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Good While It Lasted

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By Pete Robbins

November 24, 2015


A friend of mine was telling me about a trip that he took to Falcon Lake with his ex-wife, when he briefly detoured off on a slight tangent…”Of course, Falcon is part of the reason that she is my ex-wife.” A great lake, like the way Falcon was at the end of the last decade and the beginning of this one, will do that to you. It’s a bad drug, the kind that’ll make you lose your job, your family and perhaps a bit of your mind.

I was fortunate to visit the big border lake four times during that magical period. I knew that the run was over when I saw crowds of anglers dropshotting and shakeyheading. Our friends in California have shown that those are legit techniques for catching big bass, but in DeepSouthTexas that’s all but a sign of surrender. Accordingly, I haven’t been back in a few years, and while I hear that things have improved, they’re not what they were in ’08 or ’09. They may never be that good again.

In fact, I wonder if we’ll ever again have a lake with the magical bouillabaisse of ingredients that made Falcon so incredibly productive. Surely Fork can be good, and Choke Canyon was stellar for a moment. The Delta and Clear Lake produce some monster bags, but none had the sheer immense numbers of big green basses that Falcon produced, so many that even an outdoor writer could catch a few. The long growing season, the newly filled lake, and the Florida strain bass all played a role, but in my opinion the biggest factor was the remoteness. You can’t just detour to Zapata on your way home from work. You don’t just show up accidentally – you have to make a concerted effort to get there.

It is my sincerest hope that at some point in my lifetime (preferably when I am newly retired, with lots of time to spare and not yet confined to a nursing home), some lake somewhere will once again rise to that level. When and if that happens, I will be there to ride the wave. If the situation gets bad enough – or good enough, as the case may be – I apologize in advance to anyone who I might inadvertently hurt along the way.

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 November 2015 06:51

Waiting On a Bad Break

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By Pete Robbins

November 23, 2015


In April of 1997, I purchased an All Star MWR1 rod from Bass Pro Shops. The “MWR” stands for “Magnum Worm Rod,” but I quickly figured out that it was a pretty crappy rod for throwing Texas Rigs. Fortunately, I was too lazy to send it all the way back to Springfield, Missouri, so I started trying to figure out what it was good for, and quickly realized that (advertising be damned) it excelled at throwing a spinnerbait.

Over the subsequent nearly 19 years I’ve thrown the crap out of some blades with this rod – from California to Texas to New Hampshire -- and it has been outstanding for everything from eighth-ounce mini-models up to ounce and a half beasts. I’m not sure how many fish I’ve landed on it, but it’s a pretty substantial percentage of my overall catch in that timeframe, and almost certainly more than I’ve caught on any other single stick.

Unfortunately, time has taken a toll and this rod has taken a beating. It’s been jammed into rod organizers, bounced around the boat, probably stepped on a time or two. Combined with old age, that modest but consistent abuse has left a few scars – some of the threads are coming off, a few guides have been replaced and there are scratches up and down the blank. Most recently, the deeply pitted cork rings on the handle have started to shift or spin, often flexing the rod to a 90 degree differential from where it was supposed to be on the hook set. A little epoxy cured that, at least for the time being.

Despite those fixes, I’m sure that it’s just a matter of time until my spinnerbait rod is no longer viable. In light of that, I’ve tried to replace it. First I purchased another MWR1 on Ebay. It looked the same, felt the same in my hand, but when casting or fighting a fish it was evident that it was not the same rod. It simply didn’t load up “right.” I don’t know if that occurred as the result of one of All Star’s several changes in ownership, or if it was the same owners and merely a different blank. Either way, that one was stiff enough that it probably would’ve been a good worm rod, as promised. I’ve also looked to other manufacturers’ rods, both those advertised as being made specifically for spinnerbaiting and some that were not – but none was quite up to the task. Because of these failures to find a replacement, I continue to treasure this one rod that gets it right. It may not be the perfect universal spinnerbait rod, but it’s the perfect spinnerbait rod for me. One day, hopefully not too soon, it will break and that’ll be the end. In the meantime, I’ll treat it a bit more gingerly and keep on looking for a long-term substitute.
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Last Updated on Monday, 23 November 2015 07:53

Wolverine Down

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By Pete Robbins

November 20, 2015


Derek Remitz announced this week that he will not be returning to the Elite Series in 2016. He cited several reasons, but it seemed to boil down to a matter of finances depleted by declining performance.

At 33, with nine years of full-time Elite Series experience, he probably qualifies as a “seasoned veteran,” but it’s hard for me not to think of him as a young buck. In 2007, Remitz, then 25, burst onto the Elite Series scene by winning his first event. Then he threatened to win the second, on the Cal Delta, before ultimately finishing second to some guy named Aaron Martens. After struggling in the next event on Clear Lake, he rebounded with a fifth place finish on Clarks Hill. That’s three top fives, on three very different bodies of water, in his first four big league rodeos.

If that wasn’t the best start to an Elite Series career, you don’t need more than a couple of fingers to count the ones that were better. It appeared that he was going to be an all-time great.

Oddly enough, Remitz did not win the Rookie of the Year award in 2007. That honor was claimed by Casey Ashley, who has since gone on to even bigger and better achievements. Remitz had qualified for the ’07 Classic through the Opens, and made the ’08 event through his rookie Elite campaign, but thereafter only qualified for one more, in 2011. Ashley, meanwhile, made it in ’08, ’09, ’10, ’12 and ’14 before winning in ’15, but even though he won ROY, and won a tournament on Smith Mountain Lake his rookie season, his emergence onto the scene didn't have quite the same dramatic impact that Derek's had.

You can speculate all you want about why Remitz failed to live up to those initial expectations. Perhaps it would be unfair to expect anyone to live up to the brightness of that early success. Maybe Ashley, who flew under the radar initially, benefited from the fact that he didn’t have the burden of the “potential” label around his neck. Maybe there are other reasons that aren’t immediately apparent to those of us on the outside. The bottom line, though, is that it shows just how hard it is to succeed long term at the cast-for-cash deal – you can be young, marketable, successful and know how to win, and a semi-sustained cold streak can end it all.

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Last Updated on Friday, 20 November 2015 07:12

The Best Bargain in Baits?

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November 18, 2015


I know that the serious swimbait geeks are going to have a cow over this. After all, I’m not writing about anything sexy or new or even lifelike. I am, however, writing about a lure that I’ve used successfully, the Storm Wildeye Shad,

For a relative non-swimbaiter, I own quite a few of the big expensive plugs like the Roman Made and the Bull Shad. I’ve caught fish on them and there’s no doubt that under the right circumstances they are the right tool. At the same time, being the cheap SOB that I am, I’m afraid to throw them into the seriously nasty stuff. A bush in four feet of water? Maybe, because at least then there’s a solid chance I’ll get them back. That brushpile in 30 feet? Probably not. I realize that this is self-defeating and they don’t catch fish sitting on the pegboard, but that’s a burden I’ll have to bear.

Meanwhile, at just about a buck apiece for the 4- and 5-inch versions, and a tad bit more for the 6-inchers, I have no qualms about putting the Storm into some hairy situations. That's less than most shakey heads. I can get five of them for the price of one 1-ounce tungsten flipping weight. If I lose them, so be it, but at El Salto in particular I’m just as likely to come back with a mule at the end of my line.


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Last Updated on Wednesday, 18 November 2015 11:28

What's In a Name? What's In a Nose?

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November 12, 2015


If you have ever tried to explain your bass boat to someone who knows nothing about fishing, there’s a fair chance they’ve probably asked you a certain question. It’s not “Do you prefer CHIRP technology in your electronics?” or “What prop are you running?”

No, it’s something much more annoying than that: “What’s your boat’s name?”

They don’t get that those of us in the Go-Fast Hydroblaster Appreciation Society don’t need to call our tubs of fiberglass “Wet Dream” or “FantaSea” to enjoy the experience. We just want them to start and run consistently, without the transom coming off.

Accordingly, until now I would’ve wholeheartedly rejected the idea that a legit bass boat should have a name. That is, however, until Kevin Short sold his (formerly pink) boat. If Kevin’s Bass Cat Eyra wasn’t the fastest boat on the Elite Series in 2015, I doubt that there were more than three or four that were faster, especially since his skinny butt probably weighs about 100 pounds less than the average biscuits and gravy eater on tour.

The purchaser of his boat was his friend Ward Gardner, who I’ve gotten to know a bit over the past year. Ward is a neurotologist, which means: (a) he’s smarter than just about everyone in bassing; and (b) he went to school for longer than just about everyone in the sport (except for those of us who repeated the 3rd grade four or five times). Bottom line, he’s an ear-nose-throat guy who’d like to cut your head open with a Dremel to find out what’s wrong with your ears. The guys on the Bass Cat board call him “Booger Doc.”

So, in the interests of truth in advertising, I think it is fair that the world’s only booger doc with an 80 mph plus piece of fiberglass should get to name his boat, and I think that “Snot Rocket” is just about perfect.

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Last Updated on Thursday, 12 November 2015 07:34

Get'cher Game Face On

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November 10, 2015


The 2015 Elite Series and FLW Tour seasons are long since finished, but we still have a few months until the 2016 campaign kicks off. For those anglers who are consistently in the Classic, the goal is to just keep on “l-i-v-i-n.” For anyone who never cracks the top 80, it might be time to get on with their life’s work.

The ones who have some real capital-T-Thinking to do are the guys who are all over the map – in the AOY hunt one year, 98th the next, consistently riding the Classic bubble all year the year after that. They’re the knuckleballers of the bass world: undependable and a bit loony. You hate to pick them in Fantasy Fishing because they’re likely to disappoint you, but every time you pass them over, they come up with a top 12 when they’re not supposed to.

Those are the dudes who while sitting in a tree stand this fall need to come up with the game plan for next year, if they haven’t already. I’m going to give them a road map to success, culled from the eight bazillion articles and interviews with pro successful pro hawgers I’ve read (and written) over the years. Here’s the map, just follow it to a “T” this winter and you’ll be the next A-Mart:

  1. Pre-practice on all of the lakes on next year’s schedule
  2. Don’t even buy a lake map, let alone pre-practice, until you show up for the official practice period
  3. Learn three new techniques, plan to use them exclusively
  4. Go back to basics, throw out any lures and tackle you acquired less than 20 years ago
  5. Fish every day between now and the start of the season, to get “in the zone”
  6. Don’t even pick up a rod between now and March, so you’ll get “the eye of the tiger”
  7. Focus on finesse, it’s great for pressured waters
  8. Throw 15 inch worms and 6 ounce swimbaits exclusively to generate five kicker bites
  9. Go on an exercise kick, drop 20 pounds, you need to be lean and mean to keep up with the younger generation
  10. Pack on a few extra layers of flab – you won’t have time (or money?) to eat during the season and besides, it’ll slow you down enough to fish a jig properly
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Last Updated on Tuesday, 10 November 2015 12:01

Stealing Home

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November 5, 2015


I certainly did not think to bring dropshot gear to El Salto, where the bass grow big and mean, and every bit of cover has thorns or jagged edges. In fact, I may have laughed a little bit under my breath when my friend Ray started dropshotting on our third day at the lake. I thought maybe the combination of sun and cerveza had made him a little loopy.

We’d been hammering one point up the Rio Elota for a couple of hours each of the two prior days and it had produced a few dozen fish. They’d succumbed to Fat Free Shads, swimbait and Carolina Rigs, typical big bass presentations. Then Ray pulled out the sissy gear. Well, that’s not entirely true – he was “power-shotting” with a baitcasting rod and reel, 17 lb. line, a 3/8 ounce weight and an 8-inch lizard. That’s not really finesse, but it has a strong scent of ”finessiness.” Nevertheless, I wasn’t convinced until he started hammering one bass after another while I just watched and occasionally played net boy. They weren’t big, but they were consistent.

Once he had me down five to one, he was gracious enough to offer to rig Mr. Non-Believer up with a matching setup. At that point, I readily agreed. He was even kinder than that – offering me the opportunity to use his rod while he got mine ready. He sat down in the bottom of the boat with my combo and his terminal tackle and I pitched out his watermelon lizard. It hit the bottom, I twitched it a couple of times, and the line went taut. I reeled the fish to the surface and saw old bug eyes staring back at me, a 7.60 pound brute, the biggest fish we’d caught off that spot yet.

It’s not like I’d stolen the rod out of his hand, or cast over him, or slept with his girlfriend. He invited me to test it out. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit guilty. I’d caught what should’ve been his fish, one I probably would not have gotten to bite without his counsel. If it had been a 10 pounder I would’ve felt really bad….or maybe not. Either way, I owe him a dinner, and when I head back to Mexico in January there’s now one more category of tackle I need to pack.

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Last Updated on Thursday, 05 November 2015 07:54

A Streak Goes Down the Tubes

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November 4, 2015


As far as streaks go, it wasn’t something that would make the Ripken family jealous.

It probably wasn’t even in the same class as Jerry Seinfeld’s much-discussed non-vomit streak of over 13 years.

Nevertheless I was still thankful that despite a pretty heavy schedule of fishing-related air travel, it had been nearly six years since the airlines had caused some sort of problem with my luggage. That came to an end this past week when American Airlines lost my rod tube on the way to El Salto.

I suppose “lost” might not be the right word for it. American knew exactly where my tube was at all times. They just didn’t deliver it to its planned destination. I can only imagine where it ended up – probably not Mongolia or Buenos Aires, but certainly somewhere other than Mazatlan, most likely DCA (our point of departure) or DFW (out layover stop).

Fortunately, when I go to El Salto I’m usually in a pretty good mood, so I didn’t let it get me down. The burden was on the airline to get us the rods, and I knew that Anglers Inn had a good supply of sticks to tide us over until they arrived. We used theirs for a little over a day until our tube showed up.

This experience reinforced two lessons: First, always carry your reels in your carry on, with extra line in your checked bag. Second, give some serious thought to how you pack your rod tube if and when you fly with one. I’ve come up with a pretty solid system that minimizes the chances that your rods will be broken. On this trip I got a little note from TSA that they’d inspected the innards of the tube and no damage was done. If I’d packed them a little bit more haphazardly, my rods might not only have been delayed, but they might’ve shown up as two-piecers instead of the one piece models that I’d originally purchased.

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Last Updated on Wednesday, 04 November 2015 06:38

Twice As Fun

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November 3, 2015


In the words of Ernie Banks, “Let’s Play Two”

Despite thousands of hours on the water, I’ve generally been a one-fish-at-a-time kind of guy. I’ve occasionally notched doubles of less-desirable species, but when it comes to bass the few times I’ve hooked two at once, either one has come off on the way to the boat, or else one or both of them have been below the legal size limit.

Like so many things, everything changed for me at El Salto.

Our first afternoon there last Wednesday, after the Redheaded Wife had caught an 8-02 and a 6-11 within five minutes of each other on a swimbait (notably, the first two swimbait fish of her now-illustrious fishing career), I set the hook on what felt like a sizeable fish that attacked my Fat Free Shad. It bulldogged down, got wedged in a submerged tree, and when granted a little bit of slack swam loose. At that point “it” became “they” as my guide Chichi shouted “dos!” and slid the net under them. Not a 9-pounder per se, but I still had 9 pounds of El Salto bass on the front treble of my crank plug. That’s a first that I’d like to repeat again and again and again.

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Snitches Get Stitches

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October 29, 2015


As the stakes have risen, new blood has arrived and the competition has become stiffer, backroom reports of cheating in professional fishing have increased substantially.

I’m hardly an insider, but it seems like not a month goes by without some angler, member of the media, or other more-in-the-know-than-me individual is telling me about an alleged cheating incident. Some of them are surely hearsay, but I have no doubt that others are true. One FLW pro’s name comes up again and again and again. The BASS side is no different – I’ve heard one firsthand report from a pro who I’m pretty sure hasn’t told a lie in over a decade about something that he knows that would knock your socks off.

Of course, I haven’t seen any of these alleged infractions, so I’m not capable of reporting them. In a way, I’m glad that I’m not in that position, because while every barstool pundit says he’d do the right thing when confronted with an opportunity, it’s never that easy. Off the top of my head, I can guess several reasons that you might not report a violation:

  • Unsure that you saw what you think you saw
  • Infraction occurred in a gray area, not a violation of black letter law
  • Infraction wasn’t a very big deal
  • Cheater is a popular person, not sure if your word will be taken seriously
  • Cheater is a friend and you don’t want to make him suffer
  • Fear of making an enemy or group of enemies
  • Fear of being seen as a tattletale

I’m not making light of any of these. I’m pretty sure that all of us have “looked the other way” on some crime in the past, thinking that it would be better or easier just to let it slide. That’s probably why, with the exception of the notable cases of Nate Wellman and Tony Christian, no major cheating cases have been pursued in public at the tour or AAA levels. If any pros have made on-the-record statements about incidents of cheating, whether big or small, they’ve gone unreported.

To some extent, it’s getting harder to cheat. The presence of Marshals, co-anglers, GoPros or cameramen in the boat allow you to see whether your favorite pro is taking his fish out of an underwater cage, or has his biggest bass hooked in the mouth. They do not, however, enable you to know if he got his waypoints from a local expert during the off-limits period.

If someone has a compelling case of that type of violation, it’s time to bring it to the authorities’ attention. On the Elite Series, it’s required – in fact, failure to report is a violation by itself. Here is Elite Series rule C3(vii), in pertinent part:

Each competitor agrees to report to the Tournament Director immediately any violation or infraction of any tournament rules. Failure to report violations, suggestions to another competitor that they violate these rules, or false verification of weigh-in forms may be cause for disqualification.

A certain percentage of the non-fishing public is already convinced that we’re all benders and breakers of rules. When I talk to them about tournament bass fishing, the first question I often get is about whether cheating can be prevented at all. If the sport wants any veneer of respectability, however, we need to convince some percentage of that group that cheating is the exception rather than the rule. If we want people who already care about the sport, or participate in it, to continue to value it, there need to be assurances that cheating is never tolerated.

What is that going to take?

In my opinion, the best thing that could ever happen to the sport (other than some convincing sign that no cheating whatsoever goes on, which will never happen), is for someone to finally take a stand and go to BassFan or Bassmaster or FLW – or even all of the above, through a widely-distributed press release – and call someone out. They’ll have to make a well-documented case, and even then they may not be the most popular kid on the bass block, but the person who puts it all on the line will be doing us all a great service. If the opportunity presents itself, it’s time to name names.

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Last Updated on Thursday, 29 October 2015 09:11
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