Derek Handberry is an angler from Connecticut that knows how to catch fish. Not only is he a successful recreational angler but he has been doing very well this year tournament fishing as well. We discussed Derek’s love of fishing and get some details about his success on the tournament trail this year.
I can tell from your pics that you love fishing. When did you get started fishing?
In my family fishing is sacred and practiced by all. This obsession stems from my family farm in Georgia where my great grandmother taught my grandfather how to fish on our two ponds. My grandfather enjoyed fishing more than my great grandmother and passed it down to his son.
His son, my father, taught me how to fish and each generation became more skilled and passionate about the sport. Learning from my grandpa and father, I started fishing as soon as I was old enough to walk. When I was 4 or 5 I cut my teeth on fishing by pond hopping for bluegill and other pan fish that would keep me busy as my father targeted bass.
I also enjoyed setting minnow traps and catching crawfish in a local creek to supply my granddad and pops with some live bait. They probably took advantage of my obsession at the time but I didn’t mind because I thoroughly enjoyed it.
By the time I was 6 or 7 I would beg my father to take me fishing on his johnboat that he left at a reservoir in NY named Sodom. I’ve been fishing ever since..
When did you decide to get into competitive tournament fishing?
Following college I received a random call from my grandfather’s friend, Archie Brenson. He asked if I wanted to fish tournaments and I said yes before he finished asking.
That year I joined N.E.B.A. as a team with Archie and another club named Southwestern Connecticut Bass Masters as a non-boater. As a former athlete I enjoyed the competitiveness of tournament angling. Furthermore, I enjoyed the relationships that I built with people who were just as compassionate about fishing as me.
Moreover, I was able to become a better angler by fishing as a non-boater my first 3 years of tournament fishing. By fishing with a different anglers each tournament for 3 years, I learned a variety of different techniques and patterns that make me who I am today.
I enjoy fishing tournaments because it amplifies the components of fishing that we all love. The bite, the hookset, and the fight all mean more when there is money and bragging rights on the line. I also really enjoy the adrenaline rush that I get when I flip a big fish on the deck during game day. After netting a big fish or even just a much needed rat to finish out my limit; my hands usually start to shake. In summation, I love fishing tournaments because of how much of a challenge it is, the many slow humbling days, and the rare days when everything goes your way.
You are a teacher, and I know that one way teaching helps your fishing is the summers off. How else do you think teaching influences your fishing?
I teach Social Studies to juniors and seniors in high school. As a teacher it’s important to be thoroughly prepared and equally reflective. There are things in a classroom that are constantly changing and often out of ones control. This is similar to what we experience on the water. Every day is different and it is important to adapt on the fly when you try something new and it fails.
Furthermore, being a teacher makes me a more organized and reflective angler. For example, I created a log book focusing on things like water temperature, baits used, fish caught, depth fished, total weight, locations fished, and the winning pattern. After reflecting on my fishing for four or five years I began to see patterns that allow me to dial in on the fish in a variety different conditions. In addition, my reflections have allowed me to tune into more advanced changes or transitions that fish make within each season that many guys overlook.
As a teacher, what can the rest of us be doing to get more kids involved in fishing?
Just take them! The first tap that they feel on the end of their line will keep them hooked. Fishing will help kids develop a passion for the outdoors as well as patience. It may also keep them off of their phones and video games for a little bit.
Now let’s put class in session for all of your fellow anglers. What can you tell us about your recent 3rd place finish on Candlewood? What were the keys to your success?
My success on Candy started with my preparation. I usually start by looking at my own fishing logs and then match them with posts on fishing forums related to the lake and time of year.
Because this tournament was during the spring, the pattern wasn’t hard to figure out because the fish were looking to spawn. Being a big lake that covers over 5 towns, I started to dissect Candy by focusing on one town at a time in my pre-fishing.
Everyone knows where the spawning flats are, my game plan was to fish in locations where spawning areas/flats in close proximity to each other. This allowed me to keep my bait in the water longer and blind fish for bedding bass in murky water.
During game day I fished a shaky head with a very small green pumpkin worm. I covered as much water as I could and cast to anything that looked different. It could have been a rock, a lighter shade of bottom, side of a dock, or laydown.
Because the water was murky I was casting to shallow areas that I though could hold beds. I bounced my worm slowly on the bottom until I was out of the strike zone, reeled up and kept the boat moving. My non-boater was shocked at how many spots we ran to that day. It was a grind all day and I ended up loosing a 3 pounder that would have gave me a limit.
I had twenty minutes left and I only had four fish in the livewell. As I was driving towards the boat launch I wasn’t sure where I was going to make my last stand. All the good spots have already been pounded. As a result, I fished the moment and pulled up to a shady shoreline that I’ve never fished before. To my surprise there was a rock wall in ten ft of water that ran parallel to the shoreline. Knowing that I have ten minutes to fish, I flipped my bait on the edge of the wall and smashed a 4 pound smallie on my first cast. I ended up finishing in 3rd with a lunker largemouth of 4 plus pounds.
You also recently had a first place finish as well. What were the keys to that day?
My first place finish this year was located on Bantam Lake in Morris. The pattern that I ran during that tournament was pre-spawn. Keying in on rocky shoals where the big girls were chewing on crayfish, I threw a Cabin Creek Spider Parts jig all day.
The key to my success was to fish slow. There was a major cold front that day and the wind was howling so I knew the bite would be tough. Therefore, the cadence that I used while I fished that day was imperative. I let my bait sink to the bottom and I started with my rod tip parallel to the water. I brought my rod tip to the 12 o’clock position and then I reeled in my slack. In doing this, I was dragging that bait on the bottom to entice lethargic bass plagued by an early spring cold-front.
The other key to my success at Bantam was my patience. I fished my bait slow but moved the boat around frequently to hit a lot of different rocky areas. That day I ended up catching two of my fish in the last 30 minutes when the wind died down.
As we approach fall, what waters are you favorite fall waters to fish?
My favorite lakes in the area to fish during the fall are Candlewood, Lake Lillinoah, and the Housatonic for stripers. During the fall Connecticut bass put their feedbags on in prep for the upcoming winter and you can get into some quality fish on Candlewood and Lilly.
I enjoy the Housatonic River in the fall because stripers migrate into the river to hold over there for the winter. During this time of year it is common to experience days of catching 100 plus fish and sometimes you hook into an occasional beast. Last fall I landed a 43-pound striper in the Housy.
What are your top 3 favorite fall big bass baits? What are the keys to using each of them in colder water?
My favorite baits this time of year would have to be a jig, small swim bait, or topwater. The key to fishing in cold water is to slow down. I also like to downsize my baits during the fall…topwater may be the only exception to this rule.
In addition when fishing in the fall, I like throwing Reins products because the use a soft plastic that slows the fall of your bait.
I know you are a multi-species angler. What are your other favorite species to catch?
Trout, salmon, stripers, pike, and bluefish make up some of my favorite species to target. I enjoy fly fishing for salmon in upstate New York during the fall. During early spring, I target big browns in Highland Lake or in my backyard, the Pomperaug River. During the fall, winter, and spring I target Stripers in the Housatonic River or Connecticut River. During the summer I often hit the surf for bass, fluke, blues or whatever I can catch. I target pike through the ice during the winter on Bantam and Lilly.