By DAVID RAINER
This yo-yo isn’t designed to “walk the dog” or “rock the cradle.” This yo-yo is designed to put food on the table, some of the finest the Alabama outdoors has to offer.
This device is designed to do a lot of fishing for a few anglers dedicated enough to constantly bait hooks and don’t mind more than a handful or two of twigs falling down the back of your neck. It’s that location on overhanging limbs where the yo-yos must be positioned for maximum effectiveness. The device is a spring-loaded wheel filled with line and a trigger mechanism to set the hook when a bite occurs. The perfect setting for yo-yo fishing is a cypress-laden oxbow, just like the one within yards of the Black Warrior River at the Dollarhide Camp.
Ron Jolly, videographer for the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, spotted what he considered the perfect yo-yo fishing spot during a turkey-hunting excursion during one of the early Governor’s One-Shot Turkey Hunts.
“This is what I like about yo-yo fishing,” Jolly said as he washed fish fillets. “If you could see this gallon bag of fillets, they’re hard to come by when the water is cold and temperature is cold. It’s something I started doing as a kid, growing up on an old oxbow lake. There were always fish there to be caught; it was just a matter of whether you were tough enough to get out there in the weather.
“We learned how to fish with them as kids. I kind of lost touch with it until I came to Dollarhide with these guys (member Sam Jackson and camp president Joe Lee Hutt) and they’ve got a great crappie lake.”
When Jolly saw the lake, he had flashbacks of his youth and thought about the yo-yos. When the crappie wouldn’t readily hit jigs, Jolly and Jackson went to Eutaw to buy minnows. By chance, he just happened to ask the bait shop owner if he had any yo-yos. On top of a dusty, old shelf sat the treasure Jolly sought.
“It was cold in February and we found 18 (yo-yos) at an old bait shop in Eutaw,” he said. “I got some goofy looks when I told them how they worked. I think they were 99 cents apiece and they’d been up on that shelf for a long while.”
Jolly and Jackson had planned to buy a quarter-pound of minnows to use on jig poles, but when the yo-yos were discovered, Jolly upped the minnow purchase to a pound.
“I knew what was coming,” Jolly said. “Sure enough, we turned that cold weekend into a big bunch of fish. I guess we’ve been doing it for seven or eight years now, so it’s kind of turned into a tradition. A little later on, when the fish get on the bank and get a little easier to catch and more active, we start fishing with jigs and poles. We tried that this week, but we wouldn’t be bagging up fish if we’d had to depend on jig fishing.
“I can’t stress enough that you’ve got to stay with them. We always take them up when we’re done. They lift the fish’s head up out of the water, so we want to make sure nothing goes to waste. If you run them often enough, if the fish are too small, you can turn them loose. It’s the lazy man’s fishing trip.”
Actually, I would disagree on the lazy part. It takes quite a bit of work to deploy the yo-yos and then constantly run and re-bait. I would deem it extra efficient.
The yo-yos have two notches to determine the amount of force required to trigger the spring mechanism that hooks the fish. The shallow notch is better suited for light-biting fish like crappie, while the deeper notch can be used for catfish, according to Jolly.
“If you’re using something as fragile as a minnow, the shallow notch is better,” he said. “If you’re using something like chicken livers or something tough, the deep vee would be better.
“When it’s cold, I try to get the bait about two to three feet deep. But we’ll experiment with depth to find out where they’re biting best.”
Jolly said he prefers to use yo-yos during the winter and early spring because of the drawbacks of using the rigs during the warmer months.
“As it warms up, you get into the problems like turtles eating your fish or bait,” he said. “Plus you’ve got to stay on top of them more because the yo-yos pull the fish’s head out of the water and they’ll spoil quicker in warm weather. Plus, you end up catching a lot more trash fish like grinnells and gar.
“It’s fun. It’s a way to get out there when the weather is not the best. Instead of sitting at home wishing you were fishing, yo-yos are a good way to be fishing when it’s cold.”
Hutt, who captained our two-man boat while I baited the hooks and retrieved the fish, said Dollarhide, reportedly the oldest hunting camp in Alabama, has a series of oxbow lakes on Griffin-Moore Creek before it runs into the Black Warrior. The oxbows, which get replenished with fish when the river floods, make for ideal cold-weather yo-yoing.
“If you like to eat fish, yo-yos are the way to go,” Hutt said. “You don’t have to know as much as the average fisherman to be successful. You’ve got to be willing to work, get cold and get your hands wet. It’s a unique way to catch fish. You can take a couple of people and basically fish 40 poles at one time. You hear it go off and go get the fish and reset it. You can put out as many as you want. It depends on how hard you want to work.”
Jackson said he didn’t know what to think when Jolly first suggested finding some yo-yos, but he knew something had to be better than what they were doing at the time.
“I remember it was about 20 degrees and the wind was blowing,” Jackson said. “We were out there trying to jig fish and Jolly said if we had some yo-yos we could let them fish for us while we sat up there next to the fire.
“We found those in the bait shop in Eutaw, set them out and started catching fish and we’ve been catching fish ever since. It’s kind of the lazy man’s way, but it gets the job done. You can tie them on every limb around and they’re fishing while you’re fishing. Then you go around and pick the fish off like pears. Usually when they’re biting, you can’t bait them fast enough to keep up.”
Although Jackson echoed Jolly’s reason for removing the yo-yos after the trip was complete, he also admitted to an ulterior motive.
“The reason we take them up is we don’t want everybody to know our little secret.”
PHOTOS (by David Rainer): Ron Jolly reaches out to pull another crappie into the two-man boat guided by Sammy Jackson on an oxbow lake at the Dollarhide Camp in Greene County. Joe Lee Hutt, bottom photo, shows the simplicity of using the yo-yos baited with minnows to fish efficiently in cold weather.