Athens Review, Athens, Texas

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August 10, 2013

MATT WILLIAMS: An angler's quiz to test your knowledge of playing the game

Athens — There are a passel of rules and regulations governing the game we hunt and the fish we catch. So many, in fact, that it can be downright risky to stick a sport fish into the livewell or pull the trigger on a deer, turkey or any other game animal unless you are well schooled closely reading the rule book first.

Catfish probably have the most lax regulations of all the game fish finning around in freshwater. Not only can you catch them on hook and line. You can also bring them in trotlines, jugs and stump hook sets baited with just about anything except another game fish, or part of one. Heck, you can even catch them with your hands if you've got the guts to reach into a dark hole beneath the surface where you cannot see.

The rules governing the ways we can go after bass, crappie, white bass, hybrids and other sport fish are much more restrictive. The only way you can legally catch these fish is using a pole, line and hook tipped with artificial lures or live or dead bait such as worms, cut or live shad, perch, minnows or any other “non-game” fish. It is worth noting that you cannot use “sport fish,” or any part of a sport fish, for bait under any circumstances.

While a savvy fisherman probably already knew that, those who are relatively new to the sport may not be so well informed. What follows is an angler's quiz to test your knowledge of fishing laws, fish behavior and fishing tactics:

1.) Let's say you are in the process of reeling in a crappie that grabbed a small jig you were fishing around a submerged bridge piling. Suddenly, a big bass engulfs the crappie. You manage to land the bass, which weighs heavy enough to challenge the state record. What should you do?

A.) Take the fish and have it weighed on certified scales.

B.) Contact the ShareLunker program headquarters.

C.) Release it immediately.

Answer: C. The bass perceived the crappie as the bait, not the jig. In other words, the bass is not a legal catch. Crappie are sport fish, and it is not legal to use any sport fish as bait, even if it is done unintentionally.

2.) Bass and speckled trout angler often use topwater baits to provoke surface strikes. The type of fishing line used in combination with a topwater plug will make no difference in action of the lure.

A.) True

B.) False

Answer: B. Monofilament line is the best line to use with topwater baits, mainly because the line floats on the surface and will not impair the action. Fluorocarbon is the absolute worst line to use with topwater baits because it sinks, thus taking away from the action of the lure.

3.) Bass won't bite muddy, cold water.

A.) True.

B. False.

Answer: B. While catching bass in muddy water that is cold can be difficult at times, it is not impossible. When using moving lures, choose one that displaces a lot of water and vibration, preferably in a colors that are easier for the fish to see in dingy conditions. Chartreuse, yellow and black are heavily favored in off-color water.

4.) Crappie have a tendency to suspend over deep water during the winter months. The depth at which they will suspend can vary from one day to the next. What does it mean if the weekly fishing report says the fish are holding three cranks off the bottom?

A. The fish are glued to the bottom.

B. The distance between the fish and the bottom of the lake is equal to the amount of line retrieved by three turns of the reel handle.

Answer: B. When crappie are holding near bottom, crappie anglers frequently determine the most productive depth by moving their bait up or down in the water column until they get bit. The best way to target fish holding three cranks off bottom is drop the bait to bottom, then raise it by turning the reel handle three times.

5. If you want to target flathead catfish on trotlines, jug lines and stump hooks, you need to stick with live bait exclusively.

A.) True

B.) False

Answer: B. While you will increase the chances of catching flatheads by using live bait such as perch, carp, goldfish or polywogs (bullhead catfish), big 'op' have been known to gobble up dead stuff from time to time. I know some veteran trotliners who say bream and shad heads can be every bit as effective as live bait. The theory is the flathead homes in on the eyes of the bait when it strikes.

6.) Outside of a good rod and reel built for the cause, the single-most important piece of equipment to have when fishing for offshore schools of fish like hybrids, stripers, white bass or red snapper is:

A: A good depthfinder.

B.) A heavy anchor.

C.) A stereo system in the boat to help pass the time.

Answer: A. Stripers, white bass, hybrids and snapper are open water species known to congregate in big numbers over structure in deep water. A liquid crystal recorder (LCR) is an invaluable tool for locating schools of fish. It also provides a good idea as to what is the best depth to soak your baits.

7.) White bass, hybrids and stripers will often drive shad to the surface and pin them there so they can feed on them at will. Anglers frequently pinpoint the surface action by scanning the distance with binoculars, or watching for groups of gulls and other birds that move in to pick off wounded shad. If you spot an active school from a distance, the best thing to do is:

A. Shower down on the outboard and move in right on top of the school.

B. Wave a red flag to signal other anglers of the action.

C. Move in quietly with the trolling motor and keep the boat far enough away that you make a long cast and reach the fish without moving so close that you spook them.

Answer: C. Never rely on the outboard to move the boat fully within casting distance. Most guides will shut down the big engine well in advance of the school then use the power of the trolling motor to move within casting distance. Whenever possible it is best to stay off the trolling motor altogether and allow the wind to move you within casting distance.

8.) Let's say you are targeting bass over a grass flat with a reaction bait like a Rat-L-Trap or Chatterbait. The flat is dissected by a well defined creek channel that is flanked by hydrilla beds on both sides. You can increase your chances of getting bit by:

A. Working the bait right down the middle of the deeper channel.

B. Working the bait right on the edge of the channel.

C. Keying on the edges of the grass in sharp channel bends.

Answer: B and C. Bass relate heavily to grass edges bordering creeks because it offers them cover for ambushing unsuspecting bait fish and an easy escape route.

Places where a creek makes a definitive bend will sometimes attract gangs fish. Outside bends can at times be more productive than inside bends, because the water will be deeper after years of washing.

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