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Heartland Outdoors February 2017 Cover


March 2017
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March 2017
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Recent entries

Troy Jackson


Top 5 Update

Mon, March 06, 2017

This week features a handful of belated February bass that hit the email last weekend after I had already constructed the Monday update.  But hey, always good to have some fish stockpiled for another week to get Monday morning off on the right foot.

Bruce bass

Weight: 3-15
Angler: Bruce Zilkowski
Date: February 19
Location: Newton Lake
Lure: Rapala SR5 (black/white)
Structure: Submerged weeds
Angler Comments: The first two fish were caught in the same small pocket of submerged coontail weed about 10 yards from the shoreline. I could feel the bait ticking the weeds and they both popped it when it did.

Bruce bass+

Weight: 2-0
Angler: Bruce Zilkowski
Date: February 19
Location: Newton Lake
Lure: Rapala SR5 (black/white)

Bruce bass

Weight: 3-0
Angler: Bruce Zilkowski
Date: February 19
Location: Newton Lake
Lure: Rapala SR5 (black/white)
Angler Comments: We decided to try the warm arm and the fish catching rate improved dramatically but once again the Newton “monsters” eluded us. Still I was culling fish by the end and it sure was a very enjoyable day. Pretty fun to get a bona fide limit on the first outing of the year.

Bruce bass

Weight: 2-5
Angler: Bruce Zilkowski
Date: February 19
Location: Newton Lake
Lure: Rapala SR5 (black/white)

Bruce bass

Weight: 1-5
Angler: Bruce Zilkowski
Date: February 19
Location: Newton Lake
Lure: Rapala SR5 (black/white)
Top 5 Weight: 12-9 (3-15,3-0,2-5,2-0,1-5)

Mark bass

Weight: 5-2
Angler: Mark Balbinot
Date: February 26
Location: Fulton Co. Camping & Recreation Area – Lake #3
Lure: 3/8 oz. underspin with LFT Magic Shad
Water Temp: 47F
Structure: Sunny flat in about 4’ of water with some grass patches
Angler Comments: Decided to brave the gusty winds today since the sun was shining. Still was pretty cool out there. Went to Fulton County Camping and Recreation Area near Bryant since I knew I could at least get out of the wind at times. Fishing was really slow today but managed to get 2 bites. One of the toothy variety (Muskie) that decided it needed my favorite crankbait more than I did. I always buy them in pairs for unexpected loses. Started throwing that underspin lure and was rewarded with one bite. I did see some small bass and bluegill sunning themselves on the end of tree limbs. I can’t complain too much since it is only February.
Top 5 Weight: 17-2 (5-2, 4-2, 2-12, 2-11, 2-7) culls 2-4

Video link to Mark’s outing:

Nicely done, fellas, hard to believe we’re only a handful of days into March and already have a real solid haul of bass to kick off another year.  I finally got a chance to take my shot Saturday but I’ll keep anyone who cares in suspense on a possible Top 5 contribution until next week.  Instead, I hope you’ll first tune in for the fishing report on the trip later this week.  Talk to you later.  Troy



20 Years of Stats - Bass Record Book

Fri, March 03, 2017

Disclaimer: Okay, before proceeding, please be aware that I keep more meticulous records than any friends or family members and likely have spent more time on the water than most of those folks over the last 20 years.  In other words, if you find some of what follows a bit biased I’m good with that.  I do know how to fool a decent bass every once in a while but so do the other anglers on the list (and some who aren’t), they just may not be so obsessive about weighing, documenting and reporting.

Now that that is out of the way, here’s the rundown on the Top Bass for each of the last 20 years among my group of family and friends.

20 Years Record Book


Date – While the first half of the year leads the back half (13 to 7), every month except January and December is represented.  Not surprising that these months are absent and pretty cool that the rest make the list.  Guess that just reinforces my approach that “the best time to fish is anytime you can.” 

2012 Top Bass
My boy, Jayce, checks out his Uncle Dave’s 2012 Top Bass 5-9

Anglers – Dad, a pair of brother in laws and a family friend join me on this “prestigious” list as the record book has long consisted of “extended family.”  The entire record book actually dates back to 1986 and includes several other anglers including my brother, Brent (Top Bass 1986, 1991, 1992), longtime buddies Matt Reynolds (Top Bass 1988) and Mark Junk (Top Bass 1994 and uncle of Brady Junk our 2010 and 2011 Top Bass champ) and it is worth noting that Terry Jackson, better known as Dad, also has a couple other titles beyond 2008 (Top Bass 1987, 1996).

2010 Top Bass
Brady Junk 2010 Top Bass 6-8

Location – I feel a little guilty here as all but one of our yearly records come from private waters with the lone exception being the 2009 Top Bass caught at Emiquon.  Obviously, there’s nothing like having some private “honey holes” but none of these locations are teeming with big, dumb fish, they still take some time and effort.  Plenty of time and effort has also been spent on public water as well with some quality catches that just failed to be the biggest of the year. 

Lure Type

This is one of the things I dig about having kept all these stats and now taking some time to reminisce or evaluate.  For me, the lures on this list are marked by trends, timing and location. 

Spinnerbaits - The 1997 and 1998 fish on spinnerbaits came during a time when I was a real heavy spinnerbait guy and Lake Bracken in particular had some very productive spinnerbait friendly structure.  Spinnerbaits have kind of fallen out of vogue in general and for various reasons I guess I have followed the trend.

2000 Top Bass
Tim Townsend 2000 Top Bass 8-4

Jigs – The 8-4 caught in 2000 by my former brother in law on a nasty April afternoon is the kind of fish that you read about in the fishing magazines but only encounter once in a lifetime, maybe.  Early spring, black and blue jig and pig, what else is there to say?  In fact, all three jig bass on the list fell to this tried and true color combo.

Plastic Worms – Plastic worm can represent a variety of types and presentations but beginning in 2005 it began to mean Senko wacky rig almost exclusively.  And the Top Bass from 2005-2007 were all landed on this particular presentation during the first few years of a trend that has yet to wear off.

2009 Top Bass
Troy Jackson 2009 Top Bass 7-3

Crankbaits – The 2009 Emiquon fish was a result of what I like to call “personality” as it pertains to fishing holes.  That was the first year of public access at Emiquon and it sure didn’t take long to discover that when the light switch flipped on down there power fishing was the fastest and most effective way to land some aggressive bass.  No sense dragging anything around on the bottom or through the brush when you could reel ‘em in as fast as you could cast with standard or lipless cranks.  As most bass anglers know, the bass will clue you in to what they want and in the rare case of those early Emiquon days they were screaming so loud that even I knew to put the Senko away.

2013 Top Bass
Troy Jackson 2013 Top Bass 5-10, I think, read below

Buzzbait – The 2013 Top Bass has an interesting detail that I never revealed in the initial report on the blog.  Anytime you can get a brute on a topwater it is indeed a blast and this one had me talking to myself as I lipped it and brought it aboard.  You see, I have never caught a six-pounder (two 5-15 and a 7-3 but no six) and I sure thought this was the one.  Truth is my scale started going haywire as I attempted to weight the thing, jumping all over the in the upper five to lower six-pound range.  I tried several times to get a solid read but was unsuccessful and finally settled on a conservative 5-10 which became the final recorded weight.  It doesn’t keep me up at night but I sometimes still wonder what might have been if I had a properly functioning scale.  As an admittedly biased observer, in comparing it to some other catches, I still think it may have been my six (compare to 5-9 pictured below).  On the upside, it was released so no doubt that next time I catch it I will have a first.

2016 Top Bass
Troy Jackson 2016 Top Bass 5-9

Lipless Crankbaits – The latest trend in Top Bass has been the early season lipless crankbait approach.  Nothing new here among bass anglers but the immediate feedback over the last two years has been nothing short of amazing.  The 2015 fish was my first fish of the year and the 2016 fish was my second catch of the year.  On one hand, too bad I couldn’t boost my best the rest of the way in each of the last two years but those two early bites set the bar rather high for this guy.

Well, hope you enjoyed the ride through the last 20 years of bass fishing this week as my primer for 2017 although I don’t really need incentive as much as I need free time to get my year started.  Thanks to those who have provided something to cheer about already this year via our Top 5 as we continue to add to our cumulative record book.  Speaking of that project, already have half a dozen new entries ready to go for the Monday update.  Talk to you later.  Troy


20 Years of Stats - Water

Thu, March 02, 2017

My running total spreadsheet now shows that I have taken my shot at some fish on 137 different bodies of water over the last 20 years. 

Sounds kind of impressive on the surface, could make you think, “Wow this guy must be some kind of world traveler or something.”

Not even close.  In fact, all but three of those bodies of water are in my home state of Illinois.  The latest outsider happens to be Lost Grove Lake in Scott County, Iowa and I just added that one to my list last year.

Nope, I’m pretty much a homebody with most all of my haunts barely over an hour drive from my current residence in the Quad Cities.  Prior to moving up here from Galesburg a few years back, my fishing holes were even closer to home with most being only about 25 minutes on the road.  While some may not find my stomping grounds very exotic, I consider myself quite fortunate to have so many “local” fishing holes at my disposal.  If there is such a thing as a drawback to such access, it is simply having too many to choose from sometimes.  A nice problem to have and many a day I have wound up kicking myself over a decision, lamenting, “Boy, I should have gone to (fill in the blank) instead.”  Not a complaint, mind you, simply part of fishing in my world.

Got lots of stories about my haunts, of course, as each spot has provided adventures, revealed secrets and shared what I like to call “personality” but whatever intimate details I would be willing to provide will have to wait for another time.  Today, we focus on the numbers and a little background on several fishing holes, so here we go.

Note: The First Bass noted on several fishing spots that follow simply represents my first bass from the last 20 years as several lakes have been targets going back to the 80’s.  Last Bass for several locations is simply the last caught in 2016 while a few other spots are no longer accessible.  Top Bass and Top 5 Weight includes those caught by myself and/or fishing partners from 1997 to present.

IRAP Length

IRAP Knox County (2013-2016) – public access
Bass/hour: 10.6 (305 bass in 28.75 hours)
First Bass: 5/27/13 6:44pm 16.5” 1-14 Buzzbait
Last Bass: 9/18/16 6:10pm 11” Buzzbait
Top Bass: 4-6 (20”) Troy Jackson 4/12/14 4:58pm Jig
Top 5: 20-8(4-6,4-3,4-2,4-0,3-13) along with brother, Brent
Notes: Four years of casting at this walk-in only site has been quite productive flying solo or hiking with my brother and hauling bass out of 18 different lakes/potholes.  But it takes some work and determination to brave the tall weeds, lack of trails, uneven terrain and hordes of mosquitoes in season.  Limited access is also a factor with availability only April-September, Friday to Monday and a permit obtained online required for visitors.  Looking forward to another adventure or two this year, likely early before the weeds and skeeters get out of control.

Bracken Length

Lake Bracken (1997-2008) – private access
Bass/hour: 2.25 (724 bass in 321.75 hours)
First Bass: 4/28/97 6:44pm 13” Mepps
Last Bass: 6/16/08 10:59am 15” 1-13 Zoom Baby Brush Hog
Top Bass: 5-1 (22”) Troy Jackson 9/18/99 1:33pm Mann’s Baby 1- Crankbait
Top 5: 23-12 (5-1,5-0,4-10,4-9,4-8) with Dad
Notes: I actually first fished this location in the early 80’s but the focus for this batch of stats is the last 20 years.  From 1994 through 2002, Lake Bracken was actually my backyard although I probably didn’t take full advantage of such easy access, a different time.  Gave up access in 2003 and Dad ceded his membership in 2008.  A lot of good fish stories from the location over the years and pretty cool what you learn when you live on a lake.  Low pressure was also a treat as more days than not I had the 170 acre lake all to myself.

Storey Length

Lake Storey (1997-2016) – public access
Bass/hour: 0.89 (202 bass in 227.5 hours)
First Bass: 9/18/97 8:01am 13.5” 1-4 Zara Spook
Last Bass: 9/19/16 12:15pm 9” Strike King Squarebill Crankbait
Top Bass: 4-8 (20.5”) Troy Jackson 9/30/07 Zoom Baby Brush Hog
Top 5: 21-0 (4-8,4-7,4-6,4-0,3-11) with Dad, Brent
Notes: Me and Lake Storey go back a lot farther than the 20 years represented here and it can be a tough lake to crack, which to me is a big part of the fun (and so are toothy mistakes from the quality muskie and walleye population).  Always a challenge and I suppose the lake has the upper hand over the years but I still feel a sense of accomplishment each time I land another of its wary bass.  Tough to pick my favorite fishing hole of all-time but having gotten to know this spot quite well it would certainly be a front runner.  It was always a treat to hear some locals gripe that “there’s no fish in Lake Storey” as I’ve come to know better, just takes some work.

LJCC Length

Little John Conservation Club (1997-2016) – private access
Bass/hour: 2.42 (972 bass in 401 hours)
First Bass: 3/21/97 5:04pm 11” Spinnerbait
Last Bass: 11/11/16 2:19pm 11” Senko wacky rig
Top Bass: 8-4 Tim Townsend (former brother in law) 4/4/00 Jig
Top 5: 30-8 (8-4,5-13,5-10,5-9,5-4) with Tim
Notes: This site includes catches from 13 different lakes and access dates back to 1987 when Dad first gained membership.  Sometime in the early to mid-90’s I was selected in a blind draw for membership via a recommendation from Dad and to this day we continue to learn more secrets and parlay them into some more solid catches.  The former strip mine area features a wide range of structure ranging from prototype V cuts to fingers, humps, points and chutes and is rarely inhabited by other anglers. 

Snakeden Length

Snakeden Hollow (1997-2016) – public access
Bass/hour: 2.28 (564 bass in 247.75 hours)
First Bass: 6/1/97 4:22pm 11.5” Buzzbait
Last Bass: 10/9/16 3:48pm 8.5” Lipless Crankbait
Top Bass: 4-15 Brent Jackson 4/12/15 Jig
Top 5: 19-14 (4-15,4-1,3-15,3-9,3-6) with Brent
Notes: This former strip mine area opened to the public in 1990 and I was actually working a temp job at the site at the time and wet a line a few times at work as sort of a research project I guess you’d say.  Brent and I had actually fished the site in 1987 with a friend who had some connections and just killed the bass, a real eye opener for a couple teenagers just beginning to expand our bass fishing horizons and tackleboxes.  32 different lakes/potholes have contributed to this collection of bass and there’s still other’s that I haven’t fished even after all of these years.  Another site that takes some work and ingenuity as only Lake McMaster has a ramp, the rest are walk-in but the exercise has sure paid off over the years.

Emiquon Length

Emiquon Preserve (2009-2013) – public access
Bass/hour: 4.29 (460 bass in 107.25 hours)
First Bass: 9/2/09 2:15pm 12.5” 1-1 Crankbait
Last Bass: 7/25/13 8:58am 16” 1-10 Creature bait
Top Bass: 7-3 (23.5”) Troy Jackson 9/2/09 Crankbait
Top 5: 21-15 (7-3,4-11,3-8,3-5,3-4)
Notes: This place opened up in April 2009 and the bass fishing was just insane.  I made 18 trips to the spot and most days it was what I call “laugh out loud” fishing as we literally laughed aloud at the crazy bass bite.  Several doubles on one lure, three fish in the boat between two anglers, freakish guts on some odd looking bass, my personal best of all-time, 100+ fish days between myself and Dad or Brent.  I actually quit fishing one evening just to watch Brent and see if he could hit the century mark.  We set a time limit to allow us to get back to the boat ramp before dark and he called it quits as we’d decided while sitting on 98 bass, probably the coolest fishing exhibition I have ever witnessed.  It still brings a smile recalling him kicking himself for taking time to eat a sandwich that evening.  Out of the 460 bass I landed over those five seasons, an incredible 404 were 12” or better.  Folks, that’s 88% of a pretty substantial sample size that were what I call “keepers” or “quality fish”, just incredible.  Sure sounds like fish stories and it certainly made for plenty to blog about as I posted 35 entries about that wild fishing hole during its heyday.

I don’t know about anybody else but a trip down Memory Lane when it comes to your stomping grounds just makes me feel good.  Of course, even a somewhat longwinded blog entry barely scratches the surface when it comes to the last 20 years on the water.  Just can’t beat fish stories, regardless of who’s catching ‘em or how well they’re biting.  Back for one more installment with a look inside The Record Book up for tomorrow.  Talk to you later.  Troy



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