Live, Learn, and Leave What You Don’t Need

By Capt. James McManus

AAAAhhhhh… September is arriving, there will still be some hot days, but the fish will have received the note that they better get off the stick and get to feeding up before the snow blows. There is nothing quite like the first semblance of fall when you go back in the house and grab a jacket. Call out the dogs and stoke the fire, the summer is gone. Looking back on pictures, it seems as though September holds some of the biggest catches of the year. Whether it’s smallies, stripers, or carp, my archives are full of good September catches.

Last year at Hartwell, we saw a solid 75 to 100 acres of breaking stripers…Did not believe there were that many fish in one place anywhere shy of our coasts. Walleye schools used to be found at Fontana this time of year and all you had to do was troll a Rapala through them to load the boat, same with schools of smallmouth. Here is hoping the fall magic holds this year. I have taken several guides out lately and they have all stated that, regardless of their home waters, whether fresh or salt, something has changed over the past several years. We all have ideas about what has caused these changes but I don’t think there is ever a simple reason and consequently a simple solution.

I truly believe, with a few exceptions, that we have been spoiled beyond any reasonable expectation of what a day on the water should hold. When I first started fishing Fontana 35 years ago, things were pretty simple. I remember going up the Little Tennessee and catching five or six walleye throwing crankbaits and being thrilled to death that I had found some fish. Meanwhile, folks on the riverbank were all carrying a couple of walleye on a stringer. Fast forward twenty or so years and if I didn’t catch everyone on the boat a limit of walleye and a limit of bass, I was let down. Even a great lake can’t stand what has been taken out of Fontana year in and year out. Realizing this too late, I am going to opt for keeping far fewer fish even if the powers to be don’t see the need to lower the limits.

There isn’t anything wrong with keeping and eating fish, it is one of my great pleasures, but I don’t need bags and bags of fish in the freezer, so less keeping hopefully will lead to more and better fishing. Most guides I talk to agree that we are all so much better equipped with sonar, tackle, boats, and motors that the poor little fellas have nowhere to hide. Even an occasional weekender has the ability to cover most of the lake, find fish and load up by spying on others directly or visiting chat sites that reveal hot spots.

The trout guys, I think, learned something us lake guys need to take a little more to heart and that is that a fish can be caught multiple times but only if released first. Otters, bluebacks, spots, and you name it, have added to less productivity in our lakes but the number one apex predator is people. Here is to a fresh look at what a day on the water will look like, more looking, more seeing the beauty around us, and hopefully more catching-just not so much fish cleaning at the end of the trip. That actually sounds pretty good to me. Enjoy what God has provided, take some of those little ones and introduce them to releasing along with conservative keeping and start them in the right direction. Later, Capt. James

Capt. James McManus is the Owner of 153 Charters. Give him a call for a great day of boat fishing!