would bite my hooks if they were close to the bottom rather than a dozen feet from the ocean floor.

The deckhands instructed those aboard the Gulf Breeze to reel in several feet of line once we reached the bottom to ensure that our lure was suspended above the bottom and visible to any fish swimming down below.

Beginner’s luck was alive and well on our boat that day as both Opey and Nick landed one beautiful grouper each that we were able to keep. We were all continually reeling in fish and relishing the small competition between one another to catch more and bigger fish than our companions.

We soon filled our stringers with plenty of different snapper species. Everyone in our group quickly caught their limit of two red snapper (which is highly sought-after and widely considered to be one of the tastiest fish in the ocean). We also caught more than enough vermilion snapper, also known as beeliners or mingos, as well as white snapper.

Everyone aboard the Gulf Breeze caught a variety of different fish species that day. One of my favorite things about deep sea fishing is the mystery of what you might catch. One minute you could be reeling in a two-pound vermilion snapper and the next minute you might hook into a huge grouper or mackerel.

Fighting saltwater fish is also one of the things considered by anglers to be the most exciting part of deep sea fishing. Many of the fish you’ll catch in the ocean will fight much, much harder than almost anything you will find in freshwater. Lots of anglers aboard our boat that day could be seen wincing in pain and rubbing their arms during the latter half of the trip as their arms had been tested to the limits by dozens of feisty fish.

Our captain would stay in one spot until the deckhands determined that the fish were either not biting well enough, or had mostly ended up in our coolers aboard the Gulf Breeze. A short “beep” would again sound, indicating that it was time to reel in and head to another spot. We all relished the time spent riding to a new fishing spot as there was virtually no gulf breeze—ironically—to be found that day.

Later in the afternoon, we heard the final “beep” sound and the captain announced that we were headed back to shore. However, we were not leaving because our allotted 10 hours was coming to a close, but because every person aboard the boat had caught a limit on red snapper and also a number of other species.

The trip had been a resounding success.

After riding back for a couple of hours to return to Destin’s harbor, we returned to find the docks bustling with jet-skis, yachts, and pontoon boats packed with happy beach-goers. Everyone aboard the board took turns swapping stories about the day’s many catches and talked about how we all planned to return again, very soon.

We reached the marina and were relieved to plant our feet on solid ground once again. A crowd began to assemble around the dock where our deckhands were unloading the huge stringers of fish and hanging them on the pegs at the marina to show off our hard-earned payload.

Children squealed and pointed to the large grouper and mackerel hanging atop the boards while men stood in front of the Gulf Breeze’s stern holding a heavy stringer and sporting smiles as wide as the ocean horizon.

Our group watched as the crew quickly cleaned and bagged our fish in neat filets for us to take home. The trip was a resounding success and was more than enough fun for us to begin discussing when we would return for another round of deep sea fishing next year.

We all agreed that there was no good reason to wait an entire year before our next trip. A consensus was soon reached that we would have to return for another trip before the end of summer.

Take trip yourself and you’ll undoubtedly agree that deep sea fishing is a must-add item on every outdoorsman’s bucket list.

The Golden Rule of Fishing

“When, I wonder, are folks going to learn that it is a dangerous thing to attempt to lay down hard and fast rules about fishing?”

—John Alden Knight


I was recently reading through many quotes from very influential and powerful men about the subject of fishing. I read about how some of the most well-known ancient philosophers, rulers, and inventors approached the pastime of fishing.

Here are just a few that I came across:

“If you wish to be happy for eight days, kill your pig and eat it. If you wish to be happy for a lifetime, learn to fish.” —Chinese Proverb

“After all these years, I still feel like I’m a boy when I’m on a stream or lake.” —Jimmy Carter

“Fishing seems to be the favorite form of loafing.” —Ed Howe

“‘Tis not all of fishing to fish.” —Izaak Walton

“If a man fishes hard, what is he going to do easy?” —Roy Blount, Jr.

“Adapt the pace of nature; her secret is patience.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson


There is a big difference in fishing as a pastime and fishing as a sport. Fishing as a means of providing food for one’s family or for fun is vastly different than a highly competitive fishing tournament.

I’ve always loved fishing and have been wetting a line from the time I was old enough to hold a rod by myself. I grew up wondering why my grandfather, who was an avid angler, never joined in on the many fishing tournaments that took place on our favorite lakes. In my eyes, he was one of the best anglers in the world and knew where all the great spots were, but I never knew him to participate in a fishing tournament.

One day, I asked him why he didn’t. We were in his boat on Wedowee, a lake that we often ventured to.

“I don’t like for anyone to tell me when I can start, or stop fishing,” he replied, as he continued to cast toward the bank.

I thought his answer was a bit silly, but as I grow older, I feel the exact same way about competitive fishing. It just isn’t something I’m interested in and probably will never be. I enjoy reading and watching other anglers compete in tournaments, but I simply don’t feel inclined to join in on the action.

For me, fishing is rewarding to those who embrace an adventurous spirit. Fishing draws me to feel closer to nature in a spiritual sense and each trip I take, however short or long, is a winning experience. I don’t want to relate my own sense of happiness or accomplishment to another angler’s day on the water.

I think John Alden Knight was on to something when he made the statement at the beginning of this blog post. Competitive fishing creates an undesirable sense of urgency and pressure that many anglers, like myself, are seeking to escape from when we are on the water.

“Jack” Knight (1890-1966) was a banker, but was famous for being an avid angler who helped develop the solunar tables and many fly-fishing lures that are still popular to this day. He was an early proponent of catch and release fishing.

“One nice thing about fishing—you can always put ‘em back,” he said.

Call me old-fashioned, but speeding around the lake in a high-powered bass boat and casting like my life depended on it during the allotted time period to fish simply doesn’t appeal to me. Not to discourage those who wish to compete in fishing tournaments and competitions, of course.

Maybe one day I’ll get into the craze of fishing tournaments, but I’m having plenty of fun playing by my own rules (within the legal parameters), which is the really great thing about fishing.

Maybe the Golden Rule of fishing is that there doesn’t have to be any rules at all.


Abbigail’s Sail and Another Fish Tale

On our last and final day of fishing, I debated to try my hand at another Roosterfish or go back looking for sailfish. Pondering to myself, “Abby didn’t get her sail.” I decided that the best course of action was to hit back out in the deep blue sea for some pelagic action.

We gathered ourselves one more time early in the morning before the orangish-yellow sun rose over the jungle. Loaded in our small 4×4 rental car, we headed down from Manuel Antonio to Marina Pez Vela. The guards waved us through nonchalantly as he has seen us twice this week. We walked down to the docks and found our new captain for the day, Jerry.

He spoke softly and said, “heading 20 miles out today.” This was the furthest that we been out in Costa Rica. The ride was exceptionally smooth though. The water like glass with the occasional wind ripple made the taxi to our trolling grounds pleasurable. As we rode out, I was excited with the thought of Abby getting her first sailfish.

The mate hurriedly set the trolling spread. It was identical from the previous day with ballyhoos, teasers and skirts. He moved swiftly as this was his second nature on the water. Tying and spooling out line, the rods were ready and the troll began.

A little over an hour trolling, one of the lines screamed as it was being pulled. We acted quickly and the fish was off, but immediately the next line yelled like the previous and the fish was on. As soon as the fish felt the pressure on the hook, it broke the water. Colors of green and yellow danced in the air and my eyes saw the largest Mahi Mahi that I ever seen in person. The mate yelled, “Dorado!” I took the rod and began the fight.

The bruiser of Mahi took line that seemed forever, and I got a small amount back when it paused. The battle continued back and forth and back and forth until I started to gain on the massive fish. I slowly got it to the boat but as soon as the fish saw the boat it awakened in a fury and took more line out.

My back and arm yelling at me in pain. I shouldered through. Slowly gaining the line I lost, I reached the leader. Our mate, who spoke fishing english, waved at me to slow the fight. He began slowly hand reeling the line in very cautiously. Like threading a needle he ever so gently pulled the line to his reach. The fish sluggishly made its way to the pointed gaff and the mate with all his might pulled in the massive Mahi Mahi. The fish was caught and my personal best Mahi Mahi posed with me in the boat.

I felt joy and excitement but yet I wasn’t satisfied. Today was going to be Abby’s day, and the day wasn’t over. Her fish was not caught.

I reflected over my ice cold Imperial beer, “would Abby get her Sail?” The mate had the lines out and already began to clean the massive fish. We watched as he filleted and trimmed tossing the leftover remains over.

The troll continued for another 30 minutes, and I was watching the birds in the sky. They had become more numerous and began to dive. “Baitfish,” I said to myself. Within a second, the rod on the left corner bent over in pain and line stripped.

“Sail!” the mate exclaimed. “This is yours Abby,” I said. She eagerly went to the stern of the boat and began her fight.

The sailfish danced in the air and showing off its dorsal fin. Abby gritted her teeth as she battled the elegant but powerful fish.

“She never fought a fish this size before,” I thought. “Could she handle the endurance of the sea creature?”

The answer was clear once I saw the determination in her eyes. The fish had no chance. The tug of war of the fight continued. Her getting more frustrated yet more focused on the prize. Inch by inch, she gained on the fish until it decided to run again. Slightly deflated but still eager, she continued the fight slowly gaining on the colorful billfish. Eventually, her will won over the creature, who clearly had little chance against Abby’s determination.

She posed with her defeated foe at the edge of the boat with a victorious smile on her face. My Costa Rican trip was made because Abby didn’t just catch her first sail, she caught the biggest one of our trip. For more details on Sailfishing in Costa Rica, check out queposfishadventures.com.

Day 1 in Sailfishing Paradise

The next chapter of my Costa Rica adventure is one of my favorites. After a fun day of inshore fishing and a good night’s rest, we went back to the Marina Pez Vela for more fishing action. The game plan for the day was offshore targeting Mahi Mahi and Pacific Sailfish.

We met our guide at the docks. His name was Junior, and his mate was Pepe. Junior said, “We won’t have to go far. They are only 7 miles out.”

I nodded with anticipation and followed the captain to his boat. Abby and I loaded up and the boat cruised out of the marina. The water was calm and flat for our easy ride out. The air was salty and warm as Pepe rigged the lines for trolling. He did several setups and rigged a couple of outriggers to spread the strike zone out. The bait was dead Ballyhoo hooked to a colorful skirted rig. It looked like sailfish candy to me.

As he dropped the lines out, the boat kept its course through the calm. I took my seat beside Abby and began to watch the lines. After a few minutes, we started a conversation about our trip so far. It wasn’t shortly after we started conversing that one of the trolling poles bent down with a hit.

“Fish on!” Pepe exclaimed. My heart pounded as I saw the fish break surface and danced in a frenzy on its tail. The nose was long and pointed on the fish. Its back had a huge dorsal fin and the color of it was vibrant. I had hooked my first sailfish.

I made my way to the fighting chair and engaged in a battle of wills with the fish. It took more line than I was gaining. Thinking to myself, “I need him to stop running so I can gain more line.” It eventually took a breather and it was my turn to gain on the fishing.

I worked the fish by lifting up on the rod smoothly and quickly reeling down. After gaining 20 yards on the fish, the sail decided to give me another run for my money. The line peeled and squealed from the reel and against the drag. The fish was taking the line but at a cost.


I imagine big game fishing as a game of tug of war with your dog. The energy and ferocity of their fight needed to be matched with cunning and timing. The fish stopped and I began my gain of line again.

My hands ached as did my shoulders and arms. The fish finally made it to the boat. And the fight was over. Pepe told me to sit on the corner and get ready. He grabbed the fish and placed him on my lap. Abby, eager to capture the moment, took several photos quickly. Pepe swiftly revived the fish and we released it. 

I went back to my seat and as soon as I got comfortable. The lines hit again. This time it was Abby’s turn. She fought a solid 7 minutes with a Mahi Mahi. She gleamed with joy as the fish was gaffed. It would be dinner for the tonight.

The day continued with a few more Mahi Mahi but no more sailfish. Luckily, we had one more day of fishing to go. For more on my Costa Rican sailfishing, check out here.

Roosterfishing Not Catching

Continuing the next part of my recent adventure to Costa Rica with Abby was my favorite part of it—fishing. Driving four hours from La Fortuna, we reached our next area of the country, the Pacific coast. Specifically, the drive took us to Quepos and the Manuel Antonio region. As we drove in, the climate changed dramatically from the milder and wet rainforest to the hotter and drier coast. The ocean had a breeze but I didn’t see a single drop of rain my six-day stretch there. Luckily, I fished three of those days.

Our first morning, the sun peeked behind the horizon to greet us at 6 in the morning. With a cup of Costa Rican coffee and a protein bar in hand, Abby and I headed down from the Manuel Antonio mountain area to the Marina Pez Vela. The marina looked newer than the other structures around the Quepos area. With a variety shops and restaurants, it looked like a shopping mall. As we made our way down to the dock, we were greeted by our charter’s contact that took us to get our one week $15 dollar fishing license and then to the boat. Captain Burly and Mate Johnny greet us from their slip, and we then hastily took off in their 28 foot center console to catch the bait.

The water was flat as we headed upshore from the marina. Spinning rods were being rigged with Sabiki rigs on our ride out.

Johnny asked, “Want to try?”

I nodded in enthusiasm. We stopped the boat and dropped our rigs down with a slight jig. I landed a couple of sardines on my first drop. Eager to try again, I hooked something bigger. My light spinning rod bowed like a flimsy hickory. “Barra,” mumbled Johnny. I had a barracuda hooked and the next thing all three rods in the water had one hooked. Eventually, the toothy fish cut our lines and we decided to head south.

Passing epic rock cliffs and islands like imagery from a national geographic, we made our way closer to the Manuel Antonio area. We stopped and dropped our sabiki lines in the water. All of us had synchronized bites, and we reeled in 3 to 5 sardines a piece in this new area. After a few drops, we had enough bait to go after our goal of the day and my bucket list fish, the Roosterfish. We positioned ourselves 100 yards from shore and began to troll.

As we trolled, I thought to myself that this was heaven. Fishing, beautiful weather and amazing scenery of dark sand beach. My thoughts were interrupted as the black dorsal fin of a rooster broke the surface of the surf and began to chase our sardines. The fish danced in the water swaying back and forth waiting to strike. And it did.

Abby’s pole began to bend and line was going out. After a countdown of 10 seconds, she closed her bell and began to reel. The fish was hooked. “Way to go Abby,” I shouted. She reeled with all her might but did not see the line losing tension, and the circle hook was thrown. “Circle hooks have a learning curve to newer anglers”, I thought. After the first hook up, we trolled again. And we had another hookup in no time. This time, Abby’s line stayed tight, and she reeled in short time a large needle fish.

After trolling, we tried bottom fishing next near the rocky isles with hopes of landing a larger Roosterfish or even a snook. The catch was a mix bag of snapper, needlefish and spanish mackerel. The elusive Roosterfish had not been seen. We stopped for lunch and chatted about our experience in Costa Rica with the guides. Burly disclosed his trip to the states and Atlanta. He remembered the bad traffic of the city. I laughed.

After lunch, we moved to the other side of the islands. The waves swayed the boat more as we dropped down to 30 feet. After a few drops and moves, my rod began to bend. The captain exclaimed, “You got your big rooster!” As I reeled, the fight felt very familiar to me. The fish dug deeper into sea. My hands began to ache as I saw color. The pattern of skin did not look striped. I knew the pull of the fish after I saw color. It was a reef donkey or AJ. I felt deflated. The fight was fun but my goal of a Roosterfish was not happening.

We dropped one more time, and the bite was on once again. I fought hard this time and after battle of wills, the Jack Carvelle was caught and our time on the water was up. Frustration went through my mind as we headed back. I flew all the way down here and did not meet my goal of catching a Roosterfish. But, I paused and looked around. The waves crashing in the rocks, the exotic flora, and the smell of salt in the air, all, refocused me. Failing here to catch one of my bucket list fish was not all bad after all. The hunt or the chase could continue in my future and it would be great excuse to come back to paradise. Because in the end, it would be called catching not fishing if it was easy. Check out the highlight video of our Quepos Inshore adventure below.



Pearls of Fishing Wisdom: When the Dogwoods Bloom

The most valuable piece of fishing tackle can’t be purchased at your local bait shop or ordered from an online retailer. It’s something that is freely given to those who seek it and it won’t ever rust or need to be replaced.

I’m talking about the wisdom passed down by old timers to young anglers who share the same enduring passion for fishing. There are plenty of sayings and bits of knowledge that seasoned anglers have accumulated over time and are eager to share it with those willing to listen.

My grandfather always had a saying that he liked to use when winter was tapering off in February and there was a hint of springtime in the air.

“When the dogwoods bloom, the crappie are biting.”

There are some variations of this old saying, but it certainly holds true for fishermen in the South who take to the water every March in search of slabs.

I grew up fishing in R.L. Harris Reservoir, fondly known by the locals as “Wedowee.” My grandfather and my dad had me out on the boat drowning worms as soon as I was old enough to even hold a fishing rod. Each year, I looked forward to spring break at school because I knew that I would spend the majority of that week on Wedowee reeling in crappie.

I remember one spring break when I was about 10 years old and my dad and grandfather took me and my two brothers fishing every single day that week, Monday through Saturday. We never got tired of it.

For anyone wondering when the best time to catch crappie is, they can always refer to the old saying about dogwoods blooming. I’m a
firm believer that the crappie bite is best when the pink dogwoods are in full bloom. This usually happens in mid-March and you can bank on there being an abundance of crappie that start their spawning rituals.

When the daylight hours start to lengthen and the temperatures begin to rise, crappie begin the earliest stages of spawning. Typically, water temperatures of at least 57 degrees will kick off the annual crappie spawn. You can usually find crappie in shallow water less than 10 feet deep, and where you find one, you can always find more—lots more.

For anyone who has experienced a crappie fishing trip at the peak of the spawn, they will attest to there being nothing like it. Anglers can sometimes catch fish on every single cast when they get into a school of crappie.

The main thing to look for is cover. Crappie will hold to cover in huge schools of dozens and dozens of fish. Crappie are creatures of habit and you’ll almost always find them spawning in the same places each year.

I still remember the best spots that my grandfather and I would go to when we were on a mission to catch a mess of crappie. Every now and then, we would catch one weighing in excess of 2 pounds. Those are what crappie anglers fondly refer to as “slabs.”

The best bait to use (in my opinion) is the Road Runner by Blakemore. There are many different sizes and variations of these magical lures, which leaves it up to the fisherman to find the right size, style, and color combination.

Without a doubt, the best time to catch a limit of these tasty fish is when the dogwoods come into bloom. Keep that bit of information in your back pocket and put it to the test. Once you’ve realized that it rings true, be sure to share it with the younger generations.

We will have more articles on crappie fishing in the near future, so stay tuned. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with some of the best fishing quotes I’ve heard.

“For the true angler, fishing produces a deep unspoken joy, bron of longing for that which is quiet and peaceful, and fostered by an inbred love of communing with nature.”
—Thaddeus Norris

“One thing becomes clearer as one gets older and one’s fishing experience increases, and that is the paramount importance of one’s fishing companions.”
—John Ashley-Cooper

“The gods do not deduct from a man’s allotted span the hours spent in fishing.”
—Babylonian Proverb

“All veteran anglers have their tricks of the trade…usually you have to fish a long time to pick them up.”
—Wheeler Johnson

“Unless you have a ritual for getting your tackle box ready, no one with regard you as a serious fisherman.”
—John W. Randolph

“A fish wouldn’t get caught if it kept its mouth shut.”
—Fisherman’s Saying

“There is certainly something in angling that tends to produce a gentleness of spirit and a pure serenity of mind.”
—Washington Irving

True Wilderness Freedom: Sleeping Under the Stars

“A great many people, and more all the time, live their entire lives without ever once sleeping out under the stars.” —Alan S. Kesselheim

The narrow, winding roads leading into Johns Mountain WMA near Rome, Georgia take you into a little-known trout fishing haven nestled among the rolling, wooded hills. This small northwest Georgia stream is regularly stocked with plenty of rainbow trout that school up in pools, making Johns Creek one of the most sought after fishing spots for trout anglers.

I joined my brother, Josh, and our friend, Heath, for a camping trip to Johns Mountain where we hoped to kick back and relax at camp, then rise early to see how many rainbow trout we could catch the next morning. It was June and the Georgia heat was stifling.

As we neared the creek, we noticed a small campsite that was absolutely perfect. We pulled in and began unloading our gear to set up camp. The smooth, flat ground was situated just a few yards from a steep hill that overlooked Johns Creek. Only a handful of other trucks passed by our secluded campsite that night. We were all excited to finally be on a camping trip—myself included as this was the first time I had gone camping in years.

Camping was a way of life for me and my two brothers growing up in rural Georgia. During the summer months when we were free of having to attend school, we camped literally every night that it wasn’t raining from May until September. Our mother would make us come in early Sunday morning and shower to wash off the smokey smell before we went to church.

My two brothers and I absolutely loved camping. We practically grew up outside and we were blessed to have a father and grandfather that encouraged us to enjoy our time in the great outdoors. We shared everything with each other sitting by the campfire year after year. If I know my brothers well enough, I know they, too, feel right at home sitting next to a campfire listening to the sounds of the night.

Fast forward 20 years later and my brother and I are as excited as we were during our childhood to be setting up camp, building a fire, and getting ready to cook dinner over the open flame.

As our camp began to take shape, Josh and I both noticed that we had left out a key item from our camping gear….the tent poles.

“Oh well, we’ll just sleep under the stars,” said Josh. “It’ll probably be better since it’s going to be 90 degrees tonight anyway.”

We turned our focus to the night’s meal that Heath was busy preparing. I’m quite sure that Heath missed his calling as one of the world’s true culinary geniuses. We enjoyed what I can honestly say was the best meal I’ve ever eaten next to a fire that night. To find out more about that recipe and how to prepare the legendary Heathro’s Hobo Dinners, click here.

We finished our meal and sat around the fire for a bit, trading stories about our own outdoor adventures and trying to quell our excitement for fishing the following morning. When we finally did retire for the night to the spot where our tent would have been placed, we quickly realized that there was just as much heat in the midnight air as there was sitting next to the fire.

At this point, I realized how thankful I was to have forgotten the tent poles. As I lay there on the ground, I heard the creek gently rippling over the rocks nearby. There was a slight breeze blowing and I gazed up through the limbs overhead into the stars above. So many people forget how beautiful and relaxing it is to look up at the night sky before falling asleep.

As a child, my father always mentioned how he and his two brothers “slept under the stars” anytime they went camping. I always wondered why he insisted on letting us know that he often neglected the use of a tent when he camped. I felt like he was simply bragging about being a little tougher than we were (I’ll admit that I always felt more secure within the confines of a thin layer of nylon).

As I grew older, I realized that he was merely encouraging us to take a slightly more rugged route. Not because it was harder, but because it was a great way to truly connect to nature.

Many people wouldn’t dare to camp without the comfort of a tent. After all, there are plenty of critters, bugs, rain, and even the possibility of being a little too close to unwanted guests like bears or coyotes.

After our camping trip to Johns Mountain, I think I’ll be sleeping under the stars much more often when I go camping. Breathing in the fresh mountain air was soothing for me and I became lost staring into the sea of diamond-like stars strewn across the expanse of outer space.

Sleeping under the stars gives one a sense of peaceful connectivity with the natural world. Instead of shutting the out the wilderness by zipping a flap shut, you can really come to appreciate being a part of the wide-open beauty of nature. There is a peculiar sense of belonging to the outdoors that you won’t experience inside a tent.

So, the next time you plan to go camping, check the weather and see if it’s going to be a clear night. Leave the tent at home and sleep under the stars and you’ll realize that there is more freedom out there than you think.

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity.” —John Muir

When is the Best Time to Fish?

Years ago, I had the luxury of fishing just about anytime I wanted. As a college student, most of my spare time was spent in the woods or on the water. The only problem I ran into was finding someone to go fishing with from time to time.

One day, after doing some work on my grandfather’s farm, I decided I would plan a fishing trip in the next few days. I sat at the kitchen table while my grandfather was busy cutting a cantaloupe. He and I shared an affinity for fruit of any and all kinds, and snacking on fresh fruit was a regular pastime we enjoyed together. My grandfather, or Papa, as I knew him, always said that a person’s good health and vitality can often be attributed to whether or not they were a “fruit eater.”

I thumbed through the local newspaper until I found the weather forecast which indicated there was a storm on the way that would bring frigid weather and possibly snow. I also checked the astro table predictions for the upcoming days, which indicates the best days to hunt or fish based on lunar phases and when wildlife can be expected to feed or be moving.

It turned out that Friday was expected to be one of the best days of the entire month for hunting and fishing, according to the astro tables. The storm was expected to hit the east Alabama area that same day. Faced with the decision to go through with my plans and hit the water, or pass up an opportunity and wait for more favorable weather, I decided to see what my grandfather had to say about the idea of fishing in a winter storm. I asked if he wanted to join me on my trip.

“No,” he laughed. “That’s way too cold for me.”

Temperatures weren’t expected to reach more than 30 degrees on Friday, but Thursday was predicted to be warmer. I would only have about three hours to fish on Thursday after my classes, but I was free to fish all day on Friday, as was my older brother, Josh.

“I bet I could catch some fish if I went out there Friday, but I’d have to bundle up,” I said, curious to know whether my grandfather would make the trip if he were in my shoes.

I explained how the astro tables predicted a great day to fish, but the storm looming on Friday was preparing to ruin anyone’s hopes of getting on the water. Torn between fishing on Thursday or Friday, I asked my Papa what day he might choose to go.

“When do you think the best time to fish is?”

He gazed downward as he sliced the cantaloupe and smiled.

“Son, I’ve been fishing a long time and I’ve found that the best time to go fishing is whenever you can,” he said, looking up at me with an encouraging grin.

I laughed, realizing that his answer was just what I was hoping to hear, but in a much different way. I’ll never forget him telling me that and the wisdom he was trying to pass on to me with that simple statement.

Sometimes, we outdoorsmen spend so much time and energy going over the little things related to planning a hunting or fishing trip and we often miss the bigger purpose of enjoying and being grateful for our ability to go fishing or hunting. That concept meant more to me than ever a few years later when he was unable to leave the house, his body wracked with pain as be battled cancer.

Josh and I got up early on Friday and got our boat and fishing gear ready to go. Papa sat at his kitchen table, sipping coffee and smiling as we hurried around in preparation for a full day of fishing. I like to think he was smiling because he was proud to see that his grandsons were both crazy enough and determined enough to brave tough conditions in pursuit of catching some fish.

On the drive to Wedowee, Josh and I laughed and joked nervously about the fact that we were about to put our boat in the water on a day that most people wouldn’t dare to so much as step outside.

We pulled into the boat dock parking lot and instantly noticed that it was completely empty. We were the only nuts crazy enough to go fishing with a snowstorm moving into the area. Before I could get the words out, Josh said exactly what I was thinking.

“We’ve got the whole lake to ourselves!”

As we put the boat in, I drove the truck and trailer to a parking spot and started to walk down the hill to the dock. I noticed a snowflake fall right in front of my face right before Josh yelled out from the dock below.

“Fishing in the snow, baby!” he yelled, his voice echoing across the empty lake. I replied with my best Ric Flair “Wooo!” that broke the silence hanging over the lake. If anyone living in the nearby houses were watching and listening to us, they surely had to think we were a special breed of idiots.

I climbed into the boat and felt like I was grabbing solid ice as my hands gripped the side of the aluminum vessel. We both grimaced as Josh ramped up the 25 horsepower Evinrude motor to full speed as we tore out to our first destination.

We arrived, shivering as we picked up our fishing rods. Both of us were not laughing as much as we had been now that the snow was coming down more heavily.

It was unusually peaceful being on the water during the snowfall. The lake was usually bustling with other boats, but that day was eerily quiet to the point that you could almost hear the snowflakes gently landing on the surface of the water.

We found some success on our first few casts with the tried and true Roadrunner jigs we often used. Josh and I were fishing on a large flat that stretched underwater several hundred yards in the middle of the lake. The flat was bordered by a steep drop off on one side and was a spot that Papa had just showed us a few weeks before when we caught dozens of crappie using dropshot rigs.

After about thirty minutes without a bite, I picked up a rod that had a Texas rigged dark red worm on it. The lure setup was unique because I had used the same dark red colored bullet sinker and a red hook. I had tied the lure combination on the night before, curious to see if using the same color sinker, hook, and worm might be effective.

It turned out to be our secret weapon that day.

I caught a nice bass and immediately hooked another, bigger bass on my next cast.

“What are you using?!” Josh said.

I showed him the lure I had on and shortly after, we were both reeling in bass one after another. These were big, healthy spotted bass that were hungry and fiesty.

We both couldn’t believe how many fish we were catching. After all, we were using a bait that was normally employed in relatively shallow water during warmer weather. We were waylaying the bass in just over 20 feet of water as the snow began to accumulate on the bare surfaces of our boat and the surrounding land.

We lost count of how many fish we were catching.

After the bite slowed down, we noticed another boat in the distance—the only one we had seen all day. The angler waved to us, and we slowly made our way over to him. Just like us, he was probably eager to meet another nut who was crazy enough to fish in such weather.

As we approached his boat, we exchanged the usual pleasantries that are customary for fishermen.

“Having any luck?” we asked.

“No,” he replied. “I caught two fish since I’ve been here. Just been playing around with a new waterproof camera I bought that lets you see under the water. What about y’all?”

“We’re doing pretty good,” Josh said as he looked over to me with a giant grin on his face.

“Y’all can have these two fish I got if you want them,” the man said. “I don’t want to fool with cleaning just a couple of fish.”

“Sure! We’ll take ‘em!” we said.

The man slowly maneuvered his boat over to ours and opened his livewell, taking out a decent-sized crappie and handing it to me. I took the fish and reached for the Igloo cooler that sat in the middle of our boat. I pulled the lid open and the man’s eyes nearly popped out of his head.

“Good Lord!” the man blurted out, his eyes fixed on our cooler that was literally filled to the brim with bass and crappie. “Where did you catch those at?!”

I couldn’t resist the urge to use one of my grandfather’s old jokes I had heard him say at a boat dock more than a few times.

“Caught most of them right in the mouth!” I said emphatically with a semi-straight face. The man was still so flabbergasted at the pile of fish in front of him that he was unphased by my humor. His eyes were still bulging as if he’d seen a cooler full of hundred-dollar bills.

I quickly realized that we didn’t have room for his two crappie in our full-sized cooler.

“Uhh, I don’t think we can fit anymore fish in here,” I said as Josh burst out laughing.

We chatted with the man a little longer before he insisted that we exchange phone numbers and meet up again on the lake. He undoubtedly mistook us for angling gurus who could fill a cooler slap full of fish at will—even during a snowstorm.

The drive home was slow as we carefully navigated the winding country roads back to Temple, Georgia. It was dark, but we both couldn’t wait to show off our catch to everyone, especially Papa. His reaction was similar to the man on the lake.

We got back to our grandfather’s house and walked in to find him lounging on his couch watching television.

“Want to see our fish?” we said as soon as we walked through the door.

“Ah, y’all didn’t catch any fish out there today in that mess,” he said in a way that was half intrigued and half suspecting that we were playing a joke on him.

He quickly realized that we weren’t joking when we struggled to lift the weighted cooler out of the boat and onto the ground. Josh opened the cooler’s lid and we both stepped back, admiring our massive catch.

“Man alive!” he exclaimed as he stepped in for a closer look. “How much ice do y’all have in there?!”

“None!” we laughed. “It’s slap full of fish!”

We all counted the fish as we pulled them one by one from the overloaded cooler. A successful fishing trip was usually capped off by a photo of us with our fish laid out on the ground, but my grandfather discouraged us from taking any pictures this time.

“Boys, y’all must not have kept count today because y’all kept way more than your limit,” he laughed, partially reprimanding us for the lapse in judgement. “If the game warden had stopped you, y’all would’a got a bunch of tickets!”

In our fishing frenzy, we had completely forgotten to keep count of our catches. My grandfather and father had unbending ethical standards in everything we did in the outdoors. Breaking the rules was never an option, and my grandfather, though he was highly impressed with our huge catch, didn’t want us to capture any photos because any angler would take one look and clearly recognize that we had gone well over our limit of fish.

Now, you’re probably starting to suspect that this whole story is slightly exaggerated, but Josh and I can attest that it’s completely accurate. I suppose it makes the story better since we don’t have photographic evidence, so it adds a bit of mystique to the tale. Let’s just say the total number was close to triple-digits.

The moral of the story is this: we almost never even went on that fishing trip because we knew that the conditions would be pretty rough. Frigid temperatures, icy water, and snow accumulations would make just about anyone assume that a day fishing on the water would be anything but successful.

Instead of following the crowd and staying home, hoping for another chance to fish with better weather, Josh and I took the trip and it ended up being one that we’ll both never forget. I’m sure that fellow we met on the lake probably remembers us and our cooler to this day.

In all, there is one fishing question that I’ll always answer the same way from now on…

“When is the best time to fish?”

The best time to fish is whenever you can.

Miami Peacock Bass!

It was a warm and humid December morning in Miami. I drove down to the park in my Tacoma, and waited on Captain Hall to pull in. To my surprise, the slim, enthusiastic captain was waiting for me at the boat ramp. He asked, “Are you Heath?” I nodded. “Well, I got some shiners and the Peacocks love them,” he shot back.  I boarded his smaller boat, and the hunt was on for Miami Peacock Bass. 

As we glided through the urban jungle of Miami’s canal system. The green vegetation of a jungle engulfed me as we reached our first stop. The captain smirked and said drop it here. The baitfish on a circle hook swam at its will. The air cooler than the sweltering forecast was damp with the morning dew. The rod began to twitch with a slight bump. Then, the rod bent over with a slam. I closed my bail and the fish was hooked. The line screamed like a torture creature. I reeled with a passion of excited child. The fish was close to the boat, when I laid my eyes on its exotic colors of green, reddish orange and yellow. I landed my first Butterfly Peacock bass of Miami. It wasn’t my last.

We moved constantly through the urban jungle. Stopping at holes, we would cast and hook a peacock. The banks would alternate of vines, backyards and iguanas as swiftly moved through the canals of the metropolis. I hooked at least 10 but none of size as we reached an open lake like area of the canals. The shiner thrown out on a hook bounced in a fury. The rod bent slightly and I reeled to hook up. The Peacock bass fought with a fury of a football safety. It had shoulders in its fight. After a five minute fight, the brightly colored fish was defeated. Watch my adventure in this short video below. For more information on Peacock Bass Fishing, check out http://www.captmarkhall.com/

Peacock Bass Fishing in the Miami Canals from David Heath Yates on Vimeo.

Man Can Holiday Gift Guide for 2018

The holiday season is upon us and that means you’re either looking for the perfect gift for your outdoorsman, or you’re a hunter and angler hoping to provide a subtle hint to friends and family members by sharing this list of the the best outdoor gifts for the 2018 season.

We’ve compiled this list and categorized items by cost, selecting the absolute best gift ideas available this season. Tracking down the ideal gift for your outdoor adventurer can often be tough as most they are highly selective when it comes to their gear.

Don’t worry. We’ll make sure your outdoorsman is just as excited to find their gift under a tree as they will be to carry it with them into a tree, or on the water.

1. Magazine Subscription – This gift idea is often overlooked, but is guaranteed to be something that continues to put a smile on your outdoorsman’s face each month for a year or even two if you want. Most outdoor magazines are surprisingly affordable and make great stocking stuffer ideas. One of our favorites is Game & Fish magazine, which produces state-specific editions for anywhere in the country. The best news? A one-year subscription costs less than $10.

2. Wild Game Cookbook – We at Man Can Outdoors are just as enthusiastic about preparing our catches and kills in a tasty cuisine as we are for the preparation, thrill of the chase and the harvest. Get that special someone on your list a wild game cookbook and they might just invite you over for dinner later on.

Check out some of our Man Can Cook articles and videos and you’ll see that the best way to cap off a successful hunt is to prepare a delicious meal. Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast by Hank Shaw is a must-have for any outdoorsman’s bookshelf.

3. LifeStraw Personal Water Filter – Having fresh water is essential and can come through as a lifesaver in some situations in the great outdoors. The LifeStraw Personal Water Filter is a sleek, easy-to-use water filtration system that is easily one of the most important items on our list. The LifeStraw removes 99.9999% of waterborne bacteria and even exceeds EPA water filter standards. This item is perfect for the hardcore adventurer or the casual outdoorsman.

4. Goal Zero Solar Charger – Getting to some of the best hunting or fishing spots sometimes requires us to go off the grid. A solar charger is a great way to keep your gadgets charged. From keeping a daily log on your laptop to making sure your phone is charged so you can capture that perfect photo right when you need it, a solar charger is a handy tool for any modern outdoorsman. Goal Zero makes some of the most reliable chargers on the market.


5. Gerber Controller Filet Knife – No angler’s arsenal is complete without a proper filet knife. The Gerber Controller is an 8-inch workhorse a workhorse among filet knives. The HydroTread Grip™ helps you keep a hold on things despite slime and wetness while cleaning your catch. The knife’s custom-fit sheath comes with a built-in sharpener that makes it ready to cut at a moment’s notice.

6. Bubba Blade Fishing Pliers – A high-quality set of fishing pliers is invaluable for serious anglers. The Bubba Blade Fishing Pliers features everything you need for safety and control and is able to cut, crimp and pull any and everything. These pliers come with a lanyard and sheath for quick and easy access.

7. The Browning Jackson Carry-On Travel Pack – To the average person, the many nooks and crannies in a quality outdoor backpack might never be utilized, but serious hunters and anglers can visualize just how they will fit every piece of gear inside those compartments. Having a good backpack is essential to moving with speed and efficiency.

Packing everything into a compact, waterproof backpack will keep your gear dry and allow for quick, easy access. The Browning Jackson Carry-On Travel Pack is an ideal choice for any adventurer.

8. Wild River Tackle Tek Frontier Tackle Bag – This compact tackle bag is easy to take anywhere and serves as an angler’s one-stop fishing shop. With a bright, LED light system mounted on the handle, you’ll never have to fumble around with a flashlight in hand while you tie on baits or unhook your catch. With waterproof pockets and plenty of compartment space, this tackle bag is our top choice for the 2018 season.

9. SHIMANO Curado DC – Our list of the best gear items of 2018 would not be complete without the year’s hottest fishing reel, the SHIMANO Curado DC. This reel features the best in anti-backlash technology, Shimano’s new Digital Control braking system which utilizes a microcomputer to monitor spool speed 1,000 times every second. This reel is ideal for anglers of all experience levels and is available at many fishing retail stores and websites.

10. GoPro Hero7 – Capture your catch and harvest with the latest in compact camera technology with professional 4K HD video quality. The GoPro Hero7 is waterproof and voice-controlled, making it easy to use in a variety of outdoor situations. With live-streaming capabilities, this compact camera is perfect for capturing all of your outdoor adventure footage and photos.