We recently had the chance to connect with Sheldon Grace to discuss his record-breaking Florida Shoal Bass! Thanks for your time Sheldon, and congrats!
How did you get into kayak fishing?
Several years ago, my uncle bought a fishing kayak. My dad and I would use my grandfather’s old stumpknocker canoe so we could go on float trips with him. I had a blast floating the local creeks and rivers so for Christmas my family surprised me with my first kayak.
What’s your favorite kayak and why?
My favorite kayak is what I fish out of now, a Jackson Coosa. In my opinion, the Coosa is the best kayak ever made for fishing creeks and small rivers. Being able to stand and fish is a big deal for me. The Coosa handles moving water with ease. I’ve even been down a few Class III rapids. My current model is a 2012 Coosa but I am hoping to upgrade to a newer model in the near future. Even though the body style hasn’t changed on the Coosa, I really like the upgraded seat on the new model.
What are your favorite lures to throw on the river?
It depends on which river I’m fishing but some of the most common I use are swim jigs, chatterbaits, and flipping jigs. I also like to use jerk baits on the Chipola.
Were you chasing the Florida Shoal Bass Record?
Yes, it was always in the back of my mind because I knew the record was attainable. State records are nice but they’re no substitute for time on the water with family and friends.
Talk me through the catch. When did you know it was a big Shoal Bass?
I was standing up in my Jackson Kayak floating down some light rapids. When I got to the end of the rapids there was a tree that stretched all the way across the river except for a little spot on the left side. There was an eddy on the right side so I launched a cast into the eddy. My jig was sinking to the bottom when I felt a thump. It felt just like the bite of a 5 plus pound largemouth I caught earlier in the day. Right then I knew it was a good fish. I reeled down and set the hook hard which pulled me into the eddy. That probably saved me from floating into the tree. Instantly, she peeled drag when I set the hook so I knew it was definitely a good fish. I fought her for about 15 seconds before I saw her. The water was super clear so I could tell it was least a 5 pounder. I remember yelling to my uncle, “It’s at least 5!” She ran under my boat and then came out and surfaced for the first time. When she surfaced, I sat down hoping to land her. She started to head shake on top of the water heading my way. My jig flew out of her mouth when she got about a foot away from me. I quickly grabbed her by the mouth, pulled her out and said a quick, “Thank you, Jesus!” I put her between my legs and paddled to the side where my uncle was waiting. My uncle took one look and said, “Dude, you just caught the state record.”
You don’t have to tell me, but you know people are curious. What did you catch it on?
A black and blue jig only because I broke off all my other colors.
If you are new to kayak fishing you will quickly realize how many options are available to you. Whether your initial background is in fishing or paddling, kayak fishing provides a great blend of both of these popular pastimes into a great hobby, activity, or obsession. Like with any new activity there is always a starting point and a learning curve. Here are a few ways to speed up your learning curve and put more fish in your kayak!
Typically, when I take new kayak anglers out for the first time I like to start with a smaller body of water, such as a small lake, pond, or creek. Kayak fishing is combining two skills and making them into one. So when you start small it allows more confidence in whichever skill you have your background in, while providing a calm environment to work on the other. This allows you to get more comfortable with either your paddling or casting. It also prevents fatigue because you do not have a lot of water to cover and increases your chance of catching fish because it is a more concentrated area.
A common mistake I see both seasoned and new kayak anglers make is taking too much gear. I would recommend when you are first learning to kayak fish or if you are struggling to put fish in your kayak to just take one to two rods. It is very easy to make things complicated and to overthink what you actually already know. When I am with new kayak anglers I always tell them to rig up their favorite soft plastic bait in a Texas rig set up and bring their favorite crankbait or spinnerbait. You will fish better and with more confidence if you are throwing a bait that you trust and know will catch fish. I also do this If I am struggling to figure out what the fish are biting, I will go back to the basics and throw what I know.
Go fish! By combining the first two steps of starting small and keeping it simple you will maximize your time on the water while increasing your skills and knowledge. What will give you confidence are successful trips and experiences. You can watch every YouTube video you can find, but your skills and confidence will only grow as you spend time on the water. Yvon Chouinard once said, “The more you know, the less you need.” So start with what you know and throw your favorite bait on your favorite body of water!
A life changing moment can happen quick growing up in central Florida. I was addicted to fishing at a very early age and it is an addiction that has followed me into my adult life. My wife and I now live in North Carolina so I have gotten to learn different parts of the country when it comes to fishing. I love bass fishing but more than anything I am addicted to that feeling of setting the hook into a true giant. The last few years I have had the opportunity to travel and fish all across the country with the Big Bass Tour. In my opinion it is the most exciting tournament format in fishing today. One bite can win a brand new Nitro so you are always in the game. Every hour pays 10 places ranging from $100-$1000, the biggest fish over two days takes the boat. I fish ten events a year from Florida all the way to Texas so finding ways to target quality fish has been a skill I have been honing the last few years. Every event the only thing that matters is getting a big fish to bite. Catching five fish is irrelevant if they’re not big enough to weigh in, so I fish for that one big bite. There is one technique and bait I have tied on at every stop of the tour. Bladed jigs have changed the way I fish the last few years and I wanted to take a moment to share some of things that have worked for me and what I’ve been learning since using them. This is only what I’m finding works for me, I am by no means the absolute truth when it comes to bladed jigs. Brett Hite holds that title and when he talks bladed jigs we all listen. Let's dive in and I hope you find something useful for the next time you pick up a bladed jig.
Rod and Reel Setup. Distance matters when it comes to fishing moving baits effectively and longer casts can translate directly into getting more bites out of the day. I have found two big factors play into casting farther- rod length and line capacity on reels. The rod I use for this technique is 7’3” medium heavy moderate action Lew’s TP1 Speed Stick. I pair this with a 6.3:1 BB1HZ Lew’s reel with 17-20 fluorocarbon line (depending on where I’m at in the country). The longer rod and bigger spool will allow you to cast a mile and it is a pretty inexpensive combo compared to a lot of other setups I’ve used. If you use too stiff a rod fish will have a tendency to pull off on the initial bite and not get the bait down. Moderate action rods have enough give to allow fish to swallow the bait when they bite.
How to Fish it and Where. Retrieve is crucial when it comes to fishing bladed jigs and the type of cover you are fishing should directly impact your retrieve. Keep in mind with bladed jigs the faster you reel the higher the bait rises in the water column so it's important to figure out the depth you are wishing to fish the bait and retrieve it accordingly. If you are fishing deep channel swings in North Carolina in the summer I’m using a heavier bladed jig 1/2 - 3/4 ounce and my retrieve could look more like fishing a Carolina rig. However, if you are running grass in the spring obviously that’s an entirely different animal. You’re probably fishing 3/8 ounce weight and your retrieve will mostly likely include intentionally allowing the bait to get slightly hung to snatch it free, moving at a pretty quick pace. Always fish the moment in front of you, your retrieve might even change throughout the day. Every day is different so pay attention and allow the fish to show you what they want. Often in tournament situations the local hot spots get hit first and often. However this bait excels when fishing behind people who are only throwing crankbaits or spinnerbaits. It has a much different action than most baits so don’t be afraid to fish behind anyone. Keep in mind though, as you are fishing this bait you’re not fishing for a lot of bites but instead targeting quality. So if getting a bunch of bites is your thing this bait is not always what you are looking for. This is a great kicker fish bait if you're looking for that fish to anchor your bag at weigh in.
Bladed Jigs. When it comes to the bladed jig itself there are a few very important details to pay attention to. Is the blade attached directly to your jig or with a split ring? If it is attached with a split ring the bait seems to lose some side to side action and vibration. Second, the smaller the diameter of a hook, the more action the bait has so consider smaller diameter hooks on vibrating jigs when you can. When it comes to skirts keep it simple, green pumpkin, white, black, and blue are the only colors you will find in my boat. Something that has made a difference for me is that when fishing white I tend to get more bites on translucent white skirts than solid white. Now something I don’t hear people talking about often on the bladed jig scene that has made a massive difference for getting one or two more bites a day is adding reflective stickers on the blade itself. Especially in sunny conditions I’ve noticed a difference between sticker and no sticker. Something about that flash triggers a couple more bites in a day. How many bites you get in a day can be the difference between winning and losing.
Here are a few brands that I would recommend if you are looking to add a few bladed jigs to your line up. I love the Z-man Jackhammer, they can be a little pricey but worth checking out, along with D&M Piranha or Phoenix Bladed Jigs. There are numerous trailers to try but a few I love are the Keitech 3.8 Fat Swimbaits, Strike King Rage Craws, and lastly, my favorite, the Gary Yamamoto Zako.
I hope these tips give you confidence and success in your pursuit of big bass. If you find yourself fishing the Big Bass Tour stop by and say hey!
Growing up in a land-locked state in the city of St. Louis I never knew the water. The most I ever knew about fishing was through stories of friends and family taking a trip to the Lake of the Ozarks in southwestern Missouri. Most people took weekend trips to go hunting. One of those hunters was my grandpa. He would visit us almost every Saturday morning when I was a kid. A WWII and Korean War veteran, and avid deer hunter, my Grandpa towered over most of my family, being around 6’3’’ with broad shoulders and a sense of humor to be reckoned with. He would bring over his Missouri Conservationist magazines for me to read and I would flip through the pages in awe of the hunters and how close they were to animals and the natural world around them; it was like another dimension to us city dwellers. When he passed, he left my older brothers his hunting rifles, and me a Swiss army knife. I took this as a nod to the notion that he knew we had the same DNA, wired for adventure, exploration, and the urge for “the hunt.”
Now I’m three decades old, a Northwest Florida transplant, a veteran myself, and a hunter. Not in the traditional sense. My game is fish; redfish specifically. Most anglers reading this already recognize the appeal of redfish fishing. For one, they put up a very exciting fight. They slam bait when they are hungry and take off in the opposite direction of the angler with all of their might pulling drag like a pissed off wild boar. Secondly, for those who choose to harvest, they can become one of the best meals you can pull out of the sea. You’ll rarely see them as the fish of the day here in Florida, as the slot size is a small window, you can only bag one-per day per angler, and you might spend a couple days chasing them with no luck. You’d be in heaven with a good south Texas or creole style redfish recipe at your disposal.
Sight-fishing is the hunt. In Northwest Florida, October and November are prominent months for inshore anglers. Tourist season has died down and it’s safe for the locals to emerge back on the water. Huge redfish can be caught in the northern gulf coast as far west as Louisiana. Here near Destin, the brood redfish can be found in deeper channels along the flats moving together to spawn future generations of redfish. Slot and upper slot redfish can be found on the sand and grass flats in very shallow water, looking for shrimp, small crabs, and small mullet. This is where I like to stalk.
Stand tall. My craft is a BOTE board Zeppelin; an inflatable paddleboard made out of military grade PVC for durability and stability. I have it outfitted with the BOTE Tackle Rac for storing rods and my tackle box. It is also equipped with a Power Pole Micro Anchor. My goal was to mimic the skiff captains in the Florida Keys who stalk Tarpon on the flats. I needed something stable enough to allow me to stand on the bow and push myself around in 1 to 2 feet of water. This gives me great visibility of reds within my casting reach. If the conditions are right and with the right optics, I can usually see redfish about 25-30 feet in front of me and even further on some of the bright sandy flats.
Stay quiet. This is the hardest part. In these fall months, the redfish that I’ve observed (aka the ones that got away) are either schooled up with 5 other reds of the same size, or they are sitting in a sand patch amongst a grass bed waiting for an unlucky menhaden shad. Their senses are turned up to 100, and they are easily spooked. When I’m pushing myself along a grass flat, I like to look ahead for these sandy spots. 9 times out of 10, there is a redfish along the edge or swimming slowly through it. I will put my Power Pole down, set my paddle gently into the BOTE board paddle sheath, and prepare my cast. Doing all of that without making a sound is nearly impossible, so knowing how to react quietly is key. Spooking a big redfish at the last minute before a cast is heartbreaking. If I’m on a big sandy flat, I like to work my way around it, and use my Power Pole to stay in one place and observe any reds cruising across the flat.
Observe their environment. Asking someone which bait to use is like asking someone what kind of music they listen to; it’s always different and oftentimes, it sucks. I’ve stopped asking the clerk at the bait shop because I’m pretty sure he is just making up stuff. I started experiencing the most success when I closely observed the environment of the fish I was targeting. For grass flats with sandy spots, I pick soft plastic swimmers with darker natural colors that contrast well against the sand, like the Z-Man Trout Trick in green pumpkin. This is fantastic bait all year round but I’ve found it especially useful in these fall months. The chartreuse tail helps me see it against the dark grass. For sand flats, I’ll use the same thing with the Z-Man Trout Eye jig head. I always use slightly heavier weight like 1/8 OZ so that they drop low to the ground where the fish are looking for crabs. If I’m seeing a lot of minnows and shad swimming around me, I’ll give the Z-Man Sexy Mullet Swimmerz a try. I’m not sponsored by Z-Man at all, I just really like their stuff, and they’re easy to find in most shops. If there is low wind, I’ll pack the fly rod too for some shots with a shrimp pattern fly.
Sight-fishing isn’t for everyone and can be exhausting and even frustrating. However, the satisfaction of spotting a redfish, taking your position, crafting your cast, and watching them chase it down or turn and slam your lure as it passes by is unmatched. I get extreme satisfaction if I land just one fish this way during an all day trip. I like to believe it’s the same feeling my grandpa would get after landing a buck he was stalking on a hunting trip. It’s the “thrill of the hunt” that you read about in the old conservation magazines as a kid, and on the water is where I experience it. He would be proud.
Bending Branches has been a staple in the paddle industry for years. If you browse Instagram you will see many people using their popular Angler models. I personally prefer the Angler Classic (best value on the market in my opinion) and their Angler Ace, which is a step above the Angler Classic. My new favorite paddle just hit the market, I just don't own it yet. While at ICAST I had a chance to examine their new Angler Pro, which comes in awesome new colors, and their new Angler Pro Carbon. The new Angler Pro is even lighter than the previous model, which was already light, and features a slightly new blade design. And to top it all off they come in at a lower price point! The new Angler Pro will come in at $299.95 and now weighs 28.5 oz. Their new Angler Pro Carbon is light as a feather and felt amazing to hold. I didn't get a chance to paddle it but I can only imagine how smooth it would paddle on the water.
Another important update that is under the radar is that the Angler Ace has also been updated and it is also cheaper and lighter! Bending Branches' new and updated Angler models provide premium products at a lower price point while still producing fantastic results on the water. Whether you are new to kayak fishing or a seasoned veteran, you learn pretty quick how important your paddle is. If you are in the market for a new paddle, take a close look at the new and improved Bending Branches Angler models.
For a full breakdown of the new line-up, CLICK HERE!