He brought along his invention, a portable “flip-over” style fishing shelter called the “Fish Trap.” Sporting a plywood floor and white canvas, Genz manufactured them out of his home. We were wowed, as we had never seen anything like it. This, I believe, was the spring-board for the ice fishing industry, as everything else slowly but surely followed suit.
Dave even taught us to use our Coleman lanterns for heat, which worked fine, especially when we stayed after dark. Coleman’s “Focus 5” came next and was quite a heater. Everybody had one. He also introduced colored maggots that were to be used for bait. It took a bit to get used to this one.
Ice fishing rods needed great improvement as well and custom rod builder, Mike Lesch, filled the bill, creating dozens of 28-30” light-action rods with full cork handles. They were sold at Dye’s Sports, of Hibbing, which was the hub for all the latest and greatest ice fishing innovations. Things were booming.
By the way, the “hot” ice fishing rod and reel back then was one of Lesch’s or a Thorne Brothers rod with a little Zebco “Underspin” reel. They were great if you were inside a heated shelter but would freeze up in hurry if you were outside. Lesch is still building and repairing fishing rods from his home in Chisholm. He has been building rods for over fifty years now and can be contacted on Facebook or by calling (218) 254-2887.
Dave brought along a Vexilar as part of his seminars and educated every one of us. I eventually bought one and that purchase turned my ice fishing success around in a flash. It was unbelievable.
By now, the Fish Trap had a large tub (Cozy Calf) for a sled and although it held a lot of gear, it didn’t pull very well. My first one was a hand-me-down from Dave. I was all over the place with that thing.
I won my first power auger. It was a part of the winnings as Grand Champions of the Crappiethon on Ice competition, where fishing partner Brian Griffith and I took top honors.
Having started summer guiding back in the 80’s, I was now having so much success on the ice that winter trips were now offered and with a legitimate winter guide service came several promotional products.
At one point, I had four new augers given to me, two Strikemasters and two Jiffys. I could use them for the winter but had to return them in the spring. I tried them all and wasn’t sure which brand auger I was going to go with but decided on Strikemaster, merely because it was manufactured in Minnesota, while the Jiffy hailed from Wisconsin. They all worked wonderful and it was nice to have my pick.
This success lead Terry Wickstrom and I to host the Minnesota Masters of Ice Fishing, held in the backwoods of Itasca county, every Thanksgiving Day weekend. This is back when there was plenty of ice on the small lakes.
Genz would call every year before Thanksgiving and say “you got any ice up there?” We always did.
The Minnesota Masters started out as just a fun gathering, where we would get together and fish all day and maybe have a cocktail or two in the evening. We stayed at various resorts (Kenadian Acres, Little Winnie Resort, etc.) and had a few stays at the Little Bear A-Frame.
Our guests consisted of outdoor writers, fishing guides, and tournament anglers from across the Midwest. It was the perfect chance to touch base with the “who’s who” in the ice fishing industry, inspect new products, and just plain have fun.
This gettogether got to be so popular that some were either offended or hurt if they weren’t invited.
One of our outings was based out of the Little Winnie Resort and it was typical Minnesota weather back then, dipping down to -20º below zero at night with plenty of deep snow.
One of our guests was outdoor writer John Little, aka “Whopper John”, from North Dakota. I had heard of this guy and didn’t know if I should believe it or not. He was famous for driving his Cadillac convertible all winter long, with the top down. Well, we’d see.
It was well below zero and had snowed pretty good the night before. Most of us had arrived for breakfast at the Gosh Dam Place and were sitting near the window when he showed up. I couldn’t believe it. What a sight!
The Cadillac was filled-level with snow and the only open spot was where he was sitting. It was a sight I’ll never forget.
Rumor had it, that on his way back home, he picked up a hitch-hiker and only drove a short distance before the guy begged to be let off on the road again. He couldn’t take the cold. (to be continued)
"I finally got the chance to fish Upper Red Lake last weekend and, as usual, it didn’t disappoint. A deciding factor was that fact that the lake now has resorts giving the go ahead for truck travel. Another strong point was the walleye were biting and very well.
I’m usually one of the early birds to fish this fun walleye factory but missed out this season due to sitting in a deer stand for two weeks. It was just killing me, hearing of the great fishing that was taking place, while I sat there with my .270, hoping for a nice buck. A normal year has the big lake getting underway after deer season, not before.
Prior our trip, I called Steve Brasel of Bear Paw Guide Service to get the low-down on what exactly was happening up there. He reported good ice with vehicle traffic taking place and the fishing was exceptional. Perfect.
Taking two trucks, we got a bit of a late start but that’s another plus when fishing Upper Red Lake. You don’t have to get there at first light to get in on a good walleye bite. As a matter of fact, early reports had many anglers doing very good around 11:00 am, with the morning action being a bit slower. This is perfect for the traveling angler, who spends a couple of hours on the road. You don’t have to get up at 4 am.
Arriving at the lake, Brasel met us on one of the well-maintained ice roads. We could have run most anywhere we wanted, as the snow was only 2” deep, but when a resort has a plowed road, why not stay on it for safety’s sake. You can drive to the desired location (well marked) and then move off the road a bit to explore and hopefully find that hot hole.
Steve reported ice thickness to be averaging 14” but there were areas of 17-18” ice as well. And I’m sure there were a few areas with less than 14”. It pays to listen to the resort owners and not run willy-nilly across the lake.
As expected, it was a little slow for us in the morning hours but when noon rolled around it was like someone had rang the dinner bell.
The first fish of the morning was a nice chunk caught by Burandt Liend. From then on, it was the “Justin Bailey Show”, as he put on a clinic (lucky). I managed to catch my limit but it was Justin who did the most damage.
The Upper Red Lake limit, by the way, is four fish (up one from last year) with only one of them being over 17” in length. This is a nice limit of fish for one person, as the fish are very healthy and look to be eating very well. Chunky.
The best presentation of the day was a chub minnow (we stopped at Fred’s Bait in Deer River for bait) stuck on the end of a plain, red hook and “dead-sticked” close to bottom (9 ½’). I used a sensitive “Quick Tip” rod, made by Tuned Up Custom Rods, placed on a “Rod Rocker” rod-holder. I like this set-up because there is no way that rod is going down the hole if you’re not paying attention to it.
Bailey did well by using a slip-bobber. He also did well by jigging a large, gold/orange colored “Macho Minnow”, tipped with a whole minnow and there were times when the largest minnow in the pail was triggering the most bites. Lookers? We had our fair-share of these guys too but that’s what makes it so much fun.
Bear Paw has thirteen rentals on the lake and almost all of them are booked for the season, with repeat customers coming back, time and time again. Brasel said “it’s to the point where any new customers have trouble in finding a vacancy.” It’s that busy and that’s a good thing.
I met the Brasel family fifteen years ago, when they first got started. This is when Upper Red Lake crappies ruled and yes, a few of them are still being caught, here and there, but it’s Minnesota’s state fish that rules supreme now and anglers are still flocking in droves to get in on the fun.
For more information on Bear Paw Guide Service, look them up on Facebook or call (218) 368-3755."
Yes, it’s been quite a ride on the ice fishing technology sled. The early years found me fishing without a shelter, electronics, rods/reels designed for ice fishing, and practically anything else created for today’s sport. We never even had any heat, except on those rare occasions when a campfire was lit on the ice. We just didn’t know any better. What were we thinking? It’s a wonder we even caught anything at all. We’ve come a long way baby.
We did have the old reliable 5-gallon bucket to put things in, which was usually a plethora of what we called “jig sticks”.
The jig sticks were our top-of-the-line fishing rods, which mainly consisted of 1) a wooden dowel 2-3’ long 2) some sort of rubber handle and 3) two pegs that your fishing line was wound onto. Broken hockey sticks were highly sought in making a new jig stick.
The best feature of the jig stick was the fact that you could stick it in the ice and there it sat until your bobber went down and this was the scary part, as some anglers would set the hook and toss the pointy stick back over their shoulder, not worried a bit if someone was going to lose an eye. Cousin Paul was good for this.
Preparation is key to fishing success. I spent as much time back then as I do now in getting things ready for a successful day on the lake. I remember going through all of my jig sticks, making sure new line was put on and if you were really stealthy, the pegs were spaced 1’ apart. This made it easy when letting out the proper amount of line, as each full wrap was 2’ in length.
We had no electronics and when asking other anglers how deep the fish were at, it was common to hear “four arm-lengths down” etc., which seemed to make sense back then. Looking back on it, I never took into consideration how long my arms were to a big man, like Keven McHale, who stands at 7’ tall. Taking his huge wing-span into consideration would have me fishing about 6’ off!
Back before we had a shelter of any kind, we stood out on the lake and used our only method of keeping warm and that was too keep our backs to the wind. Yes, primitive at best.
The holes frequently froze over but a constant, gentle kick with our “bunny boots” keep them open long enough to give the bobber a chance to go down. Many times, the floats were frozen in pretty good.
Then I read somewhere (probably in a Sports Afield or Field & Stream magazine) on how to keep a little finger-warming source of heat going on those bitter, bone-chilling days. This was to steal a roll of toilet paper out of the family bathroom and place it in one of those old metal coffee cans. The next step was to saturate it with white gas (Coleman lantern fuel).
Placing the coffee can cover back onto the can, it was carried along with all other supplies until some sort of warmth was needed out on the lake, then all one had to do was light it. It worked but you did find yourself kneeling down to the little heater and about all it was good for was warming your fingers. The rest of your body didn’t feel a lick of heat. I needed some sort of shelter.
Now, remember, this was in the days before any commercially made fishing shelters were available. Yes, there may have been a few floating around but I surely couldn’t afford one and that prompted me into building one of my own.
I went with the old “suitcase” style shelter that is still being manufactured to this day. All I had to do was scrounge up three pieces of plywood and some canvas and with the help of my uncle Francis, I had myself an ice fishing shelter.
It was great and not a bad product for a first attempt. It provided me with hundreds of hours of sheltered fishing fun. I was styling.
The next step to fishing success was some sort of electronics and this was before my Dave Genz encounter. I was actually thinking along those lines myself, before I met “The Godfather of Ice Fishing.”
I had a 100’ scale Lowrance flasher (digital graphs weren’t invented yet) that came into play. I took it off my 16’ Crestliner “Fish Hawk” and made a wooden box to house the unit, making it as portable as I knew how. That Crestliner, by the way, sported a livewell that was positioned dead-center in the middle of the boat. I had one of the first boats in the area with a livewell. So proud.
A tripod was configured to hold the transducer as straight as possible, over the center of the ice hole. It was in the middle and canted off to one side but it worked. I was thrilled.
So now I had a heavy, hard-pulling shelter, lousy source of heat, and an off-kilter transducer but I was catching fish. The next upgrade would have to be an auger.
Up until then, all I had was an 8” Mora hand auger. It cut good when new but anyone fishing as much as I did was bound to have auger blade issues, like me. They were expensive, so I tried sharpening them myself. It was odd. Sometimes it worked. Many times, however, it was totally frustrating.
I could get them so darn sharp that if you weren’t careful, you’d slice open your mitts trying to put the “new” blades on. Sharp as all-get-out, I’d get to the lake and find that all they did was spin and not cut down into the ice at all. This problem was usually corrected by “shimming.” Oh, those were the days.
I recall one outing with my buddy, Frankie, who borrowed an old “spoon” auger out of the family barn. We went to our lake of choice and found the auger as dull as could be. We ended up drilling two holes that day and it took him twisting on it, while I pulled down, and by the time we were done I had worn a hole in my leather glove.
There was a hole for each of us and not a fish was caught but do you know what? We were “enjoying” the Great Outdoors, as best we could, and the memory remains a good one. (to be continued)
It’s been smooth sailing out on the lakes, so far, this new ice season but that looks to come to a screeching halt with the predicted snowfall. Up until now, I’ve been walking on glare ice. Thank goodness for ice cleats.
I’ve ice fished five different lakes (four limits and one skunk) and have found good ice on all, measuring anywhere from 5-7” and although it’s more than enough for safe walking, it sure does look spooky at times.
What I’ve been doing, to ensure ice safety, is to drill a few holes, periodically, as I’m moving along but always keeping an eye on the ice cracks, as you can see exactly how thick the ice is. It’s been good.
The old phrase “out of sight, out of mind” certainly comes to mind here, as walking on a snow-covered lake gives one a false sense of security. I think this is when most accidents happen. Please be careful out there.
All of my ice drilling has been with a 6” “K-Drill.” This little unit, which is basically an industrial, battery operated drill, with a composite auger, weighs only nine pounds. This lightweight workhorse makes it super-easy when scouting out new water and several holes are needed, especially during the first ice period, when the ice is thin.
I visited the St Paul Ice Fishing & Winter Sports Show last weekend. It’s always nice to bump into old friends and check out new products. Many of which are coming from companies that I work with.
The Tuned Up Custom Rods booth was super-busy, as usual. Their new product for this season is the “Fusion” ice rod. Like the rest of the TUCR lineup, it offers various lengths, recoil guides, and can be customized to your specifications. Check them out at Thousand Lakes Sporting Goods in Cohasset or order on-line.
Another new product is Vexilar’s FLX-20, which sounds like a great unit for those that like fishing deep water lake trout. It’s similar to it’s big brother, the FLX-28 (which I use) but not quite the same. Anyone interested in checking out the new Vexilar should stop by this Saturday and visit with me. I’ll be at the Hibbing L&M store from 10-3. (See you then!)
Bovey’s own KMDA Inc. has a new fishing shelter on the market and they were also at the big show. Innovative, the “Ice Runner” is a “flip-over” style shelter that features a rear entry, which means no more stepping over open holes and red-hot heaters to make an exit.
Designed to keep the light out, it can also be used for spearing. This is where the back entry comes in super-handy, especially when having children with you in the dark house. You now don’t have to worry as much about them falling in that big, open, spearing hole, as they have no reason to walk forward. It’s just “come in through the back and sit down.”
There are many creative features to this new shelter. Some of which are a sky-light, vertical (and replaceable) windows, thermal warmth, and the best yet (for me anyway) lightweight. The large 3-person “Expedition” weighs in at 70 pounds and the smaller “Explorer” at 50 pounds. This is so nice to unload/load when fishing solo, as I do most of the time. Cool black/green colors look pretty sharp too.
Priced right, they can be purchased locally at Fred’s Bait, Lucky 7 stores (that sell ice stuff), Frontier Sports, and Sportsman’s Guide online. Also, those traveling to the Duluth Ice Show can check them out at Marine General.
So, dig out those shovels and snow blowers and pray we don’t get too much. Also, be super-careful on the lakes and keep in mind that the larger lakes have very little ice and some may still be wide open. Stick to the small waters, be safe, and have fun.
"Now that the deer season has ended, for me anyway (I know many others will be out muzzle loading), I can focus on doing a little ice fishing. It was killing me, getting ready to go to the deer stand each morning, knowing others were having good success through the ice. It’s been a long time since we’ve had good ice during Thanksgiving weekend.
The first trip of the new season was spent with my son, Kris, and his youngest daughter, Claire. We would be visiting the Red Lake Nation and fishing for rainbows and brook trout with native guide Daris Rosebear of Rosebear Guide Service.
Touching base with Daris, prior the trip, I made sure of ice safety. I knew he was catching fish (a lot of them) by watching his many posts on Facebook. Plans were made.
He wanted to meet us at 6:30 am so I planned on leaving my house at 4:00 am. From there, I’d run north of Nashwauk, to my son’s house, pick up my guests, and head toward Bemidji. I’d been telling Kris of the fun fishing to be had on the reservation and now he was getting a first-hand look at it.
Early in the week, I checked over the weather forecast and saw that we were going to be dealing with some rain. The temperature, however, was slated to be 41º. Not bad. Later in the week, the forecast declared no rain and the same temp. Excellent. Things were looking up.
Early in the trip, a light drizzle was falling on the windshield and at times was coming down pretty good.
I had to “hot-foot” it, as it looked like I was going to be running late (always when driving to the reservation). I usually give myself two hours to get there, from Keewatin, but after making a half-dozen trips there, I found I’m better off giving myself 2 ½ hours, as a fast food breakfast stop is usually made in Bemidji (yes, I’m a health nut).
Meeting Daris at the Red Lake “cop shop”, for permits, other guests were there doing the same. We’d be a part of the same group. Thankfully they just got there themselves and I didn’t hold anyone up.
Like ducklings, we all followed our fearless leader to the lake. Having been there before, it immediately brought back great memories but a closer look at the lake had me doing a double-take. It looked like open water! Not to worry. It was just glare ice. The rain had melted any snow that was on the little lake and it looked a little scary. Drilling a few holes, I found all ice to be in the 5-6” range and plenty safe for walking (make sure to bring your ice cleats).
Rosebear was coordinating four separate groups on this day and this is never a problem, as we each set up in different areas. He continually checks on everyone throughout the day, making the rounds.
If it’s a slower than expected bite for someone, he re-locates them to an area that is producing more fish. Usually, it’s pretty darn good nearly anyplace you happen to drill a hole. Yes, it’s that good.
We were set up in deeper water, 30’, and started catching fish that came through suspended, along with a few that were frequenting bottom.
Some anglers were sight fishing, closer to shore, in 3-6’ of water. It was here that one would have a better chance of catching some nice brook trout. We moved around a little bit, staying deeper, and still managed to catch a few brookies. Most all our fish, however, were rainbows but that’s okay. We’ll take it!
Thankfully, we were sitting inside a hub shelter, high and dry, because it rained for the better half of the morning.
Kris, Claire, and I caught the same amount of fish and put together a nice limit to take home. The limit, for Kris and me, was five each, and three for Claire. Kris and I each had to purchase a $10 permit that allowed us to fish on the reservation (long as you are with a guide). There was no charge for Claire (16 and under free) but her limit was less.
Best baits were just about anything you happened to put on. We used small jigging spoons, fished naked (no bait on the spoon) and sometimes tipped with a preserved minnow or piece of nightcrawler.
Fishing a half-day, we left the lake around noon and headed home. I thought “how odd is this? It was 41º at 4:30 am, when heading to the lake, and 41º on the way home.”
Once home, I gave my fish to Kris (typical of me). All trout were destined to the smoker. Can’t wait!
For more info on a trip with Rosebear Guide Service, check it out on Facebook or give Daris a call at 218-214-0018.
I was using my “Bull Whip” and “Quick Tip” ice fishing rods, made by Tuned Up Custom Rods. To check out these rods and get a good look at an honest-to-goodness true custom rod, stop by and visit me this Saturday at the TUCR booth at the St Paul Ice Fishing & Winter Sports Show. Til next time!
Plenty of deer were seen, thirty-four of them to be exact, but almost all were out of range. That happens when you hunt powerlines. I did, have a couple closer shots but wasn’t quick enough to get the scope on them.
On one of my last days (and this is probably what ended my season), I walked an icy trail up north for over six miles. Under normal conditions, it wouldn’t have been so bad, but bracing myself every inch of the way, my hips and legs were quite sore at days end.
Getting late in the afternoon, I kept on hoofing it and was wondering if I might have taken a wrong turn, somewhere down the line, as my parked truck was never around that next bend. I thought to myself “this is going to be a slight bit embarrassing if I have to call my son to come and find me with his Honda side-by-side.” Luckily, I had just enough service to message him, if I needed to. At least I had that going for me.
Packed for the day, I also had a nice little lunch left in my backpack.
Ah, there it was. The truck. Feeling exhausted, I started it up, turned on the radio and heater, and let it run while I had the fore-mentioned lunch. A hot cup of coffee and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich was on the menu. About half-way into it, I found something hard while chewing. Thinking it was “something” in the jelly, I spit it out and took a good look at it and while studying the little particle, my tongue found a jagged hole in one of my teeth. A filling had fallen out! And that’s pretty much how I ended my season.
How nice it was, to sit in the house over the weekend and recover. I was able to get a good start on my ice fishing equipment and watch a few sports games as well (yes, I watched the Gopher football game and it was brutal, with us losing to Northwestern 39-0).
At the time of this writing, Sunday morning, the Vikings have yet to play the Rams and it’s supposed to be a good one, with Los Angeles favored to win. Never-the-less, the Vikings are having a great season thus far, as is the Gopher men’s basketball team, which has started out the season 3-0 and play later this afternoon.
“Let ‘Em Go, Let ‘Em Grow” – This phrase is most often used, relating to fishing, but my youngest granddaughter, Claire, age 11, said this while sitting in a ground blind with her father, Kris. A young “button buck” came out and was easy prey. However, after being in Claire’s scope for a while, she whispered “let it grow” and passed on the animal. She’s quite the little outdoorswomen.
Getting ready for the ice fishing season has become a lot easier, now that I have a couple of rod boxes, made by “IceFishing Innovations.” My good rods, made by “Tuned Up Custom Rods”, are stored in these cases all summer long and it makes it so easy to get started again. All I need to do is open the box and I’m ready to go. I do, however, replace the fishing line.
One box is jam-packed with panfish rods and the other is used for walleye. All rods feature Pfluger “President” spinning reels, which in my opinion, are the best reel for the money, as they’ve worked very well for me.
“Fusion Ice Fishing Rods” - All new for this winter are the “Fusion” rods from Tuned Up Custom Rods. This rod has been in the works for well over a year. TUCR wanted a rod that would suit the panfish angler, all the way up to the finesse walleye fisherman. After several months of testing, TUCR finally built the perfect rod for this application.
The Fusion rod will handle a 1/16 oz. bait all the way up to a 1/8 oz. bait. TUCR even went as far as using a size 4 “Live Target” bait and the new Fusion exceeded their expectations. This is a slower action rod than what the good people at Tuned Up have built in the past.
They did this because of a need for a rod that made for an easier hook set and one that would load up, absolutely perfect, under any condition. With its dark gloss blue, solid carbon blank, to its black anodized recoil guides, this rod will NOT disappoint.
Tuned Up Custom Rods is based out of Coon Rapids, MN. But they can be purchased locally at Thousand Lakes Sporting Goods in Cohasset. For more on Tuned Up Custom Rods, go to their website at tunedupcustomrods.com
Be careful on the ice everybody. It’s still touch and go out there. Many little lakes have locked up, while larger waters are still wide open. Have a nice Thanksgiving all!
" It looks like the snow is here to stay. I never thought I’d see this happen. Never-the-less, it’s been great for hunting. However, things do manage to get a little trampled up and tracked over, making it somewhat difficult in reading the trails, but a light, flaky snowfall happens overnight and we’re good to go again. The air temps have been favorable too. Perfect!
We’ve only had a slight bit of poor weather and that was a dreary, freezing drizzle afternoon, one that cost me a nice deer. Yes, I’ll blame the weather.
A super-strong south wind found me slowly heading into it. There was no way a deer could smell or hear me and walking up to one was proof of that.
As I reached the top of a small hill, a nice little buck was walking toward me, quartering off to my right, with its head down. It didn’t see me, so I slowly backed down and out of sight. Looking through my scope, I found it to be covered in a thin film of ice.
Quickly wiping it as clean as I could get it, I waited for the deer to break the hill. It was at this time that I heard it blow at me. It had changed direction and came up on my left. I was busted! Needless-to-say, I never got a shot off.
I’ve seen a fair amount of deer but almost all of them have been out of range. That happens when you’re able to see a long way. At least it’s not too boring. There’s nothing worse than sitting all day long and not seeing anything at all.
An avid deer-hunting friend of mine hunts further up north and has endured this experience. Diligently sitting in his stand, for over a week, from dark to dark, he has only seen one doe. That’s a lot of hours. It may be slow, in seeing deer, but his ever-lasting patience has found him bagging some very nice whitetails throughout the years.
The wolves seem to be spread evenly across the North Country, as most everyone has seen them, either while hunting or on trail cameras. I’ve seen a few tracks but not all that much, just typical for northern Minnesota.
I had to chuckle at an incident, when my youngest granddaughter was sitting in a ground blind with her father. At 11 years old, she’s really quite savvy, when it comes to deer hunting, and puts in as long a day as anyone. I’m impressed.
Scanning a little opening, using binoculars, she says “dad, I see a dog. It’s wagging its tail.” Dad says “there shouldn’t be any dogs out here. That’s probably a wolf.”
Many people are already ice fishing and it’s really killing me, sitting in a stand, thinking of them walking out on Upper Red Lake, where walleyes are being caught. The Minnesota DNR has raised the limit a tad, for this winter, saying “Anglers fishing Upper Red Lake in northwestern Minnesota this winter will be able to keep four walleye of which only one may be longer than 17 inches.
“Harvest under a three fish bag limit last year resulted in approximately 109,000 pounds for the winter season,” said Gary Barnard, DNR area fisheries supervisor in Bemidji. “Total harvest for the past winter and summer seasons combined was below the target harvest range so there is room for additional harvest this year.”
I can’t wait to get up there. Some of my fishing pals, the ones that don’t hunt, are already taking advantage of the early ice and although the report is that the water is a little turbid, for the time being, fish are being caught.
Foot travel has been the preferred method for getting out to those little hot-spots but the ice is thickening up each and every day so atvs will be running out there very soon. Be sure to give the resorts a call before heading up to get the latest (and safest) report, regarding ice conditions and fishing success.
A recent report from Rogers on Red says “Currently we are still at foot traffic and will stay there through the week. We do have 5-6 inches of ice out to 10-12 feet of water but with the warm up we expect the ice sheet to expand and bust up if we allowed wheelers out earlier. We will most likely allow wheeler traffic next weekend.
Water clarity has improved to 14 inches over the last couple of days with fishing improving every day. We will start bringing our 2-mans out on the ice for rental November 23rd!
For more information, go to their Facebook page or call (218) 647-8262.
Also, I talked to Daris Rosebear last Monday and he was just heading out to check the trout lakes for ice fishing. You owe it to yourselves to get over there and enjoy a day with him on the Red Lake Reservation. It’s incredible ice fishing. For more on fishing with Daris, check out his Facebook page Rosebear Guide Service.
Yes, my friends, it’s all happening right NOW. Good luck with the final days of deer season, have fun, and be safe.
"The long-awaited firearms deer season is finally here. How many are ready for Saturday morning? I’m not. There’s always something to take care of. It never fails. As of last Monday, I still need to freshen up my hunting clothes and ready a few supplies.
Plenty of time was spent working on deer stands, over the past two weeks. Years ago, that never happened, mainly due-to-the-fact that we never had the luxurious stands that many use today. All we had was a couple of 2x4s nailed between two trees, if that. Many times, we never even had a stand and did a lot of hunting from the ground.
I recall shooting my first deer, while standing on the edge of a small meadow, on the last half-day of the season. Dad made a little swing through the area and lo and behold, there it was. Like magic, it appeared from nowhere. Only twelve years old and using a .410 with slugs, it seems like yesterday, as that experience is still so very fresh in my mind, along with many others.
As a matter-of-fact, most all my deer came from shooting while on the ground. That’s just the way it was back then. And cold. It was usually very cold and there we were, sitting on a stump somewhere, trying not to shiver. We made a lot of deer drives back then and now I can see why.
My son and I talked of the “old days”, when good stands were a rarity, along with good quality boots and clothing. The winter boots, back then, were fine long as you were on the move and kept the blood flowing. They certainly weren’t designed for sitting for hours on end in -10º weather. That just didn’t happen.
The warmest boots we used were the old, white, felt “bunny boots.” You actually did resemble a rabbit, as they were quite big in the toe area and although warm, they were probably the slipperiest footwear on the market. Carrying around a loaded rifle, wearing bunny boots, just wasn’t a good fit, as at some point you were going down.
And who can remember the old “moon boot” craze. Probably the best feature about these boots was the fact that they were light and somewhat warm, until you got them wet, which was about 15 minutes into the hunt.
Yes, we’ve got it pretty good these days. There are so many more options, when it comes to hunting rifles, scopes, clothing, boots, stands, and other needed gear. There’s almost no excuse for being uncomfortable while in the field.
The snow looks like it’s going to be around for a while, unless it warms up after deer season. But for now, we’ve got a perfect amount of “tracking snow”, which should make the hunting a whole lot easier. How many times did we have mosquitos buzzing around during the deer season? Not this time.
I still think back on passing on a true trophy buck many years ago. Very windy, you could walk right up on a deer, giving the right situation, which I had on this day.
I spotted a huge buck, standing in an opening, feeding. It would walk a couple steps and then stop to eat, with its head disappearing into the tall grass. Every time it did this, I would move closer. I finally got as close as I dared, without spooking the animal, but was still too far away for a decent shot.
Two factors were taken into consideration. One, I was using my old 30-30, with open sights. The deer was far enough away that the bead covered the entire animal. Not good.
Two, there wasn’t any snow. A long shot like that wasn’t good at all. I didn’t want to wound the big buck and have it run off to die somewhere. I tried rattling but it was so windy it couldn’t be heard. Watching for a long time, it eventually sauntered off into the brush.
This one would have been my largest deer, ever, but I know deep down I made the right call. It’s just tough to do at times.
Checking over my back-pack, I found some of those disposable hand warmers (“heat bags”). You know the kind. Open them up, shake them a bit, and you’re good for the whole day. I think it’s best to toss the old ones and go with new because there is somewhat of a shelf life with these things. I recall buying some from a local convenience store, that were last year’s stock, and they didn’t work very good at all. Just a reminder.
Good luck to all this weekend, have fun, and be safe! - Greg Clusiau
My last fall panfish trip, entered into the books as #46, found me spending more time on the road than it did to catch a nice limit. I wasn’t going to fish on this day but was curious how a friend of mine, Doug Robinson, was doing.
Doug, a Twin Cities resident, had just purchased a new boat and headed north to try it out. Staying at the Gosh Dam Place, his first day was a bust, as far as putting fishing in the boat. He did, however, get a chance to run the motor enough to break it in and was looking for a decent bite on day two. I had just the place.
When I arrived, he was already doing well. It was the perfect lake, as it had plenty of hungry fish and was small enough to get out of the strong winds. I stayed just long enough to visit and catch a few fish in the process and headed back home.
Somewhat a long drive, it gave me plenty of time to daydream and with deer season right on our heels, naturally, many thoughts were of whitetails. In this case, it was about the ones that I had hit with a vehicle.
In all my years of driving up north, on deer-infested roads, I am a little surprised that only three have met their demise due to my driving. Looking back at these hapless incidents, each one had something to do with fishing. Imagine that.
Deer crash #1 – It was early morning and Jack Ostrander and I were heading to a local bass tournament, held on Wabana Lake. I was driving my old Scout, pulling the boat, when a big doe jumped in front of us. It happens quick. The next thing I knew, it was right in front of that big square front end and the impact was something else.
Hopping out of the vehicle, checking for damage, the only thing wrong was a broken headlight. I figured for sure that the radiator would be leaking but we were still in the game. Unfortunately, the deer wasn’t.
Deer crash #2 – Big Jerry and Doug, regular guide clients from St Paul, fished with me late into the evening and their catch was substantial. Being the good guy that I am, I told them I would clean their catch and have them ready for the trip back home. All they had to do was meet me in the morning.
Plans went right on schedule, sort of. Jerry and Doug pulled up next to me and they look on their faces was almost worth the trouble I just had.
On my way to meet them, driving my little Bronco II, a six-point buck ran into the passenger side of my vehicle and practically totaled it. There was dented metal and broken glass all over the place. The odd thing, was that the deer bolted off into the woods, as if nothing happened. The truck, however, looked pretty sad.
Deer crash #3 – It was Thanksgiving weekend and back when Terry Wickstrom and I put on our annual “Minnesota Masters of Ice fishing” event, back when we had ice during this time. We tried to have a different base camp each year and this time it was held at the A-frame cabin on Little Bear Lake.
My Blazer was packed full of supplies and things were going along quite well until a young deer ran into the side of my truck. It surprised the daylights out of me, as it took place in a swampy, bog area that never had deer crossing the road. This time it did. The poor little deer might have been chased out onto the road by wolves.
I’m a little ahead of schedule, when it comes to deer hunting preparation, and sighted in the rifle last week. I surprised myself by overlapping bullet holes at 100 yards. Good enough.
This week, I’ll will be taking care of hunting clothes and hopefully finishing up our deer stands. We’ve still got quite a bit to do there.
Enjoy the lakes while you still can. It looks like some sour weather will be visiting us shortly.
Fishing success has been hot or cold for me, depending on where I end up. For the most part, it’s been pretty darn good but I don’t really care to “go to the well” that often and beat up on one particular fishery. That leaves me checking out other bodies of water, mainly out of curiosity, and sometimes it’s just not that good.
I’ve two weeks left to boat fishing, if the weather holds, and it looks like it’s going to. Then it’s time for two weeks of deer hunting and as usual, I’m not very prepared. Too much fishing in my life to worry about other things.
The weather forecast for this week looks wonderful, with warming temperatures and plenty of sun. This works well for me, as I have someone to take fishing over MEA weekend. The fish are already positioned in their fall locations so they aren’t going anywhere. Perfect.
I picked up my deer hunting license and as I walked out of the store it dawned on me what a good deal it is at $31. Two weeks of spending quality time in the woods with friends and family, along with the chance at harvesting a whitetail for a small fee. Not bad. Next year, however, it looks like the cost will go up a little, which I’m just fine with. It’ll be worth it.
New for this season is a change in the blaze clothing requirements. Blaze pink can now be used. Stated in the Minnesota Hunting & Trapping Regulations, it says “All hunters and trappers in the field during the open firearms/muzzleloader deer seasons must display blaze orange or pink on the visible portion of the person’s cap and outer clothing above the waist, excluding the sleeves and gloves.”
Also, another new regulation is in place regarding bonus tags. The regulation handbook states “After a deer season is open, a bonus permit is valid the same day of purchase if it is purchased before legal shooting hours.”
I see area 179, where I hunt, is now listed as a “hunter choice” area, which allows the hunter to take one deer of either sex with your regular license. Hmm. That’s a nice option but I’ll probably hold out for a buck until later in the season. We’ll see how that goes. We’ll see just how desperate I am in the late going.
I know there “should” be plenty of shooting, in my neck of the woods, as I will be hunting with my son and his three daughters. Claire, the youngest, bagged two last year at the ripe old age of 10. I didn’t get mine until 12, hunting on the last half of the last day with my father. Fifty-six years ago, that memory is still fresh in my mind. I gave grandson, Orrin Holmbeck, the rack, a spike buck. I should mention that I bagged the “big buck” with one shot through the neck, with a .410 slug, my well-used partridge gun.
Most hunters “bait” early in the season so they can get a good look, via trail cameras, at what lurks and lives in their hunting area and they’ve seen just about everything except bigfoot. It’s amazing at just how popular trail cameras have become. I did it when they first came out and had to use 35mm film. I can’t begin to tell you how many times I went to get the film developed and found nothing on it. Depressing. Thank goodness for digital cameras.
Keep in mind that all bait must be completely removed for 10 days prior to hunting.
Definitions of bait includes grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, hay, or other food that is capable of attracting or enticing deer and has been placed by a person.
What is bait? The handbook states “Liquid scents (example: doe in heat), sprays, salt, and minerals are not bait if they do not contain liquid or solid food products. (Is it just me or does this sound confusing?)
It goes on to say “Read the ingredient label on all products prior to use. Many products, including newer liquid, powder and block forms, contain food or attractants such as grains, fruits, and sugar derivatives (glucose, dextrose, and fructose). If a salt or mineral product has anything other than salt or mineral in it, it is illegal to use for hunting.
Well, I guess it time to dig out those old hunting clothes and clean them up. May have to squeeze off a few shots as well.
Good luck out there, be safe and have fun!
Fall fishing has been as expected and the adage “feast or famine” best describes it. Some days have been stellar, while some have been real stinkers.
Having done exceptionally well on one of my favorite crappie lakes, I returned a week later, only to find the fish in a real funk. They were in the same general area but were sitting tight to the bottom and it took lot of coaxing to get them interested in a bait. Yes. It was struggle time, once again. A return trip found them in the same mood. Other lakes have been treating me the same, with some days good and some days not so good.
We’re truly blessed to live where we do, as there’s enough water for everyone. Many times, I never see another boat all day long but go to a popular fall fishing lake and look out! It seems more and more people are getting “into it” and I honestly like that but I sometimes wonder if I should have written about it so often. Maybe there wouldn’t be so much fall crappie angling pressure?
One thing I’ve noticed is once the word gets out, anglers flock to a handful of popular lakes every year but never really explore other waters. Don’t they realize that the fish are behaving pretty much the same across the North Country? It sure makes me wonder.
When I first started fishing Pelican Lake in the fall, I was usually the only one out there. Nowadays there is an average of 15 to 20 boats out there on weekends. Sand Lake is the same, along with a few others. The crappie populations are taking a beating. Luckily, we have a lot of lakes.
On the plus side, resorts must be quite busy during this time, when compared to years back, as I’ve noticed many out-of-state anglers out there having fun and that’s all good. I like to see that.
I remember Cut Foot Sioux 30 years ago, when most all went there in search of the great fall walleye bite. Finding a parking place was a challenge. You had to get there very early.
I was fishing for fall crappie back then and more-than-likely the only one doing so. On a recent trip to Cut Foot, I, once again, found the parking lot full and was a little surprised when I got out onto the lake, as most all of them were fishing for crappies.
Changing it up a bit, I did a little walleye fishing last week and almost forgot how much fun that can be. I just love a good jig bite. On one of the days, my son and youngest granddaughter hopped in the boat with me and that’s always fun, even if it’s a little slow fishing.
Yes, fall is in the air. You can smell it and it honestly doesn’t smell very good at all, when you get right down to it. I noticed this last week, on one of those sunny, calm days, while sitting on the lake. The pungent, somewhat stinking odor of dead and decaying leaves was very noticeable and although it really stinks, it’s actually a good smell because it’s a reminder that fall is here and seasons are changing.
Heading out early to the lake the other day, I noticed a big doe on the side of the road and could tell she was going to cross in front of me. Luckily, I slowed down because right behind her was an eight-point buck, which I narrowly missed. Slamming on the brakes, I could hear all items in the truck box sliding to the front. One was a $600 Vexilar that came out unscathed.
I still haven’t seen too many ducks or geese but notice quite a few waterfowl hunters out there “giving it a shot.” I used to hunt grouse and ducks a lot but you can’t do it all. I guess I’ll just stick with the fishing until deer season rolls around and that’s not too far off.
We touched base throughout the summer and spoke of getting together for a day in the boat but now fall was upon us and pleasant days were numbered. Last Wednesday looked good, sandwiched in between horrible weather. We were going to make it happen.
Meeting for breakfast at Wizard’s in Nashwauk, we took our time and let it warm up a tad before heading out. That’s one thing about fall crappie fishing. You don’t have to get there early and fishing from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm usually works just fine. Some call it “banker’s hours”, which is quite appropriate, as Patti had just recently retired from working at the bank. Terese, a nurse, was still working but managed a mid-week day off. Me? Well, we all know that story.
We’ve always been close to a lake or two, growing up on Buck Lake and staying at the cabins on Big and Little Bear Lakes, but had never fished together. Still loving the water, Patti now resides on O’Leary Lake, while Terese has a cabin on Buck Lake. It’s odd. Living on a lake, one would think that they would do a fair amount of fishing but no. Maybe that’s why I live in town? I like to fish them all.
My fall crappie fishing ritual has me spending a lot of time on the water so I had a very good handle on which lakes were producing. As a matter-of-fact, going into the trip, I had recorded twenty-eight outings in search of panfish and that’s only through this fall. We’ve got a whole month or so left.
Some of the lakes offered large crappies but they were hard to find and once found, proved equally hard to catch. I ruled these waters out in a hurry. We were going to be out there for fun and that usually means catching a lot of fish. I needed action!
So, with that said, we headed north on the Scenic Highway and launched the boat in a little crappie factory. I had been there two days prior and they were biting pretty good and although most fish were smaller than desired, every-once-in-a-while a nice one would make an appearance. It was just enough to make it interesting. Perfect.
Many of the lakes are in a transition stage right now because of the warmer weather we’ve been enjoying. Fish can sometimes be hard to find during this period, as they prefer locating fairly-tight to structure. This lake, however, had them scattered across the lake bottom, and although they were hugging bottom, there were enough of them in this large school that if you fished it long enough, you’d get bit. There’s always a hungry one or two in the bunch.
Outfitting the “girls” with Tuned Up Custom Rods “Apex” ultra-lights, the lightest of bites were easily detected. This made all the difference in the world.
If there was any problem at all, it was I had to get them to set the hook with authority, not just a half-hearted lift and expect to have a fish on the end of the line.
I told them, like all my guests, “when you feel a bite, try to break the rod.” Now, I know that sounds a little goofy but you need to drive the hook home and you’re never going to break these light rods. Designed to feel, or see, the lightest of bites, there’s plenty of bend in them. There’s also plenty of strength.
Terese recanted a little story of her fishing off the dock on Buck Lake. Casting out a Dardevle, she was reeling in and saw a big northern pike closing in on the spoon, whereas she pulled the bait away from it. Apparently, the fish was too big and she didn’t want anything to do with it. Isn’t that why we’re out there in the first place, to catch the BIG ONE. Oh, those girls.
I remember one of Patti’s experiences, as I was on the pontoon boat with her when it happened. I believe she was only four years old and the whole family was out on Big Bear Lake, anchored, trying to catch a few walleyes for supper.
A large family, there wasn’t enough rods to go around so dad out-fitted her with only a reel, just to keep her happy, which she usually is anyway. I was fishing on the other side of the pontoon, when I had a nice bite, and was pulling for all I was worth. Dad was helping Patti, who also had a good fish on.
Here, we were hooked together and I was trying to land the four pound walleye that Patti had caught with only a reel. I haven’t forgiven her to this day.
It was certainly nice to get out with my sisters, especially when it was a first-time occurrence. Might just have to do that again.
Good luck, be safe, have fun, and take a sister fishing.
Just when things were looking pretty darn good, with fish biting well all over the place, I was faced with one of those struggle times and that happens from time-to-time.
I started the week off doing quite well in my crappie fishing. One of the lakes, a fall favorite, offered a good number of hungry fish pushing the 12” mark. A few others were cooperative as well, giving up several crappies, with some of them in the 11” to 12” range. Most, however, were smaller fish and that’s okay, as it’s always fun getting bit.
Starting last Wednesday, however, after an early morning display of thunder and lightning, things went drastically south and I had to pull out all stops to catch anything at all.
The next morning, it was 36º, so I bundled up (I love it when it’s cool out) and headed to another lake. Fishing was tough, as I expected on this body of water. I make at least one trip here each fall just to see if I can find a large school of fish but it hasn’t happened yet. There are always a few fish taken, during this period, that relate to humps but never in the deeper mid-lake basin.
Each lake is different and I continue to be baffled by a few of them.
The rest of the week was some of the same, with air temperatures rising into the 80’s. Since then, water temps have raised back up a couple of degrees into the mid-60’s. Now, I’m not sure if this has anything to do with anything but something has sure put these fish into a funk and the recent strong winds surely didn’t help matters.
Always up very early, I usually check out the days weather forecast and plan my fishing outing accordingly. Last Friday had a storm rolling through the area, coming from the west, but it looked to be a quick one. With that in mind, I took off, headlong into the teeth of the bad weather, before first light.
It was quick and impressive display, as the lightning was non-stop. Along with this front was heavy rain and strong winds. Wondering if it was the right call, I finally drove through it and found calmer waters awaiting. I think I surprised the AIS worker waiting for a little company at the public access, as I was the first one there.
Needless-to-say, it was, once again, one of those tough outings. Only giving it a couple of hours, I packed up and headed to one of my reliable, good lakes. Here too, I struggled, catching only one nice fish. They were found lying tight to bottom and as finicky as all get out. Something had affected these fish.
We, as humans, don’t pick up on the little things that affect fish and game. I’m glad it’s like this, as it makes it more of a challenge. I always say, “just when I had it all figured out, Mother Nature threw me a curveball.” Like Byron Buxton, I often swing wildly with poor results.
I have several rods, pre-rigged, with various panfish presentations. They range from basic ¼ oz. jigs, that can be tipped with minnows or plastics, for when the fish are aggressive, all the way down to the smallest of hair jigs, 1/80 oz., that can be tipped with wax worms, for when the fish are more tightly lipped. Basically, the rods are rigged to deal with the entire range of fish moods.
In the middle of this selection are rods rigged with vertical jigging baits, like “Puppet Minnows” and “Jigging Raps”, small spoons, smaller jigs, tube jigs and plastics, etc. I cover it all and am often surprised at what the fish want. It’s often not what expect.
Normally, I’ll bring along a scoop of crappie minnows and prior that horrible last week, found crappies preferring larger minnows, over plastics. This is when things are good and they’re biting well.
The standard crappie minnow is fairly-small in size and finding a large one in the pail can be difficult. With that in mind, my recent outings had me purchasing chub minnows, used mainly for walleye fishing.
On a normal day, using a larger minnow will sometimes keep the smaller fish at bay, allowing you to catch better size crappies.
Well, wouldn’t you know it? The fishing was tough to the point where there wasn’t a crappie anywhere that would want a large minnow. This had me using small pieces of minnows to get a bite. Yes, I tried small plastics too but they wouldn’t have anything to do with it. Many times, they prefer the natural scent of a minnow.
Last Saturday, the opening day of duck season, had me fishing two lakes. And just for the record, I haven’t seen too many ducks around. It’s not like normal.
The first lake normally has a few ducks on it but was almost void of any waterfowl at all. The second, however, had several dozen ducks and geese, rising out of the rice, as I trolled past. I was surprised no one was out there, as it can be good, but realized the heavy, miserable, early-morning rains must have kept a lot of hunters home on this opener.
I’m looking forward to this Wednesday, when I will be taking out some special guests. This will be fun. Stay tuned.
There’s better days ahead my friends. Be sure to get out there and enjoy the Great Outdoors.
Lakes are cooling down to the point where it’s going to be “game on” practically anywhere you care to fish and I’m talking deep-water fall crappies here. I guess we can toss a few bluegills into the mix as well, as they often frequent the same areas.
Prior this writing, very early Monday morning, I’ve enjoyed over a dozen trips in hot pursuit of fall crappies and have found the lakes that are producing best for me to have fish in transition mode. This means they aren’t in the deeper basins yet, as they will be in October, but are well on their way.
Instead of being scattered across the 35’ depths, close to bottom, they are now hanging tight to break lines in the 19-21’ depths. This, of course, is the findings on some of the lakes that I fish. Other lakes, however, could have fish deeper than that. They’re all different.
Anxious for things to really get going, I’ve fished ten lakes so far and only four of them have fish stacked up to the point where it’s easy to go out and catch a bunch of crappies. Not to worry. It will be happening here right quick.
Another thing I’ve noticed is the fish’s preference for live bait over plastics. I usually bring along a scoop of crappie minnows “just in case” and have been glad I did, as they have been a little on the picky side. I normally don’t care to use minnows and this is because I hate taking care of them. Now, however, the cool temps make it a whole lot easier. All I do is change water and drop in the aerator, when I get home, and they’re good to go the next morning.
My overall best presentation, this year, as well as throughout the past many years, is a basic Northland Tackle “Fire-Ball” jig tipped with a minnow. Sometimes color makes a difference so I keep “switching it up” until I find something they like. I’ve done very well using “glow-in-the-dark” but am all out of them because it’s my favorite. Those darn northern pike! It’s time to re-order.
The size of jig, usually a 1/8 or ¼ oz., depends on the depth I am fishing, as well as how active the fish are. One would think that a larger jig would be too much for the crappie’s mouth but they can really eat-it-up when they want to. The larger jig works well, especially when fishing deep. The extra weight works wonders.
Often, the fish are suspended and when this happens they are usually quite active. Many times, the fish are only 15’ below the boat and while they normally bite with reckless abandon, staying on top of them can be difficult at times, especially when it’s windy.
When deep and relating close to or right on bottom, I like to use a heavy jig and minnow, slowly dragging it in front of their faces. They just can’t pass it up.
A rod with a very soft tip is preferred for this method, as sometimes all you will notice is a slight bending of the rod tip. While using this type of rod allows you to see the bite, and many times feel it, it also forces you to set the hook hard, as there’s a lot of bending taking place before there’s direct contact with the fish. Great fun!
Fussy bites usually require the use of smaller baits. The only problem here is that because of the diminutive size of the offering, you are more susceptible to catching smaller fish. It’s part of the game, something you will have to deal with, but at least you’re catching.
I made a trip to the Red Lake Nation to fish with guide Daris Rosebear and what a trip it was. The panfish were stacked up and biting very good.
Joined by Mike Gaede, Grand Rapids, we started out bass fishing, as there are some real hogs in this water. It was slow going, however, with me catching the only two, which were real nice fish. Thinking all along of the many nice panfish that were so close at hand, we regrouped and within minutes were catching fish after fish. It was incredible.
We played with the bluegills for an hour or so before looking for the crappies and when we found them, wow. Fish after fish, averaging 12” inches. The bluegills weren’t anything to sneeze at either, with some of them reaching the 11” mark! Awesome.
This bite will last until things start to freeze up and it’s an easy trip to make. For more info on fishing with Daris, contact him on Facebook at Rosebears Guide Service or phone 218-214-0018.
Terry Wickstrom and I got together last week for one of our annual fishing outings. Largemouth bass were the targeted species and Terry had brought along some new baits to test out on one of our favorite fish. Wickstrom, who has worked with Berkley for decades, was anxious to see just how well they worked. So was I.
The bait, called “MaxScent”, a hybrid of sorts, is best described as a cross between the standard “PowerBait” and “GULP!”, whereas it still maintains the soft and durable properties of PowerBait while offering the famed characteristics of GULP!, that being it releases a super-charged enhanced flavor into the water and keeps fish from letting go.
Terry started out using the 8” Blue Fleck colored worm called the “Kingtail” and I a 6” of the same color called the “Lunch Worm.” Now, I don’t know about you but I had a good feeling right from the get-go. How could I go wrong using a plastic worm called “Lunch Worm?” Hopefully the bass would consider it more than a light snack.
Fishing was slow on this day and the first bite was hard to come by. Eventually, I caught a nice bass and followed up with another. Thinking the 8” worm might be too big on this day, Terry cut off an inch, from the head of the worm, and was now was using a modified 7” version. Within minutes, he had a very nice largemouth grabbing ahold of it. Sometimes it’s the little things that can lead to big differences. Never be afraid to “doctor” your baits.
Trading off, we seemingly took turns catching fish, with a hungry bass making its way into the boat every twenty minutes or so. As I said, it was tough fishing and not because we were using new baits that we weren’t sure how well they would produce. As a matter-of-fact, I’d change lures quite often and couldn’t catch a fish on any of my other tried-and-true presentations. Over the course of two days on the water, every fish was caught with the new “MaxScent” lures and this was during difficult times. I was impressed.
“MaxScent”, like it’s older brother “GULP!”, boasts “an enhanced flavor to keep fish from letting go.” Terry proved that more than a couple of times, when keeping tension on the lure and feeling a heavy fish swim toward the boat for 25’ before finally letting go. Terry could have easily caught the fish but wanted to see how long they would hang onto it. Impressed again.
The baits kept their natural-looking flexibility throughout the entire two-day mini bass vacation and proved themselves to be very durable as well. We did have to replace baits every once-in-a-while, when they got too chewed up and started tearing from overuse but that’s always a good thing.
Leaving a “MaxScent” lure on your hook for several hours, or even days, doesn’t change its makeup, as it remains as soft and pliable as it was fresh out of the package. This characteristic is huge. Even more impressed.
A few days later, I hooked up with Mike Gaede for a day of bass fishing. Mike and I used to fish walleye tournaments together on Big Winnie and Leech Lake, some 20 years ago. We each started off using plastic worms, Mike with a 4” jig worm and I with an 8” “Kingtail”, rigged “Carolina style.” My first three casts resulted in a missed fish and two that made it into the boat. Yes, I’m really liking this bait.
We ended the day by casting crankbaits and catching quite a few fish. Another thing to remember. Don’t get locked into one presentation. Change it up a little and see if you can figure out just what the fish prefer. Each day could be different.
Terry said the “MaxScent” baits aren’t in the stores yet but will be making an appearance in October. Other “MaxScent” baits that we tried were “The General” (wacky rigging), “D-Worm” (jig worm/shaky head), and “Flatnose Minnow” (drop shot/jig worm).
The purple packaging has several tips printed on it, such as style of hook to use along with various presentation options. Check them out.
The better part of a week was spent on Lake Vermilion, pre-fishing and competing in the AIM Pro Walleye Series state championship. Here are a few thoughts and happenings that come to mind regarding last week.
*First off, with Andy Walsh, my season-long tournament partner, getting a new job and moving to Brainerd, I had to do all the pre-fishing, which I didn’t really mind. I went solo the three days before the two-day event got started on Friday. Many of you know that I fish alone, the majority of the time, so I was right at home out there.
Tuesday was terrible, as far as the weather went, being windy, rainy, and cold, but there I was, fishing from first light until 3:30 pm and just loving it. I didn’t bring along my warm clothes (wait until I run into that weatherman) so it did end up being a little uncomfortable out there.
My first two days were dedicated to just finding numbers of fish and that I did, going home with a nice limit on Tuesday. Wednesdays fish were all tossed back. The first two days were pretty good.
The third and final day of pre-fishing was dedicated to finding big fish, which I should have been doing all along. Working big baits and fishing deep, I ended up with only two fish for the entire day of fishing and both were of the smaller variety. Nothing big.
*Andy and I had a poor first day in the event, registering our five fish (aka “filling the card”) for a measly 10.56 pounds. We did lose a heavy fish that more-than-likely would have had us weighing in somewhere around 15 pounds or so but who knows? It didn’t really matter, as the top three teams each brought in over 30 pounds. We were basically out of it.
*Friends Travis Sorokie and Doug Robinson weighed in a nice bag for 21.13 pounds. Talking to them, after the weigh in, I asked Travis how he caught his fish and where he was fishing. He replied, “we caught our fish in that spot where you taught me how to lead core.” Maybe I should follow my own advice at times. At least I knew where we would be fishing on day two.
*There was a total of 55 boats entered in the tournament and Andy and I were boat number 53, which meant we were one of the last to take off on day one. However, they reverse the order for the second day so we were boat number three the next day.
Getting ready in the morning, I saw Grand Rapids angler Dylan Maki and his partner, Joe Bricko. They were one of the top teams on day one, weighing in 34.67 pounds, and were dead last in taking off, which meant they were boat number one on the second day.
I hollered out to Dylan “boat number one, you couldn’t have planned that any better.” I can’t imagine having a big bag like that and then being first out of the gate the next morning, knowing no one would be on your spot.
I then told him “I talked it over with Andy and we’re going to follow you guys.” A look of concern came over his face. I followed up by saying “we’re going to park 50’ away from you and not even fish. We’re just going to open a big bag of popcorn and watch.” It was at that point that he knew we were just teasing him. An obvious sigh of relief was witnessed. The poor kid. I scared the daylights out of him. But that’s just me.
Dylan and Joe went on to win the event, weighing a whopping 64.80 pounds, good for $8,500 and a trip to the national championship. Congratulations to them!
*Trolling lead core, sometimes back as much as 250’-300’, it’s sometimes hard to tell if you have a fish on, especially if it’s a small one.
On one occasion, I told Andy “I think I have one on here.” Reeling in, I wasn’t sure but something wasn’t right. It felt too heavy.
Getting near the boat, you could tell that something was on the end of the line, as the rod was pulling down. Reeling up, and Andy standing there with the net, I saw what had happened. My little #5 Shad Rap had snagged, of all things, a rock!
Small and round, looking like an ancient baseball, the little hooks had found something to dig into and I hauled it up from the lake bottom. It actually looked like a little cannon ball. Maybe it was?
I lifted it out of the water and Andy reached out to grab the line. That’s when it happened. The rock fell to the bottom of the boat and the lure sling-shotted itself at 100 mph into Andy’s hand.
“Oh oh” I thought to myself. “How bad?” I looked at Andy and two of his fingers were stuck together. One of the small treble hooks had a hook in two fingers and both were past the barb. There wasn’t a whole lot we could do, as we couldn’t even get a pair of cutters in there to cut the hooks off.
I offered to help but Andy wanted no part of that, saying “I know my own pain threshold.”
So, there we were, fishing. I set out the lines and kept on trolling, while Andy worked the wound and eventually wrestled the hooks out. Blood everywhere. Not good. I thought we might have had to make a run back to HQ for a little first aid.
Pouring ice cold drinking water over the fingers, to clean the wound, he dried it off and I applied a goodly portion of Liquid Bandage. We were good to go! How was your weekend?
A group guide trip, last Sunday, had me explaining to my guests that walleye fishing was somewhat slow at the time, especially during the mid-day hours, but if they wanted to catch a lot of fish and have some fun in the process, we could always go after bass or northern pike. Pike it was!
Based out of Sugar Lake Lodge, I had been doing a little poking around beforehand, trying to find the best bite for my clients and wanted it to be as close as possible to the lodge, as it would only be a half-day trip. I would be picking them up around 11:30 am and had to have them back by 5:00 pm. Travel time was strongly considered.
I was catching a few walleyes, here and there, but it was painstakingly slow action. Even though I had caught fish up to 8 pounds, I didn’t think it would be too much fun for them. It would be boring, in my opinion. I wanted them to have fun and that usually involves ACTION!
Pre-fishing, I found a lot of northerns, using the old tried-and-true method of trolling spoons and was anxious to get going, as it’s still fun for me, after all these years. One of my guests, Rodney from Arkansas, had never caught a pike before and was blown away at how hard they hit. Even the little fish hit with gusto. He immediately called the trip a success, catching a small northern within minutes of trolling. “Oh, we should do a lot better than that” I explained, as his fish only measured 21 ½”.
The spoon bite was slower than expected and I was a little surprised by that. They were really biting two days prior. Also, a trolling presentation was needed, as both anglers couldn’t cast a bait-casting reel. That can sometimes make things a little more difficult. What do you do? Troll along and try to stay as close to the weedline as possible. It’s easy on a slow-tapered flat but sharp breaks can make it a real challenge.
Previously fishing the area, I had also done well with rattle baits but they weren’t producing either. It was time to change things up a little so I dug out the larger “Bionic Bucktail” spinnerbaits, made by Northland Tackle. These baits are much more weedless and can be trolled over the top and amongst thick cabbage weeds, where most pike live.
Previously trolling along the edge of the weedline, we stayed in the 9-12’ depths and caught a few fish but not the numbers I expected. However, with the change in lures, we were now able to troll in 6-8’ and that made a huge difference. Even the smaller fish were jumping onto the larger bait. It amazes me how aggressive those little fish can be. We were catching a lot more fish because of fishing shallower.
I recall a trip I had, many years ago, with “old Bill”. He couldn’t cast either and believe me, he tried but it just wasn’t going to happen. I’d be casting to the shallows while he trolled behind the boat and every once in a while he’d say “let me try that.” Back-lashes galore. I finally wouldn’t let him. He was relegated to trolling and that was it.
Fishing a thick weed area had me changing tactics, in order to get Bill some fish, and that was trolling Northland Tackle weedless “Jaw-Breaker” spoons. Never give up, if you can’t locate fish. They’re usually not too far from the weeds and the larger the weed-bed the better.
Rodney caught the biggest fish of the day, last Sunday, and that was a chunky 32” fish, which isn’t a monster but when you’ve never caught a northern pike before, it’s pretty darn good. He was beaming from ear-to-ear and wants to come back.
However, I think my other guest, Rudy, had a crack at the largest when he had a hard strike and reeled in to find the spoon and leader cleanly bitten off. I think a big fish hit it from behind and took the whole shebang. Rudy, from the Twin Cities, wants to come back as well.
Established back in the late 70’s, In-Fisherman ran the program from 1983 to 1991, when they closed the doors. It was a great program but financially not a good decision to keep on operating.
Jump ahead to 2017. The doors are once again open and I was asked to guide for this inaugural event. Based out of Camp Bliss, near Walker, parents and children are offered classroom sessions, along with plenty of hands-on time on the water.
How wonderful it is to see such enthusiastic youngsters, fishing with caring parents. I was duly impressed. These kids know a LOT about fishing, to say the least.
Captained by Brad Petersen, who worked for Camp Fish back in the early years, guides were busy fishing the surrounding area. Most trips were taken on smaller bodies of water, where cooperative bass, northern pike, and panfish kept us all busy and some of these fish were very nice in size. However, a few walleye trips were done on Leech Lake as well.
At the present, there are plenty of creative ideas swirling around, regarding the next Camp Fish sessions and I’ll keep you all informed. There might even be a winter ice fishing session. Who’s up for that? I certainly am!
Cleaning up the garage, I came across this old bottle of sunblock. It reminded me of an unusual experience, when using it, many years ago, while on a guide trip.
Here's an interesting little story for those concerned about getting foreign smells on their bait or hands. Does it scare fish and keep them from biting? Sometimes it does but sometimes it might just help.
A corporate trip with a dozen or more other guides out of North Star Lake Lodge, it was a three-day event that usually had us going to Big Winnie on the first day.
Sunny, hot, and almost dead calm, I was trying to coax a few walleyes into biting on one of my favorite spots, Ravens Point, when I decided to put on a little sun-screen.
Lathered up with Coppertone, I asked my clients if they wanted any. One accepted my offer. The other refused.
A jig and minnow bite, the wind was almost non-existent. It was perfect, with the boat slowly drifting across a small depression.
Fish were there but very, very fussy. The slow drift was essential to catching anything at all. Move too fast and you wouldn't get a bite.
Up until the sunblock was applied, we only had a couple of walleye in the livewell. Fishing was tough.
All of a sudden, the two of us that used sunblock were catching fish at a good pace. The other angler, who didn't lather up, was more-or-less just watching us catch fish, even though I made sure that all of us had the exact same size and color jig. He couldn't catch a cold.
Other guide boats saw the activity and got in line for a drift but nothing. As a matter-of-fact, I motioned for others to "get in line." It was happening and they better take advantage of the situation. Who knew how long it would last?
I watched as several boats repeated slid through the area and only witnessed a couple fish caught. It just wasn't happening.
Meanwhile, the two "sunblockers" were catching them pretty good, with several "doubles" taking place.
Back at the lodge, guides were bringing their catch to the cleaning shack and there were some very skimpy catches being brought in. It was just one of those days. We've all been there.
However, my boat had 35 walleyes on this day, with two of us catching almost all of them.
One guide was angry, saying "you weren't on Winnie", as he struggled terribly.
Now, the two of us used a liberal amount of the sunblock and finished with a light rinse of water. I honestly believe that there was just enough of a smell on our hands to aid in catching as many fish as we did. It was incredible and I have no other explaination for it.
Up until that point, I was always a little leery to put anything on my hands but after that happening I would "grease up" pretty good and not worry about it.
However, insect repellent? That's another story.
My strong interest in fishing was launched at a very young age. We did a lot of northern pike fishing back then and the lure of choice, which is still going strong today, was a simple 3” spoon. The classic “red and white Daredevle”, made by Eppinger was the best bait going.
Founded in 1906, Eppinger has been around for quite some time and over the years has expanded their product line to an extensive selection.
Growing up on Buck Lake (Terry Wickstrom always says “we never grew up, we just got older. How true.), the majority of our fishing was done by hopping onto the pontoon boat, with friends, and trolling around the lake with spoons.
We weren’t real serious, just out there having fun. One time I was fishing with one of the Mickelson boys, a cousin, and his beloved dog “Henry” was getting in the way, swimming behind the pontoon to be as close as possible to his “master.” Ah, the good old days.
Looking back, it’s a miracle we did as well as we did because we didn’t really try to stay next to a weedline (what was that?). Never-the-less, we always caught fish and the old red and white spoon was the hot ticket. Although I do recall when someone tried the black and white version and started to do pretty darn good. Green and white caught its share of fish too. Those were the top three colors.
However, when the first spoon came out sporting fluorescent orange paint, we couldn’t believe it. I don’t think we even saw a color like that before. The new spoon flat out caught fish, as they hadn’t seen anything like it either. Much less expensive than a Daredevle, we bought a lot of them and for many years it was the first lure we would snap on.
Jumping ahead, some 50 years, the red and white spoon still does just fine and it’s one that I’ll use quite often. Nowadays, the lure selection is overwhelming. There are so many more manufacturers, which means that many more color variations. There’s some really cool stuff out there.
Pulling spoons can save the day, especially when guiding for walleyes and the fish start to get a little fussy. I’ve had that happen a time or two and would say “reel ‘em in. We’re going to catch some fish” and off to the nearest weedline we’d go.
Letting my clients pick out what they thought would be a hot color, we’d just make one long cast behind the boat and troll close to the weeds. I usually worked each and every time. After they had enough fun, we’d go back and play with the stubborn walleyes.
I’ve caught as many as 50 fish in a matter of a few hours by doing this and it’s still as much fun as it was when fifteen years old. Who doesn’t like to get their string stretched?
The spoons aren’t just for pike either, as I’ve caught some rather large walleyes, admittedly by accident, by casting over the cabbage weeds. They’re opportunists, like most other fish, so if an easy meal happens their way, it’s theirs.
Ontario fishing guide, Tom Batiuk, uses Northland Tackle’s “Baitfish-Image” Forage Minnow spoons for lake trout and does very well. I had the mind-set of using thin “flutter-style” spoons for trout, not heavy spoons made for northern pike. Tom changed my way of thinking in a hurry.
When thinking about it, the heavy spoons just add a little more weight and make it easier in getting down a little deeper. Once there, they have a great wobbling action.
My spoons are all stored in Plano 3700 tackle boxes. One is for spoons in the 3” range and is for northern pike. The next one is a tad smaller and is used for our local stream trout. The last is for the little guys and is used for panfish. One can never have enough!
My father, who just celebrated his 89th birthday, last Sunday, tells of the time when he was fishing with my uncle, Alan Marsh. They were on Prairie Lake, north of O’Leary Lake, and enjoying the day catching northern pike when a foul cast hooked him between the eyes. You know, that thick skin at the top of your nose.
To make a long story short, they couldn’t get the hook out so Alan drove dad to the clinic in Nashwauk where he walked in with a big spoon dangling in his face. It must have been quite the sight.
It may have been the old “KB Spoon” but dad always referred to it as a “Finnlander Spoon.” I’m not sure what that is.
I’ve recently found myself chasing bluegills all-across the North Country, which has included three counties, Itasca, St. Louis, and Beltrami. The most recent was another stellar outing with Daris Rosebear on the Red Lake Indian Reservation.
An impromptu trip, a phone call to Brian Griffith was made and as luck would have it, he was off work on this day and was able to join me. This would be the second trip with Brian to the fantastic fishing of the Red Lake Nation.
Late night messaging with Rosebear finalized our plans. He wanted us there early, 7:00 am, due to the road construction that was taking place on the lake he wanted to take us to, Bass Lake.
As luck would have it, we were running a tad late (my fault) and the heavy equipment had beat us to the access that was being rebuilt. This is really going to be nice when done. A new dock is already in place. Thankfully, they allowed us to get the boat in and we were fishing and catching in a matter of minutes.
Catching fish on the “first drop” is pretty much the norm when fishing with Rosebear, as these lakes are phenomenal.
I was first to toss a line in. I had four rods ready to go and selected a Northland Tackle “Thumper Crappie King” for my first attempt. Almost immediately, I had a hard-fighting heavy bluegill on. This was going to be fun!
Brian and I both ended up using 1/16 oz. jig, tipped with a small Impulse plastic. Daris used leeches to entice the big fish into biting, which didn’t really take much. They were hungry and of good size, averaging in the 9” range. We all caught a few fish that went over 10”.
The lake has nice crappie too but during the mid-day hours only a handful of small ones were caught. I’m thinking of trying for them in the fall, when they stack up in deeper holes and are much easier to find.
Rosebear runs trips on the same lake for largemouth bass and it certainly looks like it would hold plenty of them, as it’s very “bassy” looking with all the shoreline weed growth. Large northern pike are also caught in Bass Lake. Hmmm, let’s see. A fall trip for crappie, mixed in with northern pike, when they go on their fall eating binge. Sounds perfect! Oh yeah, maybe a few bluegills too, while I’m at it.
Each trip has me teasing Daris saying “you’re living the dream.” He just smiles. How nice it would be, guiding on un-pressured waters such as these. I couldn’t imagine. Well, maybe I can, as I keep on going back there. Yes, it’s that good.
For more information, you can contact Rosebear at firstname.lastname@example.org or (218) 214-0018. Did I tell you that kids under 16 are FREE?
I figured on doing something a little different, like catching bluegills, before I set my sights on Lake Vermilion, where I will be spending a majority of my time between now and August 25-26, pre-fishing for the AIM Pro Walleye Series championship with Andy Walsh.
Here’s a little tip on using buzz baits for bass. If it’s calm, you’ll want to use a “quieter” bait, with smaller blades or at least slow it down so it’s not so noisy. It just seems more natural that way. They’ll find it if they want to. Trust me.
However, if the lake condition is choppy, “go for the gusto” and toss out a larger bait, something that makes a good disturbance in the water. Big fish can get a little reckless during these conditions and if it’s raining, all the better. I’ve caught some real tanks during inclement weather and this goes for muskies as well.
I recall one time, musky fishing on Leech Lake with Brian Griffith, when I was having difficulty standing up in the boat because of the rollers. My back was hurting so I decided to take it easy for a while. This meant sitting in the boat seat and using a surface buzzer. It was a lure that could be cast out and slowly reeled back in. There was no hurry. It was easy and relaxing, until a 30 pound fish just about pulled me off the boat seat.
Give buzz bait fishing a try. Also, if you can get your hands on a “double-buzzer”, they work awesome!
"Fishing lately has consisted of a myriad of different species and opportunities. One day I’m trying my hand at some large northern pike in Aitkin County and the next I’m searching out big panfish in St. Louis County. Covering a wide area, the fish range from monstrous to small and it’s all fun, even on those “struggle days.” Yes, we all have them.
One short trip was made to Mille Lacs Lake, where I met up with Andy Walsh and Mike Patras to give big northern pike a try. Meeting in Malmo, poor weather was quickly rolling in so we decided on having breakfast first.
It eventually cleared and it was all downhill from there on out. Lake conditions looked to be prefect but the fishing wasn’t. Trolling up and down the shoreline, looking for isolated weed patches, we fished for three hours, without a bite, and decided to call it quits. It was just one of those days. I’ve had plenty of them in my day.
The next day, I joined panfish expert Keith Nelson for a crack at some big crappie. It was a lake that neither of us had been on before but had heard the “rumors.” We had to investigate.
This lake, too, threw us a curveball, giving up only dinky crappies but the bluegills were about as good as it got. Countless nice fish were caught and released, with one going well over 10”. That’s a good gill anywhere.
When looking back at this year’s open water season, I can call it “the summer of big bluegills”, as I have caught seven 11”and two 11 ½” fish. Beautiful gills, they were all quickly admired and released. I’m really getting into those big platters and am in the process of setting up a big bluegill trip on the Red Lake Reservation with fishing guide Daris Rosebear. I can’t wait for this one!
Up until now, it’s been pretty much all walleye, with the AIM Walleye Series, GRAHA, and Lake Vermilion tournaments.
The next AIM event will be on the St. Louis River/Lake Superior. I’ll be skipping this one but my replacement, who’ll be fishing with Andy Walsh, will be Duluth area fishing guide Jared Houston. This will sure make things a lot easier for Andy, as neither one of us has much experience down there and Jared know the “ins and outs” of this system very well.
This event will be our third AIM Series tournament, which is the minimum required to fish the year end championship to be held on Lake Vermilion in August. Well, you where I’ll be spending every waking moment until then. This is another “can’t wait.”
Over the years, I’ve had the pleasure of fishing some world class fisheries that are situated fairly-close to home. These fisheries can be best described as “champagne trips on a beer budget.” Basically, the main cost of each trip is the gas to get there.
One, Lake Nipigon, is quite a haul, but the lure of monster lake trout, brookies, and northern pike have had adventurists seeking out this remote area for the last 150 years.
I made it there once, with my son, Kris, and outdoor writer Brad Dokken. We teamed up with fishing guide Lorne Sholter and spent two days trying our hand at a big trout. Sholter has caught them upwards of 55 pounds and although we had it a little slow, we still managed a couple 23-pound fish.
Kris and longtime friend Kyle McCollor recently made the “Nip Trip” and spent an entire week, camping on an island.
The big lake is unforgiving and careful planning is a must. Kris and Kyle thought this one out for months before heading into the treacherous, big lake. Sixty miles long, it has countless shoals, reefs, and islands. Any mistakes made out there could prove to be life-threatening, as there’s no cell service. You are on your own. The television program “Alone” should go there if they want to get real!
It took them a while to figure out the lake trout but they eventually got into them, although not fish of the huge variety. They did, however, have the treble hooks pulled out of their large Rapalas a couple of times. Swivels were also broken. That makes one wonder. Fishing shallower, they really did a number on the big northern pike and brook trout. Kris is thinking another trip this fall. We’ll see if I have it in me.
Another budget trip that has exceptionally high rewards and expectations is fishing for Red River catfish in Manitoba. About six hours away, I’ve made this one quite a few times and like the Nipigon lake trout trip, I get excited when a close friend or relative is going there, even if I can make it myself.
Chisholm residents Tim Ranta, his son Timmy, and friend Greg Gargano made this trip last weekend and it surely didn’t disappoint. It never does. Although I’ve written about it many a time, it just doesn’t do it any justice. I’ve always said “you have to experience it to really understand.”
They must have gone home with their heads spinning, as they boated 71 big catfish in a day and a half, with the largest being a 27 pound fish caught by Tim Sr., who said “I broke my personal best catfish by 24 pounds….LOL.”
Summer’s in full swing and things are happening, as this warm weather really gets the fish cranked up. Some of my favorite fishing is taking place right now and that includes largemouth bass and crappie in the weeds.
As you all know, I hate the heat and pretty much lay low during the mid-day hours. However, as the sun nears the tree line, I become as active as the fish. It’s the perfect match!
The GRAHA Walleye Shootout on Pokegama Lake, held last Saturday, found me checking out the weeds, looking for walleyes. Although I didn’t find the Mother Lode, as did guide buddies Colt Anderson and Ben Olson, I certainly found some very nice crappies, along with oodles of largemouth bass.
Colt and Ben, by the way, finished in second place, competing in a very strong field of 107 teams, by weighing in 19.82 pounds, good for $5,000. Top honors went to the team of Tim Graupmann and Larry Estebo. They weighed in 21.62 pounds of walleye for a whopping $15,000. Now that’s a pretty good pay day!
During my pre-fishing efforts, I checked out plenty of weed lines but never did find the right areas. The newly found big crappie, however, have me thinking of heading back there for some evening fishing. Anchored up and bobber watching, it should be good.
Pitching into deep cabbage weeds, in 12’-15’ of water, I boated several nice crappies and these fish were hitting a large minnow. I can’t imagine going back and fishing for them with a proper, more finesse presentation. We’ll see what happens. Maybe they prefer big baits?
Fish hold in these deep, dense weed areas, especially when it’s sunny. It’s their “living room”, allowing them to be comfortable all day long and always have something nearby to eat, as there’s plenty of forage in there as well. The problem is finding these little sanctuaries.
The same with bass and although they seem willing to bite “in the slop” all day long, I like going after them later in the day, especially if it’s been hot out. Using the stealth mode of an electric motor, gradually ease up to the lily pad field and cast out a surface bait and slowly work it back to the boat. There’s something quite special when a bass “blows up” on a bait. It sometimes startles you.
My favorite lures for this are weed-less frogs and spoons but always have a flippin’ jig on hand, as they take more than their fair share of big bass. I’d have to think that the “jig & pig” is THE big bass bait.
This is a great way to catch a big fish. There may be a lot of bass frequenting weed lines but the big mamas are back in the vegetation. If you haven’t tried this, you owe it to yourself to get out there and give it a whack. You just may surprise yourself. One last tip – be sure to use heavy line!
Although crappies can be taken in the weeds, throughout the day, they too, really come alive when evening rolls around. All one needs to do is find a weed line and start trolling and the larger the weed bed the better.
Think of it like this. A skinny weed line is much like a small dwelling, housing a minimal number of residents. However, a large cabbage bed can be compared to an apartment building and has the potential of holding many. The adage “go big or go home” certainly holds true here.
I like to make a long cast behind the boat and slowly troll along the weed-line, usually beginning my outing around 6:30 p.m. or so. Many times, it’s like clockwork, with fish cooperating very well. You may be able to go “to the well” several days in a row, catching fish at the same time, but always be ready to have them start biting at a different time or sometimes not at all. That’s called fishing.
If you happen to find a good number of them, anchoring and using bobbers or just “fan-casting” the area with a jig can sometimes work very well. Anchored deep enough, 10’ for example, you may be able to catch them right below the boat, as fast as you can get your lure back into the water.
I’m not much of a bobber person and prefer to use a small jig, tipped with plastic. I like to stay busy. Casting out, keep an eye on your line for that little “twitch”. Many times, you won’t even feel the bite, as the fish strike from behind and push the lure toward you.
A little tip for this type of fishing is to use colored fishing line so it’s easier to see the “twitch.”
"What started out as a routine outing for a few largemouth bass, ended in another experimental session. Maybe that’s why I go solo most of the time. I like to fool around and try different approaches and ideas, when most other guest anglers would prefer staying with the program and catching fish. But that’s just me. I’m always thinking “what if?”
The small, local lake has very nice bass but one is always better off checking the forecast to make sure it is going to be overcast. Sun is absolutely no good for fishing this lake, as it is borderline “gin clear” and fish are easily spooked.
Easing into the water, I never started the outboard because this is another method of scaring shallow fish. It was cloudy and I was in “stealth mode”, sneaking along a weed line with the bow mount electric motor.
The first, long cast, using a top-water frog, resulted in a hungry, little bass. Things were looking good but that would change in a hurry. Almost on cue, the sun broke through the clouds and I was dealing, once again, with the wrath of Mother Nature. I knew immediately that it was going to be difficult fishing.
Working some of my favorite shallow-to-mid-depth areas resulted in nothing. Eventually, I ended up positioning the boat out in 25’ of water and casting a “jig & pig” combo toward a fast-dropping breakline, watching the lure slowly pendulum its way to the bottom.
The first cast had a fish hitting the bait as it neared bottom but it was only on for a second before becoming unbuttoned. A couple more attempts had me reeling in a nice three-pound largemouth. I felt the bite but always a line-watcher, I also noticed the telltale sign of a fish when the line made that little “twitch.”
Catching remained tough so I quickly changed gears and began trolling across the middle of the lake. Letting out 200’ of line, I offered a #7 crankbait that dove down to 10’. I’ve caught largemouth bass like this before, when trolling over 45’ of water. This time I was in 35’.
One of my largest bass, a 7 pounder, came as result of main-lake basin trolling so never rule out this plan of attack. When we get the infamous “dog days of summer”, now fast-approaching, give this method a try. All you need to do is snap on a shallow-running crankbait, let out a ton of line, and slowly troll across the middle of the lake, no matter how deep it is. You just may be in for a surprise.
Two trolling passes at “high flying” fish didn’t work so a different plan was put into practice. Noticing several fish at the 30’ level, it was time to go deep, using my lead core rod, which is always at the ready.
Snapping on a #7 crankbait, I only went a matter of 5 minutes before a fish took my offering. Nothing big, it was only a 3-pound northern pike but at least it was action. A couple more passes resulted in a fish with each one. Again, nothing big and certainly not what I was looking for. It was time to change it up a bit.
Sitting there, scratching my head, I spotted my little tackle box full of Northland Tackle “UV Mimic Minnows” and thought “hmmm, I wonder?” I tied one on and observed it at boat side, trolled at 2 ½ to 3 mph. It was perfect. I was amazed that the little bait worked so well, when moving at a fairly fast clip.
It looked to be the perfect stealth mode plan of attack, a small (2 ¾”) jig with a super-busy paddle tail, tied onto a 50’ monofilament leader, trolled deep at 30’ and 200’ behind the boat. It had to work.
The first pass resulted in nothing but halfway through the next run my rod buckled and the rod-holder strained under the load. Thinking northern pike, at this point, I saw the line quickly rising to the surface and thought “maybe a bass?” And then it surfaced, about 200’ behind the boat. Yes, it was and a nice one at that.
It bulldogged, as bass do, as I watched it down deep in the clear water. It was a nice one, around 3 ½ pounds. Thinking maybe I was onto something, I gave it a couple more passes before calling it a morning.
Heading home, my mind was awash with ideas on how to best utilize this new method. The presentations and opportunities were endless and I can’t wait to get back out there.
Enjoy the Great Outdoors. Get out there, be safe, have fun, and good luck!"
A late evening message from fishing guide Scott Moe had me quickly getting things ready for the next morning. Prior the message, I didn’t have any specific plans. Maybe another round with Swan or Trout Lake. Maybe checking the waters of Pokegama Lake, doing a little super-early pre-fishing for the big GRAHA Walleye Shootout. However, those thoughts fell by the wayside when Scott said he had an open seat and was heading to Mille Lacs Lake in the morning. I was there.
Having only fished it a handful of times, it was the perfect opportunity to get a crack at some nice walleyes before the season closes on July 7. Yes, heavily managed for walleye, Mille Lacs Lake is under the microscope and there is no such thing as a “normal” fishing season for the big lake, all 207 square miles of it.
Up until July 6, it is catch and release fishing only and totally closed to walleye fishing from July 7 through the 26th. After that, it opens to catch and release fishing again from July 28 to September 4, closing again from September 5 through November 30. Who can keep up with these regulations. What in the world?
Moe, five years a fishing guide, focuses on the big waters of Mille Lacs Lake and Upper Red Lake, along with several smaller lakes in the Alexandria area, where he used to live. Now making residence in Brooklyn Center, countless trips are made to Mille Lacs, along with several days at a time on Upper Red Lake, where he runs a launch for Rogers Resort.
Winter finds him on the same waters, where he is busier than all get out. Talking about his guide service, Scott said “I love meeting new people. No one is the same. That’s what it’s all about. It’s a tough way to make a living but I love it.”
Our meeting place was the public access near the casino and I realized it was the Fourth of July weekend but who would think you’d have trouble in finding a parking place? Fishermen were there in droves. It didn’t matter if they had to toss back all their walleyes. They were going there to get bit and the odds were pretty good that it was going to happen. Truly amazing.
Sure, there were the occasional smallmouth bass and musky fishermen but the majority were looking for Minnesota’s state fish, Mr. Walleye.
Moe’s boat, a 1775 Lund Pro V, was purchased new in 2000 but looks good for its age and handled the windy waters of Mille Lacs quite well. I can’t imagine how many thousands of fish have come aboard that old Lund.
We planned on trolling crankbaits so no live bait was brought along, even though it was allowed through July 6. Starting July 7, it is not allowed. Minnesota fishing regulations state “Only artificial bait and lures allowed in possession on Mille Lacs Lake from 12:01 a.m. on Friday, July 7, to 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, July 27. Live bait restriction begins again at 12:01 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 5, and continue through 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 30. Anglers targeting northern pike and muskellunge may possess sucker minnows greater than 8" in length during these restricted periods.”
Pulling cranks, our first walleye, a nice, fat 24” fish, came quickly and lure colors were changed a few times until a definite pattern emerged. Although it wasn’t fast and furious, fish came often enough that we were never bored.
And it’s more than just tossing out lures and going willy-nilly across the lake. Moe, at 47 years old, has fished the big lake for most of his entire life. Speed and lure depth was also very critical but it didn’t take Scott long to get them “dialed in.”
Moe is good at what he does and represents several fishing related companies. One of them really caught my eye. It’s a little device, made by Kill Zone Fishing, that can make your bottom bouncers much more versatile. In a nutshell, it allows you to quickly and easily adjust the dropper weight distance on any rig you are using. For more information, go to their Facebook page or web site at www.killzonefishing.com. Here, you’ll be able to view short videos of the product.
It ended up being a great day on the water, catching a couple dozen nice walleye, with Scott getting bragging rights for his 27” fish. He also lost a larger fish as it neared the boat. For more information regarding a fishing trip with Scott Moe, go to his Facebook page or phone (612) 868-8810.
Brian Griffith and I made plans to fish together on Trout Lake last Saturday but inclement weather forced us to postpone for a day. Both retired, we can do that now and prefer avoiding bad weather. It’s amazing what old age can do to a fella. Back in the day, when fishing musky or walleye tournaments, or just playing around, we’d be out there come hell or high water and many times it was a little of each.
The decision to cancel Saturday’s outing came early in the morning but I had the boat all ready to go so another trip to Trout was in order. I’d go solo, as it was only 19 miles from home. Brian, on the other hand, lived near Walker, about 1 ½ hours away.
It was cold, wet, and windy but I had somewhat of a game plan. That being to fish until noon and then head home to watch the Twins game. The whole day was planned. (By the way, how ‘bout those Twins!)
Having done well on the walleyes in days prior, I struggled and only ended up catching four smallmouth bass. I was glad he didn’t make the trip for that kind of fishing but wondered about the next day. The forecast didn’t look any better. Hmmm. What to do? I certainly wasn’t going back to Trout Lake. But then it struck me. Native fishing guide Daris Rosebear and I had been meaning to get together sometime soon and although he was quite busy with his guiding schedule, I wondered if he might possibly have an open spot for Sunday. A message was sent and sure enough, he was open. We’d be there.
I called “Griff” and told him to meet me in Bemidji at 6:15 am, saying “we’re going lake trout fishing.” After a slight pause, his expected response was “What? Lake trout? Where?” “On the Red Lake Reservation with Daris Rosebear” I answered, which only brought on an onslaught of more questioning. I finished up by telling him “just bring a couple jigging rods and I’ll meet you at Burger King.”
Meeting the next morning, we traveled together to Red Lake and met Daris at the casino parking lot. From there, we followed him to the jail (now that’s always a little concerning), where we each purchased a permit to fish for a day on the Red Lake Nation. Cost? $10.
It was nice to see Daris and it’s getting to be like “old home week” when we meet up. I first fished with him several years ago, when ice fishing for stream trout. I think we caught about fifty fish that day. Another trip was made on the ice with the same results. It’s always good.
This was my first open water trip with him and I was just as excited as Griff, who admitted he couldn’t even sleep the night before. It’s sure nice not to lose that enthusiasm for a passion that we both share.
We followed Rosebear to Green Lake, where we would try our hand for lake trout. The lake is off limits to outboard motor use but it’s small size made it perfect for the bow mount trolling motor and within minutes we were on the spot and jigging.
It didn’t take long for a lake trout to come aboard. I think it was on Brian’s first drop, as we jigged in 40’ of water. A good sign. Using smaller lake trout offerings (jig/minnow, jig/plastic, spoons, etc.), we went on to catch our limit of two each and released a good number of them, along with the occasional largemouth bass. I can’t recall catching bass that deep before. It was a fun battle all the way to the top.
The lakers ran an average size of three pounds or so but Rosebear has caught them up to 33”, weighing about 12 pounds. You really never know when a big one will show its face. A medium action walleye rod works well for these fish.
There’s 27 lakes on the reservation that are available for summer fishing, as long as you have a permit and native fishing guide. Wintertime only allows one to fish three stream trout lakes. Lake trout are off limits.
Enough lake trout fun was had and it was time to move on to lake number two, which was only minutes away.
Island Lake, one that I had ice fished before, is home to great numbers of rainbows and brook trout and right on cue, they were biting with every drop. This time, the baits were smaller yet and tipped with a small piece of minnow. Put the whole minnow on and they’d steal it away.
The brookies were hungry, like normal, and many were of the smaller variety but every-once-in-a-while you’d latch onto a bigger one. Daris has caught them up to 19”.
Rainbows would come and go but you knew immediately when one had grabbed your lure, as they fought a lot harder than the little brookies. A panfish rod works very well for these fish.
With a limit achieved, we went on to catch and release. Total fish count wasn’t kept track of but I’m sure we caught over 50 fish, again. It never ceases to amaze me. Actually, that’s the catch phrase on Rosebear’s guide service brochure, “be amazed.” And we were.
Daris, at 27 years of age, does well as a fishing guide and has been at it for 7 years now. He’s a true joy to be fishing with, whether on the ice or in the boat. His boat, by the way, is a 2016 16 ½’ AlumaCraft, which is perfect for the many smaller waters available on the reservation. Tag boats are allowed, if you want to bring your own to accommodate a larger group.
For more information on fishing the Red Lake Nation with Daris Rosebear, contact him on Facebook at Rosebear Guide Service, email email@example.com, or phone 218-214-0018. Be Amazed!
It doesn’t matter where I’m at. Somewhat a magical happening, there’s always something luring me toward the fishing tackle aisle, whether I need anything or not and I usually don’t. But what if? What if there’s a hot, new bait on the market and I’m missing out? Good Lord, I can’t let that happen.
Stopping at the local bait shop, you’re expected to look things over and make a purchase or two but WalMart? Come on. I can’t begin to think how many times I ran over there to buy bananas and bread and came home without them. I did, however, have some plastic worms, to use for bass fishing, along with a few other much needed necessities.
Much of the tackle, I believe, is designed to catch the angler, as well as the fish, as it comes in flashy, well-balanced colors and looks pretty darn cool. I’ve a lot of this stuff. However, some of it isn’t fancy at all but is proven and has been around forever, like the famed “Plow Jockey” plastic worm. I can’t remember where I first purchased one but it looked goofy enough to entice me into trying it.
While most all plastic worms are fairly straight, the “Plow Jockey” lies there curled up, in sort of a crooked, fetal position, almost looking like it has given up. Odd, I thought. I had to try one just for fun. Needless-to-say, I was more than surprised when I started catching quite a few fish with the contraption.
The pre-rigged “Plow Jockey”, along with a few of the copycats, measures 5 ½” long and features three hooks, embedded into the worm. On one end, there is a short leader with a loop for tying on. It also emits the sweet smell of anise oil.
It’s a great little, obscure bait that can put a lot of fish in the boat. Bass eat it up, as well as sunfish, as the small Mustad hook at the at the rear of the bait nabs them most every time. The three hooks, by the way, are tied together with 17 pound test Trilene XL line so it’s made to take a beating and hold up.
When using one, I use a light sinker, just heavy enough to aid in casting but light enough to offer a slow fall. It gets them every time. Shortly before writing this article, I drove around Hibbing and failed to find any so it looks like I’ll have to order a few more from their web site at www.kellybassworms.com.
Coming in all sorts of colors and different lengths, you can get them weedless, if preferred, and some even feature a small propeller in the front.
I have the mind-set that slow trolling them wouldn’t be very productive but when thinking about it, they would almost imitate a “Slow Death” rig for walleye, where a crooked action is preferred. So, who knows?
The Swan Lake Classic was held last weekend, based out of Mr. Roberts. Anglers competed for top spots in walleye and northern pike divisions and the competition was fairly stiff. Many of these local anglers are very good at what they do. Make no mistake about it.
Coming out on top, in the walleye division, was Ted Bielecki, weighing in the largest walleye of the tournament at 1.45 pounds. He also took top honors in the stringer weight with three fish going 3.49 pounds.
Tom Galley and Casey Fisher brought home the big northern pike trophy with an 8.31 pounder, while the stringer of three award went to Gary and Chad Rutherford, weighing in 17.03 pounds.
Andy Walsh and I fished the event but had trouble in catching anything to weigh in, as all of our walleyes were either too small, under 14”, or too big, falling in the 17” to 26” slot limit and we did have a big one get off, while casting for northern pike. That fish, which I saw at boat side, looked like it might have been in the 26” range. Regardless, it sure put a bend in my musky rod.
Trying lead core mid-way through the contest, we immediately caught two nice fish, a 24” walleye and 28” northern pike. The walleye had to be released but the northern went into the live well and do you think we could get another qualifying fish over the 24” mark? No, but the lake certainly has a ton of smaller fish in the 20” range. Wow.
It makes one wonder just where all the walleye in the 14” to 17” range are. Gone? We either caught 11” fish or 23”ers. Hmmm.
Wow. Fished out I am. I’m sure it will take a day or two to recover to the point where I want to hit the water again. I just spent eight days on Leech Lake, non-consecutive, pre-fishing the big lake for six of them and tournament fishing the other two, during last weekend’s AIM Walleye Series. As expected, “highs and lows” were had throughout the entire stretch.
I started things off by joining Al and Bev Standly. Covering a lot of water, in typical pre-fish mode, they were scouting things out for the Leech Lake Walleye Tournament to be held in days to follow. It was an excellent day and I even learned a thing or two from this dynamic walleye fishing team. Who said you can’t teach an old dog a few tricks now and then?
After a day off, I headed back solo and tried a few interesting spots. More-or-less riding around and exploring, I didn’t do much of anything until later in the day, when I finally found some very nice fish, measuring 26” and 28”. Checking out another area had me catching smaller fish in the 17”-18” range, along with losing another bigger one.
I waited another two days before going back, as the big Leech Lake Walleye Tournament was taking place and I didn’t want to get in the way or deal with all the boat traffic. However, the following Monday, fishing partner Andy Walsh and I were back at it.
It turned out to be a real stinker of a day. Fishing was horrendous. At least the catching was.
The next day had Brian Griffith, my tournament partner from many years ago, joining us. He knows the lake well and has run many a guide trip on Leech Lake. Although not fantastic fishing, we pin-pointed a couple more, little, obscure spots and went on to catch and release a few fish. Overall, it was a good day and a great opportunity to catch up on things with Brian. Oh, the stories.
Another day off, Wednesday, was taken due to Andy’s grandfather’s funeral. We had two more days to pre-fish before the two tournament AIM Walleye Series got underway on the weekend.
Thursday had good friend Jim Carpenter joining us for the day. Jim’s been in many walleye tournaments and has done very well. He also knows the big waters of Leech Lake like the back of his hand. We went on to learn a few more good spots, catching a bunch of fish in the low-to-mid 20” range, with the largest going just under 25”.
The final day of pre-fishing was held on Friday, where Andy and I were honored to have Bill Thurman, owner of Mesaba Heating A/C Plumbing, join us for the day. Bill, one of our tournament sponsors, is an avid angler and was right at home in chasing Leech Lake walleyes. This was somewhat of a slow day but we didn’t want to beat up the spots that we had going.
As luck would have it, Mother Nature, right on schedule, knew Saturday morning was tournament time and presented us with typical angry Leech Lake weather. It was blowing pretty good and really threw a wrench into some of our favorite walleye spots, as the lake was too rough to fish them properly.
How hard was it blowing? Well, Justin Bailey was just taking off, right out of the shoot, on the way to his “first pick”, when he hit a “hard wave”, causing a drawer to slide open in his boat. Now that’s not so bad but when stored items fly up into the air and settle on the bottom of the lake it is. Some of them were about $200 worth of Jig Raps, handheld radio, truck keys, and billfold.
We went on to struggle throughout the day and had a poor showing. Such is the life of a tournament angler. Thank goodness I don’t do this for a living, as I’d starve to death or at least be eating one heck of a lot of fish.
The next day was almost a repeat, with Mother Nature acting up again, only tossing in a little rain and lightning this time, and with Andy and I struggling. We did better on this day but it was still tough going for us, along with a few others.
It’s always fun going head-to-head with some of the best walleye teams and “Team Picht” emerged as one of them. Stephen and Brenda Picht placed 23rd on Saturday and wrapped up the weekend with an impressive 4th place finish on Sunday. Full results can be viewed by going to “AIM Weekend Walleye Series” on Facebook.
Next up? The GRAHA Walleye Shootout on Pokegama Lake, July 15. And the competition doesn’t get any easier.
Their love for each other, along with the sport of fishing, is quite evident. After all, they stayed in a tent on their honeymoon, spent at Judd’s Resort on Big Winnibigoshish, in 1979, and are still going strong today, maybe stronger.
Al and Bev Standley, Lakeville, have been a fixture on the walleye tournament scene since 1996, starting out with a “couples event” held on Mille Lacs Lake. From there, things sort of snowballed, as they have competed in at least 200 events so far and still counting.
I had the opportunity to hop in the boat with them last week and observe how this well-oiled walleye catching machine gets things done. We were on Leech Lake and it was their first day of pre-fishing for the 9th annual Leech Lake Walleye Tournament.
Leech Lake offers 111,000 acres of water with angling opportunities for all, no matter the species. While Al and Bev Standley were in hot pursuit of trophy walleye, many others were enjoying Leech Lake for its bass and northern pike fishing and let’s not forget about the bragging size panfish that swim these waters. Famous for its musky fishing, the musky season opened June 3, the same day as the first day of the Leech Lake Walleye Tournament.
Although one of Minnesota’s larger lakes, it doesn’t take the Standleys’ long to go from one end to the other, if need be. Forever a “tiller man”, Al now runs a wheel boat, a 20’ Warrior, powered by a 300 horsepower Yamaha. Needless-to-say, we covered water in a hurry.
It was a little breezy on this day, making the big lake rough from time-to-time, but it didn’t matter when sitting in a boat seat on top of a WavePro hi-performance pedestal. These units make all the difference in the world, especially when it comes to running hard in rough conditions, which is what tournament anglers do. Your back will say “thank you.”
We checked out several areas and found a stingy bite. A few fish were caught and released and some were just what Team Standley was looking for, like the 27”er caught by Al. No stranger to big walleyes herself, Bev has caught them up to 29 ½”, on Mille Lacs Lake, while Al’s largest came from the Rainy River and taped out at 31 ½”.
Trying to put together a pattern was difficult, as fish came on all live-bait presentations, using shiners, crawlers, and leeches. Depths varied as well, depending on which area of the lake we were fishing. Hopefully, by the end of the week, Al and Bev would have a concrete plan to put to work. They usually do.
Back in the early years, Bev said she was more than a little intimidated when it came to backing up a boat trailer. Watching her now, you’d think she’s done that for decades. Oh wait, she has! She’s also pretty darn good at catching fish too.
Although the Standleys’ are always a force to be reckoned with on the tournament trail, Al said “we’ve had our highs and lows”. There isn’t a tournament pro that hasn’t. It comes with the territory.
He told of the time when they had a nice basket of fish to weigh in but their boat broke down. Tournament rules allow an angler to be picked up by another boat, during a situation like this, so Bev and the fish bummed a ride back to the weigh-in, while Al stayed with the boat.
They ended up cashing a check that day. Ironically, the same team that brought Bev back to shore was bumped out of the money for their good deed. Classy anglers all around.
I’ve competed against Al and Bev quite a few times and no matter the outcome, they always hold their heads high and display a professional demeanor. They usually beat me too!
My first walleye tournament is now in the books and after two days of rest, I’m still tired out. They’re a lot of fun but a good deal of work as well, especially when Mother Nature starts throwing curveballs, making it miserable out on the water.
My pre-fishing started out with my brother, Bruce, on opening day. I really wanted to go to Upper Red Lake on this day but seeing how Andy Walsh and I were entered in the City Auto Glass Walleye Classic on Lake Vermilion a week later, I thought it best to spend as much time out there as possible.
Bruce and I experienced decent fishing (except for the banana episode) on that Saturday. I took Sunday off but headed right back to Lake Vermilion, by myself, on the following Monday. More-or-less just exploring and looking at areas I have never fished before, I found a couple more good spots and brought home a nice limit of walleye. I also lost two big fish but one I’m betting was a musky, which is always fun but not what I was looking for.
Going solo, back at it again on Wednesday, I found the fishing, or at least the catching, to have slowed considerably. Never-the-less, several other spots were checked off “the list” and pre-fishing continued. Even if fish weren’t found or caught in some of these areas, I consider it positive pre-fishing, as at least I know not to worry about missing something and there’s a lot to miss on this body of water, with its 40,000 acres, 100 miles of shoreline, and 365 islands. It’s indeed quite a fishery.
Andy had Thursday and Friday off to help pre-fish but the weather had really turned sour so the first order of the day was to stop and have a hearty breakfast, on our way to the lake, at Sportmen’s Café in Hibbing. To say we weren’t in any hurry is an understatement.
Once on the water, we re-visited several of my proven spots and came up empty-handed. Not one walleye was caught on this day but a couple of very nice smallmouth bass made their way to the boat. That had me thinking of the bass tournament that was scheduled for Sunday. Hmmm?
By Friday, the weather had straightened out to the point where it was actually nice out. The fish bit well too. Determining where to go in the morning of the tournament was a difficult choice. We had fish going in so many different spots and none of them were anything special but both of us favored going back to the last area we fished on Friday. It looked promising, in there was a good number of fish to be found and it wasn’t over-fished by other anglers. We’re usually on the same wave-length, when it comes to making fishing decisions, and that, I believe, is what makes us such a compatible tournament team.
Although only a little more than an hour away from home, we stayed Friday night at Fortune Bay Casino, where the tournament was based out of. This made things a lot easier, as we had the rules meeting dinner from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and had to get after it right away in the morning. Precious hours were saved.
The marina opened at 4:00 a.m. on Saturday morning. If you needed bait or boat gas, it was readily available. Andy’s boat was securely left in a slip overnight and was charged up and ready to go.
Coffee and muffins, courtesy of Perkins, were offered to any anglers needing a little something in the morning. We didn’t worry about not eating a breakfast, as Subway box lunches were given to all contestants. That would work just fine.
Being boat number 91, out of 110, we watched almost everyone else heading out onto the big lake, wondering if anyone would be in “our spot.”
It was windy and rough out but that didn’t stop Captain Andy from pushing the limit with his 200 horsepower Mercury. I think we only went airborne once, maybe twice. Halfway there, I noticed Andy’s lucky hat had blown off his head. It did the “deep six” somewhere back in Big Bay.
Only one other tournament boat was there to greet us. Each working a small area, fishing etiquette was observed, as we each kept a safe and respectable distance from one another. That’s sure nice when you are fishing near “class” anglers. I’ve seen it the other way around too many times.
Andy started things off with a 13 ½” walleye, caught on a jig and minnow, which is certainly nothing to brag about but when it’s the first fish of the morning and you don’t know what is in store for you, it goes into the livewell. Each team could keep their limit of eight fish, four each, and weigh in six of them. The walleye had to be at least 12” in length and only two could be over 26”. Everything in the slot limit, 20” to 26”, had to be released.
He followed up with another of the same size. I told Andy “I’m going for the gusto” and dropped down a large minnow on the end of a live bait rig. Minutes later, I had a nice fish on the end of my line. Upon netting the fish, I was a little disappointed, as it looked to be 25” or so, which meant it wouldn’t count for anything, other than the fun in catching it.
The fish measured at a “hair” over 26”. Using two bump boards, we measured it several times before deciding to keep it. Still fishing, another decision had to be made and that was to leave our spot and head back across rough water to weigh the fish in before it died. It was looking good now but later? Who knew?
We left and tried to take it easy, which is hard to do during windy conditions. Heading back, I pointed off to the side and said “look, a hat”, joking around like normal.
One hour into the tournament, we were docking at the headquarters and officials were walking down to meet us. If the fish was too small, we would be disqualified. You can rest assure that we did some accurate measurements out on the lake, using two different boards.
It measured out as over, but barely, and we were on the board with a nice walleye weighing 5.69 pounds, which was successfully released by officials. Now we had to go back and get five more decent fish, which really didn’t happen. Although we set our sights on catching a few in the 16” to 18” range, the biggest we could come up with was two measuring 15”.
Mixed in with a few 14” walleye, we were able to put together a six fish tournament limit weighing 10.51 pounds, which ended up being good enough for 7th place and $1,400.
Hats off to the team of Dan and Jake Dougherty for their first place finish, weighing in six fish for 15.28 pounds, which included a 10.2 pound trophy walleye. They were awarded $12,500 for their efforts.
We’re already looking forward to next year!
From the sounds of it, most everyone did pretty good and if they didn’t, they surely couldn’t complain about the weather. That’s about the nicest opening day weather I can ever remember.
Fishing friends and family were spread out on different waters, all across the North Country and here’s how it all went down.
Andy Walsh did the “start at midnight thing” on Mille Lacs and just about wore out his fish clicker, as by the time the smoke had cleared, over 140 walleyes made their way into the boat. Of course, it was catch and release only, as you can’t keep any walleye there but who really cares when you can start the season off like that. Wow.
Andy and friends trolled crankbaits at night and had several “triples” happen. Once the sun peeked over the trees, they switched to jigs and plastics and kept on catching…and releasing. Yes, the fish were hungry, to say the least, and they weren’t just the little guys, as a couple of them were in the 30” range. Mike Patras boated his personal best of 30.75”. That’s a nice fish anywhere. Congrats Mike!
Justin Bailey started on Leech Lake and found good fishing as well. Bailey found success by slowly working, almost dragging, 1/16 and 1/8 oz. jigs tipped with shiners. Key areas were where the sand met new weed growth in 5’ to 12’ of water. Justin also commented on the weather, saying “it was the most beautiful weather I can ever remember.”
My brother, Joel, and company, fished Upper Red Lake and did as expected, catching several nice walleyes. He stated that after catching a number of fish by using jigs and minnows, they switched gears and trolled Rapalas, and began catching them at an even faster pace. That can be hard to do, when there’s a lot of boat traffic, and I’m sure Upper Red Lake had plenty of it.
My son, Kris, and longtime childhood buddy, Kyle McCollor, are always up for an adventure and this year’s opening day was no different, as they set their sights on a bunch of small backwater lakes. You know the type. They’re the ones that have you sometimes pulling a small boat through all kinds of obstacles, just to reach the water, not even knowing if it’s going to be worth the effort. Well, it was. Some of them anyway.
Their next adventure is going to require something more than a jon boat, as they will be making a trip to Lake Nipigon for monster lake trout, as well as other species. I can’t wait for the report on that one.
I talked my brother, Bruce, into joining me for a day out on the water and that’s always a special occasion, especially when it’s on opening day. Lake Vermilion was my selection.
Coming from different directions, we made plans to meet in Sturgeon, a halfway point. There, he would toss in his gear and jump in with me, leaving his vehicle.
There wasn’t a lot, just a couple of rods, an unusually heavy, old tacklebox, and a light lunch, which included a BANANA!
I enlightened him of the wide-ranging superstition of bananas being labeled as bad luck, when it came to fishing. Many anglers won’t allow them into the boat. Not believing in that bad omen, I just laughed it off but was sure to rag on him a little for trying to ruin our opening day.
Once there, Hoo Doo Point, (now with a name like that, I should have known better. I already had the banana going against me) I quickly backed the boat in and left Bruce on the dock, holding the rope. We were a little late in getting there and the parking lot was full so I had to drive quite a distance, park on the edge of the road, and walk about ¼ mile back to the dock.
Hopping in the boat and getting things in order, I noticed a lot of water coming in from somewhere. I couldn’t believe it! (It was the banana, I’m telling ya) The boat is only one year old and doesn’t leak a drop. As a matter-of-fact, I take great pride when it comes to pulling the plug, as it’s always as dry as a bone.
It was busy, more boats were putting in and we were kind of stuck, with nowhere to go. I found a small open area and beached it in front of some campers. I hated to intrude but had no option and explained the situation to my new friends. They could have cared less but their dogs were sure barking.
Wave Wackers are great for keeping water out of the boat, when back trolling, but there’s no way a person can reach over them to inspect a boat plug. I knew I put it in there and tightened it up good. How in the world could it have come out, if that was even the problem?
There was only one way to find out. Yup. Taking my shoes and socks off, setting them neatly off to the side, I stepped out of the boat and into the nice, cool, spring lake water. Thank goodness we had an early spring, as it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting.
Wet up to my knees, and up to my shoulders, I found the plug intact and shoved a spare plug into the “other” hole. Bruce walked up to get the truck (he needed the exercise anyway), while I watched the bilge pump work away. It didn’t look like I was making any headway but it didn’t matter. I had to drive it back onto the trailer to check things out.
He arrived and I don’t think I’ve ever loaded a boat so fast. I just don’t like the feeling of a lot of water inside the boat. It’s supposed to be on the outside.
The boat launch people probably thought “wow, that was a quick limit. I just saw those guys go out 30 minutes ago.” They did come to check us out though and once again I had to explain.
Parked well out of the way, I looked at the back of the boat and found I had inadvertently put the boat plug in the livewell drain hole! (I don’t care, I’m blaming the banana)
Tossing my wet shirt up in front of the boat and putting on any extra clothes I could find, we got back in line and did it right this time. Yes, my pants were wet and stayed that way for most of the day but we did go home with a nice limit of fish. How was your opening day?
Are you ready for the fishing opener? I think I am. Although at the time of this writing, I have only taken my boat out two times, so far, this new open water season. We’ll see. There’s always something that I have forgotten and it usually takes me two or three trips before all is “perfect.” Here is a brief “first trip checklist”.
• First off, be sure to try your boat out beforehand and not at the public launch, where a dozen other anxious fishermen will be waiting for you. I’ve seen it too many times. Fire that beast up prior to the opening day. Also, have a little patience, especially if you see someone having difficulties. It’s a long season and it doesn’t hurt to help someone out on this much-awaited day.
• Current fishing license? This is easy to overlook, when there’s so many other things on your mind.
• Boat trailer – This too, may need a license. Are the running lights “running”? How are the tires looking? If they’ve been sitting for a long time, they just may be weather-checked and in need of being replaced. Make sure there is enough air pressure in the tires. Running low will cause them to run warm, if not hot, and may create problems on the highway. If so, do you have a spare and the proper jack and wheel wrench to change it? Also, give the hubs a shot of grease and check (feel them by hand) after traveling a few miles. If they’re slightly warm, okay, but be careful, they could be HOT! Cool or cold is always preferred.
• Boat – Do you have a current license? A lot of anglers do but leave it sitting at home or in their wallet. Do the conservation officers a favor and put it on, as they have a lot on their plate and shouldn’t have to make “wasted stops”.
• How about a boat launching rope? Water levels vary (most are fairly-high right now) and a rope makes things a lot easier. You don’t want to be wading in the cold waters of spring. It’s not very comfortable. I always carry a pair of knee-boots, along with a pair of hip-waders, for difficult launching situations.
• Batteries are probably the number one cause of opening day problems. Be sure they are charged up and ready to go. Check the connections.
• Boat plug? As simple as it seems, this is highly important. Over the course of many years, who hasn’t gone to the lake and found out a boat plug had disappeared? I remember whittling down and jamming a stick in mine one time. Of course, it was a little 14’er that I was able to keep an eye on while nervously fishing away.
• Enough life vests and boat cushions? Not only a regulation but also something that just may save someone’s life.
• Drift sock? Larger lakes they often require slowly drifting the bait in front of a walleye’s nose call for some sort of device to slow you down a bit. This can make or break your day. I remember, back in the day, using a 5-gallon bucket on the end of a rope. This was before the drift-sock was even on the market. We do what we need to do.
• Check your fishing line, as it’s probably the least expensive cost of the whole trip. If you’ve got a little idle time on your hands, change the line to be sure you don’t break off on that big fish. Not sure how to do it? Bring the reel in. Most bait shops will gladly “spool you up.”
• Landing net. I can’t recall how many times I’ve forgotten mine at home. This is mainly because I don’t use one when fishing for spring panfish, as it gets in the way. So, there I am, out walleye fishing and am looking for the net when that first fish is hooked, only to remember that it’s hanging in the garage. With a half-dozen others.
• Most boats have livewells but many don’t. Don’t forget a method to keep your catch. When I’m fishing in a small boat, I either use a floating fish basket for panfish or cooler with a little ice in it. Sometimes a stringer is used but they take up time and always offer a good chance at losing a fish, if not the whole stringer.
• Last, but not least, on this somewhat short list is to be sure to protect yourself from the sun. Bring along sun-block (better yet, put it on at home and then wash your hands) and a hat and sunglasses.
Enjoy your time on the water with family and friends and good luck to all. Be careful and have fun!
Marc Koprevic of Keewatin continues his turkey hunting success with this nice bird taken in SE Minnesota. Bagged April 23, the tom weighed 24 1/2 pounds and sported a 10" beard and 1 1/4" spurs.
Eight year old Aubrey Bailey, Keewatin, shows how to catch big crappies. She was fishing with dad, fishing guide Justin Bailey. Crappie are up shallow NOW. Keep this in mind for Minnesota's "Opening Day".
Normally waking up quite early, I was a little disappointed in myself for sleeping until 4:35 am (I never set an alarm). That’s when I first cleared my eyes and glanced at the clock. It took a few seconds before I realized that Andy Walsh and I had made plans to leave town at 4:30 am!
Peering outside, there he was, patiently waiting, with his big Lund Impact in tow. Somewhat embarrassed, it only took a few minutes before I was joining him for a trip across the border to Kakagi Lake.
Ice-out lake trout in mind, I knew we’d be pushing our luck a bit, as the ice had just left. I’ve experienced poor fishing immediately after ice-out but here we were, positioned in a miserable transition stage, with not a lot of choices, when it comes to fishing. Also, Andy only has weekends off so we had to make it happen.
I was excited, as I haven’t tried my hand at these early fish for several years. The equipment used has been sitting in the garage, organized and ready to go for the last two weeks. All we needed was open water and it was finally here.
It’s not a bad trip, for doing it all in one day. It’s very comparable to driving to the Twin Cities and back for a day of fun. There’s one big difference though and that is there aren’t any Canadian Shield lakes offering great lake trout fishing.
It was cold overnight, so I wasn’t surprised to find an early morning ice skim covering most of the lake. We took it easy, making it out to a few open water patches, breaking ice as we went. One other boat was out there, slowly trolling an open water area. The ice looked to be ¼” thick in places but had melted away by day’s end.
Picking our way, we found suitable water to troll in and would occasionally feel our lines hitting ice from time to time. The ice looked to be ¼” thick in places but would melt away by day’s end. Water temperatures ranged from 37º to 39º throughout the day.
Starting “old school”, the way I first began fishing for these critters, 30 years ago, a stick-bait was tied on and let out about 200’ behind the boat. A 1 oz. trolling sinker was also used, to make sure that we were down just a bit, in case the fish were lazy and didn’t feel like raising up to get it.
The other bait was one of my custom-made rigs, mimicking the famed “Strip-On Minnow.” Decorated with catchy, trout-loved colors (silver, white, purple, etc.), a thawed-out cisco was threaded onto it. I’ve found this to work well, especially very early in the spring. It will catch more than its fair share of fish, when compared to crankbaits and spoons.
Years ago, a 4” floating Rapala was king and best colors varied from day to day. This was before the introduction of “Husky Jerks” and the myriad of other great crankbaits that we have on the market today. There’s almost too much to pick from and that can be a problem at times. I think.
Nothing was happening with our trolling approach so we decided to do the shore-fishing thing. This is always fun.
We tried one of my favorite spots for this method. This one involves a long, slow tapered break that has early season trout on the prowl, looking for something to eat. Many spots like this allow the angler to cast out from shore but this one had us bringing the baits out to the desired depth with the boat, dropping them in place, and then returning to shore, giving line as we went.
Once on shore, the rod is propped up and the reel bail is open, allowing the fish to pick up the bait and run with it, not feeling any resistance at all.
If it’s breezy out, the line will be pulled out of the reel so you need to make sure that it is secured in some creative manner. I have some custom-made line holders, made with rubber-coated alligator clips but there is also the old method of “beer canning”, so named by my Canadian trout fishing friends.
This involves wrapping the line around an empty can, shortly after leaving the spool. Sitting upright, the can will tip over and make noise (almost always fishing on a rock ledge) when a fish runs with the bait. Shore fishing usually involves having lunch and not paying a lot of attention so this method works well.
Since we are not allowed to carry beer in the boat, let along be drinking it on shore, we went the American version of “pop canning”, or in Andy’s case “energy drink canning”.
Another tip when shore fishing is to place something on the line, close to the rod tip, so you notice line leaving the rod, signaling a fish. Do you chew gum? Tin foil works well for this practice.
We gave it the old college try and came up empty-handed. Discouraged? Not much. Maybe just a tad. The beautiful scenery made up for much of the lack of action. It’s always gorgeous up there, especially during early spring, when ice is still clinging to the shorelines.
It did give us a chance to check out some of our tournament equipment (graphs, new transducer, trolling rods, etc.). All worked great but I think we’re going to upgrade the trolling line-counter reels.
We’re also making a trip back. This time, the water should be a little bit warmer and trout should be frequenting the shallows. Warmer shallow water equals insect and minnow life and with it hungry trout. Maybe next weekend?
Come on Ma Nature! Quit teasing us. However, I guess we should be used to this type of behavior, as it happens most every spring. The problem was an early ice out, with a few balmy days mixed in, which had many of us quickly getting our summer fishing gear ready. On the plus side, we’re now ready to rip!
This is definitely a time of transition and it has me chomping at the bit. Hearing a report of ice out lake trout, across the border, I quickly lined up a trip. Having spent hundreds of hours on Kakagi Lake, especially in the spring, I was excited to get back up there and had all equipment lined up and ready to go in a matter of minutes.
There was only one problem. The lake wasn’t open yet. The report was of someone, who had trolled a “skinny” stretch of open water, in between the main lake ice pack and the rocky shores of Kakagi Lake. They caught three fish.
It now looks like we will be waiting until the 1st of May or so before heading north, which works for me. I’ve always found that ice out lake trout fishing is usually very predictable, along with very good, ten days to two weeks after the ice has vanished.
Anxious for the season, I’ve been up there a day or two after ice out and found fish to be back in small, shallow bays, where a jig and minnow had to be used. It was slow fishing and boring to me. Unlike the shoreline trolling method of pulling Rapalas. So, it looks like I’ll have to wait a bit on this adventure.
Then there was Lake Superior calling my name. Yes. Fish were being caught but the first two planned outings fell by the wayside due to weather patterns. When it’s windy, you certainly don’t want to be out there. Scratching out the date in my appointment calendar, it too, has been re-scheduled. I’m equally excited about this one as well.
Searching for something, anything, to stretch my string, I ended up going sucker fishing and happily experienced one of my best outings ever. Three of us, Justin Bailey, Coty Pihlaja, and I, caught a pile of fish and had quite a time.
You know it’s pretty good fishing when doubles and triples are happening on a regular basis, even if it is only sucker fishing.
I always look forward to spring sucker fishing. It’s a chance to use walleye tackle and is sort of a spring ritual for me. We caught several dozen fish and kept sixteen that were destined for the smoker at Four Seasons Market in Coleraine. They do a great job and I’m looking forward to a snack of smoked sucker.
I’ve been trying shore fishing for panfish quite a bit but the cool temps have kept the majority of them out in deeper water, much further than I can cast. Actually, the only panfish I have caught have come while using a boat.
Andy Walsh and I tried three lakes last Friday and found fish in two of them.
The first lake, a local, popular, body of water, had us finding crappie in 16’ of water. They weren’t exactly jumping in the boat, as it was a tough bite. We had to hover directly over them, placing our baits right in front of their faces. I brought along my Vexilar, which proved to be very useful. It was a lot like winter fishing, only using long rods.
The best bait was a small hair jig or Northland Tackle “Fire Fly”, tipped with a waxworm. Go without any added “meat” and they wouldn’t touch it.
The next lake, home to some real dandy crappie and bluegill, had us searching around and not finding anything. When this happens, we quickly load up and are on our way to the next lake. You have to love living and fishing in Itasca county, home of 1,000 lakes.
The third lake of the afternoon offered up a fair amount of panfish, finding them anywhere from 16’ to 21’. One area was classic textbook. As we were heading back to the access, I told Andy to check out the deep water right in front of a small, shallow bay. Yes, there they were, staging, waiting for the little bay to warm up to their liking.
All fish were released on this day, unlike the suckers. That got me thinking. Who in the world keeps suckers but tosses back panfish? Me I guess.
Get out there and enjoy the Great Outdoors. It’s happening NOW.
I hope everyone had a nice Easter. We did, gathering together at my place with some of the family. Naturally, I had time in the morning to sneak away and check out a couple local rivers. No fish were caught and the only hint of one was a super-light sucker nibble.
I recall an Easter spent at my mother-in-law’s cabin on Little Bear Lake several years ago. The kids, both young, searched outside for eggs, as all the snow had melted. It was much like last weekend’s weather but we still had some sketchy ice on the lake.
A thin open water area, located near a small, weedy island, caught my attention. It was directly in front of the cabin and surrounded by very shallow water. Wondering if there were any fish in this area, I scrounged up some “summer tackle” from inside the cabin and headed out to investigate.
If I wanted to fish anywhere on the lake, it had to be this spot, as I never had an auger with me. The open water was my only opportunity.
Easing myself up to the edge of the hole, I extended a long summer rod out and dropped a small jig over the side, in 2-3’ of water. Imagine my surprise, when a large perch slammed the bait and was pulled to the surface.
I admired it for a few seconds and slid it back into the water and went on to catch a few more. They were all big and obviously female perch, full of eggs. We never caught them that large during the summer months, only the little ones.
They were also grubby but never-the-less fun.
The allure of water. I just can’t get enough of it and that’s probably why I’m always checking out different fisheries. Some of them aren’t even that. Just a pool of water that appears to possibly hold a fish or two.
I’ve been in the boat a couple times this spring but most of my adventures have taken place while trying to shore fish somewhere. I realize that I’d be better off using a boat, if bringing home a meal of crappies was a priority, but I prefer to start out from shore and then work my way into the boat a couple weeks later.
It goes like this:
*Fish from shore using knee boots or hip waders. That’s why I’m constantly checking water temperatures and as of right now it’s too cold. I’ve found water as warm as 51.5º but the fish weren’t there. This was in the morning. I’m thinking if I went back in the afternoon, it would be warmer and might possibly have a few fish within casting range. Ideally, find water in the mid-50’s and you’ll have fish.
*Use chest waders to work the shorelines, when fish start to disperse from in front of you. Waders allow me to move up and down the shorelines, as long as it’s not too soft of a bottom. I haven’t gone too deep, where water has run into the top of them but darn close. It’s the boggy, soft-bottomed areas that usually stop me. I said usually.
*Once fish are harder to catch from shore, it’s time for the boat. Many of the lakes I fish, however, are only accessible from shore and dragging a boat into them isn’t really worth the effort. Normally, when using a boat, I’m on prime crappie waters.
One of the lakes (if you can call it that) I checked last week brought back a lot of memories, as I had fished it with my late Uncle Francis, over 30 years ago.
Thinking there might be some fish in it, we put on the knee-boots and made our way out across a floating bog. It was one of those bogs that had you making an immediate next step because your other foot was sinking. You had to look ahead and plan your steps. You also had to go fairly quick and that’s hard to do when there’s a lot of brush in the way. It was such tough going that we only brought along one rod, which we planned on sharing.
Reaching the edge of a 20-acre bog lake, Francis got the first turn. Casting a “Beetle Spin” for five minutes resulted in nothing. Then it was my turn, which ended in the same results.
Back to Francis. I was looking the other way, when I heard him say “there’s one.” I turned to see the rod folded over and the line slowly moving along the shoreline. Obviously not a crappie, it didn’t fight but steadily and slowly swam away until it came loose. That was our only bite. I had to re-visit for old time sake.
Again with the knee-boots. This time, however, the bog was still partially frozen. I could feel the solid firmness below my feet and getting to the so-called lake was a breeze. Taking the water temp revealed it to be slightly over 51º. I was hoping for more.
This time, I was making extra-long casts with my 7’2” Tuned Up Custom Rods ultra-light. A small hair jig was on the business end of things and a large Rocket Bobber helped in making casts of 75-100 feet. Nothing. Still too cold. Not easily deterred, I’ll be going back.
Wow. We sure made a quick leap into spring. I can’t believe most all the lakes are now ice free. This is one of the earliest ice-outs I can remember and I’m guessing that the Minnesota general fishing opener will be a very good one. After all, the walleye and northern pike will have spawned weeks in advance and will be aggressively looking for something to eat. I can’t wait!
Pretty much anchored around the house for the past couple weeks, due to being sick and having nowhere to fish, I looked forward to a Twin City road trip, last Sunday, with Justin Bailey.
He was bringing a good buddy, Jonathon, to the Minneapolis airport so he could catch a flight back home to Colorado. Jonathon, a medic, saved Justin’s life not once but twice while doing tours in Afghanistan and Iraq so, obviously, they are as tight as buddies can be.
The bond our servicemen and servicewomen have with one another is something to behold. Not having been in the service, I have witnessed this everlasting friendship while fishing with Justin and his comrades and it is indeed something very special.
Jonathon spent several days fishing for sturgeon and walleye with Justin on the Rainy River. The guy loves to fish, especially largemouth bass, which he did with me last summer. I’ve invited him back here this year for more of the same.
On the road, Bailey’s phone summons him often. Many times, it has something to do with the “Fishing with Vets” program he co-founded. A registered 501c(3) non-profit organization, its popularity is snowballing and receiving a ton of support. We were driving past an almost-open Mille Lacs Lake when his phone rang again. It was another generous donation. This time, from the Keewatin Legion. And so it goes. The phone just keeps on ringing.
Fishing with Vets strives to hold four to five “once in a lifetime” fishing events annually. Recently, Fishing with Vets had a successful event on Upper Red Lake. This event gave fifteen veterans the opportunity to fish with accomplished guides, while sleeping on the ice in donated Ice Castles from the Ice Castle Owners Group (ICOG). It also gave these fifteen vets a chance to “open up” and have a few laughs.
Currently scheduled for 2017 are events on Pool 4 of the Mississippi River, Lake Minnewaska in Alexandria, MN, the Grand Rapids area, and Lake of the Woods. Each event is budgeted for at least 25 vets and 15 guides. Two nights lodging is provided for veterans and guides, along with food, and bait. Gas and other general fishing expenses (e.g., gear) are donated by the guides.
During the Trout Lake event last year, Fishing with Vets partnered up with the local community to hold a fish fry for the vets. Not only did the community come out in droves to show their appreciation, but the local fire department and law enforcement provided an escorted caravan from Grand Rapids to the Trout Lake public access in Coleraine. Also helping out and joining in on the fun was a local motorcycle club. It was an impressive sight, to say the least. This was a unique experience for all on the trip and something the community took great pride in.
Fishing with Vets has accomplished quite a lot in its first two years, providing more than 170 veterans the opportunity to enjoy the passion of fishing, whether open water or on the ice. Many vets stated the events not only opened them up to the sport of fishing but aided in calming and reducing anxiety.
For more information on the Fishing with Vets program, contact Justin Bailey at 218-259-9932 or go to their Facebook page.
I will be doing my regular “spring thing”, running around and checking out some of my better shore fishing spots for panfish. I’ll keep you posted when it all starts to happen. It can’t be too far away.- Good luck, be safe, and have fun!
Spring transition is now upon us so if you still have the need to go ice fishing, you may want to head north, way north, like deep into Ontario. I don’t push the envelope like I used to so I won’t be drilling anymore holes this spring, preferring to wait until this fall.
And where in the world did all that ice fishing equipment come from? I sell off quite a bit of stuff, from time to time, but it still manages to accumulate at a fairly-fast rate. This year, the plan is to get rid of all shelters, augers, along with a bunch of rods.
The only things I’m hanging on to are Vexilars and my Tuned Up Custom Rods collection, which is growing nicely with each new season. Sometimes it takes a while to get things all figured out and one thing I did come to realize is that fact that I prefer shorter ice rods, like 26”. I’ve already got next season’s order in mind but for now it’s time to put things away. The rods, by the way, are nicely put away for the summer in IceFishing Innovation boxes. Not only are they great for hauling your stuff around when ice fishing, they work very well in storing those expensive rods and reels until the next season.
Focusing on the open water season, options are limited but it still can be done. It just depends on what type of boat action you are looking for.
Locally, the ever-famous Cohasset “hot pond” has anglers casting away, catching practically everything under the sun. If you’re looking for a chance to see if the boat still floats and want to get your string stretched, this is the place for you.
Otherwise, head north to the Rainy River and give those fat walleyes a chance to grab your bait. It’s happening now. Live bait, salted shiners, or plastics, they’re biting on all offerings. Success, however, depends on river conditions and just where you decide to fish. Many anglers did well recently, fishing closer to the lake.
And yes, the sturgeon hunters are heading up in droves. This sport has taken off in a big way and the fish seemed to have gotten bigger as well. If you’ve never done battle with a big fish, this is your golden opportunity to do so.
Nothing fancy is needed to join in on this big-time fun. All you need is a boat with a heavy anchor or two. I use two 28-pound river anchors, placing one at each end of the boat to keep it from swinging around, especially if I’m fishing Four Mile Bay. I’ll position the boat sideways, making it easier for everyone to fish. It just gives you more room to spread out your lines.
However, when fishing in the river, where strong current is present, I’ll only drop one anchor from the bow. It’s tricky at times and can be dangerous. Never, and I mean never, drop the anchor over the transom (back), as strong current could swamp the boat. I’ve seen unknowing anglers flirting with disaster, and it scares the heck out of me.
Other open water options are to head south and fish the rivers in the Twin City area. This is always a fun adventure and you just never know what you’re going to catch. It’s quite the smorgasbord.
For now, I’ve been anchored to cleaning the garage and organizing tackle, slowly putting away winter stuff and getting ready for the summer season.
Andy Walsh and I will be competing in a number of tournaments again this summer so most of my organizing has to do with walleye fishing.
I like this. Everything looks so darn nice and neat when I’m done but after only one or two outings looks like a bomb went off, as all looks out of order, to me anyway.
I’ll start off with the jig box, organizing according to size and color, tossing any that have a hint of rust (It might not bother the fish but it bothers me). Northland Tackle “Fire-Ball” jigs are a favorite of mine and I can easily see which colors I prefer, as there aren’t many left (Glow Watermelon always a favorite).
Northland’s new “Current Cutter” jig has made my starting line-up and will definitely be used when I’m fishing current areas like the Rainy River, etc. Tip with the new Impulse “Core Swimbait” and you have a serious walleye catching presentation on your hands. I can’t wait to give it a try.
From there, I’ll move onto the live bait box, making sure I have a nice selection of egg sinkers, swivels, beads, and hooks. It’s a simple presentation that catches a lot of fish but must be done right. Practice makes perfect. Remember, “keep it simple.”
Of course, the crank bait boxes need to be gone through, checking hooks, making sure you have enough of each-and-every size. This gets a little expensive but by adding a few with each new season you will eventually end up with a very nice assortment.
If you want to talk more on fishing (or boats), be sure to stop by the open house at Ray’s Sport & Marine in Grand Rapids this weekend. I’ll see you there!
My last day of ice fishing involved me pulling a Fish Trap all over the lake. Yes, I could’ve driven my truck, as the ice was still good but that old “gut feeling” kicked in and I decided to play it safe. Sometimes I surprise myself. I guess I’ve pushed the envelope enough to know when I should use a little common sense.
The ice surface was sloppy, at best, with an inch of standing water here and there. Many times, my shelter was floating along behind me like a small barge. I thought it would pull easier than that. Ice cleats were used for traction and by day’s end I had enough. So much, in fact, that I decided to put everything away for the summer, even though others were still walking out to their little hotspots and doing quite well.
The next day, this is when the decision to quit was realized, I was sore from head to toe, from pulling the shelter. It was at this time when I came down with a nasty chest cold. It was a doozy, which included an upset stomach, dizziness, body ache, coughing, head ache, sinus issues, and more. Needless-to-say, I didn’t do much and was laying pretty low for the next four or five days.
More-or-less trapped in the house, I spent a good deal of time at the computer, if I wasn’t sleeping. I posted two of my shelters for sale on Facebook and got rid of them in an instant. How nice. I still have one more, a small Clam Vista hub, and two augers, one 8” and a 10”. I figured I free up some storage space and start fresh next fall.
Justin called, saying “what are you doing tomorrow? Do you want to do quick road trip? I have to bring my boat to Rochester to get it wrapped.” I couldn’t say “no” fast enough. As sick as I was feeling, I couldn’t imagine spending well over eight hours in a vehicle. There was no way. The wrap, by the way, is going to be pretty slick. I’ll have to post a photo when done.
A couple more days passed, I was still sick, and here comes Justin saying “where are the musky lures? I want to do an inventory.” Good Lord. Here we were in March, musky season starts in June, and he wants to count baits. This guy is going 110 mph all of the time. Incredible. Locating a couple more boxes of the big baits, I sent him on his merry way, happy as a lark. I should mention that he showed me his latest purchase, a large musky trolling bait that was pick up at the Mpls. Sport Show. It cost $129! Yes, that’s just for one lure.
Then there’s Andy. Working a 40-hour week, he was bound and determined to do some open water fishing on the weekend. Hence, the numerous messages, trying to talk me into joining him on the Rainy River, another thing that wasn’t going to happen. He’s persistent, I’ll give him that.
So, I wasn’t real surprised when I checked my phone on Saturday morning and found fish photos from the river. He found somebody to go with, co-worker Cody Mjolsness, and they were catching a few fish. Here’s Andy’s Rainy River report.
“There’s no better feeling, knowing everything is working well!! (Andy had just pulled his boat out of storage.) Had fun on the river with Cody today. We didn’t get the big girls but we still managed to put a few in the box.
We were using the down imaging feature to focus on shelves that were hidden below. I was able to spot lock on a shelf that was 15’ on top and 19’ on the bottom. Dangling the jigs just off the edge seemed to work the best.
Live bait, such as rainbows and emerald shiners worked best, running pink and bright yellow jigs, with my TUCR (Tuned Up Custom Rods) Apex jigging rods. Current was roughly 1.2-1.4 mph with a water temp of 36.7º.
This time of year, I am used to running 4 oz. no-roll sinkers on sturgeon gear but 2 oz. is plenty.
Can’t wait to go back up. A big thank you to Ray’s sport & Marine crew this week, helping get the boat “river ready!”
It was a last, safe ice hurrah, as we drove our trucks all over the lakes, right through last Saturday. Warmer weather now has me in a different mode, using wheelers or just plain walking out, which isn’t bad, as the tote sleds skip along behind with ease.
Saturday’s bite was once again fussy, as it has been for most of the winter. Oh sure, we’ve had some great bites, with fish practically jumping out of the hole but for the most part it has been an unusual season. Many other avid ice anglers agree. I don’t know what it is.
Some think the lakes are fished out but I disagree. There’s something else going on, more than likely related to forage, would be my guess.
Yes, there will be a couple weeks of great ice fishing left but many are already thinking of the open water season. I’ll have to admit that I’m one of them. It’s been a long winter and I’m ready to jump into the boat.
Speaking of boats, I spent last Sunday at the Jaycee’s Home Show. Ray’s Sport & Marine had a small lineup of boats on hand and it sure gets a guy’s blood pumping.
I’m anxiously waiting for the walleye “tournament trail” to start, where once again, Andy Walsh and I will be teamed up. We start out a week after opener on Lake Vermilion in the City Auto Glass Walleye Classic and then set our sights on the AIM Walleye Series, fishing the somewhat “home waters” of Leech Lake, Mille Lacs, St. Louis River/Lake Superior, and hopefully ending up in the championship on Lake Vermilion. The GRAHA Walleye Shootout on Pokegama Lake is also mixed in there somewhere.
Then, if time allows, there are a handful of MTT (Minnesota Tournament Trail) events on Big Winnie that have us interested. It all depends on if we can fit them in our schedule. Toss in a few guide trips here and there and the summer is practically booked solid already.
Yes, to say “we’ll be busy” is an understatement. I was just about “walleyed out” after last season but it looks like I’m, once again, ready for another go at it.
Justin Bailey spent several hours, last month, working on an old boat he has had since a kid. It, along with the trailer, has been totally redone and looks pretty sharp. He pulled it up to the Rainy River last Sunday and had trouble in finding a suitable place to launch.
Eventually, he was able to get it in the water and came away with his first successful walleye outing of the year. I guess “if there’s a will, there’s a way.” I thought it was a little early but the always determined Bailey made it happen.
I’m currently working with Tuned Up Custom Rods on a “dual purpose” panfish/walleye rod. My rods, custom wrapped, to match my Pflueger President XT reels (crimson & grey), will be 6’2”, 6’8”, and 7’2”. The super-sensitive, soft, rod tip will detect the slightest of bites, whether it’s a fussy slab crappie or temperamental walleye. I prefer light action rods for walleye fishing and thought “why not?” I’m anxious to try them out.
That’s one thing about Tuned Up Custom Rods, they truly are “custom made” for your fishing pleasure, open water or ice fishing. No matter the species, length, action, handle design, color, etc., they will make a rod according to your specifications.
For more info on Tuned Up Custom Rods, go to their web site at tunedupcustomrods.com. Locally, you can see them at Thousand Lakes Sporting Goods in Cohasset. Just ask for Grant or Andy. Tell ‘em “Greg sent ya.”
Truck fishing at its finest! That’s what’s been happening for me lately.
The colder temps have frozen up our lakes, making it as good as it has been all winter. There’s no snow, however, so don’t get too excited about using a snowmobile. I’ve been driving and will continue to do so but will be using an atv or hoofing it as the weather warms, which is right around the corner.
We’re still dealing with those cold winds and it makes it miserable in standing out there without a shelter. Hence, the pickup truck, which is basically used as a wind block.
The ice surface is about as smooth as it can get so be sure to wear ice cleats. Many times, when drilling a hole, I find that my boots are froze to the surface (if not wearing cleats). Yes, it’s that smooth. When slowly driving a truck across the lake, you can hear the rubber tread of your tires squeaking, trying to gain traction. Conditions are wonderful!
Fishing has been good and the best baits continue to be small jigs, usually tungsten, tipped with plastics or wax worms, especially when dealing with sunfish. They catch their fair share of crappie too but if I’m on a good crappie bite, it’s usually a Northland Tackle “Forage Minnow Jig” or “Forage Minnow Spoon” that gets the job done.
When first arriving at the lake, I’ll drop down a Forage Minnow, as it’s a larger presentation and is a great “search lure.” It gets their attention, whether they are going to bite it or not and that’s been the case lately.
Many times, especially if you’ve found the bluegills, they’ll come over for a look and as much as they want to taste that sweet-smelling waxworm, they’ll just closely inspect and come to the conclusion that’s it’s too large a presentation. Then it’s tungsten time.
Tiny jigs, and they don’t necessarily have to be tungsten, mainly small, tipped with wax or plastics can be a real game changer. Their mood changes in a hurry, when the offering is small enough for them to take in and this applies to the crappie as well.
The best plastic for me has been Northland’s Impulse “May Fly” and I don’t know what it is but the brown “natural” color has been lights out all winter. Don’t get me wrong, the other colors work too, as I’ve caught plenty of fish on them, especially with white or black. It pays to experiment. Keep switching colors until you come up with that hot presentation.
I’ve also been catching good number of large perch. Yes, March is always the best for true JUMBO perch, as the big females are slowly making their way to the shallower spawning grounds. It may be awhile before they spawn, 45-50º water, but they’re on their way. This is the time of year to catch big fish, a lot of them.
“Twenty is plenty.” That’s got a nice ring to it. I’m glad the perch limit is now at 20 fish. Looking back at my first serious “perch jerking” effort, the limit was 100 each and I recall filling up a 5-gallon pail of them, after a very productive day on Leech Lake. They were big fish, with some of them hitting the 14” mark.
It was also my first attempt at eating them and I was delighted with the “different” but delectable taste they offered. Very good indeed.
Most of my perch presentations involve smallish spoons, some with trebles and others with a larger single hook. It all depends on what they prefer to eat on any given day. Usually, it’s a full minnow on a larger Forage Minnow jig. A little fussy? Then it’s a minnow head on the end of a Forage Minnow Spoon. Whatever works.
I’m kind of at a crossroads right now, anxiously awaiting open water boat fishing but hoping we have good ice for another 2-3 weeks, or more. In any event, I’ll be out there fishing, somewhere, somehow.
Also, if you’ve had enough fishing for the winter, be sure to check out the 50th Annual Grand Rapids Jaycees Home & Sport Show, this weekend, March 17-19th. Rays Sport and Marine will be on hand, displaying Lund boats. We’ll see you there!
The weather has rebounded back into being somewhat normal for this time of the year and fishing, depending on just where you go, has been pretty darn good. How nice it was, to be able to drive all over some of my favorite waters last weekend and fish out of the back of the truck, making it oh so easy.
Looking ahead at the forecast, it appears that we will be “enjoying” some cold weather, which will be making ice and keeping us in full ice fishing mode for a few more weeks. Get out there and enjoy it, as it’ll be gone before you know it.
Meanwhile, anglers are continuing their quest for panfish, while others are seeking out big fish battles near and across the border. Local “border battles” are taking place in the form of behemoth northern pike and sturgeon on Lake of the Woods and the Rainy River.
Most big fish anglers are catching good numbers of big northern pike, as they swarm the shallows of Four Mile Bay, along with other ideal pre-spawn locations. I used to do that, only we’d travel across the border and fish in front of the Reed River in Manitoba’s Buffalo Bay.
We caught a few fish there but never many, like they do in Four Mile Bay, which I think is better fishing, as far as a shorter trip, along with more fish. Size, which is very nice, seems to be about the same.
Timing is always critical, when it comes to most fishing success and the late ice northern pike bite is no different. Get there when it’s prime time and you’re in for some of the best tip-up fishing you’ll ever experience. Please remember, however, to release those big beasts. It’s the least you can do after they’ve just finished giving you an adrenalin high and memories to last a lifetime. Think about it. They’ll be back there next year, to give you yet another battle, and they’ll be even bigger!
Another big fish option is to go sturgeon fishing on the Rainy River. Find open water and use a boat or if you’re lucky enough to find good ice, drill a hole and sit back and wait. It’s a peaceful waiting game until all hell breaks loose. These fish are big and battle like no other so go prepared, using “industrial strength” tackle, from strong rods to heavy hooks, lines, and reels. You’ll need a heavy sinker too, just to keep your offering on the bottom.
Another famed big fish bite is happening right now on Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba. Actually, it’s been taking place all winter, and that’s fishing for those big, beautiful walleyes they call “greenbacks”, nicknamed for the stunning greenish colors they sport.
I’ve been up there many a time and best describe it as “world class champagne fishing on a beer budget.” This is something you really need to try, as the trip is quite inexpensive and the fish? Well let’s just say the fish are something very special, being absolutely beautiful and growing to as big as they get. Want to catch a walleye in the 8 to 11 pound range, or a lot larger? Head north to Lake Winnipeg.
Yes, we’re dipping into “March Madness” and a lot will be happening. Fish are on the bite and the weather is pleasant. This is also a great time to check out that new boat or motor you’ve been thinking about. Get those rigs ready my friends. It won’t be long!
I’ll tell you what. I’m getting kind of tired of using a snowmobile or wheeler every time I want to go fishing, which is like five times a week or so. Plenty of respect for the questionable ice left behind from the recent warm weather has me doing so. Yes, it’s better to be safe than sorry but it does get old. Hey, this isn’t supposed to be late ice yet.
Most ice has been measured in the 20” range, which makes my decision so hard to deal with. I’m sure I could drive my truck out there but what if? Conditions were getting quite sketchy there for a while and the ice was getting softer, as well as thinner.
However, with the recent turn around in temperatures, some are out and about, driving on the lakes just like before. One of the lakes, a favorite of mine, Big Bowstring, has anglers driving all over the place. If I can shake this miserable cold, I just may be one of them. Like lemmings, we sort of throw caution to the wind at times and just follow along.
Fishing remains good, if you happen to select the right lake on the right day. It’s almost like a lottery. How lucky are you? There’s been plenty of those “you should have been here yesterday” outings. You just never know. It’s a good thing I fish as much as I do, as I’m bound to get lucky every once in a while.
The most productive panfish offerings have still been small tungsten jigs tipped with plastics, maggots, or wax worms.
A perch outing, last weekend, had us catching a bunch of nice fish but the best presentation was a laid-back approach, ala “dead-stick” style.
Once fish were located, I’d make slow jigging motions until a perch showed some interest. Then, it was time to lay the rod down, sit back, and watch. Almost without fail, I’d see the rod tip start to bend after a minute or so. However, move it too much and off they went, not wanting anything to do with it.
Unseasonable weather has a few already thinking of the Rainy River and you can’t blame them. Especially when it has opened up in various stretches. It would be fun to get back in the boat again but I think I’ll keep on ice fishing until the season runs its course. The best is yet to come!
For those in mourning over the recent closure of the walleye and northern pike season, keep in mind that the winter trout season goes until March 31. So, if you’re looking for something larger than panfish to play with, give the trout a try. They’re always fun. Tasty too.
This late season fishing has me looking back and remembering a flood of memories and one of them was of my uncle Jack. Always an avid ice angler, he would fish until he couldn’t make it out on the ice anymore.
My Goodness! What about this weather? We lost a month somewhere, as this is exactly like late March, instead of February. We’ll take it, however, and although it looks to cut short our ice fishing season, we will always have other outdoor passions to look forward to, like walleye fishing on the Rainy River. That’s just the worst-case scenario, if our season happens to end early, which wouldn’t be all that bad.
We have a slight cool-down in the forecast, which should prolong our ice fishing season, at least for those that care to walk out or use atvs. As far as snowmobiles, it doesn’t seem that there will be enough snow to keep them running cool like they should. I do, however, remember Blake Liend and I running all over Big Bowstring with ours when there wasn’t a lick of snow in sight. Big perch and crappie can make you do things like that. Crazy.
A gentle reminder, if you plan on walking on the hard-water for another month, and that is to make sure you’re wearing ice cleats. There’s many to choose from and most any model is better than nothing. They make a huge difference in staying upright.
The end of the month signifies its once again time to renew fishing licenses. Due on March 1st, there are many options to pick from. For example:
*Military get to fish for free, cost is $0. The DNR is recognized as a Yellow Ribbon Company. In appreciation of and support for your military service, the DNR extends certain outdoor recreation benefits. To find out which license, permit or pass you are eligible for visit the MN DNR web site. If you still have questions call the DNR information or license center at (888) 646-6367.
The following pertains to Minnesota residents only:
* 24-hour angling license - $10 (individual)
* 72-hour angling license - $12 (individual)
* season license - $22 (individual)
* conservation license - $15 (individual, ½ bag limit)
* angling combination - $35 (married couple)
* individual sports license - $38 (fishing and small game)
* combination sports license - $52 (fishing and small game)
* three year license - $63
* trout stamp - $10
And then there’s the lifetime angling license, which just might be a great value for someone of younger age. Me, however, I don’t think so. Heck, I won’t even buy green bananas!
* lifetime angling license - $508 (ages 16 – 50) *lifetime angling license - $335 (ages 51 – older)
These are just a few of the license options available. There’s been talk of license increases but the way it stands right now, I think it’s a great value. Even with the increase, I wouldn’t complain.
As far as fishing, I’ve been out there a lot and have found somewhat unusual conditions, regarding the bite. Most of the lakes, and I’ve been on a dozen different ones in the past week, offer difficult fishing.
A lot of the local crappie lakes, which normally offer good action, are almost shut off, with fish being extremely fussy. There are, however, a select few that are pumping out fish at a high rate. I’d really like to know what causes this. It’s a puzzler. Plankton?
The top presentation has been a small tungsten jig, tipped with a piece of plastic, or sometimes a wax worm. As it is right now, the plastics are winning, hands down. Of course, every once in a while, small jigging spoons, tipped with wax worms have been doing pretty darn good.
Keep an eye on the ice and don’t be foolish. Play it safe and enjoy the GREAT OUTDOORS.
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A family fun day was had last Sunday, on a small back-in-the-bush lake in Itasca county. Going for northern pike, with pickled fish on our minds, we gave it the old “one-two-punch”. My son, Kris, and his two youngest daughters, Lexi and Claire, would be spearing, while I would try to ice a few via angling.
Now, even the best laid plans can have a wrinkle or two. Kris has been using a portable “hub” shelter all season, for spearing, and has done well with it. If there was any problem at all with his approach, it was that fact that it lets in too much light, making it hard to see into the water at times.
To remedy this, he had brought along an enormous sheet of black plastic. The plan was to wrap it around the hub and that would have been fine but we faced strong winds right from the get-go and had one heck of time in doing so. We eventually finished our little project and it took all four of us. Looking back, I’m glad no one was watching, as it was quite a sight.
The hub allowed plenty of room for the three of them, with one of the girls at each end of the 2’x3’ hole and Kris in the middle, keeping an eye on things. They each had folding chairs and enjoyed the warmth of a Buddy Heater. It was perfect, except for that wind.
I was set up and angling 20’ away and we couldn’t even hear each other. It was blowing that hard. Oh, I guess it wouldn’t have been so bad but the plastic was flapping and slapping the hub, causing all kinds of commotion. Kris later thought this extra noise may have frightened off a lot of the fish.
That may have been the case but even my set up, which was in a quiet, stealth mode, had fish being very spooky.
Kris and the girls watched fish come into a 2’x3’ hole, while I used two 8” holes. But I was watching too, with a VexilarFLX-28 flasher in one hole and Vexilar “Fish Scout” underwater camera in the other. I was set.
Fish came fast, with the girls getting a couple pushing four pounds right away. These turned out to be the largest of the day.
That’s one thing about harvesting northern pike to be pickled. They don’t generally have to be very big and we have plenty of waters offering this type of fishing. This one was tucked away, off the beaten path, and nothing special, other than the fact it was loaded with small fish. It didn’t matter. We were there for the action.
Part of the fun is the process of setting up. Holes were drilled, six of them making a large rectangle, with a 10” power auger. From there, an ice saw was used to free the block. Then the fun begins, using a pair of ice tongs for removing the large ice cube.
The old tongs were a recent acquisition and came from a pawn shop, costing $45, about the same for a new set but were very well made and added character. Very well worth it, in my opinion. They were sharpened the night before, along with the spear.
This was just one of many, many outdoor adventures that my granddaughters have experienced. At a young age, they’re learning it all, having done everything from successful deer hunting to catching monster sturgeon on the Rainy River. I can’t think of a better way to raise your children. Give it a try.
It’s been a while since I’ve traveled across the northern border for some winter lake trout action but that all changed last week, when Justin Bailey and I made a day trip to Lake of the Wood’s Whitefish Bay. Reminiscent of my long-mileage day trips, years ago with Blake Liend, this one has to rank right up there, especially when we traveled out-of-the-way to meet Travis DeWitt on the way up.
Against my better judgement, we met Ballard’s Resort fishing guide, Travis DeWitt, in Baudette and followed him to the lake. This maneuver added an extra 70 miles to our trip but I figured “what the heck, if Justin wants to drive, that’s fine with me.” Going home, we went the way we should of, via Ft. Frances, etc.
Total mileage for the trip ended up being 465 miles. That’s quite a haul for only fishing 5-6 hours but that’s what we do sometimes, especially when it can offer trophy fishing and you don’t want to spend the night. Yes, we are official members of the “pork and beaner” club. That’s a term used to describe Americans, probably just us close-to-the-border Minnesotans, that run up north for the day, without spending a whole lot of money for lodging, etc. Hey, it works for me, especially if I don’t have to do the driving.
Travis, a fulltime guide, spends nearly every off-day winter trout fishing in Canada so he pretty much had them wired. During the summer, he focuses on muskies. The guy is good.
Crow Lake had crossed our minds but seeing how DeWitt had been doing so well on Whitefish Bay we decided to put the odds in our favor and go where he had recently been fishing. Heck, it was only another 25 minutes or so.
I did a little checking on lake conditions before we left and wasn’t very happy with my findings. Lake surfaces were half glare ice, with the other half sporting frozen, hard-packed snow. It wasn’t good for long-distance travel but here I was, talked into heading up north for what I expected to be a punishing day on the ice. It doesn’t take much.
Now, bear in mind, that Justin and Travis were using newer snowmobiles with great suspensions, while I had my trusty 20 year old Bearcat, which was made for comfort, not speed, as theirs were. As one can imagine, I couldn’t keep up with them. It was as rough as rough can get and when we finally did stop I noticed my machine was over-heating. There wasn’t enough snow to keep things lubed and cool.
It was cool and the wind was blowing good enough to make it uncomfortable fishing outside. It was also very slow. We hopped around from spot to spot, and all good spots I might add, areas where Travis had down well on days prior.
Very few fish were seen and it looked to be just “one of those days.” I’ve done the same on Crow Lake but then I’ve done exceedingly well there too. It all depends on the mood of the fish. There are times when they don’t want to be bothered and this was one of them. That’s probably the only real downside of doing a long day-trip. There is no tomorrow.
DeWitt uses smaller trout baits and does very well with them. Justin was in the “big bait, big fish” mind set and has done well on Minnesota trout waters but had to reduce down in size when visiting Whitefish Bay. The old adage “when in Rome” came into play. Regional tactics are something you really need to pay attention to, if you going to be successful.
One this day, however, only one fish was hooked and landed. It came while Justin and I were chatting, sitting in a shelter and keeping warm. The day was winding down and I can’t recall if I was even jigging the little swimbait or not. All I remember is the slack line, which somewhat surprised me. Slack line! That’s a fish!
Instincts told me to set the hook and a few minutes later a nice lake trout showed its face. Justin gets half-credit for this one, as the hook popped loose in the hole and a quick hand-grab had to be made.
A photo was quickly taken, so not to damage the fish, and it was released back in the hole, swimming off with nothing hurt but it’s pride. It took off real strong. It’s a good feeling.
It’s amazing at what lengths we go to enjoy a day on the water. Make a round-trip just under 500 miles, fish hard in the cold, on a fussy, tough bite, catch one fish and then let it go. It’s what we do.
I’m looking forward to the forecasted snowfall, as current lake travel is horrendous on most popular bodies of water. It’s nice to get around in 2-wheel drive but it is currently as rough as it can get.
Our recent January thaw left very little snow on the ice but that’s not the problem. It’s the frozen vehicle tracks made during the “melt down.” Even ATVs and snowmobiles have left their mark. Crossing a set of truck tracks is like crossing railroad tracks, or worse. All you can do is go slow, very slow.
I can’t help but watch in amazement, as anglers pull their wheel-houses across the lakes. It is so terribly rough; I would imagine anything that isn’t secured in place will end up on the floor. The worst of it is the beating that $20,000 shelter is going through. Not good.
Fishing success has been having its ups and downs, ranging from very good to struggle time. It’s amazing how quickly the fish can go into a funk. Take Bowstring Lake for example. I did very well there on a guide trip (thank God) and went back only to find that the fish were shut off big time. Even the smallest, most finesse presentations were snubbed. Relocating to another lake offered much of the same.
It’s odd, how we humans don’t detect the slightest change in anything, weather-wise, but the fish and game do. Maybe that’s Mother Nature’s way of keeping a healthy balance?
There’s been some talk of cutting back fish limits and although I’m not sure that this is official news or just local scuttlebutt, I for one would love to see it happen. We need to keep a close eye on our fisheries before some of them start to slip away. It’s happened too many times. Let’s protect them before it’s too late.
I also would like to see more lakes managed for crappie and bluegill. Some lakes, again I’ll use Bowstring for comparison, are teeming with crappie and nice size fish at that. However, when hundreds of anglers are out there, and most catching fish, it can certainly put a serious dent in the population. The recent warm weather was a huge factor, as you could fish most anywhere you wanted to.
Driving across the lake, with a graph at your side, featuring an accurate depth map, little-known holes and hotspots are now vulnerable. Many times, just for fun, I’ll pick out a little, good looking spot and drive to it only to find that it has been discovered earlier by several others. It’s kind of scary.
Imagine if there was a five-fish crappie limit on Bowstring like there is on Big Splithand. Would size increase? Who knows? One would think so but it doesn’t always work like that. Sand Lake would be another great candidate for a five crappie limit. That lake gets pummeled, especially in the fall.
Looking back at the “crappie boom” on Upper Red Lake, it was mind boggling at the number of anglers that were out there. Local economies flourished. Now, even though the crappies are fished down to the point of you being surprised when you catch one, the crowds are still out there by the thousands. With most all of them trying their hand for walleye, it almost looks like the crappie fishing days of old. That’s a special fishery if there ever was one.
Some lakes managed for bluegill, like Splithand, Bass, Deer, and Grave, offer a chance at some real dandy fish. There’s good reason that the limit is only five. I wish there were a lot more lakes like this, as big sunfish lakes are scattered across the North Country and once word gets out, they get beat up pretty bad, with limit after limit of big fish destined for the frying pan. It’s sad.
Visiting one of these lakes, my first bluegill through the ice this winter measured 10 ½” in length. I admired it for a few seconds, had a photo taken, and slipped it back into the water. Off she went, giving other anglers a chance at catching her. Hopefully more anglers repeat this process.
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January thaw? I’d say. Wow. Has the weather ever been nice, as of late? If I didn’t know better, I’d say it was late March and the fish are biting as if it is. Lake surfaces are much like late season as well, with anglers facing a lot of wet conditions. Lake travel, however, is quite good, making it easy for anglers to get around. Never-the-less, caution is always high on the priority list. Stay away from flowage areas, as they are usually the first to go.
It’s amazing, how fast things can deteriorate. Over the last two weeks, I was hung up in a snow drift on two different lakes with a four-wheel drive pickup truck. They are so darned hard to see at times, blending in with the rest of the snow cover. Now, however, the snow has settled, if not totally melted away, and it’s pretty much free sailing out there.
Justin has been in hot pursuit of lake trout, ever since the Minnesota winter opener on the 14th. I, on the other hand, have been right back at what I do best and that is playing with panfish, mainly crappies. Although, I have caught some very nice jumbo perch and a few bluegills as well.
Fishing out of the back of the truck has never been better. I love this style of fishing. All the necessary equipment for locating a hot school of fish is always close at hand, making it downright easy when I’m in the search mode.
There is one piece of equipment that stays inside the truck and that is a Humminbird “Helix 9” graph (thank you Andy Walsh). Using it solely in the chart feature allows me the luxury of a 9” color lake map that shows my position (as a boat) as I cruise across the lake.
It’s surprising at how precise the unit is. Stop on the edge of a steep breakline or the middle of a small hole and it’s dead on. This saves a lot of time and effort when drilling holes.
Laying in the truck bed, with the tailgate always down, are two augers. One is my 8” Clam “Edge” gas auger that is used for drilling new holes. It rips through 24” of ice with ease (it’s too bad Clam doesn’t offer this auger anymore, opting, instead to work with Jiffy).
The other auger is an electric “K-Drill”. The K-Drill Ice Auger System is exclusively geared towards hand held cordless electric drills. Equipped with composite flighting, it is lightweight, durable, and very efficient. I drill fresh holes with mine but mainly use it for re-opening old holes, as it is extremely light and fast-cutting. Powered by an 18 volt Milwaukee, I can check out an old fishing area in a matter of minutes.
Earlier in the season, when we had 12” of ice, I could get 50-60- holes with it before the battery needed charging. An extra battery is always brought along and only one time did we run them both out of juice. It’s truly the way to go.
As I have stated many times, “If you see me on the ice and are curious as to what I am using or want to try some of my equipment, don’t be afraid to ask.”
This happened a couple of times last weekend. One was with the K-Drill. I could see a look of curiosity in a nearby angler’s face so I offered him the chance to try it out. He was amazed, as most are.
The other was one of many “Vexilar 101” lessons, in which this time it was a vacationing woman from Maplewood. I was busy catching fish, one on almost every drop, and caught the attention of her entire group.
Good-natured and casual banter ensued, like normal. I invited her to come over and use my Vexilar, as there were a bunch of hungry fish below me. Explaining to her “you can’t catch fish if they’re not below you. If you aren’t using some sort of electronics, how do you know where the fish are? That’s why you see me walking all over, drilling holes and checking with my Vexilar.”
A crash course in electronics ensued. Well, it didn’t take long before she was reeling them in left and right. I politely reminded her “the limit’s ten.”
Finally, most of their group had joined me and were fishing alongside. Fish were making it topside but were becoming a bit fussy. Never-the-less, they had a nice bunch of fish to take home and their mini vacation was a total success. I like that.
Prior last weekend, I thought it through, wondering just where I would go and for what species. We’re quite fortunate to have as many options as we do, when it comes to trout fishing and can give our DNR a well-deserved pat on the back for that.
Lake trout entered my mind, as they’re always fun. I love watching their antics, chasing a bait up and down the water column. We call it “cat and mouse.”
I’ve angled for Minnesota lake trout all across the North Country, ranging from Ely’s Snowbank and Burntside Lakes to Trout Lake north of Grand Rapids. There’s plenty of opportunities if you search them out. Even some of the mine pits offer lake trout fishing.
Stream trout (rainbows, browns, and brookies) also tempted me. Normally, that’s what I go for on the much-heralded opening day. While lake trout fishing has you being a lot more active with moving about, hole drilling, and jigging motions, “streamers” usually involve sight-fishing, looking down the hole, and using a more subtle presentation.
As for where to go, the list is long. Stream trout waters are scattered all over the state. No matter the species, they’re all fun. This year, however, lake trout won out.
One thing about most lake trout lakes is that fact that they are generally quite deep and the last to freeze. If not too far away, I’ll usually check out ice conditions before the opener so we can head out onto the frozen fishery before first light takes place.
When fishing Canadian lakes, such as Crow Lake (aka Kakagi), I prefer to go the second weekend. By doing this, you can easily see where others have traveled on the ice with snowmobiles. Safe travel routes and slush spots are now more defined, making your trip a whole lot easier.
Most Canadian lake trout waters have plenty of current areas, which usually exist near “pinched down” areas, between islands, etc. Use caution here. Avoid if possible.
Meanwhile, back in Minnesota, our crew made it out onto the ice in the morning darkness. It’s nice to get set up early, as first light usually triggers a few lakers into biting, as does the evening. It’s also nice to reach “your spot” before someone else does. Competition for prime spots always take place, something that pretty much doesn’t happen when across the border.
It worked. It wasn’t fast and furious but a first light flurry did take place, with us landing a few fish. Throughout the day, fish would come by, every once in a while, but for the most part it was borderline boring and that’s fishing sometimes.
Best baits were large “flutter-type” spoons, used mainly for summer trolling applications and white tube jigs. Small hair jigs also accounted for a number of fish and even the old-style airplane jigs did their thing.
I went home with my Minnesota laker limit of two fish, in the 4-5 pound range. Three fillets were vacuum packed and will be “gifted” to a few friends that like them. One was for me. I usually don’t cook any lake trout, preferring to have them smoked.
This time, however, I decided on cooking a few nice chunks in the microwave. Normally, I “nuke” crappie and walleye for about 1 minute and they’re ready to eat. Perfect.
Going with the same routine, I was about 30 seconds into the process when it started “popping.” You know the sound. But this time it was so loud that I was surprised it didn’t open the oven door. Lily, my little dog, was sleeping in the living room and came running into the kitchen barking! What in the world?
Opening the microwave, I discovered quite a mess and salvaged what was left. The other two pieces were only given 30-40 seconds and stayed intact.
Now for the taste test. I wasn’t looking forward to this one, as lake trout can be very fishy tasting if you don’t clean them properly, the main reason I either have them smoked or just catch and release them in the first place.
Piping hot, margarine was spread over the pieces and then a little lemon pepper seasoning. They were ready. Not expecting too much, I was pleasantly surprised with the results, as it was excellent! Never-the-less, I’m not going to do that again.
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Frigid weather always manages to throw a wrench into things. It doesn’t matter what it is. It could be your car that doesn’t start, freezing water lines, or school closings, to name a few. It also toys with those that like to go ice fishing.
If you’re parked in the garage or have your truck plugged in, you’re good to go but you’ll also have to check your tires. Almost without fail, one or more of them will be borderline in needing air.
If there’s any good at all coming from an Arctic blast, it’s the fact that lake ice is getting thicker and that’s a good thing, as who wants to run a snowmobile out onto a windblown lake in this type of weather? Not me. I prefer taking the truck, as it’s a lot more comfortable and you always have a place to warm up if need be.
Reaching your fishing hotspot, it usually doesn’t take more than a hole or two before your auger blades freeze up and won’t cut. I keep a hammer in the truck box just for this. Tap lightly around the blades and you’re back in business. Just be sure to keep your tapping away from the cutting edges.
Walking around, drilling holes, you’ll notice the auger feels much heavier than it used to. The flighting (auger spiral) now has a nice layer of ice up and down the whole thing. Again, with the hammer.
Cold weather also wreaks havoc on rewinds. Take it easy. Trying to start the auger, you’ll notice the rope slowly work its way back into position. It usually takes a time or two before it’s limbered up and ready to go.
You can always go with a battery-operated auger but here, again, the cold weather comes into play, as batteries drain down at a much higher rate. You can use the type that hooks up to your car battery but who really wants to be opening the hood during sub-zero to drill a hole or two? No.
Never-the-less, we manage. We get out there and give it a whirl. Although, now that I’m older, I’m finding that I’m a lot more selective in choosing fishing days. There are times when I’ll just stay home (can you believe that?). Of course, I can do that “when every day is Saturday” for me. I’m loving this thing they call retirement.
It was quite nippy last weekend when we drove up to Upper Red Lake for a crack at a few walleyes. It seemed like a decent plan. It’s days like this that I don’t mind spending a couple hours in the truck just to reach my fishing destination. I’m in no rush at all.
On a lark, we decided to go out of JR’s Corner Access, as it seems most folks stop at the first chance they have, to get out onto the big lake. This is about as close as you’ll get to the reservation line.
I was really impressed with the lake road, which was about 100’ wide and plowed right down to the ice. You could have driven anything out there and that’s always nice for those not having a 4-wheel drive vehicle.
With map in hand, we followed written instructions on where to go and found that place six miles later, amid an army of anglers. Well I guess everybody didn’t stop beforehand.
It still amazes me at how many anglers are out enjoying themselves on this big body of water. It almost looked like the old “crappie days” and I can’t imagine how many millions of dollars of equipment, mainly Ice Castles, were out there. It’s totally incredible what has happened to the ice fishing industry.
My brother, Joel, and I tried setting up away from the crowd, near an ice ridge. Sometimes this works and sometimes not. This was one of those times that it didn’t.
Drilling four holes for our hub shelter, only one of them allowed a lure to reach bottom, as large chunks of ice and slush kept filling them up. After countless efforts of re-drilling and scooping, we gave up and moved to another location.
Dennis Rule, who followed us up, was situated 40’ away and had the same problem. He did, however, have one hole that was free of debris and that one had a bunch of fish below it. Dennis put on a clinic, catching quite a few fish and he wasn’t even using any electronics! One never knows. Slowly jigging up and down a whole minnow was the ticket.
Joel caught a few walleyes, along with a jumbo perch and I never caught a thing! Thinking it through, I still found it better than sitting home on a cold, blustery afternoon. - Get out there and enjoy the Great Outdoors, even if it is cold out.
Don't Wait To Take 'Em Fishing
"You never know when your last opportunity to spend time with a dear friend will be. Wired2Fish editor Walker Smith explores the importance of that special time together and the regret he has experienced after failing to take his own advice." Read >> Don't Wait To Take 'Em Fishing
Back-in-the-bush, exploring, something I love to do but it usually doesn’t pan out the way I hoped it would. In this case, it was a couple of small, semi-private lakes that offer fantastic fishing during the open water period but had a reputation for not giving up a thing during the winter.
Feeling I was just the guy to “crack the case”, I teamed up with guide partner Justin Bailey for a little trek into the backwoods.
Snowmobiles were the key. We had those. A chainsaw was also needed. Justin had that. I had to chuckle when I drove over to pick him up, as I could hear it running in the garage. A plan was coming together.
Reaching our destination, we parked, packed, and took off down a much-neglected trail, which was evident after only going about 200 yards. It was here where we met up with the first of many trees that had fallen across the trail. Logging 101.
For a while, I thought we might have missed the main trail, as it was getting awfully brushy and again with the trees.
Finally, up in the distance, I could see a small snow-covered lake, peeking through the evergreens. What a welcome sight. Was it full of hungry fish? We’d find out.
Cautiously making it out about 100’ or so, we stopped to drill a hole, just to be on the safe side. I heard the little lake had a lot of springs and even though it had very little snow cover and looked to be froze up pretty good, we had to be certain. There was plenty of ice, measuring 14-15” but there was also slush pockets here and there.
Looking at the lay of the land, we picked an area in front of a steep bank, hoping to find a hole, one filled with big panfish.
The first hole revealed 9’ and the next 10’. Making the little body of water look like Swiss cheese, we covered it all and only found 12’ to be the deepest water available. I don’t think we missed anything. I don’t see how we could have.
One would drill and fish, while the other would take the auger and go ahead to repeat the process. I never had a nibble but Justin had two small fish tap his offering. He was guessing they were very small perch. Or perhaps a minnow? The first lake was a bust but that was okay, as the next little hotspot was only a ¼ mile away, if we could find the trail into it. We did.
This one was supposed to have better fish in it, meaning bigger. Again with the drilling process. Again with similar results.
Mother Nature had won on this day but we vowed to be back in the spring and why not? The trail has already been cleared.
The next day, another little adventure took place, one that I had been on many a time but wanted to share with Justin, as it was a new lake for him.
Much of the same, it required snowmobiles, only this time we’d be “running the river”, which can be a little scary at times and this time was no different.
Over the years, I had figured out a safe path to get into the lake but shortly after taking off realized there was more water to deal with than other times. Not to worry. Always looking up ahead, well in advance, I plotted out my trail, observing possible bad-looking ice, slush pockets, and sometimes open water.
Now bear in mind that this isn’t a raging river but a slow-moving current of only 2-3’ or so. Never-the-less, who wants to get wet and spend all day getting a machine out of the drink? Not I.
Sticking close to the shoreline and keeping up my speed, all was going well until I met the otter.
At first, I thought it was a stump sticking out of the water but then recalled there weren’t any obstructions in this piece of the river. I ran my boat through this particular stretch many a time, trimmed up and fairly fast. It was clean.
The otter did a double-take and then stared, as if saying “what in the world are you guys doing?” It was getting a little too hairy so we turned around and headed to another body of water while we were still dry. I’d have to show Justin the lake via another route.
Looking back on our adventures, we could have “gone to the well”, one of several other productive bodies of water that we have been fishing in the past weeks but the curiosity factor takes over from time-to-time. One never knows. - Happy New Year and good luck fishing!