Winter Kayak Fishing | Some Tips & Advice From Mike Cheatham

When it comes to winter kayak fishing, some kayakers in the north are forced to leave their kayaks at home to fish hard water. Some move to hunting during the winter months, or have other pursuits to fill the winter days. But there are still many of us who fish year-round from our kayaks — for bass, crappie, stripers, white bass – for everything and anything that will bite.

My third tournament from a kayak, I left my hog trough in the truck while fishing on Kentucky Lake. It snowed so hard that by the time I retrieved it from the back floor board, the seat on my kayak was covered with snow. I repeated that on Dale Hollow just two years ago. It was miserable, cold, raining, and snowing… but I was fishing dang it! 

I recently followed a series of posts just this week from Jaxton and Jim Orr who had fled south to fish Chickamauga and had some success. So there is that option too. For me, I know the crappie and white bass are biting here in Tennessee and they really taste good soaked in some hot grease.

So I am partaking in winter kayak fishing.

But prepping for a winter kayak fishing trip is not the same as prepping July. You have to be very aware of the weather and really understand the temperature of both the air and the water. Hypothermia is real and with kayaks having a higher chance of flipping than larger boats, you need to be prepared. Learn what to do, how to do it, but more important: learn what to expect should you find yourself in the water.  

Winter Kayak Fishing: A Close Call

Before I owned a kayak, I picked up a friend to fish out of my small jon boat. I knew when he got in the truck he was not dressed for the 20-degree air temps and I should have called it off then, but I had some extra coveralls in my truck that would help him stay warm. 

We fished for a few hours without success, and decided to head in. I asked him to hand me a tackle box, and the next sound I heard was him falling into the barely 50 degree water. He was not wearing a PFD and the coveralls quickly absorbed water. Fortunately for my friend, we were less than 50 yards from the ramp because I could not get him back into the boat. I held his arm as he clung to the side and I used the trolling motor to cover the distance.

In that short time, I had to help him up the ramp and out of his wet clothes. I gave him my coveralls (which would have also pulled me under had I fallen) and cranked up the heat as he shivered uncontrollably.

That day could have been our last.

Be Prepared When Going Winter Kayak Fishing

Since then, I have made myself more aware. But to be completely upfront, I am probably still not as prepared as I should be during the winter months. I do understand that cotton is not good and that I should be well insulated from the elements – not the air, but the water. I also understand that we should all carry extra clothing and a way to start a fire. 

The biggest thing is to ALWAYS WEAR A LIFE JACKET

I am not telling this to keep you off the water in the winter. I will be out the next free day that I can get on the water; 30 or 80 degrees. I will have a dry bag full of essential items, someone will know exactly where I am and when I plan to be home. But most likely, I will not be alone if it is cold. I am careful to prepare for 30-degree weather because I know the reality of what can go wrong.    

Y’all read up on what to consider when fishing in the cold.  Below is a tiny sample of what is available online. Educate yourself on the effects of hypothermia.

This is a fairly comprehensive (although high-level) explanation.

The 1-10-1 Principle explained here is something else to understand.  

I personally feel that this document provides some good information to consider when kayaking in cold weather. 

No matter what you chose to review, just be safe. Winter kayak fishing can lead to some really fun days on the water, just remember there’s plenty of people who want you to come home safe and plan accordingly!

Soft Plastic Bait Storage | Finding A Method To The Madness

So we’ve talked recently about terminal tackle storage and storing hard baits.

But what about soft plastics? 

Well I’ve done a few different things over the years. I’ve tried putting a bunch of baits in their original packaging into big ziplock bags. I’ve tried making one big bulk bag of baits by dumping several packs into a gallon ziplock bag. I’ve tried deep well tackle boxes and other plastic containers. 

And I honestly like a little bit of it all. My preferred method, though, is to leave the baits in their original packaging and then put those in plastic bins.

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Soft Plastic Bait Storage: 3 Reasons to Keep Baits in Their Package 

  1. It seems to help preserve the baits a little longer. 
  2. For baits that come in a harder shell type packaging, it keeps them true to form better than if they were just dumped in a big pile. 
  3. It’s easier when fishing to take a pack out and keep it in my pocket for the day.

Soft Plastic Bait Storage: Don’t Break The Bank

My soft plastic storage was in need of a facelift recently. I looked around online and found some fancy options, even a $40 box for soft plastics. Now I’ll splurge on storage in a few areas where rust and corrosion are big issues, though I’ve never known a soft plastic bait to rust… and I’d need a dozen or so of these boxes to accommodate all of my soft plastics.

So I had to get a little thrifty.

I took the measurements of a pack of MISSILE Baits D-Bombs and poked around on Amazon. I found a 10 pack of stackable plastic bins with decent looking latches for $30. Score. I ordered those and I have been pretty pleased so far. 

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I’ve had some bins similar to these in the past but the lids just kind of snapped on and didn’t have latches. So they would inevitably pop off at random times in the boat or when I’d go to pick them up. Also, their walls had a slight angle to them so the packs didn’t really fit very well.

However, these new boxes are perfect for a lot of the standard packaged baits. And I really like that they’re lightweight, since the added weight of a lot of soft plastics in the boat is already problem enough. 

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They also hold my frogs perfectly in their original packaging. Side note: the frogs still in their packs actually create little compartments for me to drop some of the ones I’ve already used into. 

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Soft Plastic Bait Storage: Labels, Labels, Labels

When it comes to labeling the boxes so I know what’s where, I like to take clear tape and put down a base layer on the lid. Then I’ll take a sharpie and write on that tape so that if I ever want to change it I can just peel that tape off. And to keep the writing from smearing or wearing off over time, I put a second layer of tape over the first layer with the writing on it. 

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What’s nice about keeping my baits stored this way is that it’s very easy to minimize what I take in the boat on each outing. 

For instance, when it’s January in central Alabama, I know I won’t be needing my popping frog or walking frog boxes and I can just pull those out of the boat and stick them on the shelf. And when it is time to frog, I won’t spend an hour looking for them only finding a few here and there. 

This organization scheme is really beneficial when it comes to knowing what I have and where it is. I can quickly check my inventory to know what I need to order. 

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And for the money, you can’t beat it. Give it a try if you’re in need of a soft plastic bait storage solution.

Terminal Tackle Storage on a Budget with Shaye Baker

Organizing tackle and dealing with terminal tackle storage is about as much fun as fishing, especially in the wintertime. 

And it’s really the only thing close to fishing some of my northern brethren can do this time of year — short of sitting on a bucket over a hole in the ice

There are more companies designing products for tackle storage now than ever before. Back in the day you just had the Plano tackle box. And though I later found out the boxes were named after the town they were built in, for the longest time I thought it was just a play on words — plain old tackle box. 

But ‘plain’ hardly describes their products or 90% of the others out there these days. 

There are boxes with LED lights and no-slip material in them to keep baits in place like Lure Lock. There are boxes with rust inhibitors built into the dividers like those offered by Flambeau. And there are even some tough enough to drive a truck over, as you can see in the ads for Bass Mafia.

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Terminal Tackle Storage: Penny Pinching Pointers

If you’ve got the money, there’s something awesome out there now to store just about anything in. But if you’re living life on a budget, there are a few little tricks.

First, take a stroll down the Tupperware isle at Walmart or the toolbox isle at Home Depot. You’ll find lots of great options there at half the price, especially when looking for something to hold packs of soft plastics that don’t need to be in water tight boxes. And there are discount stores like Harbor Freight and Mike’s Merchandise that will have containers like this even cheaper. 

Tackle Storage

When it comes to terminal tackle, there are some pretty cool boxes built for nuts and bolts that will actually accommodate hooks and weights too. I bought a Flambeau box that I like a lot for terminal tackle but since then I found what is basically the same box in yellow at Harbor Freight for $3 less. 

Terminal Tackle Storage: Here’s What I Did

The main cavity of the box holds several smaller trays that can be organized anyway you like and can be taken in and out individually. So, if you’re having a hard time fishing out a particular weight from one of the trays, you can just pluck that one out and dump it on the deck. To take that a step further, I actually found some little plastic boxes from Harbor Freight that fit three to a tray.

With these little containers, I can have 3 different sized dropshot weights in one tray, but still keep them separate. To make the containers easier to extract from the tray, I simply stuck a piece of tape to the backs of the containers and then doubled them over to create a pull tab.

The little containers are clear, but if you want to know exactly what’s in them without pulling them out, simply take a Sharpie and label each box. 

The box won’t accommodate the packaging that most hooks come in, but I didn’t just want to dump the hooks into a tray and have a jumbled up mess. So I took some little blocks of foam and buried the hook points in them so that anytime I need a hook, I can just pull one from the block. 

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Terminal Tackle Storage: Now It’s Your Turn

You can put a system like this together for about $10 and have hundreds of dollars worth of terminal tackle neat and organized the next time you go looking for something. I only keep a couple days supply in this box, but the way I have it laid out, I can do a quick inventory and restock from my larger stash at any time. 

This has been a very efficient system for me so far, so give it a try if you’re in need of a little better terminal tackle storage system yourself.

Preparing for a Bass Fishing Tournament | Co-Angler Techniques & Mentality

As co-anglers, there’s really not too many tips and tricks articles out there for us to dive in on. What’s crazy about that is the fact that there are tens of thousands of us out there that fish competitively as weekend warriors almost every weekend of the season… we just do it from the back of the boat.

With that in mind, I’m going to break down how I prepare myself for a big tournament as a co-angler. I’ll cover how to select what techniques to use, how to select the baits to bring along, and some mental preparation you’ll need to be successful.

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Selecting Techniques as a Co-Angler

When selecting what techniques to use, the first thing you should do is determine what part of the season the tournament is in. Will the tournament take place in the pre-spawn, spawn, post-spawn, late summer/early fall, fall, or winter? 

Once you determine that, think about what technique you’re most confident in during that time of year… personally, I will usually have at least three

Most of the time my most confident techniques are dropshot, crankbait or jerkbait, and a chatterbait. I will then figure out a couple more techniques that could come into play such as topwater, Carolina rig, Texas rig, or a jig. I will then base those colors solely on the forage in the body of water.

Selecting Baits and Colors as a Co-Angler

I will do whatever I can to determine what the water clarity of the fishery is prior to rigging. I usually start looking into this pretty heavy the week before the tournament. Watch the rain forecast, if there’s a lot of rain, prepare for less water clarity. It also helps to look at the bottom composition for that body of water, that information can usually be found by doing some digging online. 

Once I have determined the clarity, I will then look into what the forage is at that fishery. I can determine this by searching the internet for fishing reports and/or searching the fisheries forage (what shad are in lake (fill in the blank) or what color crawfish are in lake (fill in the blank?) this usually will give me an idea of what to baits use, as well as colors.

When selecting colors, take into consideration what the water clarity is. For fisheries that have clear water to slightly stained water, match the hatch

If you’re going to a fishery that has stained to muddy water, focus on reaction baits and baits that have more of a dark color pattern.

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Mental Preparation as a Co-Angler

Mental preparation is just as important if not more important than rigging up your rods for the tournament. Try to get your rods rigged up a few days prior to the tournament at the latest, so you can mentally prepare during the last few days leading up to the tournament. 

How do you mentally prepare yourself? 

Think of situations you may encounter such as the cover or structure you’ll be fishing and ask yourself;

What will I use? 

How will I fish it? 

Will I go fast or slow? 

What if my boater is going too fast or slow, how will I adapt? 

What if my boater is paralleling the bank what will I do to be the most efficient? 

What will you do if you get to your first spot and the water color is different than you thought, what will you tie on?

These are all questions I ask myself throughout the few days prior to the tournament. Some may say that’s too much thought prior to the tournament, but I am actually preparing myself for situations that I have encountered in the past and did not make good decisions. I play these scenarios over and over in my head so if or when it happens on tournament day I am ready for it and will make a good decision as well as be confident in the decision I am making.

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No matter what scenario you find yourself facing, remember to keep a positive mental attitude and remember why you fish… enjoy your time on the water, it’ll help you fish more freely and focused.

Tennessee Kayak State Championship | A Recap With Mike Cheatham

Tennessee is home to ten clubs that fall under the umbrella of a larger organization, Kayak Anglers Society of Tennessee (KAST)

All clubs are required to follow the same KAST rules and regulations to insure a consistent point system across the state. Each year, KAST chooses a location from the home waters of one of the local clubs to be the site of the Tennessee State Championship. Once chosen, the clubs send their top ten anglers to the event to compete for individual and club titles.  

In 2019, Tennessee Valley Kayak Anglers (TVKA) hosted the event on Lake Chickamauga out of the Blue Water Resort and Marina in Dayton, Tennessee.  

Steve Owens, who co-directs the club, did an incredible job with the event by getting sponsors, prizes and an excellent venue. Daniel Davis, the secretary and treasurer for KAST, and John Ferguson, who doubled as photographer, worked with Steve to make sure that the event ran smoothly — keeping all of the anglers in line. 

It was an incredible team to say the least.

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The title sponsor for the Tennessee State Championship is selected through blind bids from vendors who would like to support the event. Hook1 got it this year and Chris Smith, director of operations, was extremely supportive of the Tennessee event.  

They donated boats — a Titan 12 propel and a Bonafide, and a Yakima Easy Rider Trailer. If you guys see Chris Smith or Chris Conder give them a big thanks for all they do for our community. Not just during the event, but all year long.  

These dudes are pretty cool. 

I do not want to leave out some other significant contributors to the tournament’s success. Fish Dayton was a very generous financial sponsor, check out their website. Native donated a Manta Ray XT. Real Deal Tackle gave a big discount that allowed the team to buy several reels. Raymarine donated two Element depth finders. There was also a Tennessee Trailer raffle held to raise money for TVKA. Tremont Tavern provided a meal at the final check-in and awards. And I am going to tell you: check out their burgers if you are anywhere close (or go out of your way) to these guys on Hixon Pike in Chattanooga.

Tennessee Kayak State Championship: The Event’s Format

There is an individual 2-day, five fish limit. Each club competed against the others across Tennessee. The event started on Friday afternoon and continued Saturday morning. You were allowed to fish from Watts Bar Dam to Chickamauga Dam.  They set the boundary on the Hiwassee and you could not pass I-40.  

And here are some notable stories from the event’s top five finishers:

First Place: Rus Snyders 

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Rus Snyders, who fishes with KBFTN, was fishing the Harrison Bay area. He had found fish pre-fishing, and on day one they were still there. He was catching them on buzzbaits and chatterbaits after a tip from Chris Conder about location. Day two, he was having a much harder time. The fish just didn’t seem to be as aggressive. He passed Derek Bostic during the day who told him to slow down and throw a jig.  After making the adjustment, virtually dead sticking a jig on 45-degree banks, and not losing a single fish during the tournament, Rus walked away as the 2019 Tennessee Kayak State Champion.

Second Place: Russell Rutledge

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Second Place finisher, Russell Rutledge, sells construction supplies when he isn’t fishing. He has a much different story. 

His journey to kayak bass fishing is a bit different than most folks who fish with us. He came from a white water rafting background, but suffered a shoulder injury after eight years that left him unable to truly enjoy that any longer. On a lark, he bought a $25 Crappie Max at Bass Pro to fish a local creek. He ended up catching several bass from the bank, then tied that rod to his old whitewater kayak and didn’t look back. He bought a smaller kayak and in 2016, he found the West Tennessee Bass Yakkers on the internet and joined up with them.  

After catching zero fish on day one, he decided to take his time getting to the launch. He got a late start and decided to whip in to a Waffle House, have a nice breakfast and just enjoy the day on the water.  Russell was fishing on the northern end of Chickamauga and launched with no expectations.  

He figured they were up around the wood, close to the bank and deeper water. After throwing just about everything, he started catching fish on a Heddon Pop’n Image after changing to red Gamakatsu hooks;

“I am not sure if that is what triggered them or not.”

Trent Harris and Russell had been talking and suggested that he use the bait. He also convinced Russell to add split rings on the bait to get more action. It seems it was pretty good advice. 

At around one o’clock, Russell lay his head back and took a few moments for a snooze. He drank some water, ate a sandwich and decided to chill out and “just enjoy it”. He kept hearing fish popping, so he decided he better get back to it.

Third Place: Ryan Lambert 

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Ryan is no stranger to the area, a big stick in the TVKA pulled a solid third place finish. He is always a contender, when you see his name on the roster, expect him to show up on the leader board at some point.

Fourth Place: Trent Harris

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Trent Harris, who sells medical equipment after spending 25 years as a paramedic, finished fourth. He got into kayak fishing by finding KBF online events, then like Russell, he hooked up with the West Tennessee group. 

“People in my family had so many boats, I didn’t see a need to buy one, so I picked up a kayak. I could fish with them,” he said.

During pre-fishing on his first trip to the lake, he found some fish busting everywhere and decided that he had found the spot. He was less than 10 minutes from the check-in location. 

On Friday afternoon, he targeted the thick grass around his location but couldn’t connect. They kept pulling a Stanley Ribett Frog under, but they would not stay pinned.

He hadn’t landed anything until almost dark, then found them on the same bait that Russell used on day two. It was a Heddon Pop’n Image as the fish schooled around a bridge. He picked up three fish before the day ended, with two of them being decent.

“I lost what would have been the large fish for the tournament on Friday night.”

Saturday he found them on the frog.  

“I had watched videos of people fishing a frog, and learned that it is just like fishing Brown’s Creek. If you are too far from the bank, they ain’t touching it.” 

Then Trent let me in on a little secret: “I kept missing fish and I put some garlic spray with chartreuse dye on the legs and the fish didn’t let go like they did Friday night. I kept spraying it every so often to make sure it had some scent.

Fifth Place: Josh Stewart

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If you haven’t heard of Josh, that means you have not been tracking anything in the kayak world.

He rounded out the top five list toward the north on Chickamauga Lake. He was also fishing a Ribbit Frog.  

“I missed a four or five pounder on day one that would have changed things for me.” he said.

I will tell you this, if you get a chance to talk to Josh about his day on Chickamauga, do it. He is without a doubt one of the most colorful story tellers I have had the pleasure of interviewing. He and fourth place finisher Trent both talked highly about each other and how they helped each other to catch fish.  

These top five personify the Tennessee kayak anglers. They are friendly, helpful and encouraging of everyone fishing around them.

Tennessee Kayak State Championship: Who’s Ready For Next Year? 

For 2020, TNKATT has been selected as the host club and the event will be held on Fort Loudon and Tellico.  

“After the phenomenal success of the 2019 Bassmaster Classic in Knoxville it only made sense for us to build on that success and bring some of that good mojo to the kayak side of the angling world… However, with the added versatility kayaks allow, we will also be including the Holston and French Broad Rivers as eligible waters.

“With an established population of largemouth, quickly growing Florida strain population and the added choice of targeting smallmouth in moving waters, these waters will offer several options to the top kayak anglers from across the state who earn the right to compete for their respective local trail.”

5 Cold Water Cranking Questions with Kevin VanDam

Featured Image Credit: Alan McGuckin of Major League Fishing

Wondering how the pros use their crankbaits when the water gets cold? Well, I was curious too, so I caught up with Kevin VanDam to ask him. Here’s my top 5 questions and what he told me.

How deep do you fish a crankbait in cold, muddy water with current? 

“When the water gets muddy, fish go shallow. That’s what I look for. You can throw up in 2-feet of water and they’re there. Especially when they’re running a lot of water. It’s not like the water is warmer out deeper or anything like that.”

“I’ve caught them super shallow at times in river situations when it’s cold. They get right up against the bank to get out of the current. But I have caught fish 10-feet deep too. It’s all about finding that spot where they can setup close to current but not be in the current, where there’s going to be food coming by them and they can ambush it as it’s rolling by. It’s more about the structural element than it is anything else in that situation.”

Do you pay attention to how the hooks are oriented when you change hooks on a crankbait? 

“With fussy baits like the Lucky Shad you want to make sure the hooks are laying up against the bait without the split ring twisted. The bait should lay in the V of two of the hooks with the third hook of the treble pointed down.”

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Do you use slower gear ratio reels? 

“For me, personally, I would over fish the bait if I threw it on a 6.5:1 or something like that. A reel in the 5:1 range is ideal for me. It just helps force me to slow down a bit. I like something that takes in about 24-inches per turn when you crank it. And I’ve always used a reel with a larger spool for cranking just to get the extra distance on the cast.”

What type of rod do you prefer? 

“I throw a composite rod for cranking. I’ve used straight fiberglass before and I’ve tried graphite. Graphite rods are not very forgiving when it comes to cold water fish, especially when landing them. So it’s very important to me to have that perfect balance between the two.” 

“The way composite rods load and unload, you can actually throw them a lot farther. And their softer action allows the bait to deflect off cover better. When the bait hits the cover, the rod doesn’t immediately snap back like a granite rod does. So you’re not getting hung up as much and the fish gets the bait deeper.”

“Having a rod that’s comfortable to throw is also important, especially in freezing conditions. And you certainly don’t want micro guides or anything like that because they’re going to freeze up fast.”

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When do you use the bigger 4.0 and 8.0 squarebills? 

“The big baits are basically when you’re looking for a big profile offering, typically in places that have a lot of big fish or in warmer water scenarios. Places where the bass target gizzard shad and big bluegills, that’s when I use the big 8.0 and the 4.0.”

“Early in the fall is the time when a big squarebill is good. If you think about it, the foliage is at its biggest in the fall. It’s had all season to grow. But I don’t use bigger baits a lot in the winter time.”

How to Rig a Worm | 3 Weird Ways to Rig a Worm with Shaye Baker

A couple years ago when MISSLE Baits introduced The 48 worm, they decided to put together a video series called 48 Ways to Rig a Worm.


So, naturally when you’re trying to come up with 48 different ways to rig a worm, you’re going to be splitting hairs at times and you’re going to have to get pretty creative. 

I sent in a few contributions and thought it would be worth sharing since they were kinda weird. But I caught fish on all three so I must have done something right. Here they are, listed in order of effectiveness. 

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How to Rig a Worm: The Double Shot

I remember watching Scott Canterbury fish this rig at the Forrest Wood Cup several years ago. I’m not sure what he called it or what it’s called by others, but double shot sounds pretty descriptive. 

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This one is fairly simple to rig. 

Just go about rigging a dropshot but instead of putting a weight at the end of your tagline, tie on a shaky head and add another worm. 

You’ll want to leave a little longer leader than normal so that you have enough line to tie your shaky head on. And you can leave a much longer leader if you’d like. That’ll let you fish the bottom as well as 3 or 4 feet up into the cover if you’d like. 

What was really interesting about this rig was that I actually caught more of my fish on the shaky head than I did the dropshot worm. Now I’ve only fished this rig one day, and it may have just been the day. But for whatever reason most of my bites came on the lower bait.

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How to Rig a Worm: The Free Rig

The free rig is actually a pretty neat little deal to fish around vegetation.

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You simply take a bell sinker and run your line through it. Then, you tie on your preferred hook for whatever soft plastic you plan to rig up. 

Once you’ve added the hook and soft plastic, you’ll see that the weight can move freely up and down the line. So it works kind of like a Carolina rig, but it weighs less. And there’s no leader, so the weight can come all the way to the nose of the bait, then slide back up the line and let the bait float and wash around at times. 

How to Rig a Worm: The X Rig

I spawned the X rig out of necessity when trying to come up with 48 different rigs. I simply tied on a Whacky Jig Head, took two of The 48 worms and put o-rings on them and then put them both on the hook whacky style to form an X. 

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I’ll admit, I don’t know the advantage to this rig, if any at all. 

And it is quite a mouthful of soft plastic. Which concerned me in regards to the hookset should a fish try to eat it. But I quickly put one in the boat with this little rig and then moved on to another. 

Give These a Try!

So there you have it, three weird ways to rig a worm. 

If you get bored with the same ole same ole, give one of these a go. I caught fish using all three. It might be worth the experimentation. Let me know if you find success with any of them!

Using the Right Crankbait Treble Hooks | Kevin VanDam Breaks It Down

Featured Image Credit: William Redmond | Mustad

Not one individual on this earth has spent more time with a crankbait in his hand than Kevin VanDam. 

He’s helped design some of the most effective crankbaits of all time and shaped and molded the technique of crankbait fishing in countless other ways.

One such innovation is his signature Mustad Triple Grip Treble Hooks

“I change the hooks to those Mustad Triple Grips on just about everything,” VanDam said. “Topwater baits and all. I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter if it’s cold, hot, spotted bass, smallmouth, 10-pound largemouth or whatever, there is no situation where there’s a better hook.”

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Crankbait Treble Hooks: Years In Development

KVD spent years testing and tinkering with different crankbait treble hooks in the development process.

He found that lighter wire, round bend hooks would often flex under pressure, absorbing some of the force of the hookset. That would also prevent the hook point from making a quick and clean entry into the fish. 

“Those Mustad Triple Grips don’t flex. I can fish them on heavy line, smallmouth and spots don’t tear them up and I know my strike-to-land ratio is going to be the best it possibly can with that design,” he said.

The importance of choosing the right treble hook is something that VanDam has stressed for years.

Having won literally millions of dollars using these hooks, it’s safe to say he knows what he’s talking about. Image Credit: William Redmond | Mustad

 I’ve seen the knockoffs and they’re just not the same. Mustad’s Ultra Point is so durable if you’re grinding the gravel and zebra mussels. Those points don’t roll and they don’t bend over. They hold up better to rough cover than any other hook.

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Crankbait Treble Hooks: Does Size Matter?


These hooks are shorter than those offered by other brands but maintain the same hook size relative to the gap of the hook. This allows VanDam to upsize his hooks when possible without the hooks hanging on one another or hanging on passing cover. 

“They’re more compact but with a bigger bite because they’re extra, extra short. Even on small baits I can put on what is an oversized treble for that bait and really up my strike-to-land ratio.”

Since the hooks are made from a heavier wire, they weigh a little more than most other hooks. This added weight actually works to a crankbaits advantage. 

But you have to be careful. 

“Certain baits, balance-wise, you’ve got to be careful about putting too big of a hook on,” he said. “But for most crankbaits, especially the wide wobbling ones like the Series 4 and 1.5, the added weight of those hooks enhances the action of the bait.”

VanDam doesn’t want the bait to come straight back to the boat while he’s reeling it in. Instead he wants the bait to behave erratically, to ‘hunt’.

“I can see the difference of how those baits act with those hooks on there with my own eyes. I want the bait to search and hunt and not be perfect. That’s what’s in nature and what the bass are looking for.”

Replacing the light-wire, round-bend treble hooks that come standard on most crankbaits may not seem like that big of a deal to you. But for the man that has spent his whole life perfecting his cranking system, it’s imperative. 

So take the time to try this tip on for size and see if you can tell the difference.

Shop Mustad Triple Grip Treble Hooks

Blade Bait Fishing | The Perfect Cold Water Bait

Everyone is talking about the blade bait these days.

Or at least it seems that way. 

Apparently one of the most effective baits of all time when it comes to near freezing water temps, the blade bait is all the rage right now. I personally have little to no experience with it and wanted to know what the craze was all about so I called on my buddy and smallmouth guru Ben Nowak to shed a little light. 

“It’s not the most exciting way to fish, but it catches a lot,” he said. “And I can throw it all the way up til there’s ice on the water.”

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Why the Blade Bait is so Effective

The later we get into the winter, the colder the water gets and the slower the bite tends to be. So to be able to fish a moving bait, no matter how slow it’s moving, certainly has some appeal to it. 

“It’s almost like fishing a jig. I mainly cast it myself and rarely fish it vertical. I like to keep the bait within a foot or two of the bottom and just drag it or slow hop it,” Nowak said.

The presentation is also a lot like slowly fishing a lipless crankbait on the bottom, but the blade bait offers up a couple advantages to the trap. One, the bait sinks a lot faster allowing it to be fished deeper more efficiently. And it also has a tighter action. 

But there are certain times where Nowak will lean towards the lipless crankbait

“If I get in really dirty water I’ll go to the lipless crankbait because of the rattles,” he said. “Or I’ll change the color of my blade bait. My predominant colors are silver or white. And then if I get in really dirty water I’ll go with a chartreuse or gold blade.”

bass fishing blog cta equation

Nowak’s Blade Bait Gear

The gear Nowak uses is a little unorthodox compared to the bigger, stiffer baitcasting rods and heavier line used by a lot of anglers throwing a blade bait, but there’s a reason for it all. 

“I throw a blade bait on a spinning rod all the way up to 5/8ths of an ounce and I don’t throw over a 5/8ths. A 7-foot medium fast or extra fast spinning rod with 15-pound test braid and an 8-pound fluorocarbon leader.”

Nowak prefers spinning gear because it allows him to throw lighter line. He prefers lighter line because it’s more effective at starting the bait’s action. 

“A lot of guys are going to fish it on a baitcaster with 15- or 17- pound fluorocarbon and the blade bait just doesn’t start as fast once you’ve let it sink to the bottom with that setup as it does when you fish it on lighter line.”

There’s More to His Blade Bait Setup!

His unorthodox choices in gear don’t stop there.

“The other big thing is a really long leader on that spinning rod, like a 30-foot leader. I actually prefer a longer leader like this on all my spinning gear.”

The reasoning here is a little complex, but sound. Nowak explains that with a shorter, say 6- to 10-foot leader, you’re going to have issues where you shock your leader and you’re going to break off.

“Fishing a longer leader lets that fluorocarbon absorb the shock of a hookset but it actually lets you cast a lot further too. Think of how your line comes out of a spinning rod. When your connection knot hits that choker guide, it slows the line down coming out of the reel.”

As the knot catches the guide, the momentum of the braid behind it continues to push the line out while the leader line that has already passed the guide begins to slow down.

“Your braid catches up to the fluorocarbon and ends up tangling around your connection knot. With a longer leader, your line basically has more momentum coming out of the reel before your connection knot hits that choker guide and it comes out a lot cleaner.”

One thing’s for certain, fishing in near freezing waters often makes for a long day with little action. A blade bait may very well be the magic bullet you need to fire in the direction of deep, lethargic bass this winter. 

Blade Bait (1)

There’s only one way to find out.

2019 KBF ANGLR of the Year Recap with Rus Snyders

The first year I fished competitively, my idea of prepping for a tournament was to make sure I knew where the check-ins were. I verified that I had all of my equipment, some food and water.  I looked at a map or two, planned launch and load times to make sure I wasn’t late. Fishing water I knew, this was enough.  

As I started running across the country chasing the trails, I quickly learned that having enough Diet Pepsi and Beanie Weenees to survive a weekend was not adequate. At check-ins, I talked and listened to the guys who were having repeated success and learned a lot from those conversations.  

I learned preparing for tournaments can consist of more than just re-tying lures, spooling line or sorting tackle. We can research online maps, reviewing Navionics or LakeMaster charts. Google Earth or the ANGLR app give you the ability to see satellite images and allow you to see current and historic water levels and flow. YouTube gives virtually unlimited access to past tournament videos, or locals giving insight on what works and when. You can even collect data with apps like ANGLR and review where and under what conditions you had success. 

Before you drive to a location, you can spend hours and hours learning a body of water.  

Three years ago, I had no idea any of that was available. Armed with this knowledge, I am better than I was at prepping for bodies of water I have never seen; I even thought I had it “kinda” figured out. But I honestly had no idea how to really connect all of the pieces together.  

Then, I had the opportunity to sit and talk with Rus Snyders about his success during 2019. Rus had a great year, winning several events and finishing as the Tennessee State Champion and the 2019 KBF ANGLR of the Year. I have known who Rus is for quite some time, having heard stories about him creating a Plan A, B… then C and D just in case he needed it; and I thought those were just myths. After the year he had, I wanted to see how much was real. I asked him “how do you get ready?”; thinking there was not much difference in what we all do.  

It took about two minutes to realize that I had ascended a mountain, reached the top and found a master; not only in building a game plan, but in continuous preparation. I sat listening and taking notes that I want to share. Well… most of them.

2019 KBF ANGLR of the Year: Efficiency in Gear and Tackle

There was a consistent theme when it came to tackle and gear; efficiency.  

I spend a lot of time planning how to manage all of the tackle. Trying to eliminate as much wasted packing as possible. The more organized you are, the more efficient you can be later on the water. I know guys who just throw stuff in their kayaks, and it works for them. I need to be more organized.

I used to fish out of a bass boat and carry everything I owned with me. You find conditions where you throw things you didn’t plan on throwing. In a kayak, you have to strategize very differently due to lack of space.”

2019 KBF ANGLR of the Year(1)  2019 KBF ANGLR of the Year(2)

2019 KBF ANGLR of the Year: Rus’s Tackle Storage

“I had everything on peg boards. One peg for beaver type baits, one for brush hogs, etc.. Every time a peg was full, I would have to start moving everything around to make room for more. I would pull off what I planned to use for tournaments and carry them in gallon bags. With the pegs, you start pulling them off to get to stuff on the back… then put others back on the peg, maybe looking on several pegs. I also still have a lot of stuff in Plano boxes, so I had to dig through all of that. Now I am moving to clear plastic shoe boxes; one for each type of bait. This will let me find larger bins and just drop the smaller boxes in so I can load up quicker, then when I get where I am going, it is easier to select baits to carry in the kayak.”

[I can tell you that those clear boxes can be picked up at Wal-Mart.  $8.98 for 10 of them.]

In my BlackPak, I carry two waterproof Plano 3600 boxes without dividers; one with crankbaits and lipless, one with topwater. Then another with dividers for spinnerbaits and chatterbaits.  I also carry four one-gallon bags with plastics, then a small box with terminal tackle. I also carry a small binder filled with jigs.”


“Anything with treble hooks, I don’t store them with the hooks on them. They just get tangled up if you keep hooks on them. I only put hooks on around 25% of them. Also, they are open to rust.  If it is raining and you open the box, then everything is wet, without hooks, there is less chance for rust.”  

“When lures do get wet, I never put them back in the bag or in boxes; I let them sit out until they dry, then put them back into their storage. I see some people who are really sloppy searching for lures, then they just throw them back with the others. I have some lures I have carried for ten years.”

2019 KBF ANGLR of the Year(3)

[I stopped listening for a second as I pictured the box of lures I have in the garage with rusty hooks and rust marks. Not a small box. Then put an asterisk in my notes… this is one to remember for sure!] 

“Not having them all with hooks makes it easier to keep fresh hooks on them. When they get bent or look worn, I just switch them out.”

“I change out all of my split rings with one kind. I buy them in bulk from Jann’s Netcraft.  It is very easy to add hooks to the baits using the same split ring, so I can do it quickly. You can get used to doing it easily if they are all the same.”  

“I trim the thumbnail on my left thumb differently, leaving it longer.  This allows me to change out hooks or split rings even faster.”

[This is the moment I realized that I was sitting with someone who thought about everything – the guy I had heard about, the legend. I mean we all have little things we learn to make lure changes easier, but… man.  Then I put another asterisk in my notes… not to change how I trim nails, but to look for the details in all I do.] 

Spinnerbaits & Chatterbaits:

“I individually wrap spinnerbaits in 3” x 3” bags; chatterbaits in 2”x 3” bags.  This allows me to stack them in Plano boxes. It also lets me pull them out in the rain without everything getting wet.”  

[I asked Rus where he picks up the bags. He showed me this link: 600 pack assorted ziplock bags.]

“I can easily find the baits I want to use since they are individually bagged.  I can look through them in any conditions too.”


“The only thing I like binders for are jigs. I make my own jigs and keep them in 2” x 2” bags.

“I have a page in the binder for ¼ ounce swim jigs, one for 3/8 ounce jigs, one for football jigs…it makes it compact and efficient.”  

2019 KBF ANGLR of the Year(4)  2019 KBF ANGLR of the Year(5)

Old Plastics

“I keep all of my old and torn plastics.  When I get a fairly large pile, or just start running low on certain baits, I pull them out along with a bottle of Mend-It.  I even keep baits that have lost appendages, then pair them up to replace them.”

“Unless you are totally out of a bait, do this at home. If you allow the Mend It time to dry, the baits hold up better. They actually seem stronger. It takes a couple of hours to cure correctly. It actually seems to toughen up the plastic. They seem to stay on the hook better the second time around.”

“I did the math. I save about $600 a year. I spend around $15 a bottle, going through three a year. It takes around an hour to an hour and a half to do between 100 and 200 plastics; making about a $30 dollar an hour. If the math had equaled $10, I might not be worth the effort, but at $30…” 

[I thought that me biting off old senkos or worms that had been torn was the best idea on the planet.  Sometimes it works, but I had struggled with Ribbit Frogs. Once you tear the nose, they do not fish the same.  Before I started putting my notes into this document, I had ordered a bottle of Mend It.] 

“Super glue isn’t the same. It dries hard and the baits will just come apart or break.”

2019 KBF ANGLR of the Year: Rus’s Process and Tools For Locating Fish

We all have bad days on the water, it is inevitable. But Rus is one of the most consistent kayak anglers I have had the pleasure of fishing against. So, after we spent an hour talking about prepping his gear, I wanted to dig a bit deeper about the process and tools he uses to choose an area to fish.

“I try to find multiple options when I choose locations. If you only have one spot to fish in a certain area, especially in a multi-day tournament; those fish leave, then you have to move. I look for places with choices close by.”  


“I use a 7” Hummingbird Helix G3. I used Lowrance for a long time… then switched to a Hummingbird G2 before upgrading. With the G3, side imaging makes a big difference.”   

“The real advantage, is the mapping. LakeMaster… LakeMaster is the deal! The biggest thing with it is the detail.”  

“I use the highlighting on the Hummingbird to find high spots on a flat. I use two different shades… for example I highlight 3-5 feet in one color, then another from 8-15 feet to see the ledges and the humps on the flats… then I can see the humps and drop offs with a quick look. It allows you to see all the sweet spots in an instant. It eliminates so much time – I can just see the spots and do not have to keep searching. I spend a lot of time fishing flats and the different colors just eliminate so much water quickly!”


“I watch videos of tournaments held in different locations. It can provide information about where to fish or what to use at different times of the year.”

“Google Earth has a lot of information. If you use your computer, not an iPad or phone, you can search archived images or the most recent.”

Use Google Earth to find when the lake levels are down – some lakes it doesn’t really work so well, but lakes where the water will fluctuate a great deal – you can see rock piles and structures.  

Pairing the Internet with Electronics:

“The good thing about a fish finder in a kayak is that it is fairly portable. All you need is a battery. So, I take the pod out of my boat and bring the finder to my computer and Google Earth.”

“I find those structures, and while I have that fish finder right next to me, I put waypoints on the fish finder while I am looking at the computer. That way, I already have waypoints before I even get to a lake. A lot of stuff will not show up on the charts, but you can find it with the satellite images.”

“This can also help you to see where grass has been, or might be… things always change with the grass, but it can help you to narrow down the places to start.”

Final Thoughts on the 2019 KBF ANGLR of the Year

The stories I had heard of Rus’s preparedness from his fellow KBFTN friends were not just tales; this guy really immerses himself into fishing.  I told him I would have never put this much effort into getting ready; organizing or preparing for an event before our talk. But since he had just spent over two hours on that mountain top, master teaching student; I made it clear that I planned to use the education. Then we joked that one day I might beat him at a tournament using what he had just taught me. I also told him that by writing this, others would know more too.  

Rus, being the incredibly soft spoken and kind guy that he is replied; “There are plenty of wins to go around. With all of the new opportunities, there are going to be a lot more people fishing the kayak tournaments. I am looking forward to it. I hope you win some.

We had talked at La Crosse about him taking off the next year to do something different. He had just won AOY and wanted to spend some time in Virginia. But as our talk wound down (just a few weeks later), I could hear in his voice that his direction had changed. 

2019 KBF ANGLR of the Year(6) 

Rus Snyders is someone we will have to compete against for a while, so you might want to do your homework. I can guarantee you that he is already doing his while you are reading this.