Monday, February 19, 2018

Welcome to the Team TTF blog section. In this section you’ll find the latest tournament reports from our respected TTF pro-staffers, as well as tips, techniques and full articles that will help you become a better all-around angler.

If you’ve got a tip or report that you’d like to see featured on the site, send it our way! We’d love to feature YOUR tips on the site.

TIP: Off the Beaten Path

This Team TTF tips piece comes from pro-staffer Kurt Koliba. Kurt and his partner, Mike Shimek, are one of the most consistent redfish teams on the coast - a fact backed up by Team of the Year titles in two different circuits and a Texas Redfish Series Championship trophy. In this article, Kurt talks about one of the most important aspects of successful tournament fishing: finding areas "off the beaten path".

For me, not everyday on the water is about catching limits of fish. Some of my most productive fishing days didn’t produce any catches at all. What I’m getting at is the discovery of a hidden hot spot. There’s nothing I enjoy more than finding a new unpressured fishing spot. When fishing tournaments, I feel it’s vital to find an area that holds heavy fish and receives little pressure from other anglers.

The cold winter chill can uncover some hot fishing honey holes. Post-frontal low tides are one of most valuable tools when trying to locate new water. First of all, the obvious: the low water will expose reefs that you never knew existed. Mark these reefs on your GPS and fish them throughout the year.

When looking for that “magic pond” in the marsh, these same low-water conditions aid in developing a road map to access these ponds. Finding a quality backwater pond with minimal pressure is not an easy thing to do, or should I say get to. The best and safest way to learn how to navigate a slough or cut leading to a pond is to hop out of the boat and wade in. Usually the best ponds are the hardest to access. When on the wading exploration, keep mental notes of how you will navigate your boat around the shallow sand bars and the oyster gauntlet mazes. The low water saves so much time because many of these obstacles will be exposed. Always remember some type of mental tide gauge that will tell you when there’s enough water to enter the pond without ripping the gel coat off the bottom of the boat.

Another way to find a honey hole off the beaten path is to drag a chain behind the boat while idling around the bay. This is a great way to find a reef not listed on traditional maps. This might not be the most scientific way to locate a reef, but it’s very effective. The oyster boats have been doing this for years. Have your GPS ready and when the chain starts jumping, start marking your new spots. Once again, this is a great way to fish a spot that doesn’t get as much pressure as that community reef with fourteen boats stacked on it on tournament day.


TIP: The Perfect Sight-Fishing Lure?

This Team TTF tips piece comes from field-staffer Capt. Mike Cook. Capt. Cook is based out of the Rockport area and specializes in shallow-water sight-fishing for trout and redfish. You can find Capt. Cook's contact information on our TTF Pro Staff page by clicking here and scrolling down to our Field Staff listing.

I don’t know if the Texas Tackle Factory folks had sight-fishing in mind when they designed the Killer Flats Minnow, but if they didn’t, they still came up with what just might be the perfect sight-fishing soft-plastic. Sight-fishing is primarily done in very shallow, clear water. In this environment the fish are very aware of what is going on around them, and they tend to be a little spooky. The size, action and colors of the KFM make it very effective for these shallow-water applications.

The KFM is noticeably smaller than its Trout and Red Killer brothers. The KFM lands in the water with very little splash or commotion. Unlike some fish in deeper water that may be attracted to a splash, reds and trout in skinny water tend to shy away from such a disturbance. Once in the water, the smaller size makes for a much less invasive, and therefore, more effective presentation.

The subtle action of the KFM’s paddle tail is just right for fooling wary fish. When twitched, the up-and-down motion of the KFM does a great job of mimicking a fleeing shrimp or a baitfish looking to hide in the grass. The straight track of the bait when retrieved also allows the angler a good line to bring the bait directly to the fish.

The wide variety of TTF’s colors allows the angler to cover the entire spectrum in search of the perfect color the fish really want. I almost always start with light colors such as liquid shrimp or salt-n-pepper/chartreuse. My main reason for this is that the lighter colors are easier for me to see. When I can see both the bait and the fish I can do a better job of “coaching” my client that can’t always see the fish as well as I can. If I see that a light color makes the fish shy away I will switch to a little darker shade such as pumpkinseed/chartreuse or strawberry/white. On rare occasions I may have to switch to one of the really dark colors, but on most days the liquid shrimp does the job for me.

One other positive attribute of the KFM, and actually all the TTF baits, is their durability. A few years back I used “BA” brand baits, and for the most part that meant catch a fish and put on another bait. The TTF baits are much tougher and will stand up to multiple bites and catches.

If you enjoy sight-fishing as much as I do, you owe it to yourself to try TTF’s Killer Flats Minnow… it’s quite possibly the perfect sight-fishing bait.



BLOG: Bryant - Pre-Season Prep

I don't know about you, but this cold, nasty, wet, dreary weather has given me a serious case of cabin fever. The days of shorts and flip-flops seem ages away, but sure enough, they'll be here before we know it. I never thought I'd say this, but bring on the 90-degree temps and stifling humidity of August. I'll take that over cold, wet and clammy any day.

It's early February, and redfish tournament season is just around the corner - right at a month away, as a matter of fact. My tournament partner, Trey Russo, and I have already started prepping for tournament season. I've got several of my reels broken down on my work bench, ready to be cleaned and lubed for another tough spring and summer in the salt. I've got a sack full of terminal tackle - split rings, hooks, swivels and snaps - that needs to be added to some worn out topwaters and crankbaits. My spoons and spinnerbaits could use a good polish and shine. And, of course, I'm making sure my tackle bag is well-stocked with plenty of TTF plastics.

Hundreds of tournament anglers go through this same ritual every year. Most fishermen aren't as obsessive as us when it comes to tackle preparation, but when one lost fish could mean the difference between winning ten grand or walking away with nothing but a sunburn, you learn to take this stuff seriously. Dull hooks, old line, slipping reel drags and corroded trailer bearings are just a few of the things that can put a major damper on your tournament day - many of us have learned that the hard way, and that's why we put such an emphasis on preventative maintenance.

When most folks think about tournament fishing, their mind goes straight to catching fish... BIG fish. But catching fish is only one small battle in a much larger war. You've got to make it to and from your fishing spot (which can be much easier said than done). You've got to keep your fish alive. You've got to manage your time in such a way to give yourself maximum fishing hours while still allowing breathing room just in case something goes wrong on the journey back to the weigh-in... and something WILL go wrong at some point.

That's why I love tournament fishing - it's the mental chess match that makes it so fun and challenging. Sure, I love the sensation of watching a redfish absolutely plow my Killer Flats Minnow. I love the fight. I love the sun. I love the salty air and the sound that millions of blades of spartina grass make when they bend in unison with the southeast wind. But most of all, I love the strategy that goes into a successful tournament day - scrutinizing your plan down to minutes and organizing your "milk run" for maximum efficiency.

Is it tournament time yet? I'm counting down the days and looking forward to seeing old friends and making new ones on the trail this year.

See ya' on the water,
Jason Bryant/Team TTF


BLOG: Bryant - Tough Start to Tournament Season

The 2010 redfish tournament season officially kicked off last weekend with the Texas Redfish Series (TRS) event out of Port Aransas, Texas. A total of 91 teams signed up for this event, which is a little light for a TRS draw, but given the cold, windy and overall terrible fishing conditions lately, 91 isn't such a bad number.

My teammate, Trey Russo, and I prefished hard for this one. We checked north, south and lots of places in between. Saying our practice was tough would be an understatement - it was downright brutal. But nonetheless, we were still hopeful that we'd have our shot at a decent stringer if we executed well on tournament day.

Trey and I started the morning by getting out of the boat and blanketing an area slowly with Killer Flats Minnows on 1/4-ounce jigheads hopped slowly along the bottom. We usually prefer to stay in the boat to catch our fish, but the colder-than-normal conditions still have the fish in a winter pattern, and we knew we'd need to slow down and wade to be most effective. I got to put the new TTF Micro Wade Pouch to the test. I loaded the pouch with a few different sizes of jigheads, four sinking plugs, four bags of Flats Minnows and one bag of BIG MINOs and I still had plenty of room for extra lures if I needed them. If you're still wading with a big box or a bulky belt, you ought to give the Micro Wade a try. It's small, light and easy to manage.

Now back to fishing...

We were on fish - they were just the wrong kind. We put hooks in several solid speckled trout before noon. They were picking our East Beast Killer Flats Minnows right off the grassy bottom in 3.5 feet of water. In the meantime, some friends of ours who were also competing in the tournament were busy sticking 7-plus pound redfish wading just a few hundred yards away. It was frustrating watching them string those hefty fish while we were releasing specks, but some days that's just how it goes. On any other day we would've been happy to stay there and add those thick speckled trout to our stringers, but on tournament day a speckled trout might as well be a hardhead.

We knew there were tournament-quality redfish in the area, so we put our heads down and worked every inch of that shoreline for all it was worth. Unfortunately, our efforts were only rewarded with a few fish on the short end of keeper size and we had to return to the weigh-in with a livewell full of nothing but 20 gallons of frigid bay water.

Many competitors were surprised to see a number of heavy bags hit the scales, but Trey and I knew the potential was out there for a big sack if you could find those two "right bites". A big congrats to Gene Boerm and David White of Team Shoalwater for their win. Gene and David put 16.22 pounds of redfish on the scales in some of the toughest conditions I've ever fished in a tournament. They definitely earned that trophy!

And while we're on the subject of Team Shoalwater, Trey and I fished out of Trey's new 23' Shoalwater Cat for this event and all I can say is WOW! I'm absolutely amazed at what we were able to do in this boat. I've fished out of dozens of different boats, and I think the Shoalwater is probably the finest all-around tournament boat I've casted from so far. It's got everything: size, speed, stability, shallow-water draft and a hole shot I truly had to see to believe. The only problem with the boat is that it doesn't belong to me!

The next stop for the Redfish Series is east to Delacroix, Louisiana. Most redfish anglers consider the vast marsh system south of New Orleans to be the finest redfishing in the world, and many refer to the areas of Delacroix, Grand Isle, Hopedale, Lafitte and Venice as "Redfish Paradise". Needless to say, Trey and I are absolutely stoked to put the boat in the water over there. Catching fish won't be a problem. The challenge will be finding the two mammoth redfish it will take to win this event. Most tournaments in that area are won with 17 pounds or more, and typically several 16-pound bags come to the scales. Catching 14 or 15 pounds is just average in Redfish Paradise, so we'll be on the hunt for giants. Wish us luck!

See ya' on the water,
Jason Bryant/Team TTF


BLOG: Bryant - Catching Them In Cajun Country

My teammate, Trey Russo, and I are back to reality after an amazing few days of fishing in southeastern Louisiana.

The second event of the 2010 Redfish Series season was based out of Delacroix, Louisiana - about an hour southeast of New Orleans. Trey and I pre-fished for two weekends leading up to the event and then headed back two days before the tournament to find the the final pieces to our pre-fishing pattern puzzle.

We started off our first day in Venice, La. at Capt. Billy Nicholas' Venice Fishing Lodge. If you ever make it down to Venice (and you should), there's no need to look any further than Venice Fishing Lodge when it comes to a place to stay. Billy knows how to treat his guests. There was breakfast waiting on us when we woke up, lunches packed for our fishing day and a meal fit for kings sizzling on the grill when we got back in. In fact, Billy might want to consider changing his title from Captain to Chef - that dude can cook! I've stayed at dozens of lodges, and I can honestly say that VFL is hands-down one of the best I've ever seen. But enough about the lodge... let's talk about fishing.

I've got one word to describe the redfishing in Venice: INSANE!

If you love to catch redfish, then Venice is your Mecca. You haven't experienced how awesome catching redfish can be until you've driven your boat down the Mississippi River and hooked into one of these delta-dwelling brutes! The fish are big, plentiful and they fight harder than any redfish I've ever come across. I thought our Texas reds could pull, but WOW, those river fish in Venice are flat-out mean!

Trey and I found a couple reliable patterns in Venice that we could duplicate in a few different areas. We were catching consistent 14-pound stringers, and felt pretty good about what we'd learned. We scarfed down one last meal of stuffed pork chops and red beans and rice courtesy of Chef Billy and got on the road to Delacroix to put in a day of prefishing near the launch site to see if we could find a solid bite close by.

I had prefished the Delacroix/Hopedale area two weeks before so I had a pretty good idea of what we needed to be looking for. Trey and I started hitting marsh lakes with tea-colored water and deep mud banks and it wasn't long before we found a solid concentration of fish. We quickly put 13.5 pounds in the boat and decided it'd be smarter of us to stay close to Delacroix and get more fishing time than to make the long haul to Venice for only a couple hours of wet lines.

On tournament morning we made a short 20-minute run to our "A" lake and immediately started getting bites. We were fishing a little different pattern than many of the other teams. While most guys were doing a lot of running and sight-casting in clear water, we were trolling slowly along wind-blown blanks and blind-casting 3/8-ounce chatterbaits rigged with Texas roach BIG MINOs for trailers. We had experienced some high winds leading up to the tournament, so Trey and I didn't want to focus too much on a sight bite just in case we had a big blow on tournament day. We found that our fish actually bit better the harder the wind blew.

In an hour of fishing we'd caught about 7 fish and culled up to 12 pounds in the livewell. About that time the wind started picking up and we were feeling confident that the bigger fish would start actively feeding - but then, disaster struck. We pulled up the trolling motor and fired up the big engine to make a short 200-yard run upwind so we could fish a stretch of bank that had produced for us the day before. I nudged the throttle into gear and went to jump on plane when we felt the boat shake. The RPM gauge maxed out and the motor started whining. At first we thought we'd spun a prop, but when we pulled up the engine we realized we'd hit some underwater debris that did some damage to the lower unit. We wouldn't be able to make it back to the ramp... our fishing day was over.

After a couple phone calls to the tournament directors, the San Bernard Sherriff's department was en route to come tow us back to the launch. In the meantime we kept fishing hoping we could pop a couple of tournament-worthy fish before we had to say "uncle". I stuck one oversize fish and shortly after releasing it, we turned around to hear the rescue boat entering our lake.

We managed a 24th-place finish, which isn't bad considering we only fished for an hour. But it stings knowing that our area had a lot more potential. Had we been able work our area all day I think we could've make a Top-10 finish, but it just wasn't meant to be for us this time.

All-in-all the time we spent fishing in Louisiana was exceptional. We caught a ton of fish and had a blast learning new water. There are hundreds of lakes and miles upon miles of bayous teeming with aggressive redfish, trout and even bass. I can't wait to go back!

See ya' on the water,
Jason Bryant/Team TTF


BLOG: Shimek - Hard Luck In Freeport

We started scouting for the Texas Redfish Series in Freeport about two weeks before the tournament. We had several areas picked out before it began.

We had one lake that had several pods of schooling fish. These fish were gorging themselves on small shrimp. We used a small popping cork with a KFM (east beast and pumpkinseed). These fish were very spooky so instead of a hard pop we would just swim it into the school by clicking it along.

Our next spot was a series of drainages from some back lakes. These fish were filling up on small shad about an inch long. We were using the same KFM, but without the popping cork. We would throw it right up next to the grass on the edge of the current break. We had a couple of tournament fish this way but it was all dependent on an outgoing tide.

Our last spot was our kicker spot. It was a shoreline that was full of grass in the water. The plan was to drift along and sight-fish with a weedless KFM in the liquid shrimp color. In practice we had two 28.5” fish that went 10.1# and 8.8#.

On tournament day we started out on the schooling fish. When we got there the tide had come up about two feet overnight. We tried to find them for about two hours without any luck. They either stopped feeding or they left the lake.

We moved on to the drainages near some back lakes. The water was still pumping in and had everything muddied up. We had a few small fish but no big fish.

We ended up sight-fishing the rest of the day. On our first drift was a 6.5# and we had a few small fish. With the overcast sky and the high water we could not find another one to complete the stringer.

It was a very disappointing day to say the least. We were confident we could bring in 15 to 16 pounds,  but that’s the way it goes sometimes.

Congratulations to Rhett and Neil Hollaway on their winning stringer. It was their time to win one. We are headed to Rockport for the next event this weekend.

Until next time,
Mike Shimek - Team TTF


BLOG: Russo - Practice Makes Perfect

Preparation is an essential key to success. This is true for just about anything in life. Whether it be preparing for a job interview, studying for a test, or heading into a redfish tournament. While in a one day tournament, it is always possible for someone to luck into the two perfect fish, in my experience there is a high correlation between preparation and success. That being said, heading into the Lake Charles RAA tournament I felt like we prepared well and were set up for the possibility to compete for the win. With that type of mindset, I believe it allows you to fish as stress-free as possible during the event and increases your chances for success.

After talking and strategizing with my alternate partner, Thomas Barlow, we decided to fish a location with shallow water and broken shell that was adjacent to deep water. We knew an area that was holding tournament-winning fish, however the numbers were not all that good. By fishing there it allowed us to retreat to deeper water fish as the afternoon wore on and the temperature rose. This area also allowed us to retreat to other spots closer to the weigh in if Plan A and B failed.

After a quick 30 minute ride in the 23’ Shoalwater Cat, we approached spot #1. The water looked good and the bait was abundant, however the water was a bit high. We worked the edge of the lake with tops and weedless TTF Killer Flats Minnows. Most of the fish were pushed deep into the grass taking advantage of the tide. We sight-casted to multiple fish but just couldn’t get them to bite consistently. After a couple of hours and one lower slot red to show for it we decided to make a move.

We started working some rip-rap shoreline along the ship channel and started catching fish immediately. Unfortunately they averaged around 16 inches. With boat traffic starting to increase both of us just had that feeling we needed to make a change. We talked about what we both experienced over the last week regarding patterns and had found the best bite of the day had occurred between 12 and 2. No coincidence, this was the exact time of the major bite / moon phase. We both looked at each other and decided to retreat to the marsh, where we had found upper slot and over size fish willing to eat. We had just enough time to make it there before the bite.

While trekking along to spot #3 we passed a large body of marsh neither us had seen before. The lake was full of broken cat tail grass and stumps.  The water was a bit stained but penetrable with the eye especially since there was zero wind. It looked expansive and was very similar to the marsh area where we had found fish earlier in the week. We both agreed it was time to stop and do some exploring. We were rewarded immediately. We both looked over and low and behold a nice upper slot fish cruised by. Fish ON! Thomas threw a TTF Pumpkin Seed and Chartreuse Killer Flats Minnow right in front of its nose and he pounced on it. After peeling out a lot of drag, we both got worried, he looked a little too big. Getting him in the net we both knew it was going to be close. We put him on the Boga and he was right at 8 Lbs. As we held our breaths and laid her on the Check-It stick, we both gasped as he measured 27.25 inches. While this would have been an excellent Texas fish, it just wouldn’t work in Louisiana. It was heart breaking but we knew fish were all around us.

We proceeded to sight cast to fish after fish. It was a blast, and the paddle tail of the TTF Killer Flats Minnow was too much for them to refuse. After catching several smaller fish we boated a nice 26 inch fish that went 7.5 Lbs. We needed one more nice fish and we felt like we could be close to contention. We knew we had a chance. Not minutes later, another nice fish starts peeling out drag. We both see the fish bust water and get excited. Right about that point snap, the line breaks. Bad luck, but when fishing amongst the old stumps, it is just a reality. Not long after that, bad luck struck again after another stud just came unbuttoned as the fish turned and shook its head right at the boat.

We continued to catch more fish and finally boat another 6.5 pounder. That put us right around 14 or so pounds or so I thought. More on that later. Right at 2:00, the wind picked up slightly and rippled the water. The fish were still there but they were harder to see. Just as the bite turned on frantically, it stopped just as suddenly.

As we arrived back at the weigh in, it was time to see how we finished. After putting the 7.5 pounder in the weigh in bag, we retrieved the second fish out of the livewell. No easy task with the murky water from the marsh. After pulling out the second fish, my heart dropped out of my chest. I realized I made a serious mistake. I culled out the wrong fish and it cost us around 2.5 pounds. I didn’t know what to think, all I could do was apologize to my partner and keep my head up. I replayed the events over and over in my head and don’t know how I let it happen. Bottom line it was hot, and I made a mistake. The marsh water was 93 degrees and you had to move quickly to ensure the fish were able to live.

A couple of things stood out to me when reviewing the events from that day. Putting in the right preparation is key, and always trust your instincts.  It was a GREAT day of fishing and I look forward to the next stop.

Tight Lines,
Trey Russo


TIP: Tactics for Tails

This Team TTF tip comes from Charlie Barton. He shares his in-depth tactics for coaxing bites out of tailing fish. Check it out!

If you’ve ever seen a tailing redfish, you know it’s an awesome feeling when you see that big, bronze tail waving silently above the water’s surface. The first thing you do is start licking your chops, thinking “easy prey”. Not so fast. You still have to understand what the fish is doing and what type of presentation will yield the best results.

Redfish use their nose like a shovel to sift shrimp and crabs out of the silty bottom. Sometimes they get so focused on their next meal they stand on their heads in an almost vertical position with their tails high in the water. In many cases, a part of the tail is actually sticking out of the water. So now we know “tailing” is basically just another word for feeding.

So what’s the best way to catch a tailing fish?

First things first - I like to use an 1/8-ounce TTF Weed Killer jighead with a Madre ST or Bone Catcher Killer Flats Minnow. The TTF Weed Killer jighead makes fishing simple. You don’t have to worry about grass, rocks, oysters, or any other type of obstruction you’d usually snag with an open hook. Not to mention, you can stop your lure at any time under any condition without concern of getting hung up, and this is a very important aspect of sight-fishing.

As for the KFM, what can I say? They are perfect for sight casting - small for a silent presentation, plenty of tail action and they cast well - those are all attributes you want in a good sight-fishing bait. As for color, confidence will have more of an impact on your fishing than color will. Whatever color you think will catch fish - use it.

Your lure needs to enter the water as quietly as possible. A loud splash can (and usually does) spook the fish. Practice a gentle entry on your casting technique. You’ll find it’s easier to control the lure’s entry with a side-armed cast than overhead.

I like to cast a minimum of 3 feet past the fish and slowly bring the lure in front of it. Remember, the fish is feeding, so you’re trying to make the fish think he stimulated the bait to move by rooting on the bottom. If you can fool that fish into believing it made your bait move, you will get bit. Nothing will get a redfish more riled up than seeing a “fleeing” bait inches in front of its nose.

Remember, the bait never attacks the fish; the fish always attacks the bait. NEVER swim your lure directly at the fish.

Keep it simple. Keep it fun!
Charlie Barton


TIP: The Chaser Rig

Here's a cool trick to try with one of our tandem rigs, like a Lil' Speck Killer or Double Shad rig. Cut off the bottom jighead and replace it with a heavier one, like a 1/4- or 3/8-ounce head, and then add a larger bait, like a Killer Flats Minnow, BIG MINO or Trout Killer to the new jighead so that the larger bait trails the smaller one.

When you retrieve this rig through the water it gives the appearance of a small fish chasing its next meal. A gamefish's natural predatory instinct won't let them sit by and watch as something else beats them to a snack - this rig will drive them wild! It's a great way to get a reaction strike out of lethargic, cold-water speckled trout, too. Give it a try next time you hit the salt.

Donkey Rig


TIP: Wake The MINO

Here’s a quick and simple tip from Team TTF member Jason Bryant that could help you catch more fish with the BIG MINO.

When the reds are in thick grass or over gnarly shell, I like to use the BIG MINO on spinning tackle with one of our 5/0 weightless Weedkiller hooks. The size and density of the BIG MINO give it a lot of buoyancy, and a super-slow fall rate. With the weightless hook, you can cast the BIG MINO out and reel it slowly on a steady retrieve right near the surface. The tail kicks like crazy, and you can actually use it like a wake bait. I used this technique recently for schooling redfish that were concentrated over shell beds. If you’re jighead hit the bottom, you’d get hung in the shell and spook the school. So, I switched to the BIG MINO on the weightless Weedkiller and reeled it over the top of the schools. The redfish absolutely hammered it! Another advantage to rigging this way is that it’s a quiet and subtle presentation. It works on skittish fish really well. Give it a try!

And just for reference, here’s the exact setup I used for this technique:
Rod: 7’, medium-action TTF Red Tamer spinning rod #LSSS701MS (7’6” rods work well, too, but I wouldn’t go with anything less than 7’)
Reel: Shimano Stradic
Line: 50-pound Power Pro braided line
Leader: 3 feet of 30-pound Seaguar Invizx fluorocarbon tied with a uni-to-uni knot
Hook: TTF Texas Weedkiller weightless hook, 5/0
Bait: TTF KFMXL (color: mumpy glo)



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