Dream Smoker Build Project


Well it’s done. It started with finding an 80 gallon propane refill tank in an old Chevrolet dealership’s basement and obviously snowballed from there. In the discovery phase, it became obvious to me that moving heat and smoke was a science and not just as simple as cutting a door and welding on a smoke stack. From there I focused on meeting the technical requirements for the cook volume I had and tried to solve design problems with flair and an eye towards functionality and durability. The end result was way more than I set out to accomplish. The cost was too, but I’m in at less than a third of what it would have cost me to farm it out in a much simpler form. It was a great project that was tons of fun and a great chance to get to know Ben better. So many of the details we quibbled over during the build, and resulted in a very long list of great features on this smoker. Steel is expensive, perfection takes time and two heads are way better than one are some key takeaways from this project. In the end I’ve got a one-of-a-kind smoker built to last generations that works perfectly. I’d say it was a success. Now to get some meat and get on with the cooking! Continue reading »

Fishing Tackle on a Budget

Gearing up for fishing after a few winter months on the shelf is one of my favorite times of year. You start seeing new boats and crappie turning up on Facebook pages, and you start looking at the fishing instead of the hunting sections of your favorite outfitters. Coincidentally, it’s a good time to snag deep discounts on any hunting gear that needs replacing or upgrading to be ready for next season. I usually look for bigger ticket items like parkas, rain gear or waders under “End of Season” sales. Sometimes you get a real peach of a deal with a little patience and homework.

If you fish like we do, you probably went deep into the fall fishing season and put your gear up late one night in a hurry and haven’t touched it since. February is a great month to start dragging out tackle boxes, bags and re-spool your reels. You can decide right now if you need to add a rod or reel and start budgeting to roll new gear into the mix without the burden of last minute purchasing later when the bite is on. If you’re broke like me, you know how simple trips to the lake can chew through your spending cash in a hurry all summer long.
Carefully planning out your gear purchases early in the year or even at the end of the previous seasons can take the money sting out of fishing. Buy your license on the very first day eligible to get the full value, or even look into a lifetime in your area.  I still fish with pretty basic gear and use as few rods as possible to get the job done. Even staying lean and mean in the gear department requires a little planning and maintenance to avoid surprises and wallet shock later on. Continue reading »

Late Summer Saltwater

Despite a crushing schedule, we managed to get our annual beach trip in this month. We didn’t really pack heavy, just loaded up and made a run for it. I took just one rod and my tackle bag (prepped for saltwater).
I managed to fish every day we were there and chased that with cold drinks and sunsets on the beach. It was a good trip, a welcome break from the strangling effects of work and life.
I met a guide down there last year but didn’t manage to get out with him. So this trip i made sure that he and I connected right up front. It was good to fish with someone that really knows the area and techniques and besides that he’s a cool guy. Continue reading »

Turning Down The Volume

The dance we do to make ends meet, connect with appointments and satisfy the endless stream of things everyone else needs blurs our vision from time to time. We start thinking in terms of the scoreboard. Spending more and more money and effort to get as close to perfection as possible. Blah blah and blah.

I’m no stranger to slowing things down, but sometimes I even surprise myself. I’d been on the sideline for fishing for about a month due to work and who knows what else, when we planned to fish last weekend. Those plans dissolved and we swore we’d get out this weekend.

We decided to get shiners and bass tackle and go for a state record spot at Parksville lake. We loaded up and drove 20 minutes before i realized I’d forgotten one of the trolling motor batteries. Continue reading »

May River Fishing

After a couple weeks off of crappie spawning we decided to run the Tennessee river in the tail race below Chickamauga Dam. Good rainfall had the flow around 25,000 and the weather was sunny and calm otherwise. We really didn’t set the river on fire but I managed to hook a couple of beautiful smallies and one cranky catfish before the daylight ran out. Nothing special other than a great evening on the water.

Mid-spawn Crappie


Slow night ending with a respectable 9 keepers (3 of which over 13″)

Chickamauga Lake Crappie Fishing Report

We’re still basically going twice a week these days. The fishing has been consistent, not great but consistent for a couple of weeks now. I took my kayak bass fishing buddy out last night for his first crappie run of the year. It was miserably slow from afternoon until about 10pm or later. I knew the dam was drawing very little water until midnight and just assumed it would be a bad trip altogether. We ended up picking up enough short fish to keep us interested until some keepers came along. Between 11pm and midnight someone let the dogs out and we nearly ran out of minnows in a firestorm of biting crappie. We walked away with 17 keepers and were almost shocked at how much the fishing picked up that last hour.

To be fair, our average catch was closer to 10″ than 14″ but we had a blast trying to keep minnows on hooks.


Aaron and two of the nicer keepers he was catching

Chickamauga Lake Crappie Fishing Report

This weekend was too busy for me to get any fishing done. Ironically, frying fish on Saturday night prevented me from catching fish to eat. As the weekend wound down on Sunday, I made my way to crappie spot and met my neighbor on his way home from the golf course. Our medium shiners were extra large and possibly contributed to the lack of fishing action. I’d picked up some fluorescent submersible lights on Saturday as well as a replacement globe for a donated Coleman lantern. So a full lighting package was employed soon after sunset. We’ve decided that fishing for crappie at night without them is a significant disadvantage. We didn’t catch near as many fish as we did a few days before, but almost every fish caught was a keeper. Larger bait catches larger fish. It would seem like a no brainer, but we look for a balance between catching a bunch of fish and the more boring version like Sunday’s trip that ended up yielding 9 keepers between 8pm and 11pm. We’re still finding plenty of fish with eggs, so we can only assume to be on the first half of the spawn cycle.

Chickamauga Lake Crappie Report

The mid-week crappie trip was bitter-sweet. We made some adjustments to our game and caught a ton of fish, but the pollen is at an all-time high and it’s trying to kill me. The good news is we’re seeing signs of fish in all phases of spawning, so now is the time for sure.

After Monday’s adventures we started working through the validation that you must have underwater lights to have the most success at night. Last night we went full lighting package. We also decided to use smaller minnows after some investigation and discussion. What we learned was that you have to use lights, and as many as you can afford to use. We also learned smaller minnows will keep you busier but definitely average smaller fish in the process. We boated over 70 fish but only about 12 of which were keepers. This is a stark contrast to Monday where we had 6 nice keeps and only caught about 30 fish total. Bigger minnows for keepers, case closed.

Chickamauga Lake Crappie Report

After a few weeks of consistently warmer temperatures, we’re starting to expect more and better results. I took the duck slayer out with the neighbor for a Monday evening sneak attack at Wolftever creek. The electronics showed modest groups of crappie everywhere in six to twenty feet of water. With jut two keepers to show at 10pm we started packing up and leaving. As we rode by the only other boat and asked about their luck, those guys told us to drop anchor and fish with them. The action was significantly better on their spot, possibly due to the arsenal of water lights they had employed. It’s was borderline pink Floyd lazer light show and it was working. We bumped our keeper count to six in an hour or so and filled our limits with their fish they didn’t intend to keep. It was a ton of fun fishing with those guys and yet another bit of proof that crappie are hard to figure out.