From The Iron Range, Greg Clusiau December 30, 2014 - Northern Minnesota Ice Fishing
Happy New Year everybody! Ice conditions are setting up very nicely. I’ve been driving my truck out onto some of the lakes as of late but with a little extra caution, none of that willy-nilly driving all over the place. The ice isn’t all that thick yet but with the recent cool-down it should really be in good shape for this coming weekend.
Keep in mind that the larger, what I like to call “trout lakes”, are still too dangerous to drive on. A few examples are Pokegama and Trout Lake in the Grand Rapids area. I don’t drive on those two lakes even when it is supposedly good.
Others, however, like Big Winnie, Cut Foot, Bowstring, and Split Hand offer the convenience of vehicle traffic which certainly makes things a lot easier but caution is always advised. Please be careful.
Another thing to consider when heading out onto the lake is the lack of snow cover which means it is really slippery out there if you’re not wearing any ice cleats. I’ve been using Kahtoola microspikes this season and have been more than happy with them as they are easy to put on and provide great traction on the ice.
I don’t know just how much ice fishing tackle a guy really needs but have determined I have way too much. The problem has been the latest and greatest trends, which have me trying this stuff and placing my other past productive lures on the shelf.
Trying to organize this onslaught of tackle last week, I came across a nice little find of System Tackle, which was endorsed by Dave Genz “back in the day.” Those little “Fat Boys”, “Copeds”, and “Pounders” were proven producers during my ice guiding days and are undoubtedly still great lures today. With that in mind I filled one of Northland Tackle’s “Jig Wallets” to the hilt and am now ready for any fussy panfish bites that may come my way.
Storing them in this manner allows one to see exactly what is on hand but better yet it keeps them from bouncing around and having the paint chipped off of them. Perfect. I now have four of the “Jig Wallets” stocked full and am in need of at least that many more.
By doing this, I have eliminated the need for a larger tackle bag as the little “Jig Wallets” are tucked inside my rod case and out of the way. Check them out. You’ll like the concept.
The beginning of the Canadian trout season got underway on January 1. This used to be one of the highlights of the winter season for me. Sometimes, however, the ice wasn’t all that thick so we’d wait until the second weekend. By doing this, we could get accurate fishing and ice reports and would be able to see just where other anglers had traveled. Their snowmobile tracks marked safe travel trails on the lake and also revealed the slush spots, which were usually froze up by then.
The Minnesota trout opener gets underway on January 17. I’m thinking I just may give them a try again this season. Where? I have no idea. There is so much to pick from. In the meantime, to get my trout fishing fix without crossing the border, I have plans to visit the Red Lake Nation again for some rainbow trout action with fishing guide Darwin Sumner.
This will take place on Friday, January 2. I’ve been over there one time prior and it was a blast, with our group catching fifty fish or so. I hope we do the same this year. When asking Darwin of our options I said “is it numbers or big fish?” I loved his reply “numbers of big fish.” Wow. I hope so.
From The Iron Range, Greg Clusiau December 22, 2014 - Northern Minnesota Ice Fishing
Wow. The weather has been outstanding and so has the fishing. It just goes to show you that if you stick with proven hot bites you’ll usually end up doing pretty good. My downfall is the urge to abandon good fishing, opting to try something else “just to see.”
One of the better outings of the season was a recent trip with Sam Cook and Terry Maciej. Cook, of the Duluth News Tribune, has fished with me a time or two over the years and it’s always a low-key, relaxed fun outing.
Sam pulled up in front of Wizard’s in Nashwauk and I went outside to greet him saying “I’ve got a guest for today.” Wording like that can always scare a person, as they never know who or what to expect, but he was all smiles when he saw Maciej following behind. Old friends, Sam and Terry had done a few hunting trips together in the past.
Terry was my Nashwauk high school art teacher and has developed into an outstanding artist. Retired, he now operates Maciej Art & Frame in Hibbing. He was also one of my favorite teachers and I was excited to get him out on the lake, something we’ve been talking about doing for many years.
Shuttling back into the bush, via snowmobile, we set up and struggled in catching any quality fish. The fishing was slow and whenever a crappie decided to bite it turned out to be of the smaller variety. Eventually they started to get aggressive and several larger fish joined in on the action.
Comfortably sitting in a 6x6 Clam “Vista Thermal” shelter, it was quite a sight to see three anglers catching fish at a record pace. Some were too big to keep and were released. Others, however, were deposited into the fish bucket. It was a good day.
Another great outing took place when Chad Peterson drove up from Alexandria for the day. He was joined by Brett McComas of Brainerd and Amanda Buer of Big Lake. All HSM Outdoors staffers, we gathered together for some promotional product video, along with a little fishing of course.
We were featuring the “FilletMaker,” a fish or kitchen cutting board that has garnered rave reviews from the recent winter sport show circuit. The fish cleaning board measures 30” x 22” and is designed for any residue (slime, blood, etc.) to drain into a grooved surface and into a “gutter” making for clean, easy filleting.
The smaller “Kitchen D Lux” measures at 20 1’2” x 15 ½” and works wonders in the kitchen for slicing and/or serving. For more info go to the Facebook page “FilletMaker” or web site “filletmaker.com”.
I should mention that on both of these outings the best bait of the day turned out to be Northland Tackle’s “Forage Minnow Spoon” tipped with a wax worm, minnow head, plastic, or even fished “naked” with nothing on it at all. The “Forage Minnow Spoon” drops down quickly to fish that are on the move as these were.
The “Forage Minnow Spoon” features a small treble hook that can be tipped with small baits. The “Forage Minnow Jig” has a larger single hook that is perfect for tipping with a whole live minnow. The choice is yours. They both work! - Happy Holidays All!
From The Iron Range, Greg Clusiau December 15, 2014 - Northern Minnesota Ice Fishing
I’ve been experiencing mixed results as of late, when it comes to my fishing success. Having been out on the ice nineteen times so far this season, I started things off with a bang, doing very well in the early going but ran into a snag last week. There was a period of time, maybe 4-5 days, in which I encountered some serious fussiness when it came to fish willing to take my bait.
I know if I continued to fish the same productive lakes time and time again, I’d have a better track record but I like to move about and try different waters. So far I’ve fished thirteen different lakes.
Fussy Bites: When encountering difficult fishing for panfish, I usually end up using a light line spring bobber rod tipped with a small jig and waxworm. This usually works 90% of the time. Drop it down, just above the fish, jiggle it a little to get their attention and then let it sit. Normally they’ll rise up to the bait, study it for a good while, and eventually suck it in.
If there’s more than one fish eyeballing the lure, you have a much better chance at catching one, as they seem to get a bit more aggressive in their feeding. However, if there’s only one lone fish down there and you’re having trouble in making it bite, it just may be time to move on to another hole.
Then there are the times when an about face is needed, switching from a dinky little presentation to something a lot larger. I’ve seen this strategy pay off time and time again. Just don’t get locked into using the larger bait all day long if it’s not producing.
After struggling to catch any decent size bluegills with the basic small jig offering, I upsized the lure to see if I could interest any crappie. Using a Northland Tackle “Forage Minnow Jig” tipped with a gob of waxworms, the first fish to strike was a monstrous bluegill in the 10 ½” range. It fought like the dickens and deserved to be released. What a beauty. One never knows.
Good Bites: It is always fun when the fish are biting and I’ve been on some very good crappie bites so far. However, even though the fish seem real aggressive, they can still be very selective to the lures they’ll strike.
A prime example was my last outing where nice crappie preferred artificial baits like Northland Tackle’s “Impulse” and Clam Outdoors “Maki” plastics. It was hands down a favorite over live bait like waxworms and minnows, or pieces of minnows.
Then again, there are some bodies of water that have the fish preferring live minnows. I’ve seen this way too many times. This is when I definitely use two rods and one of them is designated as a “dead stick”, which is placed in a rod holder with the bait at just the right depth.
For this presentation, I like to use a fairly long super-light tipped rod which acts like a bobber. Perfectly balanced on a Today’s Tackle “Rod Rocker” rod holder, the slightest bite will cause the rod to tip forward, signaling a hungry fish.
There’s usually plenty of time to reach the rod and set the hook before it tips all the way down but I’ve seen times when the fish hits it so hard that the hook is already set by the time you get there. Also, by using the “Rod Rocker”, there is absolutely no way you can lose a rod, as it is positioned in front of the reel which keeps it from sliding forward and into the hole. This is a real favorite of mine.
I must tell you about my first walleye trip to Swan Lake. I only had three bites and it went like this. Bite number one was a solid strike, much like my hook-set. However, thinking I had missed the fish, I reeled in to observe my favorite “Glow Demon” with the hook broke off. Not blaming the lure here. Just myself for using one of my favorite fish catchers a little too often. After probably a hundred or more fish to its credit, the hook must have got plumb wore out and broke. Green and glow was the color.
The next fish was a very fat 27”er that fell for a Northland “Forage Minnow Jig.” A quick “selfie” photo was taken before sliding it back down the hole.
The third and final walleye of the morning was a 22” fish that scooted back and forth below the surface, well within full view as the ice was totally clear. That was fun until my line tangled in the transducer cord, allowing it to get a little leverage and get off.
I’m loving this December fishing with so little snow but please be careful my friends. Remember, it IS December and the warm temperatures have the ice looking much like late March. Hold off on your vehicle driving and you may even consider leaving the atv home. It’s a bit sketchy out there. Be safe.
From The Iron Range, Greg Clusiau December 9, 2014 - Hair Jigs For Fussy Crappies
Well, it happened again, as it usually does once each ice fishing season. Arriving at the lake, I backed the trailer out onto the ice for easy unloading of my snowmobile and was getting everything ready for a fine day of crappie fishing when I realized my Vexilar was still sitting in my office, hooked up to the charger. Doh!
There wasn’t even a slight hesitation regarding what had to be done. Everything was put back in place for the ride home and off I went. Luckily I was only fishing locally, 15 miles or so from the house. I’ve driven up to 30 miles and turned around to get my Vexilar. Yes, I’m that dependent on it. As I said, this occurrence usually happens once a season and hopefully I’m good for the rest of the year.
On the way home, I thought of the days when we didn’t have the luxury of ice fishing electronics. It makes one wonder how in the world we ever caught any fish, especially when they were suspended.
I remember fishing late ice crappie on Buck Lake, off of Anderson’s Point, when the depth to fish was considered to be “five arm lengths” down. Why didn’t someone just say “a foot and a half off bottom?” It was basically the same depth. The old arm-length measure was a standard all across the North Country. It didn’t matter where you were fishing.
Looking back at it, I have to laugh. Imagine if I bumped into Kevin McHale out on the ice and he had a nice pile of crappie. Now if Kevin said he caught them four arm lengths down, that would be roughly 28’ for the 7’ McHale.
Excited to get in on the action, I quickly measure off four arm lengths and get nothing because for a little guy like me I’d be fishing about 23’ down. Thinking about it, it’s a miracle that we did as good as we did back then, of course I wasn’t fishing with any 7 footers. Much like anglers describing their fish as “hand size.” It all depends on the size of the describer.
Returning to the lake, I made it out to the community fishing grounds and came across three anglers already fishing. Asking “is it worth it”, one of them responded “that’s why they call it fishing and not catching”, which more-than-likely meant it was difficult catching and it was.
I was getting skunked until reducing down to a 1/80 oz. hair jig, tipped with a wax worm, dangling on the end of 2# test line. The rod of choice was rigged with a spring-bobber, which is really critical for a bite like this as the bites were extremely subtle and hard to detect.
My on ice neighbors packed up after a while and took off. I, however, stayed “just because.” I sometimes enjoy a super-tough bite, even if the fish were small, and this was one of those times.
The next day, on a different body of water, sixty miles north, I encountered the same tough, fussy bite. I’m not sure if I can blame this on a pressure system moving through or not but it was about as tough as it could possibly get. Never-the-less, there I was, stubborn as all get out, staying out there trying to catch these little fish.
I ended up catching a limit of fish, like the day before, all of which went back into the lake. I just like the challenge of it all. Talking to other anglers, it was a general consensus that fishing last weekend was difficult for most. Thank goodness for that spring-bobber.
I’ve been using my snowmobile for on-the-lake transportation and will continue to do so until the ice thickens up a bit. The little lakes on the Iron Range have around 12” of ice or more but I prefer to be on the safe side. I hope you do as well.
From The Iron Range, Greg Clusiau December 2, 2014 - Over half of my first ice outings have been on famed Upper Red Lake ...
... and who can blame me? It has the distinction, because of it “shallowness”, to be one of the first lakes to freeze up and that it has done in grand style. Anglers new and old are flocking to this hot walleye producer like crazed shoppers to a big box store on Black Friday.
Even friends across the border, living in Ontario, have made a trip or two to Red Lake because their home waters, although further north, haven’t froze up to the point where one can safely enjoy the sport of ice fishing.
One of these anglers is Tom Batiuk, who resides in Ft. Frances. Tom, a pilot, recently flew over the fish rich waters of Rainy Lake and deemed it unsafe as some open water was spotted. With that in mind, he joined me once again for another outing on Upper Red Lake. It seems odd that a Canadian would drive south for first ice fishing but hey, whatever works eh?
A couple of my trips have been out of Beacon Harbor, tucked away in the northeast corner of the lake where Hudec’s used to be. Last weekend’s get-together was based out of Bear Paw, situated on the east shore near the Tamarac River. Most all resorts have cabins booked solid on weekends and even finding a vacancy during the week can be difficult.
Resorts are getting an excellent jump start on business due to good fishable ice being available before Thanksgiving. Rental fishing shelters are in place, out on the lake and producing. Even if there are a few shelters still sitting on shore, waiting for a fishing destination, they are being used as hotels units to house anxious anglers.
It is reminiscent of the “crappie days” when thousands of slabs were caught and taken home each day. I recall if you were coming off the lake from the south shore road, it was quite a task to get onto highway 72 as the traffic was non-stop. It’s like that again, only its walleyes this time.
It does make one wonder. How long can a lake kick out so many fish? How long will it take before it collapses like the crappie fishery did, if it even does? Walleye assessments done in the fall revealed the lake to be as healthy as it’s ever been. The limit, however, has been reduced from four to three, beginning December 1, with a protected slot limit from 17” to 26”. The slot fish have to be returned to the water immediately.
That still allows you to go home with three fat walleyes under 17”, which isn’t bad at all. Some think the reduced limit will keep many anglers from visiting Red Lake. I don’t think so. Isn’t catching fish most of the trip? I’d gladly go and catch a dozen or more fish, releasing all but three. However, if it gets to the point where it’s difficult to catch three fish, then anglers will either stay home or drive right on past to Lake of the Woods. It’ll be interesting. Let’s hope for the best.
I did pretty darned good last Saturday, catching over twenty fish myself. The best presentation, for me anyway, was to place my bait as close as possible to the bottom and wait. Too much jigging action would scare fish away but leave it alone and wham! They seemed to come from nowhere.
Best baits for me were small jigging spoons in glow/green, glow/blue, and chartreuse/orange. I also caught a number on my “dead-stick” using a glow/orange colored hook and a split shot. Others have been doing well with vertically jigged minnow baits, like a Puppet Minnow or Jigging Rap, tipped with a minnow head or even a whole minnow at times.
We are so fortunate to live within a reasonable distance from Upper Red Lake. This lake sort of fills the void until other big lakes get going. When that happens, fishing pressure will let up, a little, while other anglers venture off to Lake of the Woods, Big Winnie, Leech Lake, Rainy Lake, and the like.
For more information on lodging and/or fishing reports, contact Beacon Harbor at 218-647-8291 or Outdoor Authority Fish House Rentals at 763-244-7915.
From The Iron Range, Greg Clusiau November 26, 2014 - Transition To Early Season Ice Fishing .
The deer season has come to an end, except for the muzzle loaders, which is coming up at the end of the month. I thought about trying “smoke pole” hunting but with ice conditions being what they are I just can’t do it. The love for fishing is too strong.
Regarding the deer season, it was pretty much the same old story, with some parties doing very well, while others struggled to even see a deer. I place myself in the latter class.
I did notice a lack of wolf tracks, which is odd, but that tells me not many deer were in the areas that I hunted. Although the forecast is that of another brutal winter, let’s hope the deer population doesn’t take too hard of a hit again this winter.
However, lake ice is firming up very well and I’ve made a few successful fishing trips thus far. Two have been to small first-to-freeze lakes that generously give up crappies of the smaller variety. I know, small fish, but at this stage of the game I’ll take what Mother Nature offers, as I really don’t have a choice in the matter.
Sandwiched in between the panfish trips was an outing on Upper Red Lake. Here, we went a mile out, finding 10” of ice and 9’ of water, which kept us on hungry walleye all day long. This lake never fails to impress me.
As of right now, the walleye limit is basically four fish under 17”, as all fish from 17” to 26” must be immediately released. Effective December 1, the limit will be reduced to three fish.
Ice conditions are good, if you heed the advice of the resort you are going out of. They’re out there several times a day and know what’s going on. There have been a few mishaps of atvs going through the ice so it is advised you stay on the trails or areas the resorts recommend.
As of now, there is a long pressure ridge that is just out from the east shore and it runs quite a distance. Resorts are dealing with this thing on a daily basis, making sure you can get across and out to the fishing grounds. The recent warm spell didn’t help matters at all but the colder forecast should keep things in check.
It was super windy the day I went, which forced us to stay put the entire day. We never moved an inch after setting up in the morning but we didn’t have to, as fish were coming and going all day long.
We easily went home with our three-person limit of twelve walleye and tossed back another dozen or so. It was sub-par by Upper Red Lake standards but good fishing in general.
Each day can be different and on this one we found the best presentation to be a smallish lure that was moved very little. Actually dead-sticking was clearly the ticket to putting more fish topside.
The day prior, an aggressive jigging action captured most of the fish so it does pay to experiment and find out just what the fish want.
This exact scenario played out on one of my crappie outings. Getting to the lake first, I walked out and set up. I was catching a few fish but it wasn’t good fishing by any measure.
An hour later, one of the locals joined me. His first fish was a toothy northern pike that snipped his line. Re-tying, he went on to school me, catching quite a few fish. This went on for a while until I had to reduce down to what was required for a fussy bite. I get lazy at times.
For one thing, he was using a wimpy, little, super-sensitive rod that could detect the slightest bite. I could feel the bites but by the time I set the hook the fish was gone. Digging in my rod bag, I pulled out the lightest rod I could find, which was spooled with 3 pound test Northland Tackle’s Bionic Ice “Fluorosilk.” I tied on the exact bait as he was using, a small glow-white Bro Bug Head jig and tipped it with a chartreuse (Caterpillar) “Slug Bug” tail. This was a game-changer, as I began to catch just as many fish as he was.
Moral of the story? Be flexible and don’t be afraid to change things up a little. Don’t be afraid to follow one’s lead.
Have a nice Thanksgiving everybody and remember to be safe on the ice and have fun!
From The Iron Range, Greg Clusiau November 18, 2014 - What’s with this cold weather?
Well maybe it’s not really cold but it certainly qualifies as cooler than normal, which is quite comparable to my deer hunting success thus far.
I haven’t squeezed the trigger yet and have noticed my enthusiasm waning right along with the weather. If you’re not hunting from a heated box stand it’s uncomfortable out there.
Sitting in a ladder-stand, until the sun dropped, had me shivering to the point that I wondered if I could even successfully aim the rifle had a nice buck dared to make an appearance.
It’s been slow. I’ve only seen six deer while actually hunting in the woods. Three were little ones and the other three of the larger variety. I couldn’t tell if they were bucks or not, as all I got was a fleeting glimpse through the brush. Big tracks though.
Current weather conditions remind me of years past, when there was always fishable ice during the deer season and to tell you the truth I’ve done a lot of ice fishing thinking while sitting in the stand.
A few daring souls have already made the trip up to Upper Red Lake for a crack at some first-ice walleyes. They made it out, experiencing 4” of ice, and found poor fishing, which really surprised me. A recent study found plenty of walleyes waiting to be caught and it looks to be another banner year of fishing on Upper Red Lake. As a matter-of-fact, I’m thinking of abandoning the last weekend of deer season for something I’m much better at.
Sitting down to write this week’s column (Monday morning), I was bombarded with ice fishing messages, some of them asking me to join them on the ice. One was Ice Team pro Rick Johnson. I responded that I had nothing ready. Even my new Fish Trap was still in the box, waiting to be put together. Rick said “I’ll give you a report if I have cell coverage.” He was heading out to check some little Itasca county backwater gems. Man, you should have seen me typing then.
Speaking of ice fishing shelters, I decided to go with the new Fish Trap “Kenai Pro” this year. It’s an instant set-up portable that weighs in at 45 pounds, which is perfect for me when it comes time to load up because it’s nice and light. I ordered a hitch for it too, as I will be pulling it all over with the snowmobile when the snow gets a little too deep to hand pull.
I also ordered the new “Vista Thermal” hub-style shelter and I’m really excited to give this one a workout. The hub shelters are basically “floorless” tent-style shelters that set up in a minute or so. They practically “spring to life” when taken out of the travel bag.
Perfect for 2-3 people, the Vista offers plenty of room. I enjoyed the “hub experience” a time or two last winter, prompting me to have one of my own for this season.
One of the outings had us using the larger “Big Foot” model for a cafeteria, as there was plenty of room for cooking and allowed 7-8 of us shelter to enjoy a hot meal on the ice. Looking for something even bigger? Check out Clam’s “Six Pack” series. These shelters measure 11 ½’ across!
In my eyes, it basically lets us join in the camaraderie of days past, when ice fishing shelters were set up for more than one person. Now, mom, dad, and the kids can all fit inside and have a fun day on the ice. All you need to bring along is a heater and some folding camp chairs. How easy is that? They also are easily transported, fitting into most auto trunks and hatchbacks.
I’ll be using mine when able to drive the truck out onto the lake. It’s going to be the perfect set-up for those bites that have the fish staying pretty much in one area, where “running and gunning” isn’t required.
The wind is howling like normal as I write this article, making me glad I’m not sitting in a ladder stand or ice fishing without a shelter. I’m thinking I better get busy and put that Kenai together. First ice crappies are calling! - Good luck, be safe, and have fun.
From The Iron Range, Greg Clusiau November 11, 2014 - Opening Week Of Deer Hunting
My whitetail hunting efforts across the border didn’t pan out again. That makes two years in a row hunting the “bluff country” of Ontario’s Rainy Lake.
In any event, I like it up there because it’s so much more different than what I’m accustomed to back on the Iron Range. Hiking around these areas for a few days can really tire one out. However, it’s not like I’m hoofing it non-stop across the Canadian countryside. I’ll do the slow “walk and stalk” method, sitting each time I find a suitable spot and that’s been most of the problem.
The area I’ve been hunting lacks any long-distance shooting lanes, which makes it real tough to see anything. There aren’t even any trails to sneak about on, when compared to back home hunting. The deer are there but sitting in a ground blind with a 50 yard shooting opportunity just doesn’t cut it, for me anyway. However, plans are already being made for next year and believe me we’ll be more than prepared.
My Ontario duck hunting success was sub-par as well. We did get birds but I still wasn’t able to enjoy that famed “northern flight” I’ve heard so much about. Described as a “shoot until your arm falls off” event, it’s a mass migration of waterfowl that is flushed south due to colder temperatures. Maybe next year.
As far as some more Minnesota duck hunting, my little camo boat sits up north at the cabin and can be ready in a moment’s notice, although I just don’t see that happening with the colder temperatures we’re experiencing. One thing is sure and that is an early ice fishing season may be upon us in a short while. Sharpen those augers!
Last Saturday’s opening day of the Minnesota deer season had me walking in to my stand right at first light. It was a slow morning, with nothing being seen, so I bunched it for the morning and walked back out. The plan was to go home for breakfast and to watch the Gopher football game. Yes, I’m a half-hearted deer hunter.
Upon reaching my truck, one of the land owners, who were gracious enough to allow me to hunt their property, approached me excitedly asking “did you get it?” I had no idea what she was talking about. She went on to say that shortly after I went into the woods, a large antlered buck had followed me in, walking on the same trail. I hate when that happens.
A solid effort over the weekend only allowed me to see a large doe with two yearlings. Yes, the little ones were still with mama. The only buck I saw was a 6-7 pointer that was standing alongside the highway with a doe while I was heading to the stand Sunday morning. Such is hunting. I’m really not too concerned, as I will be able to hunt each and every day if needed. At this point, I already have too much ice fishing on my mind.
Having the luxury of being able to hunt each day of the season has me “scheduled” to spend some time with my brother Joel, who takes a two-week vacation at this time. Yes, he’s that serious. Unlike me. I will also head up north to visit my brother Bruce at the famed A-frame Little Bear Deer Camp. That’s always a good time. I also will finally be able to join my son-in-law and grandson for a little deer hunting in the Big Winnie area, along with a trip or two netting ciscoes. It’s all fun to me (and cold).
Last but not least, Travis Sorokie has invited me to his deer camp in the Togo area and I am taking him up on the offer. Travis and I met for breakfast last Friday at Wizard’s in Nashwauk to touch base (and yes Bob Klinker, I will tell all about my timing). Bob, a longtime friend and avid reader of my column, dared me to tell the truth. Well here goes.
Travis and I had plans to meet at 9:45 am and both of us are exceptionally prompt and on time so when he didn’t show up I invited myself to sit down with Bob and two of his friends. I never got their names but apologize for barging in on them.
I went on to join the conversation and really wondered about Travis. He was never late. I think it was Bob who said “when were you going to meet him?” Then it dawned on me. I was an hour early! I looked at the only clock in the house that wasn’t set for daylight savings time and drove to Nashwauk at breakneck speed so I wasn’t late. Well I guess it’s better than being late.
A message to all hunters out there: be safe, shoot straight, have fun, and be on time!
From The Iron Range, Greg Clusiau October 25, 2014 - Ways of the Whitetail: Taught to me by my Father! (Part 2) by Travis Sorokie -
Scouting---Reading the Signs: Rubs & Scrapes---I see more hunters misuse these two terms when talking to others about the deer signs they see when in the field. To set the record straight, a “rub’ is made by a whitetail buck rubbing of his antler’s on saplings, small trees or even a fence post. The rub is sort of a calling card if you will for other deer in the area. They leave scent on it from their tear ducts and forehead glands. A ‘rub line’ is a series of rubs often in a line or a particular trail a buck is traveling. These are what I try to locate in the early season. A hand held GPS can be a good tool to use here. When you find these, mark a waypoint. In time, you will see a path if it isn’t obvious to the naked eye.
A scrape is where a buck paws away the soil and marks the scrape with his hawk glands and urine. These typically do not appear until later in the pre-rut phase from what I have seen. When in estrus, a doe will deposit her scent on these as well to alert the buck she is ready to mate. Then there are ‘community’ scrapes that several bucks use at the same time. Find one of these (often larger in size), and you have a honey hole!
Rut Phases—Pre-rut quite simply put is everything up to the actual rut in your given area. Bucks will be in little ‘bachelor groups’ often by age. There will be some mild sparing going on, but nothing too serious…yet. Towards the end of pre-rut, things heat up a bit and a sort of hierarchy is determined in these groups…but that can and will change as the rut nears. Now is the time to hunt near food sources and edges. The bucks will be packing on the calories for the rut.
The Rut—In my opinion, this is often a confusing time for hunters to correctly identify. Here in my home state of Minnesota the actual rut occurs sometime between late October (in early years) and going into the 3rd weekend of November (later years). Over the years, I have seen it more often between the 1st and 2nd weekend of November. This golden period is short. Often 3 to 5 days tops.
Here is were a mature whitetail can slip up and show himself during daylight hours. Research has shown a mature whitetail buck will travel upwards of 5 square miles to breed a hot doe. He will also fight any other buck in the area who challenges him. This is a great time for rattling and using hunting scents.
Post Rut—I have found this the most difficult time to hunt. The bucks are worn and weary. There are still a few remaining does that go into a late estrus so there still is some rut-like activity but not much. During this time, it is best to hunt a food source again as the bucks will be trying to regain weight which they lost during the rut.
Scent Control---here is were we have a little disagreement, if you will, within our camp. A couple of the older hunters hardly do any scent control. Yet, they have taken a fair share of the trophy deer through the years. I attribute that more to luck and stand location (which I will address later). Others in the camp at least wash their clothes in Scent Killer and hang their hunting clothes outside to air out. Then there are a few, who are obsessed with scent control. I am in this group.
Did you know, hair is the #1 carrier of human scent? Probably because of my passion for bow hunting whitetail, I start using Scent Killer soap and Scent Killer deodorant in mid-August. I wash all of my hunting clothes in Scent Killer detergent and pack them in Rubber Maid containers with fresh cedar bows off of our property and spray my clothes before going in the field with Scent Killer spray. I will say this, the people in our camp who do this, routinely get closer shots year in and year out. That is a fact!
Cover Scents—a couple years ago, I was talking to another avid bow hunter about this very thing. He put me on a product that quite honestly, I won’t go in the field without it. It’s a cover scent made by a company called ConQuest Scents---‘Deer Herd in a Stick’. They also make one called Buck Rut (for when that time is right). If you haven’t heard of this product, you need to look into it. Not only do I feel it has helped me, what I like most about it is there is no mess! It’s like a deodorant stick, not a liquid. I rub this on my boots a couple times as I walk into my stand and I will rub a little on some branches as I close within range of my stand. The product is amazing and really relaxes deer. So much so, as I don’t play the wind as much as I use to. If I have a stand I want to hunt, I hunt it!
Hunting Scents— I have personally seen three work for me. They are ConQuest Scent’s Buck Rut, Code Blue and Special Golden Estrus. I’ve tried most of them and it is my opinion that way too many people use these types of scents WAY TOO MUCH! I do like Code Blue for when I make mock scrapes in late October bow hunting, and Special Golden Estrus if I have seen a bigger buck in an area during gun season. In either case, I do not use a lot. A Whitetail deer has an amazing nose and too much is unnatural.
Guns and Other Gear—The most popular guns in our camp are the Remington or Winchester bolt action style rifles, topped with either a Nikon or Leupold scope, chambered in either .270 WSM or .300 WSM. The gun I personally shoot most often is a fully synthetic Remington Model .270 SM with a Nikon VX-III scope. This gun is extremely accurate out to 300 yards for me. I currently have been shooting the Winchester Supreme ballistic silver tip cartridge in 150gr. If you don’t already know, Winchester has this fantastic program on their web page where once you have your gun sighted in, you can plug in variables such as wind, weather, and distance and it will give you your point of aim on a chart. I have found this helpful when shooting any distance or changing ammo types.
Know your particular weapon. I will have fired a dozen rounds on average before season rolls around at various distances. Get confident in the distances you shoot.
One of the most useful items I carry is my Nikon range finder. When I’m in my stand, and the action is slow, I will often range a tree or fence post where I expect a deer to appear. This gives me a known distance when I need to take aim, if I don’t have time to range the animal itself for whatever reason.
Other gear I use often when in the field is my Cabella’s camo pack back. I can put a lot of gear inside this particular pack. What’s inside my pack is what matters. Prior to hunting season, I use my vacuum food saver and vacuum pack a few item’s. In one bag, I put a spare hat, gloves, and socks. In another smaller bag, I put an old pill bottle where I have cotton balls, rubbed with Vasoline (excellent fire starter), wooden matches, and a lighter for back up. If you have ever been lost, cold, or wet, you know why I carry these.
Other items in my pack include a layer or two of clothing. I dress light when walking so I don’t get sweaty on my way to the stand or blind. Putting on the final layers once I reach my spot.
Other notable items include a flashing LED light, a small mag light, my hunting knife, 50ft of parachute cord, and when needed a set of rattling antlers I use. Around my neck I have my favorite grunt call and a compass.
(The conclusion of this article next week: Ways of the Whitetail Part 3 will discuss “Tag-Team” Stands, Moon Phases, Stand Snacks, and Dressing for Success)
Greg Clusiau October 21, 2014 - Ways of the Whitetail: Taught to me by my Father! (Written by northern Minnesota deer hunter Travis Sorokie)
I am by far no expert when it comes to whitetail deer, but I have put in my time in the tree and ground blind and I can only tell you what honestly has worked for our group over the years. In the following article, I will mention a few company names that I prefer to use, but I am in no way associated with any of them. I am simply telling you what has personally worked for me. It is my hope, that after reading this, you can take a “tip” or two and put it to use on your own hunting land in the coming years and have success.
There is no doubt that the next several years in northern Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, North Dakota and Michigan hunting will be different than in years past. Two bitterly cold winters in the midwest with a lot of snow, an abundance of timberwolves, and liberal harvest rates in years prior have our herds at or near all-time lows. However, I am confident things will rebound given a couple mild winters and tightened harvest regulations. After all, the whitetail deer is a fast growing, renewable resource given proper conditions.
Over the past 25+ years I’ve spent in the pursuit of whitetail deer at our hunting shack in northern Minnesota, several noticeable patterns have become obvious to me on our land. The most obvious, which was taught to me by my father early on, is that generally speaking, most deer are creatures of habit and lazy! Cut a trail with a brush cutter and deer will use it often. Deer will often use the same path(s) their entire life. This goes for old logging roads, creeks, and edges of clear cuts. You name it, deer will take the easy way MOST of the time. The only time that changes typically is when they are pressured.
Another lesson taught to me early on is that a mature buck (3yr old or greater) is a different animal than a doe or younger buck. “They didn’t get big by being dumb!” my Dad would tell me after an encounter that didn’t quite work out in my favor.
Some mature bucks are completely nocturnal in their movements. Case-in-point, I have one particular buck I only have nighttime shots of on trail cameras the past two years, along with two sightings after dark crossing the
This buck is the biggest deer I have seen in a long time and would easily net in the 160 class, which is a giant in Minnesota.
Some mature whitetail bucks can be ghost-like once hunting season rolls around. Deer you have seen in the fields during the summer months and perhaps even during bow season become nocturnal once gun season rolls around. You may only catch a glimpse of this deer once again during the peak rut.
Every once in awhile, you will find one you can pattern the entire season. I have had the opportunity to witness a few of these over the years, being an avid bow hunter as well.
Other times, you will see a buck on your particular property you have never even seen before. A “satellite buck” so to speak, one that either lost to a more dominate buck in its home territory or who is covering more area in search of a doe that hasn’t been bred yet.
In my particular situation, I am fortunate to have quite a bit of private property (about 560 acres) to hunt, and to a point, we can manage deer the way we choose. Our hunting party has typically consisted of 9-11 relatives, and a college buddy of mine. Over the years, we have taken several mature bucks in the 125 class to just shy of the 170 class off of our property. And yes, we have shot several smaller 1 ½ and 2 ½ yr old bucks and does as well. And quite frankly, we all like the tradition of hunting and venison or we wouldn’t put in the time we do. But for this article I am only going to focus on the real mature bucks.
The final lesson I will mention is the whitetail’s senses. You can fool a deer’s eyes. You can even fool a deer’s ears. But a whitetail deer will ALWAYS believe its nose.
Land Management—we have worked with the MN DNR forestry division for many years on several cuts of timber off of our property, or having them access our property to get to state land where they cut. Cutting will take mature trees out, providing a great food source and a NEW area for deer bedding in the following years. As always, when the DNR Forestry division does a cut, they will even seed the area the logging trucks use with a mix of red/white clover. This clover is an instant food plot for a year or two for your deer and other wildlife. We are not talking huge cuts either. Most of them are between 10 to 20 acres. Selective harvest if you will. They are after balsam, cedar, and aspen for the most part.
Stand/Blind Location---I have two favorites I like to set myself up on most often. The first being an area where I find a crisscross trail 30yrds to 50yrds into the woods from a field. Here, I have found, you will get a lot of buck and doe activity during the entire season. Several rubs will be present nearby and maybe, if you’re lucky, even a scrape or two. On our particular property, the majority of deer use an old logging road in some way to gain access to the area.
The second being a field edge or fence line. This gives the hunter, in my opinion, the best view of your area, but is typically limited to low light hours during pre and post rut. However, during the rut…this is where I like to be. As far as positioning, I like my back to be to the southeast. The main reason being, to block the sun in the early mornings.
As for stands, I use and prefer Big Game 2-man ladder stands. I like how easy they are to set up, how comfortable the seat is during long sits, the adjustable shooting rail, and the overall size. - (Next week – Part Two – The rut, scents, guns, and more.
From The Iron Range, Greg Clusiau October 14, 2014 - Great Fall Fishing!
The wind can let up anytime now. My goodness how it continually tries to through a wrench into my fishing outings. I can leave the house with dead calm weather and by the time I get to the lake it seems to have really gotten angry out there. Maybe Mother Nature is mad at me for some reason?
It may be great for the grouse hunters, as most all of the leaves have blown off the trees, but for an angler trying to stay on top of deep water fish it’s a real challenge at times. Never-the-less, I’m making it happen out there and have been rewarded with some very nice crappie catches.
The overall best bait for me this season has been a heavier “FireBall” jig tipped with a minnow. When fishing, I’ll have a variety of rods ready to go, sporting “FireBalls” of different weights and colors. This makes things a lot easier when determining just what the fish want, especially when it’s windy like it has been. A favorite color often changes with the lake. Last weekend, for example, it was “parrot”, an alluring combination of blue, green, chartreuse, and pink.
I’m still anxiously waiting for the northern flights of Canadian waterfowl to make a visit. The winds have been favorable for this to happen but the weather needs to get a lot cooler, actually cold.
I remember some of the largest northern flights taking place during the Minnesota deer season. I’d return to the cabin for lunch and find that a good sized flock of bills would be bunched up across the bay. Wanting to sneak up on the flock, deer hunting had a priority but it certainly brought back memories of some of the best duck hunting I’ve ever experienced. I hope for that to happen again this year.
Only three shots were fired last weekend from my deer rifle, a .270 Remington. It was “dead on” last year and still is, as I placed all three shots in the center of the target from 60 yards, which is good enough for me. It’s never too soon to get things ready for the upcoming whitetail season and this year, like last, I’ll be hunting in Ontario as well as Minnesota.
Getting back to duck hunting and precious memories from years past, a few stories come to mind. One was of my cousin Dan and I, who were hunting out of a 12’ boat in Buck Lake’s Porky Bay. Teenagers at the time, we were having fun but didn’t know a whole lot about duck hunting safety.
This revelation came to mind after a flock of ducks flew overhead and we both fired at the exact same time and direction, causing the boat to just about tip over. It didn’t but tipped far enough to the side that water was taken in. Were we wearing life vests? More-than-likely not.
This is just a little reminder to be careful. Duck hunting is a fun sport but can be dangerous in a hurry. Try to think things through beforehand if possible. Please be careful.
Another time, and again involving Dan, it was deer season and shore ice had developed around the lake. Someone spotted a duck, most likely a cripple unable to fly, sitting on the edge of the ice. Dan took it upon himself to dispose the poor thing and then tried to retrieve it, crawling out on the thin ice until it gave way, causing him to take a little bath. Luckily it wasn’t over his head. I remember him in the cabin, changing clothes and laughing about the incident.
Coming up, in the next two columns, will be deer hunting theories and practices by HSM Outdoors pro staffer Travis Sorokie. Travis lives in Sauk Rapids but has a deer shack up in the Togo area on the old family homestead. He spends a lot of time up there during the grouse and whitetail seasons and has done quite well. I read it through and even learned a few things about deer hunting myself. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? - Have fun, be safe, and enjoy the GREAT OUTDOORS.
From The Iron Range, Greg Clusiau October 7, 2014 - Rainy Lake Weekend Wrap Up
Another “cast & blast” weekend was spent across the border, hunting and fishing the waters of Rainy Lake. It was, however, more casting than blasting, as my partner Jeremy Taschuk and I didn’t do too well in the waterfowl category but really put a hurt on the big crappie along with a few nice walleye.
Arriving at the cabin around mid-day, we tried to bag a few geese but found that we’re not as sneaky quiet as we should have been with eight honkers immediately spotting us and taking flight, squawking all the way. It didn’t matter, as we would be out on the water at first light for an early morning of duck hunting.
Saturday morning came as quickly as the northwest winds were blowing. Seemingly good “duck weather” didn’t pan out. Yes, plenty of ducks were seen but most were “high flyers” uninterested in our decoy spread.
We did have a number of them take notice, flying overhead a time or two, but for whatever reason wouldn’t come close enough for a shot. This plays on your mind, making one wonder what is wrong. Is it the decoy set-up? Is the boat not camo’d enough and spooking them?
One just never knows. In years past I’ve had them landing next to us several times while putting out decoys. They’d look around for a few seconds, realize something wasn’t right, and take off again.
Jer’ and I had our opportunities but came to the conclusion that we must be the worst shots on all of Rainy Lake. A box of shells doesn’t last long under these circumstances. Laughing, we’d reload and wait for the next safe target.
We only ended up with one duck before heading back to the cabin for breakfast. After that, it was time to check on the geese, which never did come back. If they’d only known what poor shots we were they surely would have come back to taunt us a time or two.
Trying to fish out of a small duck boat is a bit risky when it’s windy out. Although, we were able to catch a few nice crappies and a large walleye before coming to our senses and heading back to the duck blinds.
The wind howled all weekend and air temperatures were cooling down, giving hopes of a good shoot. As a matter-of-fact, it snowed briefly on Saturday night. This happening had me feeling like a child waiting for Christmas morning. I could hardly wait to get up and peek outside but was totally disappointed when I did, as no snow was in sight. The winds, however, were still gusting for all they were worth.
Sunday morning’s duck hunting was worse than the day before and after relocating a couple of times to change our luck we opted to go crappie fishing, which is something we’re a lot better at.
Using jigs and plastics, we caught some real beauties, with some pushing the 15” mark. It was a real challenge staying over fish, as the wind was still present and even stronger than the day before. Needless-to-say, the ride back to camp, head-long into whitecaps, was invigorating, especially for Jer’ who was soaked by the time we got there.
Ontario’s deer hunt begins this weekend and runs through mid-December for residents. My brother Joel and I are going to give it a “shot” but not on opening weekend. I think we’ll wait for a week or so to let things cool down. The season for non-residents goes until mid-November.
In the meantime I’ll be fishing Minnesota crappie and if the weather looks “ducky” be heading back up north for more fun.
From The Iron Range, Greg Clusiau September 30, 2014 - Depth Precision = Fall Crappie
Fall crappie fishing has been good, with each lake providing plenty of fish of different sizes. They do, however, have one thing in common and that is most all of the lakes have fish suspended, which can make for challenging fishing at times.
When this happens, it’s crucial to place your bait right in the school or slightly above it. Here are a variety of methods to achieve this feat.
Bobbers – The simplest method would be a snap on or slip bobber depending on depth needed. Once the proper depth is determined, all you have to do is bait up, cast out, and wait for the bite.
Bobber Stop – Placing a bobber stop for a visual aid can be a good way to go but it does have a tendency to catch on the rod guides. I’ve done this. It works but isn’t one of my favorites.
Spool Line Lock – Locking your line under the spool clip is a good way to make sure that you’re in the exact spot with each drop of the lure. I’ve done this during winter months and it works fine as long as you don’t get a big fish on and have to use the drag. That could be a huge problem. This method works great for kids that are having a problem finding the right depth.
Countdown – I’ve used this method a lot and it is deadly. Cast out and count each second (one thousand one, one thousand two, etc.) until you’ve reached the desired depth. This is one of my favorites.
Measuring Rod – This works well when fish are fairly close to the surface. If you’re using a 7’ rod and want to fish 7’ down it’s easy as all you have to do is place the rod tip at the water’s surface. If slightly deeper, measure another foot or two past the rod handle and go from there. This works well but is sometimes cumbersome as there can be too much line to deal with like a bamboo pole.
Bottoms Up – This one works very well, once you have determined the amount of line taken in with each crank of the reel. Most spinning reels take in about 18” of line with each complete crank. Therefore, all that is needed to do is drop the lure to the bottom until slack is achieved and then crank in the amount needed to reach the fish. For example – Fishing in 25’ of water and the fish are at 20’. Drop to bottom and reel in three times to place your lure 4 ½’ off bottom reaching 20 ½’, reel in four times to reach 6’ off bottom or 19’ (which would be my choice).
Boat Graph – Just like ice fishing, you can follow your lure down to the fish by placing your bait under the transducer and watching it fall. This works well but windy conditions can cause problems like getting wrapped up in the propeller, something I’ve done too many times to count.
Ice Graph – More and more anglers are bringing along their winter graphs to fish in the open water. Using a short ice fishing rod, drop the transducer of your Vexilar over the gunnel and start catching. This is a very deadly approach. Use too long of a rod and it’s a bit more difficult as you have to stand too far back from the edge of the boat. As with the boat graph, calmer waters are best.
Speaking of winter fishing, it won’t be too long before we’re out there walking on first ice. Fall is definitely in the air and things are happening. Most all fish species have put on the old feedbag and are biting well, ducks and geese are moving about nicely, and grouse are a lot easier to spot with the foliage making its way to the ground.
Get out there and enjoy the Great Outdoors. Good luck, be safe, and have fun!
From The Iron Range, Greg Clusiau September 23, 2014 - Full Fledged Fall!
Take a drive in the country as soon as you can to take full advantage of the beautiful fall colors. I noticed this on my latest trip up north to fish Crooked Lake crappies and as slow as the fishing was I would have been better off driving around taking photos. All that was missing was a little sunshine. I can’t imagine how brilliant the colors would have been if it wasn’t overcast. It’s just stunning out there.
I’ve been fishing like a madman (surprise, surprise) as this is my favorite time of the year. Actually, I would be quite content if it would stay like this year ‘round. The fishing can be very good and the temperatures are perfectly comfortable for me.
Beverages and snacks are now stored in the boat until they began to freeze and if that happens it’s more-than-likely time to put the boat away. Also, how nice it is to put minnows on a bubbler in the garage, which is now at the perfect temperature. It’s like a large walk-in cooler. Super-charged from a night of high-powered oxygen, they are rip-roaring to go with each morning.
Fall fishing, known for its “feast or famine” offerings, has been exactly that. Prior to my most recent outing, which was very slow, I had a banner trip with my cousin, Steve Mickelson, on a different lake.
Steve drove up from Wisconsin last Friday with some of the family, arriving at the lake during the late afternoon. Pushing the limits on being too late to go fishing, three of them put the boat in and headed out crappie fishing.
Other anglers were just pulling up their anchor ropes and going home when the trio arrive at the spot and started tipping their jigs with minnows. The first fish was a plump 12” crappie but then things got interesting.
The next three fish were fat walleyes measuring 26 ¾”, 27”, and 28”. All of this happened within twenty minutes and then they were done.
I joined them the next morning for a full day of crappie fishing. Steve hopped in my boat and off we went, looking for that magic spot. Not being able to find it, we eventually settle in where the boys had left off the night before.
Once in the proper spot, crappies made their way into the boat just fast enough to keep one from getting bored. It wasn’t fast and furious but fish were caught and they were of nice size. And then it happened.
Steve set the hook on what he thought to be yet another pesty three pound northern pike but this one held its ground, making powerful head-shakes. I thought maybe a large northern but after watching the battle for a minute or so switched my thinking to it possibly being a big walleye.
I was right. My first glimpse of the telltale “white tip” of the tail fin revealed a very fat, large walleye. I missed it with the net on the first try but not on the next. Steve had done it again, beating his night before 28” walleye with a 30” ten pound fish. This was turning out to be quite a little mini-vacation for him. A few photos were taken and back into the water it went.
These fish were biting on our crappie presentation of jigs and small minnows. I was wishing I had enough time and a bucketful of large minnows for the evening bite but had to head back home. I’m seriously thinking of returning there with the big fish bait to see if I can do the same or better.
Yes, fall is now upon us and all seems to be taking place. While this article goes to press, I’ll be joining Tom Batiuk on Rainy Lake for some monster crappie and possibly some walleye fishing. After a day’s rest (yes, I need that) I’ll be visiting Clam headquarters for “Pro Day.” Here we’ll have a chance to view all of the latest ice fishing tackle and shelters first hand. I’ve seen some of the stuff already and am really excited to get out on the ice to give it a whirl.
However, let’s not rush things. Fall is officially here and it’s happening big time in the great outdoors. Get out there and enjoy the many hunting and fishing opportunities available to us. Good luck, be safe, and have fun!
From The Iron Range, Greg Clusiau September 16, 2014 - Ontario Cast and Blast
Listening to the weather forecast while making my way toward the Minnesota/Ontario border, I questioned my decision to take part in a “cast & blast” weekend with good friend Jeremy Taschuk. If it was going to get down to 26 degrees back home, what was is going to be like on Saturday morning in Ontario? Trying to remain positive, I thought “at least the ducks would be flying.”
Meeting up Friday afternoon at the family cabin on Rainy Lake, we had plenty of time to get in a little fishing before supper. Crappie were the target and we were more than delighted to find them in their fall locations.
Early the next morning found us boating across the bay for our first ever cast and blast get-together. Having talked about doing this for years, it just hadn’t taken place. Now, here I was, gliding across the darkened waters of Rainy Lake with a shotgun and a big grin on my face. Also, the air temperature was quite comfortable. Evidently the back home frost warning didn’t cover this section of Rainy Lake. How nice.
Traveling into the far backend of a rice bay, we set up quickly and awaited the results. Seventeen borrowed mallard decoys were placed in what we figured to be methodical fashion. About half to the right and the rest to the left, we allowed just enough room in the middle for a comfortable, welcoming runway for our feathered customers.
Our only action came quickly when four shovelers decided to check us out. Only one left. The next couple of hours were uneventful so it was back to the cabin for a hot breakfast, prepared by Mindy Taschuk.
After a brief rest, it was time to check out the trail cameras in preparation of this year’s whitetail hunt. Hundreds of photos were recorded and looked over back at the cabin. Yes, there were deer, mainly a large doe and two little ones that had been spending a lot of time licking up the baited corn smorgasbord, along with a black bear.
Back out on the water with Jeremy and his nine year old son Bren, we traveled about, looking for other crappie hideouts and found the mother lode of big fish. Bren was hot, again, catching a number of walleye and nice crappie. It was a great afternoon of fishing but we had to end it early to set up for the evening duck hunt.
This outing was a bust, with only a few small flocks of geese passing us by. It was just too nice out and nothing was moving but that’s okay because it’s going to only get better. I’ll be sure to get up there in October when the northern flight of divers takes place.
The next morning was almost a repeat of our first day, as we managed to bag three more birds but this time they were “hoodies”, which are supposed to be the only good eating member of the merganser family because of their steady diet of wild rice. Jeremy will have to give them a try, as all I brought home was my ten fish limit of slab crappie and one walleye.
Fall hunting and fishing is officially underway. Get out there and give it a whack. Good luck, be safe, and have fun. (Greg Clusiau, HSM Outdoors)
From The Iron Range, Greg Clusiau September 9, 2014 - Fall Fishing Hot and Cold
I know we are just edging our way into the fall fishing mode but my latest results have been so up and down it seems that we are already there. The age old description of fall fishing being one of feast or famine has already been happening for me. A lot of it, however, is due to my lake jumping, going from one bite to the next, and not staying with a proven good pattern.
Here’s a prime example of my bouncing around from one lake to another.
After a great day on the water, catching dozens of crappie and walleye, I switched gears and went to a different lake a day later. There’s no need to beat a body of water to death, even though all fish were released.
On my way to the next lake, I realized it would be too windy to fish it the way I wanted to so a change of plans was made on the fly. I drove right on past this crappie wonderland and headed further north to a great little panfish and walleye lake.
Once there, I was a little surprised at the coloration of the water, which looked extremely muddy. Knowing I could possibly be in for some very tough fishing, I launched the boat anyway and gave it a whirl. I was right. It was very difficult and only a 4 pound northern pike committed to biting.
After two hours of nothing more, I packed up and headed home but fell prey to the lake I had driven past on the way there. It was still windy, maybe even worse, but my curiosity got the best of me. I had to see if the crappie were where I had expected them to be. Did the fall pattern set in yet or was I too early.
Bouncing through whitecaps on my way out to the main lake, I eventually came to a stop near a treacherous rock pile that was known to hold fish in the fall. Using a heavy jig to make things a little easier in rough water, it didn’t take long before I had a big crappie falling for the presentation. The next fish, another big one, came about a half hour later. Both were released.
It was slow fishing but at least I had my answer. Yes, fall fishing was starting to happen on this lake.
A day later, I found myself trying another lake. This one has the pattern of offering good fall crappie fishing before most all lakes in the area. However, it just wasn’t ready and fish were very hard to come by. Fish weren’t settled into the deep water yet so a trolling pass along a weedline was made.
Using my shallow water favorite, a Northland Tackle “Thumper Crappie King”, I was inching along when I felt what I thought was a bite. Setting the hook, I realized right from the get-go that it wasn’t a crappie.
At first I thought it was a piece of wood but when backing up to the snag I then realized it was “something” quite large but it didn’t feel like a fish.
Stretching the six pound monofilament to the max, I finally got a look at my catch, a monstrous snapping turtle. The hook wasn’t imbedded but the line had wrapped itself around a back leg.
It took three attempts to free the beast, which really eyed me up throughout the whole process. Thank goodness for long-handled hook removers! It had paws almost as large as my hands and claws looking to be 2" long, along with a moss-covered shell. The decades-old critter had plenty of power and quickly swam back to the bottom upon it’s release.
I returned to the super-windy big crappie lake a few days later and caught plenty of fish but most all of them were of the smaller variety. Big crappie were at a premium and I was actually glad of that, as two dozen boats were out there to take advantage of them.
Yes, it’s all beginning to happen. Crappie are going deep and grouse and waterfowl are starting to move about. Get out there and enjoy the Great Outdoors.
From The Iron Range, Greg Clusiau August 30, 2014 - Border Trips Fun but Exhausting
A couple trips across the border left me more than satisfied with the fishing but totally wiped out.
The first outing was a day trip with fishing guide Tom Batiuk. This one was easy enough, as all I had to do was drive the 110 miles to Ft. Frances and jump in the truck with Batiuk and his son Daxx. Tom then did the rest of the driving to some of the best crappie fishing that can be had.
Yes, the fish were nice but maybe it’s the way they are caught that gets my blood flowing. Once crappie are found, and that’s usually not a problem, a long cast behind the boat is all it takes. Slowly trolling forward, the rest is too easy.
I just love this method, as all one has to do is put the rod in a holder, sit back and relax. There are times, however, when the fishing is so good that you might as well hang onto the rod, as it’s going to happen within the next minute or so.
Tom, a Canadian Salmo pro staffer, started out by using a #4 Salmo “Hornet.” He has clobbered them before with this little bait but this day had the fish being a little on the fussy side so he reduced down in size to the #3 which started producing a few nice slabs.
Daxx and I, however, started and finished with a Northland Tackle “Thumper Crappie King”, which turned out to be the best bait of the day. One never knows, as each day is different. Actually, Daxx outfished us both by using the smallest 1/32 oz model in “firetiger” color. This bait has been outstanding.
Fishing was so good that I found myself going home with a limit of 10 nice slabs during the early afternoon. How nice it was to be back home around 5:00 pm.
A couple days later, I was heading north again to fish with Jeremy Taschuk, also of “the fort.” This was a Friday afternoon, where I’d meet up with the Taschuk family around 3:00 pm and drive up to their cabin on Rainy Lake for the evening walleye bite.
Here too, it was a youngster that caught most of the fish, as Jeremy’s son Bren had the hot hand. He started things off with a very nice smallmouth bass and then went on to catch a bunch of walleye. Having fun on the lake, we had to get back early as Mindy Taschuk had prepared a most delicious supper.
Early the next morning, Jeremy and I headed deep into the bush to check out a bass lake. Normally that wouldn’t be big news but when we’re talking nice largemouth bass, instead of smallmouth bass, it’s gets your attention. There just aren’t too many opportunities for largemouth in the Rainy Lake area.
It took some work in getting to the lake but the effort was more than worthwhile. We took turns in the catching, using spinnerbaits, “wacky worms”, and surface baits. I should mention that we caught over thirty northern pike as well but all fish were of the pesty, smaller variety. They certainly destroyed a few of our spinnerbaits.
Fishing until late afternoon and still a long ways from the cabin, we headed back totally satisfied. Tired out, I thought of spending the night and then heading home in the morning but by the time we got back I felt refreshed enough to push on and make the extra 135 mile trip.
The drive home was uneventful and I was wide awake. Maybe it was from that energy drink or perhaps I was still running on adrenalin from catching those nice bass.
The next few days, however, I crashed and didn’t stray too far from the house, as I was totally wiped out.
Actually, I never fished for three days and that’s like a record for me but now I’m already looking forward to the next adventure.
From The Iron Range, Greg Clusiau August 26, 2014 - Transition Panfish
“Should I pull the trigger?” It was Chad Peterson’s way of letting us know he had a fish on the end of his line, sampling a subtle offering. Blake Liend and I glanced over to see him gently lift up, taking all slack out of the rod tip, setting the hook with ease. Another pot-bellied bluegill made it’s way to the surface where it was admired for a few seconds before being released.
Panfish are a way of life for Peterson who has successfully fished for them all the way from Minnesota to Louisiana and back. Liend and I would be enjoying another day on the water with the panfish master who invited us down to his neck of the woods near Alexandria.
We knew what was in store, as Chad had been checking the waters with regularity, as he normally does. Staying on top of good bites across central Minnesota is sort of a hobby of his. He’ll find a lake chock full of hungry crappie or bluegill and then pack up and head to another body of water just to see what the next lake has to offer. It’s a game and one that he plays so well.
Late summer panfish were in transition and we were there waiting for them. Slowly trolling, working around submerged vegetation, we vertically jigged these fish in 14' of water. There were times, when standing up and wearing sunglasses, that we could see fish come charging out of the leafy cover to inhale our baits. It was a unique experience, as I couldn’t recall sight-fishing for panfish before at this time of the season. That normally takes place, for me, during early spring.
Sometime it would be a smaller crappie, which the bait would be pulled away from. A larger fish? Well, then we just observed and waited for the bite. The same approach worked for bluegill. Several big fish were caught in this manner.
When the fish were too deep to view, it was all done by “feel” and this is where Peterson shines. Using a 7 ½' St. Croix light-action panfish rod, he could tell immediately when a fish first took the bait, as the super-soft rod tip would bend ever so slightly. Most anglers lift up and try to set the hook upon that first feel. Many times this results in a missed fish, as they are just grabbing the bait and not the hook. Peterson prefers the “wait and watch” method, which allows the fish to inhale the entire bait before setting the hook. He is, in a sense, still sight fishing, as he is always watching the line and rod tip.
Our best bait for the day, hands down, was a Northland Tackle black and yellow “bumblebee” “Fire-Fly” jig tipped with plastic. Experimenter that I am, I was getting soundly out-fished until switching to the bumblebee color, which is actually a favorite of mine.
The best plastics on this day ended up being black Impulse “Tadpole” and “Stone Fly” baits. Here again, I experimented with a dozen or more different combinations before telling Chad “yeah, you’re right. They love that black.”
The fish are now in transition mode and on most bodies of water positioned in or near weeds that are close to deeper water and that’s what we were fishing on this day.
Check out some of your favorite panfish lakes and take advantage of some of the best fishing of the season.
From The Iron Range, Greg Clusiau August 18, 2014 - Back Home
Having grown up with professional angler Terry Wickstrom, who originally hails from the Hibbing/Grand Rapids area, it’s always a special time when we get together for some time on the water.
Actually, it’s a good time getting together with him for most anything but fishing is what we do best and every time Wickstrom hears the phrase “grew up together” he counters by saying “we didn’t grow up, we just got older.” I think he’s right.
Having been on the air with his popular fishing shows “Mt. States Fishing” and “Angling Adventures” for over 900 consecutive weeks, he has turned it down a notch, stepping out of the tv scene and now focuses only on his Saturday morning radio show, “Terry Wickstrom Outdoors”, with ESPN, based out of Denver, Colorado.
This transition suddenly allows him plenty of free time. Hence the visit to Minnesota where we fished for fun-filled three days.
Although a versatile multi-species angler, I knew Terry’s fist love was bass fishing so a trip to one of my favorite big bass lakes was in order. The fishery is known for few fish but big fish and that’s exactly how it all played out. The best baits were Wickstrom’s 7" “blue fleck” Power Bait worm and my Northland “Jungle Jig” and “pig” combination.
Bored, yes we bore quite easily, we packed up and headed to a lake known for numbers. Here, we reduced down in size and used 4" jig worms. Again, Terry went with his favorite color “blue fleck” while I tried almost every color I had until also going with “blue fleck.” I don’t know what it is but that color has been a top producer since day one.
We went on to catch several dozen bass averaging 1 ½ to 2 pounds in size, not big fish by any means but always fun.
We started out the second day by walleye fishing and it was a very tough morning until fish were found and finesse tactics used. It was the old standard 7' live bait rig with a nightcrawler that saved the day. Flat calm and sunny out, a stealth approach was used, moving ever so slowly and almost vertically fishing for them by keeping the slip-sinker inches up off the bottom until a bite was felt. Several nice walleye were caught but bored again, we decided to reel in and try another lake for northern pike.
My last trip here was a fifty fish day, as the lake had plenty of fish to play with. On this day, however, the pike didn’t want anything trolled so we resorted to jigs tipped with plastic. This maneuver turned out to be game changer with several northern being boated and water released. And yes, we did use small steel leaders.
Our third lake of the day resulted in more walleye and bluegills as spinners tipped with crawlers were slowly trolled along a shallow weed line. All fish were released.
The last day of our little get-together was back to our first walleye lake to see how the fish would react to a different presentation. We’re kind of known for doing stuff like this. I remember Terry and I catching a bunch of walleye in Swan Lake many years ago and when finally home and drying out (it was raining cats and dogs), we talked it over and wondered if the fish would have responded to crankbaits. An hour later we were back out there in the rain catching fish after fish. Yes, the crankbaits worked.
The walleye were really tough to come by on this day so we packed up and headed to a favorite slop-fishing bass lake. Here too, the fish were somewhat tight-lipped but we did manage to catch a few nice ones before calling it a day.
It’s always a good time with Mr. Wickstrom, as the banter continues throughout the day while we try to “one up” the other. I can’t wait until next time. Always fun.
From The Iron Range, Greg Clusiau August 12, 2014 - Rumble in the Jungle
After an HSM Outdoors brainstorming session in the backwoods of Itasca County last week, we were ready to disperse and head our separate directions when two of the members hinted at doing a little bass fishing. Normally, this wouldn’t be a problem. However, when no one had brought along a boat, I felt obligated to take them fishing, as mine was sitting in the garage and ready to go.
This would be fun. One member, bass fishing enthusiasts Brett McComas of Brainerd, was a tournament angler and a darn good one at that. He was used to pulling big largemouth bass out of heavy cover, which is what we decided to do.
The other was fishing guide Tom Batiuk from Ft Frances, Ontario. Tom was an accomplished basser and tournament angler himself but most of his bass were of the smallmouth variety, as largemouth in Rainy Lake are few and far between.
Arriving at the lake, we were greeted with calm waters. To the unknowing, it was a serene and peaceful setting. To the avid bass fisherman, it would be total chaos underneath the thick lily pad fields, as predator fish were perfectly positioned, awaiting a next easy meal.
Tom was outfitted with a weedless frog and was set to do something he had never successfully done before. He was excited and even more so when a hefty largemouth latched onto his lure just minutes into the trip.
The bait, a Kopper’s Live Target “Hollow Body” frog was a personal favorite of Brett’s, who had brought along three rods and a tackle box “just in case.” McComas prefers this frog because of it’s “softness” and overall large size. The weedless double-hooked presentation easily gets the fishes attention as it is slowly worked over the pads and across small open water pockets. This is where the mayhem takes place.
Most first-time users of weedless baits miss many of the strikes, as the “blow up” triggers one into setting the hook prematurely. For those just getting started in this fun-filled sport, give yourself a second or two before setting the hook. Better yet, wait to feel the fish on the other end and hang on!
Tom was working the visible surface areas while Brett went below the pads with a flipping jig. Tipped with a Berkley “Slop Craw”, he followed up with a nice fish of his own. From then on, they seemed to take turns in cranking in one big fish after another.
Feet up and comfortably positioned in the rear of the boat, I operated the electric bow-mount motor from one hotspot to the next. Tom and Brett had the casting deck all to themselves and made good use of it. Every once in a while I would stand up and make a few casts. I caught a few fish of my own and lost what may have been the big fish of the evening.
We went on to have a stellar outing, boating two dozen fish that averaged in the 18" range. That’s pretty darn good for North Country bassin’.
Slop fishing gear in a nutshell: McComas recommends a 7-7 ½' heavy action rod with a soft tip for “steering” into pockets, high speed reel that allows you to skim the fish over cover so it doesn’t snag up in vegetation and 50 pound test braided line.
There are a number of good frogs on the market but Brett favors the “Live Target” for reasons stated earlier.
For flippin’ jigs, McComas prefers All Terrain Tackle and Northland Tackle “Jungle Jigs”. Size depends on how heavy the cover is. Sparse cover allows a light jig to fall slowly to the bottom while heavy, dense cover requires a heavy jig to “punch through.” Depending on the situation, Brett will use anything from 1/4 to 1 ounce. Whatever works.
Give it a try. You just may surprise yourself and please practice catch and release. Good luck!
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There's a great way to learn a bunch of great fishing knots in a hurry. Wired2Fish has all of them right here just follow this link to >> 15 knots that every angler should know.
From The Iron Range, Greg Clusiau August 5, 2014 - Bullheading
I finally found the chance to do a little bullhead fishing, which is pretty much how it all started for me. If I remember correctly (this is a long time ago, something like 60 years or so) it was me and dad, anchored out a ways on O’Leary Lake, and catching bullheads almost as fast as one could bait up. Of course, dad was doing all of the work.
I know it was an aluminum boat, or metal of some sort, because the fish were making a real racket bouncing around on the floor. We’d reel one up and dad would place it under his foot to aid in hook removal and then just toss it in the middle of the boat. There were fish flopping all over the place. Since then, I’ve always enjoyed catching them.
Years ago, bullhead feeds were quite popular in neighborhood taverns. The bar owner would by them in large containers and one of my good friends used to clean fish to pick up a few dollars for the upcoming weekend. Innocent times. It’s too bad it still doesn’t happen.
As a teenager we’d gather on the shores of Red Lake over near Calumet and fish into the night for them. As I recall, we caught plenty of them and they were of pretty decent size. I may have to go back there and give it a whirl. Maybe it’s still good?
Later on and in my twenties, we’d set up camp at the Little Bear Lake public access and fish into the night, catching oodles of bullheads. I tried this a few years ago and the size wasn’t nearly what it used to be but the mosquitos were all of that.
To this day, I still find it a lot of fun to do. There are, however, a couple negatives to this sport. One is the mosquitos seem to come out in full force. You better be prepared, wearing long sleeves, a hat, and have doused yourself with bug spray or you’re going to be sitting in the car or worse yet going home.
Another down side is it tends to happen at night, when I now am normally in bed. Get there too early and you’re just waiting around, maybe catching a few small sunfish, before “the bite” gets going, which is usually around 10 pm. That’s bedtime for me. I guess it’s an age thing, as it never used to bother me.
Another issue dealing with age is it’s hard enough to tie on a hook during daylight hours let alone in the dark wearing a head light. The eyes just aren’t as sharp as they used to be.
It had been years since my last outing so I joined my nephew, Jesse Clusiau, for a little shore fishing action off his dock. We set up early and had to wait two hours before the first fish bit. It was a little guy, maybe seven inches long. Bullheads being bullheads, it didn’t matter the size, as the hook was totally out of sight, like normal.
It was a cute little bugger, looking at me with it’s mouth wide open, about the size of a quarter. Not really thinking, I stuck my finger in it’s mouth to remove the hook, like I do to crappie, and then it happened.
That cute little mouth snapped down in a flash and pinched my finger as hard as it’s ever been. I let out a yelp, pulling my finger out at the same time. The fish was still swinging around on the end of my line, waiting for another chance at being set free. I warned the fish “do that again and you’re going in the livewell.”
I had forgotten how strong their jaws are but am well refreshed of it now. Thank goodness it wasn’t a seventeen incher. They’d be calling me “lefty.”
We fished into the night, catching a dozen or so. It wasn’t fast and furious but fun none-the-less. Also, there is somewhat of a bullhead ambience when set up and fishing for these bottom feeders. Lanterns are lit and placed out of the way behind us so the flurry of moths and other insects aren’t flying in our faces.
The warm glow, and smell, of Citronella oil burning “tiki torches” are lit as well and aid in warding off the bugs. Dead calm, you can hear neighbors across the lake, along with the loons from time to time. - It’s a happening place in it’s own quiet and serene setting. It’s something you should do.
From The Iron Range, Greg Clusiau July 29, 2014 - Pulling for Pike
It all started by trying for walleye one morning. Not all that serious, I purposely left home without any live bait. My game plan was to see if anything was going on leadcore, trolling #5 and #7 crankbaits in 25-30' of water. When this bite is on it’s lights out but not on this day. The fish just weren’t there...yet.
A boat load of various rods and tackle always leaves me with other options if “Plan A” doesn’t pan out. I had a lot of bass tackle along but the lake wasn’t the best for largemouth. It did, however, have a good number of northern pike, like most lakes in the North Country.
“Plan B” was to work the weedlines for northerns, something I’ve been doing for over 50 years. One would think I’d tire of this game but no, not me. It’s an absolute hoot when a fish attacks your offering.
I’ll never get sick of feeling that vicious strike.
Moving along at 2 ½ mph, my first choice was a lipless rattle bait. Normally this gets their attention in a hurry but after changing baits a couple of times in the first mile or so with no better results I knew I had to put the rattlers away and go to the old reliable spoon.
I started out by using the standard 3 ½" size in silver but only received a couple “bumps”. It appeared to be too large for the fish on this particular day. Reducing down to the smaller 2 ½" size made all the difference in the world, as I started to catch a few fish.
Now that I had found the right size, a preferred color had to be determined. Taking off the silver spoon, I switched to a bright fire-tiger color. A little later the old red and white was used. Fishing wasn’t very good until I went to the Canadian favorite “five of diamonds”, an orange spoon with five little red diamonds painted on it.
I think it was the first time I’ve used that spoon. It was new as can be but really looked beat up by morning’s end. One never knows.
I ended the day by being on the other end of a ferocious strike that pulled drag. This was quite impressive as I was using my musky rod and the reel drag was tightened up to the point where line was hard to pull out. Who would have though I’d have a big northern on the end of it. Normally only smaller fish are frequenting the weed edges and the big girls are down deeper.
I enjoyed this bite so much that I went on a four day northern pike binge, catching a couple dozen fish per day.
The hot bait on the last day was the old classic red and white. Not the famed Dardevle brand, which probably started it all, but a generic low-cost spoon that just happened to catch my eye one day.
Looking in my spoon box, the top producers are Northland Tackle’s “Forage Minnow” spoon, Mepps “Syclops”, and Eppinger’s “Red Eye Wiggler” and “Dardevle”. There’s also a bunch of generic spoons of various flashy colors and sizes. Most of these baits work equally well for lake trout when trolled using down-riggers. They don’t have to be thin-bodied as most trout and salmon spoons are.
I did take two home and had them for dinner. Measuring 24" the fish provided more than enough for all and the flesh was as moist as I can remember eating. Absolutely delicious.
This gets me to thinking of several of our walleye lakes that are under the imposed slot limit where all fish between 17" and 26" have to be released. Well, all of a sudden, I can go to these lakes and catch plenty of walleye but there is hardly a day that offers a fish or two to take home. They’re all too big.
It doesn’t really matter to me, as I fish almost every day. However, to the folks that want a meal of fresh fish and are having trouble in finding any, I suggest you go to almost any lake at hand and catch a limit of northern pike. - Good luck, be safe, and have fun (Greg Clusiau, HSM Outdoors)
From The Iron Range, Greg Clusiau July 22, 2014 -
Last week found me doing a little of everything and fishing for practically all species.
It started out with me fishing for walleye, which were non-existent on this day. Needing a little excitement, I clipped on a lipless rattle bait and began trolling the weed line for northern pike. Wow. I almost forgot how much fun that was, especially when using a braided line which telegraphs the strike to the tips of your toes.
High winds and rollers had these fish in an eating mood. I used to do this to liven up a guide trip when the walleye fishing was slow as it was on this day.
Another trip had me once again focusing on walleye but for the first two hours it was nothing but “northern city.” Pulling a crankbait, they were jumping on that thing every five minutes or so. It’s fun but not what I was looking for.
I eventually found the walleye and went to work using a crawler harness on a bottom bouncer and put together a very nice limit of 16" fish in short order. Sometimes it pays to keep on searching.
Hearing a good crappie report, I headed in a different direction on the next day but was in for some of most difficult fishing I’ve had in quite a while. I managed to catch one fish of five different species (crappie, bluegill, walleye, northern, and perch).
The bluegill was of nice size so I switched tactics and went into the weeds after them. It was boring fishing until I accidently back-trolled into a rock while fishing in 4' of water. That woke me up a little. There wasn’t any damage but it certainly sounded awful.
Another walleye trip was made with Zach Dagel of Grand Rapids Guide Service. This was a fun morning on Pokegama Lake, where fish measuring 28" and 29" were boated.
Joining us was thirteen year old Dylan Kukkonen of Nashwauk who is a Junior Pro Staff member of HSM Outdoors. He certainly knows how to fish. Actually, he is the one who caught the 29" walleye.
Blake Liend and I made a return trip to Pokegama on Saturday, which offered super-slow fishing but we did manage a 27" walleye before bunching it and heading home. I saw Zach out there on a guide trip and wondered how things were going. Talking to him later on revealed that they had only caught three fish and the slow fishing forced him to another lake. A good call, thirty more walleyes were caught.
Dagel and I teamed up on Sunday to give lake trout a try up north. This turned out to be a poor choice for the day as we couldn’t trigger a strike of any sort. Zach has guided for walleye so many times this season that he likes to pursue other species on an off day. He’s got lake trout on the mind so I think a trip into Ontario may be in order. - Good luck, be safe, have fun, and take a kid fishing!
From The Iron Range, Greg Clusiau July 15, 2014 - Color Me Versatile.
Last week’s fishing adventures found me changing it up a little to put fish in the boat. This is a normal practice for me, as sticking with the same bait all day long just doesn’t cut it if I’m not catching fish. That’s called fishing, not catching.
The lure presentations basically stayed the same but it’s a change of color that really made the difference.
There are times, however, when you’ve narrowed it down to what they like and fishing is still painstakingly slow. This is about the only time I’ll stay with a presentation but if the fish are moderately active and feeding I’ll search the tackle box and make several changes before settling down to one lure.
One example is a panfish trip that displayed some very finicky fish. I was using the same presentation that I did two days prior. That’s when my fishing detective work took place.
I had caught some nice crappie and a bluegill or two but my partner was having trouble getting bit until he switched over to what I was using, a 1/16 oz. orange jighead tipped with a yellow twister tail. It made all the difference in the world. A note regarding jig weights: I’ll use heavier jigs like a 1/16 oz. during the day when fish are deeper and often switch to a lighter weight 1/32 oz. as fish move up shallower toward evening.
How odd that working a similar bait through a school of fish would produce nothing but change color and wham! It happens all of the time.
One thing I should mention about the plastic tail is that it was of a very soft makeup and texture. Feel the plastic before sticking it on a jighead. If it feels hard, it more-than- likely will be going through the water like a lifeless stick and will not be appealing at all to fussy crappie.
You want the plastic to be soft to the point where it offers a natural, easy swimming action. The softness also has the fish hanging onto the bait longer making them easier to catch. It feels alive. The only downside is the plastic may tear and have to be replaced after a few fish but if that’s what it takes so be it. It’s better than catching nothing.
Another panfish outing found a pink and white combination to be the best. I used a pink jighead tipped with a white Northland Tackle Impulse “Puddle Bug.” This bait not only has a tail that kicks it’s tail around like a live minnow but is scent impregnated. Crappie love this bait.
When it comes to bass fishing, one of my favorite presentations is to use a jigworm and cast to the weedline. Sometimes a long cast behind the boat is made a slow trolling the weedline takes place. This is an easy fish-catching method. Trust me.
The best lure here, hands down on this particular lake, was again a Northland Tackle Impulse bait only of the bass variety, a 3 ½" “Baby Bass” colored Impulse “Jig Crawler” stuck on the end of a green mushroom head style jig. I tried several other colors of jigs but the green out-fished them all.
The next day, on a different lake, I found difficult catching and a color change was once again in order. Switching colors and styles finally had me settling on a 4" Berkley Power Bait “Ribworm.” Fishing around the Fourth of July, the hot color was appropriately called “Firecracker/Chartreuse.” An omen? Maybe but whatever the case it certainly produced a bunch of nice fish.
The jighead color was changed a few times before settling on black, one of my favorites.
Moral of the story? Don’t get too locked into old presentations that worked in the past. Don’t fish memories. Change it up a little and you just might surprise yourself. Good luck, be safe, and have fun. (Greg Clusiau, HSM Outdoors)
From The Iron Range, Greg Clusiau July 8, 2014 - Camera Lapses .
Setting the hook, I knew immediately that it was what I like to call a good fish. Bass fishing and using a 4" jig worm presentation I thought I had on one of the big largemouth that frequent this little lake. It pulled drag, which was screwed down fairly tight, but I didn’t like the feel of it. It just wasn’t “bassy.”
Battling a big fish along with high winds is never a good thing but I did finally manage to gain control and it was as expected, a beautiful big northern pike. It wasn’t a bass but that’s okay, I’d take it. It would be a great “picture fish”, which would be released shortly after a quick photo session.
Fishing with a partner makes this all too easy. It’s just hold it up, click, click, and release it back into the depths. However, when fishing alone, which I do all too often, taking good photos can be a real challenge.
The fish was now in the “green room”, a large aerated live-well, awaiting the photo session. All I had to do was get things in order and it was at this point when I realized I left the tripod hanging on the wall in my garage. Not to worry. All I had to do was stack a couple tackle boxes up high enough to get a good shot, something I’ve done many a time.
The next thing was to find a calm spot. Rocking and rolling, one could barely stand up and walk around the boat let alone take a picture. Snuggled up against an almost calm shoreline I tried to position the camera at the perfect level. Things weren’t going well. That’s when I noticed the low battery signal flashing at me and it was like the straw that broke the camels back.
Calmly, I put the camera down, opened the live-well, lifted the big fish out and let her swim away. She had been patient with me. I was just mad at myself for being unprepared. That’s not like me. Hey, I’m an old Boy Scout.
A few days later, I was on a different lake and again bass fishing by myself. The tripod was along this time, as were two charged up batteries. I was set. What could go wrong?
Using a 7" worm, I was slowly working the edge of an underwater point in 21' of water when I felt the strike. It was hard and meant business, much like my hook set. Again, I knew it was one of those “good fish” that come along every once in a while.
Was it another big northern pike? That thought quickly disappeared when I saw the line heading for the surface. It was going to jump.
A huge largemouth bass broke water trying to shake the hook. At that precise moment my 7' Loomis rod was thrust straight down into the water trying to eliminate any slack line. The rod, which has aided me in catching everything from lake trout to musky was really put to the test. I was surprised at the power of this fish.
Nearing the boat I guided it into the landing net. It was a beauty and one of the largest bass I had caught in a couple years.
Setting up the camera I noticed something else flashing this time. There was no card in the camera! It was left at home in the computer from a recent photo session. NO!
Holding the big fish, I looked it over for a few seconds before letting her go. There was no photo but one is certainly burned in my memory.
June 30, 2014 Bass Fishing Article: Bulking Up For Dirty Water Bass - Brett McComas
A lot of people cringe at the thought of fishing a lake with pea soup colored water, I'm talking lakes that swallow secchi disks alive. I've grown to love this particular situation as most of the biggest bass I have boated were plucked straight out of the darkness. Don't be overwhelmed, simply bulk-it-up and get the camera ready.
The first thing I do is up-size everything; braided line, powerful rods and the biggest, nastiest jig combo you can put together. Now I don't necessarily mean the heaviest jig you own, but instead the biggest and bulkiest profile. The majority of your bites will come on the fall with this type of presentation. I prefer a 1/4oz or 3/8oz jig which allows me to slow down and keep that lure in the strike zone longer. Matching the perfect trailer to your jig will maximize your efficiency and draw in those big bites.
Bass depend on sight, scent, and sound to survive. Taking away #1 means it's important to heavily exploit those remaining senses. Bass "hear" more so by feeling and picking up vibrations through their lateral line. Bulk those jig profiles up with large soft plastics that move a lot of water, giving off a ton of vibration. Some of my absolute favorite trailers for this application include: Berkley Powerbait Crazy Legs Chigger Craw, NetBait Paca Craw, Zoom Brush Hog or a Berkley Havoc Skeet's 4" Pit Chunk. All of the above have their own unique way of flapping, kicking, and calling fish in with their seductive falls and water moving abilities.
In mysteriously filthy water, bass tend to hold extremely tight to cover. Imagine yourself being placed in complete darkness. I don't know about you, but the last place I would want to be standing is in the center of the room. I'd be posted up against a wall, specifically in the corner where I know I am safe and have the upper hand. The same concept tends to hold true for fish. The overhangs of a willow tree, dock pillar, transom of a boat motor or log protruding from the bottom provides a security blanket for those big girls. All of this cover may also act as a reference point for them. You will notice that after missing a fish, odds are they will jump right back on your bait as it is dropped back into the strike-zone. This is because they likely tucked right back into their previous ambush point. Often times when fishing clearer water you only have one crack at that THUMP, then they will continue roaming in an unknown direction, in search of their next meal.
Fishing in unfamiliar conditions can cause a sense of anxiety, ultimately pushing you out of your comfort zone. The only way to gain the necessary confidence is by putting in the hours to get yourself dialed in on the new pattern. Keep calm, bulk up, and remember… practice makes perfect. - Brett McComas, HSM Outdoors Pro Staff
From The Iron Range, Greg Clusiau June 25, 2014 - Hunters Helping Heroes
Comfortably cool early morning breezes joined me as I sat on the patio enjoying a hot cup of coffee, pondering my day. Maybe I’d go fishing or perhaps a trip to the Twin Cities was in order for a Twins game at Target Field. I hadn’t been there yet. Maybe next week? Who knew? Whatever the decision, something would be planned for yet another carefree summer day.
It’s lazy mornings like this that get me to thinking about how lucky I am, fortunate to be able to do practically anything I want, as long as it’s within my budget.
Oddly enough, I was thinking along these lines when contacted by Chad Peterson of HSM Outdoors to see if I’d be interested in helping out at the 2nd annual “Hunters Helping Heroes” fishing event on Lake of the Woods. Maybe it was an omen? Whatever it was, I jumped at the chance and responded with an enthusiastic “absolutely, count me in!”
HSM Outdoors would be doing “our thing” in providing video of the event along with articles and still photos.
The “Hunters Helping Heroes” organization, based out of Lumberton, New Jersey, arranges hunting and fishing trips for military service members all across this great country of ours. This year’s fishing trip to Lake of the Woods would be paying tribute to four in all - one active duty military member, SSG Nathan Fair, two combat wounded members, Army SGT Adam Hartwick and Air Force Tech SGT Brian Williams, and one youngster/family that has been affected by military ties, Gold Star Brother Kyle Balduf, twin brother of Marine SGT Kevin Balduf.
Sponsor and organizer Hunt Addictions and Fish Addictions started things off with a shopping spree at Cabela’s in East Grand Forks, Minnesota. Here, all heros were allowed to go shopping, each leaving the store with $500 worth of the best outdoor gear made.
The event was once again based out of Lakeroad Lodge, where we enjoyed a great dinner each night and camaraderie that was second to none. A monstrous parking lot allowed plenty of room for all anglers towing large fishing boats.
Our boats, however, were two launches provided by Lakeroad Lodge and Adrian’s Resort. Both 27' Sportcrafts, one was owned and operated by Lakeroad Lodge co-owner Brian LaBore and the other, owned by Adrian’s was piloted by Brian Baron. These guys know the waters well and did an excellent job of putting us on fish.
Getting a measly 1 mile per gallon of fuel, we made our way to the Long Point area while dodging frequent floating logs and other debris caused by the recent flooding of Rainy Lake and it’s tributaries. This causes launch operators to stand up while driving so scanning the waters for obstructions is made easier. We made it through two days of fantastic fishing with no collisions.
We did, however, have several collisions with husky Lake of the Woods walleye, along with the occasional jumbo perch, northern pike, and sturgeon. One never knows what’s on the end of the line with each hook set. It could be an 8" sauger or a 32" walleye. Our group’s largest fish was a 29" walleye that just happened to be the first fish of the day caught by Bryan Baron.
Several slot fish (too big to keep) were caught each day but we still managed to fill the cooler with more than enough walleye for a fish fry. Fishing was very good and everyone had a great time, which was the intended focus of this trip.
I was honored to take part in this event and found myself deeply humbled. It really opens one’s eyes and makes you appreciate the country in which we live. It doesn’t come easy. We’ve got it pretty darn good, thanks to our heroes.
From The Iron Range, Greg Clusiau June 17, 2014 - Dad’s Day a Good One
Miserable, torrential type weather visited the North Country last weekend but Sunday still managed to turn out quite well for Father’s Day activities.
Under normal circumstances I would be out and about fishing somewhere no matter the weather, especially when younger. There wasn’t much back then that would deter my angling efforts. Nowadays, however, I’m a bit more picky when it comes to putting the boat in.
The morning started off with dad, now at 85 years young, and I heading out somewhere for a Father’s Day breakfast. My goodness that man can eat.
Done with a satisfied sit-down at TJ’s Family Restaurant in Balsam, the weather was still less than hospitable and with plenty of time on our hands we headed further north to visit more family. Pelting rain made driving sometimes difficult but me feel pretty good about not being in the boat and brought back memories of my guiding days, when a trip would be done regardless of the weather. Definitely not fun.
The drive allowed time for idle chit-chat and a chance to recollect some dad tales, like the time he wanted to go musky fishing.
Readying the boat for a solo afternoon of musky fishing, dad happened to stroll on by and said “you know, I’ve never caught a musky.” Well that’s all it took. The only problem was his “style” of fishing, which I had to somehow accommodate.
Not used to casting a baitcast reel, I dug out an old 888 Zebco spinning reel. It had heavy monofilament line and basically no drag as it was used for slop fishing largemouth bass. The rod was heavy enough for big bass and would work good enough if a musky was hooked. I hoped.
Now came the tricky part. What type of lure would be used? Dad always liked to take his time when reeling, saying “I want to enjoy it.” This absolutely ruled out a spinnerbait or bucktail of any kind, as they would surely sink to low and come in full of weeds with each cast. It had to float.
A wooden jerkbait would be fine but most all of them were too big for the rod he was using. That’s when it came to me! I had a black 6" Suick that had never seen water before. It was small and light. Perfect! I actually wondered why I bought it in the first place.
Getting to the lake, Moose Lake north of Deer River, I headed to my favorite spot and shut the outboard off well in advance, not wanting to spook any fish. I was on a mission here.
Slowly creeping up to the frequent fish holding area I used the electric bow mount motor and made casts out to deeper water. I was saving the good spot for dad, as I did on other guide trips.
With the boat in position, I told dad where to cast and let him have at it while I continued casting out and away from the little hotspot.
On dad’s first or second cast he said “I had one.” “You probably hooked some weeds” I countered. “No, I saw it right behind the boat” dad responded. I was surprised he saw anything as he was sitting down while casting and reeling. Most avid musky fishermen are standing up and on high alert when pursuing this fish but this was dad. He wasn’t avid and wanted to relax and enjoy it.
Well now I was really paying attention and was watching his next cast when a small, beautifully spotted musky took his lure.
A short fight ensued and within seconds dad had his first musky ever lying on the boat floor. It was that easy. I couldn’t believe how lucky he was on this first ever musky hunting trip and I don’t think he realizes it to this day.
It’s memories like this one and countless others that make Father’s Day so special. Thanks dad.
From The Iron Range, Greg Clusiau June 10, 2014 - Let Summer Begin
I haven’t been wade fishing as much as I would normally like to as most of my time has been spent in a boat. However, I did get a few licks in on shallow wade fishing crappie and bluegill before hopping into the old Lund to catch up with some Upper Red Lake walleye.
It seems the shallow panfish bite has been delayed some, about two weeks behind schedule I’d say, but that pretty much goes for all species. We’re just a little behind schedule but catching up quite nicely.
The past week had me fishing nearly every day, which included three trips with my brother Joel and two with cousin Terry Wickstrom. These are two of my favorite people so it’s always nice to spend a little quality family time, especially when catching fish.
Joel and I put on the waders for a great day of shallow water crappie fishing before heading north to Upper Red Lake.
Our first trip has us going out of the Tamarac River public access and heading south. Using jigs and minnows, we were catching a few fish but really got into them when we started trolling crankbaits.
A light westerly breeze had fish piled up real shallow in 5-6' of water and a small Berkley “Flicker Shad” turned out to be just the ticket. I love this type of fishing. What fun. Especially when you tie into some of those hard-fighting sheephead, aka “fresh water drum.”
They’d slam the crankbait and put up a valiant tussle all the way to the boat. My wrist was sore when done and it took a few days to heal up!
Our second trip had us driving around the lake a bit in order to find calmer, more fishable waters. Prior the outing, a quick check of weather conditions had me planning on putting the boat in on the south side but when we arrived I could see that just wasn’t going to happen. Large rollers were crashing the shoreline.
We ended up driving to the northeast corner of the lake and put in at Beacon Harbor Resort, which provided a protected harbor for launching and calmer waters to fish in.
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t exactly calm but a lot better than the south end. It was actually too rough to troll in but we did manage one nice walleye on a crankbait before dropping anchor and watching bobbers, which everyone else was doing. This presentation allowed us to catch quite a few fish and go home with a nice limit once again.
When Terry Wickstrom showed up, I figured another day on Upper Red Lake would provide us with plenty of action like normal. However, the winds were blowing pretty good and even anchoring and using bobbers or casting jigs proved to be slow fishing. I think a lot of this had to do with the water getting muddied up like it’s famous for doing. When this happens you’re better off to stay away for a few days to let things clear up and get somewhat back to normal.
Terry and I spent our next day on a small lake in Aitkin county, where we would be teaming up with Chad Peterson. It would be a working/fishing session that would each of us traveling from a different location. Terry would be traveling from Bemidji, Chad from Alexandria, and I from Keewatin.
The lake was picked because of it’s central location. Knowledge of it having some nice panfish also weighed heavily on the decision and for not ever having a boat on it we did quite well. Several nice bluegills, crappies, and a stray largemouth bass kept us busy while discussing the ins and outs of social media work and more. It was a good trip.
One thing I should mention before closing is the latest heavy rainfall has the Tamarac River moving pretty good. There is considerable current there and loading a boat could be a problem for some. This is something to consider if traveling that far. Of course another option would be to put in at a protected harbor like Beacon Harbor Resort or West Wind for example.
From The Iron Range, Greg Clusiau June 3, 2014 - Retirement Into High Gear
My retirement from the Nashwauk-Keewatin school district has officially set in and now is the time to make a few minor life adjustments. One thing sort of scares the daylights out of me though and that is am I going to fish too much? Is that even possible?
The thought of jumping back into the guide scene has crossed my mind but the jury is still out on that one. I do, however, have a trip or two already lined up for this month with past clients. They love walleye and just can’t get them figured out. Lucky me.
My regular fishing partner, Blake Liend, should be thrilled to death, as I will be out quite a bit during the week making our outings more of a sure thing, not that we have done poorly in the past but we have had our days of struggle time. Everyone does.
I do know that plenty of experimenting will be done on my part in trying to unlock that special bite that most all lakes have. I enjoy that. To me, figuring out how to catch fish is almost as much fun as catching them. Almost.
Take last Sunday for example. Fishing a large, deep lake, which is usually slow to warm, I was faced with a tough bite. Things weren’t going well but I expected that and still had plenty of fun exploring the shallows, looking for fish. The absence of vehicles in the parking lot pretty much told the story, as I was the only one there.
Standing up and slowly cruising the shallows is always fun, especially when the fish aren’t biting well. By doing this, when the wind allowed, I spotted a few northern pike and bass but it was panfish that I was looking for.
I did see a few spooky crappie that took of in an instant. Bluegills were plentiful but small in size, telling me that the spawn hasn’t taken place yet. I’m figuring the crappie have already spawned on this lake and the gills are just getting ready.
Catching a dozen or so of the small sunfish I abandoned that tactic and switched gears, casting for bass and northern. Almost immediately, I had a hard strike but missed the fish. Several casts later I noticed a very large bass turning away from my lure at boat side. That was a real beauty.
Jumping around the lake, still casting, I latched onto a very nice largemouth bass. A few casts later, I experienced a tremendous strike and had a fish on for only a second before losing it. Judging by the size of the boil in the water, it was big. It sure felt so anyway and I’m hoping it was a northern pike. I wouldn’t mind losing a large northern but if that was a bass I don’t want to even think about it. I’ll come back to this lake in a few days, maybe a week, to see if the bluegills and walleye are biting.
Free time is abundant now and some of it will be spent traveling around the country during mid-week on behalf of HSM Outdoors, where I will be fishing, writing about, and filming members of our deserving pro staff.
Another benefit to this being out of work thing is the option of writing my weekly column on a Monday morning instead of coming home tired on Sunday evening and trying to put something together before going to bed. I’ve fallen asleep at the computer before trying to finish an article, knowing that I had to be at work by 6 am the next morning. No more. As a matter-of-fact, it’s late Monday morning right now and I’m sitting here sipping another cup of coffee. How nice. And as soon as I’m done, I’ll be contacting my brother Joel to let him know I’m ready to go fishing!
From The Iron Range, Greg Clusiau May 23, 2014 Warm Weather Gets Fish (and Ticks) Moving
What beautiful weather we’ve had. The water’s warming up real nice and I’m sure some of you got into those early season panfish that have been cruising the shorelines looking for something to eat.
This is a very special time of the year for me because of the fishing and if there’s anything at all negative about it in any way it would be the presence of wood ticks.
I find myself avoiding tall grass areas like the plague. Actually, picking up a tick-borne disease could be called just that, as one can get extremely ill and the complications can be practically endless. I do know that whenever I’m launching or loading the boat I pretty much stay clear of anything that isn’t gravel.
I recall a fishing trip on the St. Louis River with my neighbor a few years ago, where he came out totally unscathed, not a single tick, and I had twenty-two of them on me. The early morning walk down to the river through a grassy trail, gave me a bad feeling right from the get go.
Once there and fishing, a couple of the little critters made their presence known as I sat on the river bank trying my hand for catfish and walleye. Fishing until noon or so, it was really getting warm out and I knew the ticks would really come alive as we made our way back to the truck. They did and that’s when the twenty-two tick count came into play.
I brushed as many off me as I could and continued to do so all the way home. Leaving my outer clothes in the truck, I had ticks living in there for a week or so. It got to the point where I didn’t even want to drive it anywhere.
My neighbor, on the other hand, had zero ticks on himself, as he treated his clothing with a permethrin-based repellant a couple days before hand. The treatment lasts for a couple weeks and has to be done again but I think I’ll be going in that direction myself. Just use the same old pants, etc. and treat them every two weeks and you should be just fine. It must be some pretty strong stuff because you are supposed to treat the clothing and then let it dry for a couple days before wearing. I really don’t like that but it’s better than picking up a deer tick.
What happens if you find one imbedded in you? Use tweezers and try to reach the head, pulling it gently straight outward. Then wash the area and apply an antiseptic. Keep an eye on the wound, watching for signs or symptoms of an infection. If something doesn’t look right a visit to the doctor is recommended and the sooner the better.
Tick-borne disease risk is small if it’s removed soon, as it needs to be attached 1-2 days before transmitting Lyme disease.
Although there are thirteen known tick species in Minnesota, it’s the black-legged tick, aka deer tick that gets all of the negative attention. Associated with Lyme disease, it’s quite small in size and hard to see. I’ve only seen a couple of them on me but then again they are small. One time I was sitting in a deer stand when I noticed one crawling across the back of my hand. A flick of a finger sent it flying. Once home, a good soapy shower had me feeling clean again.
I hope everyone had a wonderful Memorial Day Weekend and many of you caught some fish. Just remember to stay out of that tall grass! I know I will. - Greg Clusiau
From The Iron Range, Greg Clusiau May 19, 2014 - Waiting to Warm - Wow. What a weekend. No, I don’t mean that we clobbered the fish. Only that we worked our butts off in finding that hot ice out crappie bite and failed!
Gathered together at the Little Bear Lake fish camp, Chad Peterson and Tom Batiuk joined me in the search for shallow water ice out crappie action. Peterson drove all the way from Alexandria, Minnesota and Batiuk from Ft. Frances, Ontario for some fishing fun in northern Minnesota’s Itasca county.
I brought along the big boat for larger waters, just in case, but we ended up fishing out of smaller crafts, like Tom’s old 14' aluminum and my brother Bruce’s 15' Grumman sport boat.
Small boats were dragged back in the bush to some proven ice out panfish honey holes and some lakes were even tried by shore fishing, via knee boots and waders.
It was a stealth approach for these slippery slabs but finding them proved to be more than difficult. A normal spring would have these fish up tight to shore and ready to bite but one must remember that this is far from a normal spring. I say we’re about two weeks behind the spring weather pattern while some say it’s more like a month. I think that’s a bit of a stretch. Never-the-less, we’re behind schedule and it’s not happening like it should.
Peterson had been successfully fishing the Alexandria area and some of his water temps measured as low as 46º. Not here. I told Chad before he came up that things weren’t happening but he still wanted to team up and give it the old college try. Batiuk on the other hand just wanted to catch an open water fish, as he was still faced with ice conditions on several of his favorite waters. He also wanted to catch his first bluegill ever, seeing how none were available in his neck of the woods.
Day one had us checking out four lakes, capturing only one crappie, a nice jumbo perch, and a handful of small northern pike. It was terrible fishing.
A real slap in the face occurred on the last lake of the day, as we neared the public access. After giving it a hard fought two hours of fish searching, we were ready to beach the boat when we ran across and startled a large school of crappie. They were sitting directly in front of the boat ramp in 1' of water. Frightened, they scooted off in a hurry and disappeared into an adjacent shallow weed flat.
We tried long casting bobbers and small jigs for a good while but it never happened. Evidently the water warmed up enough to get the fish moving towards shore. This would be remembered for the next day.
Sleeping in, we gave the sun plenty of time to get things moving. This day turned into another four lake escapade but we did manage to score on the first lake tried, although it wasn’t the desired target fish.
Casting for bluegill, we managed to boat over thirty largemouth bass. It was our reasoning that there were so many bass up shallow that the panfish got out of town, abandoning the skinny water and heading for deeper more secure surrounds. We tried the deeper water to no avail.
The next lake was a total bust, like all others on the previous day. It was still just too darned cold for active fish movement up shallow.
The next lake, however, had bluegill going wild, with a water temp measured at a whopping 58º. Batiuk caught his first sunfish ever, along with the majority of our catch which totaled around two dozen fish or more. When the action subsided, we headed back to the boat ramp crappie that we spotted the day before. Nothing.
We’re that close folks. I’m thinking that this coming weekend should have oodles of panfish up shallow and ready to be caught. They will be up there eating, not spawning. That doesn’t happen until the water warms up considerably.
Give it a whirl and if it doesn’t happen just have a little patience. It’s coming soon. Be ready.
From The Iron Range, Greg Clusiau May 12, 2014 - Late ice conditions on most northern Minnesota lakes had me holding off on a lake selection until later in the week. I did, however, favor Upper Red Lake all along and that’s exactly where I decided to go. Red has a history of pumping out oodles of hungry walleye during the early going, carrying on right into summer. Walleye fishing is relatively easy here and most everyone catches fish, even me!
Original plans had Blake and I scheduled to leave town around 4 am. The early start would have us reaching the Tamarac River public access around first light, some two hours later. That seemed like a good plan until I checked the weather forecast and found the early morning temps to be hovering only a degree or two over the freezing mark.
A call to Blake suggesting we leave around 6 am was well received. By doing this we wouldn’t even have to set the alarm clock and the two hour delay would have the air temperature nearly 10º warmer. It sounded like the perfect plan.
Arriving at the lake, it was as expected. The large parking area was nearly at capacity but still offered enough room for a couple dozen more rigs with trailers. Like clockwork, truck after truck took turns in backing in and unloading their boats. Thank goodness the access has a double cement ramp to keep things flowing smoothly.
The access, located on the Tamarac River, is closed to fishing early in the season due to spawning walleye. Once you reach the lake and are past the no fishing signs you can fish wherever your little heart desires, as long as it’s not between the buoys marking a channel to the lake.
You can, however, fish off to the side of the buoys and that’s what several dozen boats did. If you could find room to anchor off to the side you pretty much staked a claim to some of the hottest walleye fishing of the season.
The channel is only a wee bit deeper than the surrounding lake but is used as a major thoroughfare for spawning walleye. Position your boat in the right spot and it’s nearly a fish every cast, as long as a boat doesn’t get in your way.
Many times anglers from opposite sides of the channel snag each other’s line. When this happens, one will reel in the problem, straighten it out, and toss the other’s lure back into the water. We saw this happen twice while on our way out to the lake. Each time, they tightened up their lines so we had enough clearance to travel underneath it. Can’t say I’ve ever experienced this before.
We avoided the madhouse at the river mouth and headed toward the north end of the lake. Once there, we dropped anchor in 5' of water and bobber fished like everyone else. Like the river mouth, fish were being caught left and right and every once in a while a slab crappie would make an appearance.
Yes, it was Upper Red Lake fishing at it’s finest and just what I expected. Blake and I caught a couple dozen fish and left the lake early with our two person limit of eight fish under 17". Several 16" fish were tossed back along with a number of larger slot fish measuring up to 22".
Upper Red wasn’t the only lake “on fire” last weekend, as Lake of the Woods/Rainy River and Big Winnibigoshish/CutFoot Sioux also kicked out monstrous numbers of nice walleye. If you missed it last weekend you owe it to yourself to get out there and give it a try. Early spring fishing on these waters is nothing short of spectacular.
(5/5) From The Iron Range, Greg Clusiau - Late Spring Makes for Challenging Fishing
Recent good fishing and incredible ice out crappie photos by my central Minnesota fishing buddies got me pumped up enough to go in search of a few myself so Saturday was spent with Blake Liend, scouring the North Country, looking for open water.
The first lake, a proven shore fishing crappie hot spot, had too much ice. Water temp was measured at 40º and experience told me that I’d have to wait another week or so. Never-the-less, a half dozen fruitless casts were tossed along the shoreline for good measure.
While doing this, I watched Blake, who was wearing rubber knee boots, wade out to the ice pack and actually stand up on it. Breaking under his weight, he quickly stepped off and walked back to shore. Hearing that familiar fish flopping sound I looked over to see a small largemouth bass jumping around on top of the ice. It made an escape back into the water before the ice rose back to the surface where it belonged. How strange.
The second lake was open but high water kept us at bay, as we were unable to reach a good shore casting spot. We’ll have to bring a small boat back to this little gem. Water temp here was at 44º.
The third and final lake of the day had warm temps, 46º, but there were no fish present. Several well positioned casts made this evident.
That was it. We’d have to travel south to fish with our buddies, even though it would turn out to be a 360 mile round trip.
So with a plan in place, we left Keewatin at five o’clock Sunday morning and drove for over three hours to reach hot, proven, crappie action.
A close knit circle of fishing friends allows one to do this and how nice it was not to trailer a boat that far. All we had to do was jump in one of their boats and get to fishing.
Fishing guide Mike Raetz had been doing well on this little lake, catching and releasing hundreds of nice crappies. Mike was on hand with his boat, as was Chad Peterson with his. Blake and I jumped in with Chad while Robert Nash teamed up with Mike, his long-time fishing partner.
Slowly working our way toward the fishing grounds, Chad pointed out suspended crappie right out in front of the access in 10' of water. They were holding a little deeper, waiting for things to warm up. Seeing all of those fish made me want to stop and fish right there but I knew we were on our way to a proven hot spot so I didn’t say anything.
Once there it didn’t take long for things to start happening. Fish were being caught with regularity. I was more than content with the action, as it had been three weeks or so since I had caught anything, that being some local late ice crappie. Mike hollered over to us “it’s a little slow right now but it’ll pick up as the water warms up later in the day.” Slow? I thought it was pretty darn good.
And Mike was right. Later on, around 3 pm, fish were coming to the boat one after another and as much as I wanted to stay we had to pack it in and make the long drive home.
It was well worth the trip. Blake and I both “got bit” on the open water and as far as day trips go, this one was a walk in the park. Sometimes you just have to do it. Don’t sit home and wait for things to happen because it usually won’t.
Last Sunday’s crappie action has me thinking about this weekend’s fishing opener. Where does one go? Are you going to give some of the big lakes a try for the traditional walleye opener? Many lakes we drove past coming home still had ice on them. However, the shorelines were free and clear.
I’m thinking these lakes will be wide open for Saturday’s opener but I’d call ahead and talk to local resorts and guides before getting too excited. If you’re looking for a sure thing in the crappie category, go to Mike Raetz Facebook page or give him a call at (320) 260-2709.
- Good luck on the opener, have fun and be safe.
(4/28) From The Iron Range, Greg Clusiau - Yes, she’s teasing us, once again, up here in the North Country and it’s not one bit funny.
I have friends, who live “down south”, already making Facebook posts and flashing photos of nice ice out crappies and bluegills. These anglers only live 200 miles away but it’s more than enough to make a huge difference in water temperature and fish activity and it’s absolutely killing me.
So, after looking at all of those beautiful, freshly caught, open water panfish, I packed the truck and headed north, hoping for a miracle of sorts.
It wasn’t much for gear, only the minimal necessities, which included a 7' spinning rod and reel, a handful of tackle, and a few waxworms.
The rod, one of my old favorites, is actually a medium action Berkley Gary Roach “Pro Select” series, designed for walleye rigging or jigging. I can’t begin to tell you how many fish (walleye, bass, crappie, bluegill) I’ve caught with this thing.
Designed for walleye, it works equally as well for crappie when a long cast is desired. I can really whip that thing out there.
The reel, an old timer as well, much like the owner, is an Abu Garcia “Ultra Cast”. Again, it’s a personal favorite of mine and really does the job when it comes to getting that bait out as far as possible, which is a must when fishing from shore. Covering water from a stationary spot is huge.
I spooled it up with fresh line before leaving town. Yes, there I was, early morning, in a poorly lit garage, wearing my cheater specs and trying my best not to miss any line guides with the low-vis green 4 pound test, hair-like line. I made it happen in the first try, which I considered to be somewhat of a good luck omen.
On the end of it was fastened a 1/80 oz hair jig, made by Crappie Keith Nelson. HSM staffer Travis Sorokie did very well using this same presentation a day prior, only he was using 1/100 oz. He did, however, along with his partner, boat over 100 crappie. No bait was added. All it took was that little, slow-falling, minuscule, hair jig that resembled some type of smallish insect. Toss a minnow and no. Use something tiny and yes. Sorokie is one of those southern boys, living and fishing in the Sauk Rapids area. It’s just not fair!
The final touch to this presentation was a small “Rocket Bobber.” If you’ve never used one of these you should. Popular with steelhead fishermen, they work equally as well for panfish when it comes to tossing out a small bait as far as possible. These things work. Check them out. As a matter-of-fact, I’ve only a half-dozen of them so another 6-8 will be picked up for spring panfishing.
Loaded and ready for bear (slab crappie), I headed north all excited, only to find even the smallest ponds mostly covered with ice. I knew from experience that trying some of these enticing looking spots would be fruitless. I’ve been there before and bombed, not once but several times. It looked like I would have to wait at least a week or two.
Speaking of that, I wonder how the opener is going to turn out. Will all of the ice leave our major walleye lakes in time? I’m guessing yes but only a day or two ahead of time. In the meantime, I’ll be concentrating on ice out panfish, even if it means going “down south.”
(4/21) From The Iron Range, Greg Clusiau - Anchored Down on Easter Weekend .
A four day weekend and I never wet a line! Wow. That doesn’t happen very often but it would have if I had been adventurous enough to walk out on rotting ice, like I did in my younger, more daring, days. I thought about it, believe me, but I’ve pushed the envelope enough that I opted to stay off the lakes.
I did run up north in an attempt to photograph waterfowl but very little open water skirted the shorelines and it was super windy on this day. I’ve learned that gusty days make for poor duck photography as they are usually “in hiding” somewhere and even more skittish than normal.
I did manage to clean out the garage, move snowmobiles into storage, take the boat and riding lawn mower out of storage, and set out some patio furniture. Spring must be here. I can honestly say that I’ve never been so far ahead of the game. Here the boat sits in the garage, with batteries charged, and there’s no local open water to set sail.
Keeping in close contact with the HSM Outdoors crew, I realized that things were happening in other parts of the country but not so much on the iron range. Here’s an example of what the crew is up to.
Pro staffer Jeremy Taschuk, Ft. Frances, Ontario, invited me to join him on one last crappie ice fishing outing but I was unable to make it. After looking at photos of monster crappie, I tried so hard to kick myself, as I have made several day trips to fish with Jeremy in the past. He got into them again, which is no surprise.
Staffer Tom Batiuk, also from “the fort”, had just finished a successful crappie ice fishing trip and was home ordering spring panfish tackle. When Tom does something, he does it up right. His order from Northland Tackle alone was around $450 and would have been more if not for the need of a couple more fishing rods. He was also getting ready his lead-core equipment. I’ve got plans to hop in the boat with Tom for ice out lake trout as soon as the Manitou opens up.
John Marksman, Washburn, Wisconsin, was busy guiding for steelhead. Things are happening there. If you’re interested in a trip with John, go to his Facebook page Brule & Sioux River “Steelhead Nut’z”. Here too, a trip is planned for some spring trolling with him as soon as Chequamegon Bay becomes ice free.
In the Brainerd area, Brett McComas was busy taking part in the “Cancer Awareness Polar Plunge Challenge.” Brett had to really search around to find any open water to jump into. You can check out his efforts on his Facebook page via video. Ha ha. He did, however, skin his leg up pretty good on a piece of ice.
Ray Welle, Moorhead, is busy beaver trapping and had just returned from successful open water walleye outings on Minnesota/Dakotas border waters. An avid hunter, Ray always takes part in the spring goose hunts, as well. Welle has been playing around with Vexilar’s new Sonarphone and is excited to put it to use. This innovative product allows you to turn your smart phone into a fully functional sonar unit. Imagine casting out and seeing just what’s below your bobber. This is truly a game changer, especially for us shore fishermen. Go to Ray’s Facebook page for more info.
John Mickish, White Bear Lake, was sorting equipment and getting his boat ready for the professional walleye tournament season. One can never be too prepared. Here’s wishing you another great season John!
Chad Peterson, Alexandria, spent most of his time working in the studio, editing video clips. He did manage to sneak away for a little shore fishing action, where several nice crappie were caught and released. I think a trip to visit him just might be in store for this coming weekend, seeing how my area is still locked up.
Heading even further south, pro staffer Kevan Paul is busy catching open water walleyes and helping the Iowa DNR in test netting, where several nice walleye and musky were sampled. And the list goes on.
There’s too many of the group to mention but you can bet that each and every one of them was busy doing something “outdoorsy”. For more information, go to HSM Outdoors page on Facebook or to our web site at www.hsmoutdoors.com.
(4/14) From The Iron Range, Greg Clusiau - Late Ice Slug Fest! Three trips were made to two different lakes last weekend and success was had. The ice, however, is getting soft and pulling away from shore so it looks like I just may be done with walking on the hard water for this season. Here’s a brief summary of last weekend’s adventure.
*Early bird gets the fish - We were on the water before the sun came up both days. Wearing headlamps, we never had to use them, as it was just light enough to see where we were going, as we walked out to the fishing grounds.
This particular body of water offers decent crappie fishing early but sometimes wanes throughout the rest of the day. Hence the early start. It was still basically morning when we returned home, giving me ample time to settle in and watch the Twins game.
*Simply sledding - We went by foot, as the ice was deteriorating and pulling away from the shorelines. Fishing of this nature has me wondering at times if there will be enough ice to get off the lake when done. I’ve had that happen a time or two.
I used a small tote sled that was just large enough to hold all late ice fishing necessities, which consisted of a power auger, rod case and tackle, minnow pail, and a multi-purpose bucket that held my Vexilar but also was used for something to sit on and a place to put fish. That’s all that’s needed at this time of the year. Even with a fairly heavy load, the sled glided across the ice with ease.
*Seeking shelter - If there’s a problem at all in using only a sled to haul your gear out onto the lake, it’s the fact that you do not have a fishing shelter to hide from the elements and I needed it on both days.
The first day found us walking out in drizzling rain and sleet. Snow followed a little later. It was a little cool and my legs got wet, as I wasn’t wearing my Clam ice fishing bibs. Luckily I was wearing the jacket. That jacket, by the way, acted as my “shelter” on both days, keeping me warm and dry. I did a lot of bucket sitting, with my back to the wind.
Day two offered better weather except for the fact that it was blowing a strong, cold, north wind. My fingers got as cold as they would have during a mid-winter excursion but I always say :if you’re hands are cold, you’re catching fish” and that’s always a good thing.
*Crappie slug fest - The second day had fish in more of a fussy mood so a slight tackle change was in order. I noticed the fish didn’t seem to want any bright colors so I switched up to make my offering look like a small insect. This came to me from seeing several of the holes alive with greenish colored freshwater shrimp.
My lure choice was Northland Tackle’s “Slug Bug” in “army worm” (dark green) color, stuck on the end of a small black jig. It did the trick and made a huge difference. Now, instead of slowly rising up and checking out the bait, which was previously a brightly colored jig tipped with a wax worm, they were practically fighting over the dark little “Slug Bug.”
I had this tiny offering tied on the end of some 3# Fluorosilk line, which was being worked to precision by one of my favorite rods, a 28" “Al Dente Noodle” made by DH Custom Rods & Tackle. This rod is about as sensitive as they come and I certainly needed the help on Sunday.
*Dead end - Fishing was slow enough on both days that I resorted to using a second rod and in this case it was Gary Roach’s 28" Mr. Walleye “Dead Stick”. Soft and flimsy, it acts like a bobber and slowly sags when a fish takes the bait, which was in the case a crappie minnow stuck on a glow-pink hook. I’ll go to this presentation when things are slow and it certainly worked to perfection on this day.
For line, I used Northland’s 2# Fluorosilk. I prefer going light as possible when dead-sticking, as the fish have all day to check things out. This line has been absolutely wonderful over the past couple of seasons.
*Summary - Ice fishing has basically come to a close in the North Country. Yes, there’s plenty of ice out there, if you can get on the lake, but it’s not worth risking your life for. It’s fast deteriorating and pulling away from the shorelines.
The ice I was walking on last weekend was very “mushy” and the existing holes are getting bigger every day from water running into them. Please be careful my friends, have fun, and good luck!
(4/7) From The Iron Range, Greg Clusiau - Open Water Countdown - It may take a little while but it looks like our ice is finally on it’s way out.
Saturday’s fishing trip was done by driving a pickup truck all over the lake. Deep snow drifts even had us coming close to getting stuck a few times but all I had to do was back-track a bit and go another route. Two shovels were in the back, just in case. Thank goodness we didn’t need to use them.
Sunday found us using snowmobiles to get around on two other lakes. The ice is plenty thick and still required drilling all the way to the auger’s power head, sometimes just barely making it through without an extension.
It was basically two days, three lakes, and two modes of transportation for lake travel.
Day one consisted of a jumbo perch hunt. Sitting comfortably in my truck, a gps unit aided us in navigating from proven spot to spot and no matter how well we did in these areas in the past, it just wasn’t happening on this day.
Making a loop around the lake, we headed for one last stop before calling it a day. Following the gps coordinates, we ended up driving near a small group that was already there. Upon closer inspection, I realized it was my son-in-law and a bunch of his friends.
Walking over to say hello, I was shown a bucket full of nice crappies and big perch and was informed that they had bit very well for an hour or so and had just quit. Isn’t that the way it goes?
Visiting with the group, another truck pulled up and this time it was my son and his wife. Talk about a coincidental family reunion of sorts. I guess you can say a family that fishes and hunts together stays together. It certainly does in my case anyway. I like it.
Our day on the lake ended with only one decent sized perch, which was added to my son-in-law’s nice collection of fish before heading home.
Day two had us using snowmobiles. We knew the lake ice was plenty thick for driving on but it’s the public accesses that had us somewhat worried, as the shorelines are the first to give way. Both lakes were evident of this.
The first lake was a bust and knowing decent fish were in this body of water made it almost hard to leave, after struggling for a couple hours. The next lake, however, produced some very nice crappie and bluegill. How lucky we are to be surrounded by hundreds of good fishing lakes. One can always pack up and be on another quality body of water in a matter of minutes.
The lake surface was somewhat firmed up in the early going but when it came time to come off there was a sheet of thin water covering the ice. It was easy travel but if you gave it too much gas it would spin water all over our shelters.
Saturday has us keeping our backs to the wind, as it was real windy during the early going. Sunday, on the other hand, was absolutely gorgeous and actually too nice for my liking. It was sunny enough that I even dug out my full-brimmed sun hat to go along with the sun block that was already in use.
Yes, spring has sprung and summer isn’t too far behind. I know that’s a good thing but I could certainly use about a month of this type of weather, as long as the ice holds up.
Take care my friends, be safe, and have fun.
(3/31) From The Iron Range, Greg Clusiau - That Time of Year - The season is finally beginning to make a switch and believe me it’s for the better. Last weekend was the first time I could drive my truck on the ice all season, going wherever I wanted to. This counts mid-winter resort ice roads, as the snow was too deep to get off the beaten path.
I was pretty much sitting atop a snowmobile for nearly the whole ice season. If I didn’t, I was unable to get to the fishing holes of my choice. Now, however, it’s a breeze, although at the time of this writing (Sunday night) more snow is forecasted for the North Country. Hopefully we won’t get as much as they’re predicting.
It’s so nice to fish out of the back of a vehicle, which is what I did last Sunday. Driving around, looking for perch, all of the necessary gear was at arm’s length, positioned on a piece of carpet in the truck box. Warm weather had me leaving the shelter at home, along with a heater, propane tanks, and more. This maneuver left the back of the truck nearly wide open and offered a great work station as well as a good place to sit while fishing.
Another plus is the fact that a container full of beverages will now be left inside the truck, as long as it’s cold enough to keep them chilled but not frozen. The same goes for bait, like minnows and wax worms. Now I can leave everything in the truck. It’s just cool enough to keep them comfortable and I don’t have to worry about frozen bait the next morning.
This same scenario plays out in the fall, only in reverse. The weather will cool down to the point where I can leave beverages and bait in the boat because it’s just cool enough to keep them in good condition. Prior the cool down, all had to be put away in the fridge for the next outing. No wonder late ice and late fall are two of my favorite seasons. Fish are biting and the living is easy.
Saturday found a few of us fishing Chequamegon Bay on Lake Superior. In search of trout and salmon, we found extremely slow fishing but managed to enjoy the day as usual. You can’t hammer them on every outing. However, we did end up pulling a few coho salmon, lake trout, and whitefish to the surface.
The weather was gorgeous. Actually it was a little too warm for my liking, as we were all over-dressed. Heavy outerwear came off around noon and stayed off for the rest of the day. Sitting with my back to the sun, I tried to avoid the blowtorch effect but still experienced a burning face at day’s end, even though sun block was used. Some of my buddies didn’t use any and made the mistake of looking into the sun for most of the day, not good.
The very next day, I was 200 miles in a different direction, looking for jumbo perch. We found them and once again I ended up playing hide and seek from the blistering sun. Sitting on the tailgate of my truck, I managed some very nice fish.
The perch finally seem to be migrating and making their way to the spawning grounds. We fished in 18' of water but I know from experience that these fish will be able to be caught in 6' or so in a couple weeks.
Get out there and give it a try. The perch are biting, as are the bluegill and crappie. Oh yeah, don’t forget the sunscreen.
(3/25) From The Iron Range, Greg Clusiau - March a Real Lion - Regarding March weather, they say “in like a lion, out like a lamb” or visa versa, but in northern Minnesota’s case it’s a lion the whole darn way and I’ve about had it.
Last Saturday morning had me wishfully thinking that I would be able to drive my truck out onto the lake and why not? After all, it’s nearing the end of March. That’s what normally takes place, along with great late ice panfishing. Oh what a mistake that turned out to be.
Realizing the latest snowfall had added a little more of a challenge to my next ice fishing outing, I opted to leave the snowmobile trailer in the back yard and go for it. Halfway to my jumbo perch destination, I began to plow snow with the bumper and ended up getting stuck.
I might have been okay, if I hadn’t run headlong into an unprotected area that is prone to offer significant snow drifts. Yup, they were there like every other year. It was shovel time and I had to drive out backwards until finding a suitable area to turn around.
On the way back to the access, with my oncoming tracks clearly visible, slush pockets could be seen here and there and a few of them almost stopped me from making it back to town.
Once home, I happily hooked up the trailer and returned to the “scene of the crime.” I wasn’t going to give up that easy.
Back on the lake, with a proper means of transportation, Blake and I reached our pre-planned destination and started fishing. Perch were present but only the smallest fish wanted to bite on this day. Both knowing it would be fruitless to spend the entire day there, we drove back to the landing, loaded up, and headed another hour to a better fishery. Never say die. That’s my motto and I’m surprised at my age that I still refuse to quit, when it comes to fishing anyway.
Reaching the next lake, we found the public access not plowed and had to park on the main road, taking our snowmobiles from there. Out on the main lake, we tried a few spots that worked well for me about ten years ago. Yes, it had been that long.
Perch were caught but once again they consisted of the smaller variety. Trying spot after spot, we finally ended up on a good crappie bite. It wasn’t the species we were after but I’ll take nice crappies any day and I did.
The next day, even though we had just discovered a great, current crappie bite, we headed a different direction for, once again, jumbo perch and yes, the snowmobiles were in tow.
This time, we landed a few very nice perch before I accidentally latched onto a true slab crappie pushing 14". I followed up with a few more and suggested Blake move over near me, as close as possible, as the fishing spot had a reputation for one angler catching a bunch of fish and another not catching a thing, even though fifty feet away.
Making the move, Blake began cashing in on the crappie action and every once in a while a true jumbo perch would “get in the way.” Now we were more concerned with the nice slabs and not worrying a bit about Mr. Jumbo. It’s funny how that works.
This lake, like all others I’ve been on this winter, was rough and slow travel was advised. I only had to stop once to pick up something that fell out of my back storage compartment and that was my new “Cold Snap” auger cover. Normally it would be on the auger but when “running and gunning”, looking for fish, I keep it off. The auger, by the way, is securely strapped down in an auger rack of the front of the snowmobile.
Speaking of securely strapped down, ahem, one of us, and I’m not mentioning any names here but we were down to only one auger on Sunday because someone didn’t tie his auger down on Saturday and accidentally ran it over, rendering it useless for the next day.
Gee, that story sounds vaguely familiar? Oh yeah, that was me on Lake Winnipeg a few years back when I was late for breakfast.
However, if this was a “normal” winter, we wouldn’t still be running snowmobiles.
(3/17) From The Iron Range, Greg Clusiau Perchin’ Time - Well I guess one could fish for them all year long but my favorite perch catching period is from mid-March through ice out. The main reason is that fact that they are moving up shallower now in preparation for the spawn, which takes place shortly after ice out in April or early May. This is the time of year when portly perch can be caught by the bucket load. Not that I would ever want a full pail of them.
I did that one time, many years ago, when I first got into the jumbos and brought home a 5 gallon bucket full. I was oh so proud, until I had to clean them all. It felt like it took forever to get them all cleaned up and put away. I am so glad that the limit is now twenty fish, to keep me in check. An easy way to remember this limit is the saying “twenty is plenty.” Same goes for sunfish, which is way too many in my opinion.
I think the first real jumbo I ever caught came on Little Bear Lake, a fishery that isn’t known for big perch. Up there for a family Easter gathering, I just had to walk out and check the ice, which was quickly deteriorating.
Using no auger, I found open water and dropped my line in to see if anything would be there. Almost immediately, I had a big, fat perch laying on the ice. The same method produced a few more. The big girls were up shallow and on the bite.
As a kid, we fished Big Bear Lake all summer long and many meals of big perch came while anchored in front of the cabin, next to the pencil weeds. I swear those fish were huge but maybe it’s because we were just kids and they seemed that way.
My ice guiding days lead me to start fishing on Leech Lake, where I caught probably the nicest bunch of jumbos that I’ve ever seen. Again, it was late ice and a walk out from the Silver Hook Resort proved to be well worth while. I fished this area dozens of times with great success.
Big Winnie was next in my sights and I had dozens of perch trips out here too. I used to spend a lot of time on Bowens Flats and recall one trip where it was frozen near shore real good in the morning but melted away while we were out fishing.
It was unusually warm out and all day long I was thinking about the thin shore ice. Upon returning back to the landing with an atv and trailer, I had one old timer just about freak out when we were greeted with about 100' of open water. I calmed him down, telling him not to worry, as it was only about a foot deep. It sure did look scary though.
I guided several trips on Big Bowstring too. Nice fish. Local conservation officer, Tom Chapin, checked me a few times out there. No problems.
I’ve spent some good times on Round Lake, looking for big perch and usually managed to catch a few real nice “picture fish” from time to time. I recall checking out In-Fisherman’s “Master Angler” awards one time and only four perch were recognized from our region, as they had to be at least 15" in length. Two of those award winning fish came from Round Lake. That’s a huge perch.
Big Jesse has treated me well from time to time, as well.
However, the biggest perch I ever caught came while walleye fishing through the ice on Lake of the Woods. I thought it was “just” another eater walleye but was totally excited to see a monster perch come out of the hole. That fish made my trip. I don’t care how many walleye I had caught.
Then how could I ever forget the hot perch fishing action we enjoyed on the Ontario side of Rainy Lake. Excellent fishing, and all nice in size. I could hardly wait until the next ice season but they never showed up again. Darn.
Minnesota’s state record perch tipped the scale at 3 pounds 4 ounces, a real hog caught back in 1945. Can you imagine catching something of that size? Wow.
I’ll just settle for a bunch of 10"ers, with the occasional big one and it’s all happening right now. Get out there, be safe, have fun, and catch some perch! (Greg Clusiau, HSM Outdoors)
(3/12) From The Iron Range, Greg Clusiau - Annual Winnipeg Walleye Trip - Well it’s been seven years now and it’s still as much fun as it was the first time. Lake Winnipeg, a wondrous walleye factory in it’s own right, ranks right up there as heavyweight champ in my book. The walleye are heavy. That’s for sure.
This year involved a few Lake Winnipeg virgins, if you will, who had no idea what to expect, only the stories we had excitedly told them. It’s one of those things that just has to be experienced. Words, or even video, just can’t tell it like it is.
One has to experience the snowmobile ride alone, from the South Beach Casino, to wherever we end up on the big water. This time it was only about a seven mile ride. Now, if you were trail riding, it would be no big deal. However, when the lake is rough, with “open water wave-like” snow drifts the whole way, it’s a totally different story.
One the day prior our trip, Canadians Tom and Mike Batiuk went ahead and checked out the lake conditions, hoping to find the mother lode of big walleye.
They found fish, which usually isn’t too hard to do, but the big ones were hiding. Mike did manage bragging rights for the day with a 22"er, just average, if not small, by Lake Winnipeg standards. Lake travel was another thing.
Heading across the lake, in serious whiteout conditions, Tom lead the way, while Mike followed behind and it’s lucky he was, as Tom’s Clam shelter became unhitched from his snowmobile. Turning around and heading back, Tom could barely make out the trail, as visibility was no better than 300'. He eventually found Mike and the wayward fishing shelter waiting for him.
It was at this point that Tom noticed his auger “power head” missing, which was positioned inside a burlap sack and bungied down in the back of his Bearcat. The trail was quickly drifting over and hard to see so Batiuk zoomed in his gps unit to the max and headed back in search of it.
With no “snow trail” to see at all, Batiuk stayed on the gps course and found the sack but the problem was that’s all he found, just a sack. Forging ahead, he found the power head, almost covered up by the driving snow. After that, it was all good, for that day anyway.
It ended up that most all of us experienced some transport problems of one thing or another.
On one of the days, we reached the fishing spot to find that Chad Peterson’s camera equipment was missing, valued at more than $2,000. It had somehow bounced out of a covered, secured sled and was found by Batiuk, who ran back nearly six miles in search of it. You talk about lucky.
Another “bounce out”, again belonging to Peterson, was his hard case rod locker that was missing from my sled upon reaching the promised walleye land. Another run back produced a case full of expensive DH Custom rods and reels. Again, lucky.
Rough conditions had several fishing parties losing their shelters, which were in tow behind either snowmobiles or Ranger track vehicles. One unhooking happened right next to us while we were reeling in big fish. They returned 30 minutes later and picked it up.
I did it myself, three times. I blame this on an inferior hitch and pin on my part and can tell you that it will be changed for this coming weekend, when Big Winnie perch will be the target.
On one of my “un-hitchings”, Blake Liend, who was following fairly close behind me in whiteout conditions, ran into my shelter with his snowmobile.
The next day, Liend had a tie rod end break on his machine. Was it from hitting my sled? Or maybe it was just the curse of big Lake Winnipeg? Strange things can happen here but we’ve already made reservations for next year. It’s just that good.
As far as fishing success, we did “okay” in my book, catching approximately 150 walleye on a wide variety of baits (Live Target, Psycho Shad, Rippin’ Shad, Darter, Chubby Darter, Slender Spoon, etc.). It all depended on what you were using when a fish happened by.
Blake and I each had extremely fat 27" fish which looked to be at least 9 pounds or better. Blake’s looked like a “10". Yes, they’re that fat.
Newcomer Brett McComas, Brainerd, took home big fish honors with his walleye that was pushing 29" and bottomed out an accurate electronic scale at 11 pounds. I wonder how much further the scale would have went. It was a real tubby and was released back into the waters of Lake Winnipeg.
(3/3) From The Iron Range, Greg Clusiau - The Bullwinkle Wrinkle - For Donny Newman, it was just another normal day of checking his trap-line. This time, however, Newman had brought along Trigger, his buddy’s 9 month old silver lab, just to let him stretch his legs some and get a little exercise.
Trigger was good company and things were going as planned until Donny pulled over in the Isabella area to check some pine martin traps.
Freshly plowed, the road was winged out over the shoulder and gave the false impression of solid ground. Donny’s truck sank into the ditch and he became stuck. The was just the beginning of bad things to come.
Leaving the truck where it was, he planned on shoveling it out after he came out of the woods.
Donning new aluminum snowshoes, Newman climbed over a 4' embankment and started into the swamp when he heard what he thought was a snort. Stopping and looking around, he didn’t see anything and made another couple steps before hearing it again.
Glancing into the dark shadows, a large cow moose was spotted. The two made eye contact and as the stare down continued Newman noticed she had a calf with her and begin to back-track. About four steps into the retreat, Trigger noticed the animal as well and started barking. That’s all it took.
Ears laid back, it was “game on” and the moose was on top of Donny before he knew what happened. Knocked down, face first, into the deep snow, the assault begin.
Luckily Newman had a back-pack on, which was full of trapping bait. Almost a foot thick, packed with meat, it acted as a cushion, taking the brunt of six to seven deadly front hoof kicks. The 800 pound animal destroyed the pack and pushed Newman deep into the snow. Curled up into a fetal position, he took the blows, hoping for the best, praying the large animal would give up, thinking him dead.
It was at this time that Trigger leaped into action, attacking the moose. The young dog, who had only met Donny for the first time on this day, let his instincts take over and went after the moose.
Distracted, the cow went after the dog, who ran up and onto the road. A chase ensued, with both of them disappearing from sight. The calf followed behind.
Minutes later, Trigger returned, unscathed, with not a mark on him. He had saved Donny’s life, even though he had started the fight in the first place. Once the moose heard the familiar canine bark, a winter of fending of wolves spurred her into At the fight scene, moose hair was littered across the deep snow.
Adrenalin allowed Donny, who had a cut hand, sore shoulder, and generally hurting all over, to shovel the truck out and finish the remaining three hours of his trap line.
Grateful for his little buddy helping him out, a stop was made at the local Dairy Queen on the way home, where Trigger enjoyed his own “chicken strip basket.” It had been quite a day.
Once home, the stiffness set in and Newman realized he was in worse shape than he figured. A next day trip to the doctor revealed torn ligaments and muscles in his neck and shoulder, along with a dislocated hip.
Reflecting upon the ordeal, Donny said “Well I feel sorry for the moose because the snow is so deep. They have to use my snowshoe trails to get around up there and I still love and respect moose. The woods belongs to them and we should be careful not to get into their space and should admire them from a distance. Thankfully Trigger prevented me from becoming a welcome mat. I feel lucky to be able to limp away and trap another day.”
Newman said another 4" higher and the moose would have kicked him in the back of his head. Also, a snowshoe was stepped on, right behind his heel, and although he can still use it, it is bent and will be “mounted” on the wall as a remembrance of a close call with Mother Nature. All of this happened 20' off the road.
(2/24) From The Iron Range, Greg Clusiau - Experience Wins Over - Being in the fishing game as long as I have, a slight bit of common sense seems to take over every once in a while, certainly a whole lot more than it did when younger. A “two group” Ontario lake trout outing got me to thinking about this.
Planned a month in advance, there would be eight of us. I use the word “us” loosely, as Blake and I weren’t planning on making the trip, as we were penciled in to help with the annual “No Child Left Inside” program, put on by the Nashwauk-Keewatin school district.
Scheduled for a Friday, it would be the same day the trout outing would get underway on Lake Manitou. I thought about running up there late Friday or early Saturday but came to my senses after watching the weather forecast. A major storm would be heading our way. And it did.
So much, in fact, that the elementary children of N-K will have to wait until another date when weather would be much better, as the event was postponed.
Two of our group, both residing in Ft. Frances, had bad lake trout trip feelings of their own, as the snow was piling up in a hurry and howling winds just seemed to pick up speed. It would be no good, not when you have a fairly long snowmobile ride looking you in the face and then had to travel in two feet of snow looking for fish. It just wasn’t worth the time and money.
I can see the excitement in getting up there, especially if you’ve never did the lake trout through the ice thing before but I have, as well as Blake. We’ve got more trout trips under our belt that it wasn’t anything special for us. We’d wait for better weather, if we even went at all. The rest of our dedicated group finally agreed to play it safe. The other group? Well that was a different story.
Wanting to prove a point, they headed to Lake of the Woods instead, where they were greeted with poor fishing (another reason we decided to stay put) and an equipment breakdown. Switching gears, they headed back south, stopping at another lake to catch a few crappies and perch.
They made it happen and I’ll give them credit. I used to be the same way, summer and winter. If Mother Nature showed her hand I’d defy her and go headlong into the teeth of the best she could dish out. Sometimes I’d win out but rarely.
Like the time I tried an ice fishing guide trip on Big Winnie when Minnesota registered it’s all time low. I tried talking my clients out of going but they insisted. Always wanting to please the customer, I threw caution to the wind, like I usually did, and headed toward the big lake until all of the antifreeze blew out of the truck.
Or how about the time we went crappie fishing on the Ontario portion of Rainy Lake, leaving home at 3:30 am and 30 below. Well, that had trouble written all over it but the lure of big slab crappies had us in a frenzy. Never did we think about possible consequences.
We ended up getting stuck in slush and breaking down on the lake, miles from shore. It took all day just to button things up and get off the lake in one piece. Crazy kids. We had to go back Christmas Eve day to retrieve all of our equipment with a snowmobile that would run.
I could go on and on about some very serious youthful miscalculations but that has a tendency to happen when you’re younger and/or inexperienced. Nowadays, I sit back and think things through, a little anyways.
Take last weekend for example. Remember that wind? How could you forget. I headed west, with all of my fishing gear but deep down I knew I was just going for a little Saturday afternoon joyride.
I ended up visiting a resort for a bit and planned on driving my truck out on the lake but it was blowing so hard they weren’t allowing any vehicle traffic. As a matter-of-fact, they weren’t even plowing, not until the winds subsided.
I went for another little cruise the next day but brought my snowmobile along this time. Once at the lake, I looked things over and decided better. The wind was still howling and it got a hold of my truck door as I opened it, almost ripping it off the hinges. Nope, not going. It was basically just another ride to get out of the house and to enjoy a pizza. Just something to do I guess.
Next week? Well, I’ll tell ya. I’m beginning to feel like a caged animal, not being able to fish last weekend and the forecast has some miserable, sub-zero weather in store for us once again. I do promise to use some common sense, a little anyway.
(2/18) From The Iron Range, Greg Clusiau - Trophy 'Gilling
An early morning snowmobile ride to a trophy bluegill lake had me pumped. At minus ten below, it was a little cool out but little did I think that full face protection would be needed. It wasn’t that far. Well, yeah. Little did I think. I should have known better. Luckily the Bearcat had a high windshield and provided me a little shelter from the wind. I did, however, have to keep peeking over it, as it was crusted over with frozen road debris and hard to see.
The ride, which approached unbearable, ended with us reaching our little back-in-the-bush honey hole and I could feel the pain. No frostbite was experienced but I had to be pushing it. Oh the lengths we go to catch big bluegills.
Out on the lake, we found fishing to be slow but every once in a while a hefty specimen would make an appearance.
Fussy fishing, with not many being caught, always gives a guy time to reflect and do a little daydreaming. I thought how lucky we were to be practically surrounded by trophy bluegill waters. It seems there is no shortage of lakes that offer a chance at a 10" fish, the benchmark for bluegill bragging rights.
For my crew, these big fish are quickly placed in front of a camera and then released back to where they came from. My how times have changed, for me and most everyone else out there.
I recall the summer days of stumbling across a hoard of hungry gills and stringing them up as fast as one could catch them. They weren’t even measured back then, although some may have been admired for a minute or so before being added to the collection. Almost never photographed and rarely mounted, they were only brought home for dinner. How sad.
One time we had so many big bluegills on a stringer that the weight from the fish above would shear the lips open on the ones below, making them fall to the ground. We weren’t over our limit but more than likely right on it. Again with the sad thing. It’s just the way it was decades ago and I’ll plead ignorance on this one.
Thankfully In-Fisherman, along with Muskies Inc., came along promoting the catch and release theory. My goodness, with today’s technology there would be nothing left. Instead, we are blessed to have some of the best fishing ever.
Get out there and enjoy the great outdoors and if you happen across a hungry bunch of big bluegills, get a few photos of the trophies and let them swim. It’s a good feeling. Trust me.
(2/10) From The Iron Range, Greg Clusiau - On the Ice with MT .
When it comes to catching panfish through the ice, there aren’t too many that can get the job done any better than Michael Thompson.
Thompson, better known in fishing circles as “MT”, hails from Minneapolis but don’t be surprised if you find him on a lake near you, especially if the big bluegills are biting. He’ll get wind of it somehow. He’s like a big bluegill detective and isn’t afraid to put the miles on to get them.
Case in point - I was fishing a small lake in the McGregor area, in a boat, when I noticed some commotion going on near shore. Not really sure what was taking place, I turned away and focused on my fishing.
The next time I turned around, I found MT closing in on us in a float tube of all things. An avid camera buff, he had a GoPro strapped to his head and all equipment necessary to catch a big bluegill or two. He certainly looked out of place but there he was, watching his graph and back-paddling away from one hotspot to another, catching fish in the process.
One other time, when I was fishing a local northern Minnesota lake, during the late-ice period for big bluegills, I noticed someone trying to drive out onto the lake. I thought “well this should be interesting”, as I had been fishing the lake regularly and it had gotten to the point where I figured the ice to be unsafe. Therefore, I loaded a small sled and walked a half-mile to the hotspot.
I watched a small white pickup truck try to maneuver rotten and open holes near the public access until it broke through and became stuck. Someone on an atv, heading toward the access to help out, slowed as he past me saying “it’s Michael Thompson.” I just shook my head. The man’s relentless and that’s probably the reason he does so well in so many ice fishing tournaments.
MT started fishing the competitive UPL (Ultitmate Panfish League) ten years ago and won his first event. Since then, he has partnered up with four different anglers to take home first place finishes.
This thirst for ice fishing competition has led him to become a member of “Team USA”, where as an alternate he competed against the likes of the very best in the world, with teams from Russia and Mongolia taking part in the battle for first place.
I was somewhat surprised with his answer to what his “go to” equipment is, when targeting trophy panfish. One would naturally think it would be fairly expensive, consisting of the most recent state-of-the-art gear. Not for MT. Here’s what he recommended.
“For rods, I prefer HT Enterprises “ice blue” rods because they’re inexpensive and super-light. I’m hard on equipment and have broken my fair share of high quality rods that cost a lot. I’m a “line watcher” so I really don’t need a $100 rod.
“When it comes to reels, again, I have made the switch from expensive spincast reels to the low-cost, plastic “Schooley” reels. The only time I use a spincast reel is when casting in the summer. The Schooley works well because all I really need it for is storing line. For a drag, in case that big fish gets on, I just use my thumb to slow the reel.
“My favorite fishing line is gold Stren in 2 or 4 pound test, depending on the species. Being a line watcher, the gold color is easy to see. All I do is watch for the line to straighten out or loosen up, which means I have a fish on the other end. No corks or spring bobbers for me.
“On the business end of things, there is usually a Fiskas jig of some sort, depending what size or color the fish want on that particular day and it’s tied on by a double surgeon loop knot, which allows the tiny offering to freely swing about.
“That’s basically it” Thompson stated. “There’s nothing fancy about me. You don’t need expensive gear to catch trophy fish, just pay attention to your fishing line.” - Well MT, that’s easy for you to say. (Greg Clusiau, HSM Outdoors, check us out on Facebook) .
(2/3) From The Iron Range, Greg Clusiau: On the Road Again.
No, it has nothing to do with the redneck rocker, Willie Nelson. It does, however, have a lot to do with last weekend’s crappie outings on Big Bowstring Lake. Oh how sweet it is to be able to drive a vehicle to a productive fishing hole or two and not worry about pulling a trailer behind.
Memories of me using a snowmobile to reach my panfish destinations, two weeks ago, are still frozen in my mind. It was downright awful out there. Sub-zero temps and cold winds made for uncomfortable traveling and the fishing was equally as poor.
So when I heard that Geiger’s Trails End Resort had six miles of plowed roads available, I said “count me in.” There was absolutely no hesitation in the decision making process.
Sure, there are plowed ice roads all across the North Country but most all of these great fisheries are focused on walleye and possibly perch. There aren’t too many places that have plowed roads to good crappie fishing, not since Upper Red Lake enjoyed it’s crappie bonanza.
Another plus from last weekend was the weather and even though it was well below zero in the early morning, it almost felt warm when compared to what we’ve been dealing with.
Saturday’s day on the lake was colder, due to the wind but Sunday offered the perfect opportunity for me to leave the shelter in the truck and fish outside. The truck, by the way, was left running so all of the equipment, that needed to, stayed nice and warm. This included expensive camera gear, live wax worms, and gloves that took turns resting on the defrosters.
Every time I needed to re-bait or change a lure, a truck sitting session took place. This worked out well, as I needed to warm up myself and the radio was always on.
The crappies were hungry and if you were fortunate enough to find a school of them, even more so.
Bowstring offers plenty of places to fish, which is always nice, especially if your spot isn’t producing, which happened to Blake and I on Saturday.
After spending two hours trying our luck in a good “community hole”, yes, the road goes there, we reeled up and relocated to the other end of the road system. It turned out to be a good call, as the first hole we drilled was filled with fish. Our limit of ten each was achieved in fifteen minutes and we were back home in Keewatin, 65 miles away, a little after noon. Now that’s good fishing.
On Sunday, I headed to the same area that I ended with on the day before and it was as if I had never left. The fish were there and eager to bite.
The best bait for me was Northland Tackle’s little “Forage Minnow Spoon”, tipped with a wax worm. I lost one on each day due to hungry northern pike. Another top producer was Northland’s “Mud Bug” and “Gill Getter” tipped with a wax worm or plastic.
Top plastics were Clam’s “Polli” and Northland’s “Impulse Mini Smelt”. These baits actually outfished the wax worms.
I should mention that driving off the plowed ice roads and going it alone is definitely an option at this time, as long as we don’t receive much more snow. I never ran into any slush (I believe it’s all froze up) but did hit the occasional deep snow drift. Please keep that in mind. You could get stuck so bring a shovel along. The ice, by the way, is in great shape and looked to be at least 24" thick.
So, all in all, it’s great going out there and great fishing as well. Good luck, have fun, and stay safe! (Greg Clusiau, HSM Outdoors, check us out on Facebook) .
(2/1) From The Iron Range, Greg Clusiau; Pinpointing Lake Superior Brown Trout - John Marksman, HSM.
For browns, splake, and rainbows near shore, it’s important to point out that these fish are “swimmers” and constantly cruising. This means they are always on the move, feeding with the current, and always on the look for the next easy meal.
Brown trout are a schooling fish, which basically means they will sometimes cruise, and feed, in schools. I have had mornings that have been slow and then suddenly a handful of “JawJackers” pop up and your rod almost gets torn from your hand, a sign that hungry browns are passing through the area.
These fish move with the current. Sometimes you will find that you get all of your bites when the current is on either an inward or outward flow, moving in from the big lake to the mainland and then back the other way.
I like to search out the inside and outside contours, in 5 to 40 feet of water, close to a drop-off that dips into the main lake basin. Here is where your gps with a lake map helps in narrowing down some of the location game.
The Chequamegon Bay and Apostle Islands area is big water. Don’t be intimidated by it. Instead, learn it one small piece at a time and put a plan into place. Using your electronics and gps lake map, check the contours for any debris on the bottom (logs, stumps, trees, big rocks, and rock piles). Other good places to check over are old docks, near shore rock piles, that may extend out into the lake along with shallow bays, big and small. Cameras work very nice for this.
On days where the bite was not so hot and on the slow side, one thing to consider is to fish for them at night. This is when the large browns and splake come out and are actively feeding.
Wait 30 to 45 minutes after the sun sets, as they will need a little time for their eyes to adjust to night vision mode before feeding. Stay with the fish until your well satisfied. This is a fun game and it’s not unusual for me to be the last one off the lake. (Written by John Marksman, HSM Outdoors) .
For more information, contact Marksmans Guide Service at 715-373-2864 or firstname.lastname@example.org
(1/27) From The Iron Range, Greg Clusiau; Always Ready for Panfish
Many of my panfish trips find me walking from hole to hole, trying to keep up with hungry crappie and bluegill. When in the feeding mood, especially on shallow waters, they’re almost always on the move, being below you one minute and gone the next. This is where the walking comes in.
Sometimes I find myself 100 yards or more from my Clam shelter, which is actually used as a “base camp” when weather allows me to roam about. It never seems to fail. Anytime I’m a good distance from my shelter, which normally houses several hundred baits, I’ll decide to change lures or have a northern pike bite me off.
Solution! Take advantage of the little tackle box that comes with my Vexilar pro pak. Positioned directly below the unit itself, it measures 3 ½" x 7", and has several adjustable compartments that allow you to carry most anything needed to catch fish.
For me, it’s a great way to make sure that a sampling of all of my favorite baits are close at hand. The lures are proven fish catchers, as well as confidence baits for me. There are many other good baits out there but these are the ones I trust in catching fish. Let’s take a look at what these baits are and just why I carry them along.
First off is my “go to” lure, the “Forage Minnow Spoon” in 1/32 oz and 1/16 oz. I like this bait for “starters” as it’s a great search lure, being flashy, large, and has the ability to drop down to the depths in a hurry. Tipped with a wax worm, hungry crappies often race up to intercept it.
This is a great bait to “see what’s down there” and it’s often on the end of my rod for the whole day. It’s that good.
Next are vertical jigging baits like Northland Tackle’s “Puppet Minnow” and Rapala’s “Jiggin’ Rap.” These two are great search lures that get down there in a hurry and dictate how active the fish will be. Oddly enough, I’ve caught crappies on these larger lures even when they wouldn’t hit the smallest offering. There’s something there that just triggers them to bite, even after staring at it for several minutes.
The “Mud Bug” and “Gill Getter” are a cinch to make the list, as I’ve caught more crappie and bluegill with these baits than I can remember. Absolutely deadly, especially when tipped with an Impulse “Mini Smelt” or wax worm. *Remember to cut off 1/4" off the big end of the “Mini Smelt” during a tough bite. Works well.
“THE Jig”, made by Crappie Keith Nelson, makes the list as well and finds a spot in my Vexilar tackle box. This little hair jig, in 1/100 and 1/80 oz has fooled more than it’s fair share of panfish, either fished naked (no bait) or tipped with a wax worm or a couple of maggots.
Northland’s “Mooska Jig” and “Fire-Ball Jig” also get the call. Made of tungsten, which is heavier than lead and sinks like a rock, I use the little 1/57 oz when it comes to super fussy bluegills or crappie. Tip it with a wax worm or maggot and you’re in business. Use a lighter line, like 2 pound test Fluorosilk.
Northland’s new tungsten “Banana Bug” fills the last full slot and although I haven’t had a chance to really put this bait to the test this season, it has “use me” written all over it. This horizontal jig is small, heavy, and features a UV finish, attracting fish from quite a distance. I don’t think it can get too much better than that. The bluegills will eat this thing up!
I should mention that two of the slots are too small to easily get my fingers into but they cradle my customized “Swedish Pimple” and Lindy’s old “Fat Boys” should I get the hankering to use them. These baits have been around for decades and have accounted for thousands of fish, a lot of them by me.
That’s it for the “hard baits.” The soft baits, like Impulse and Maki plastics, come in small enough packages that they easily fit into my pocket, along with a container of wax worms. - Good luck out on the ice. Have fun and be safe. (Greg Clusiau, HSM Outdoors) .
(1/20) From The Iron Range, Greg Clusiau; On Ice with Wings and Walleyes! - New Stuff That Actually Works
Each and every year, new products make the scene. It doesn’t matter what the field, as the latest and supposedly greatest innovations continue to make their fresh presence known, mostly through aggressive ad campaigns. Some of these products are here one day and gone the next, failing to impress the avid outdoor enthusiast.
However, when it comes to the ice fishing industry, I usually have a front row seat and make my own evaluations. Here are a few from this year that made the grade.
*Northland Tackle “UV Buck-Shot Spoon” - It’s the famed “Buck-Shot Rattle Spoon” with a little extra attractant and that’s the highly visible, UV enhanced, optical-brightened finish that calls fish in from a wide radius.
This might sound like a lot of ad hype but when I witnessed it firsthand during an Upper Red Lake walleye outing I was sold. I didn’t have any on that fateful day but you can bet your life I now have more than my fair share.
Available in the brightest, fish attracting UV colors, it also comes in a wide variety of sizes, 1/16 oz, 1/8 oz, and 1/4 oz, making it a great spoon for everything from panfish to walleye and more.
*Clam Outdoors “Blade Spoon” - This new spoon impressed me as well on that inaugural first ice outing on Upper Red Lake. HSM Outdoors pro staffer Ray Welle could do no wrong with this spoon and caught a lot of nice walleye with it.
Although it’s described as being able to cover a swath of horizontal territory, with it’s slicing, random fluttering action, it was the color, here too, that I believe made the difference.
Available in glitter and glow combinations, it too also comes in the preferred sizes of 1/16 oz, 1/8 oz, and 1/4 oz.
*Clam Outdoors “Drop Jig” - My fishing partner, Blake Liend, schooled me the other day while using this creation. First off, I must say, he was using the “glow red” version, which has been a mainstay of his fishing success over the last several years. If it’s glow red, Blake will be using it and more-than-likely catching fish.
Clam describes it as the “centerpiece” of it’s tungsten series, available in five sizes and six colors. Tungsten, by the way, is 30% heavier than lead so a small, finesse type jig such as this can quickly get down to those finicky, fussy biters and get them to eat. All you have to do is stick a maggot, waxworm, or piece of plastic on the end of it and you’re in business.
*Northland Tackle “Forage Minnow Spoon” - This lure has been around for a while and has caught thousands of fish but this year it is available in the tiny, little 1/32 oz size and let me tell you it has been really tearing ‘em up. This has been my favorite new lure of the year.
Tipped with a waxworm or two, depending on the bite, I’ve caught so many nice panfish that it’s the first, and usually the last, lure that I use on each outing. Many days I never switch and use it all day long.
Vexilar FLX-28 - I started using Vexilar nearly 30 years ago and have tried most every other available brand out there. I guess you can say that I’ve come full circle because I am back to using Vexilar and honestly believe it’s the best thing going when it comes to fishing electronics. That’s why I use Vexilar.
The features found in the FLX-28 read like the wish list of avid anglers. Although there are too many to list here, a few of them are digital depth, auto range, two zoom zones, battery status, five color palettes, 5' depth range adjustments starting at 10', maximum range of 300', day and night display settings, low power options for fishing in shallow water, a unique weed mode for better performance while fishing in weeds, and MORE. This is truly a fantastic unit and if you see me out on the ice, ask for a demo.
Clam Outdoors - This one has really impressed me and made my ice fishing excursions just a tad easier to deal with (I use a Clam X-1 Thermal shelter) and that is the ease at which poles can be folded back into place before leaving the lake or moving on to another location. There is now a tab that can be operated while using gloves. No more taking your mitts off and uncomfortably pushing down a small button during freezing temps. These things work slick.
For the life of me, I couldn’t find the proper terminology so a call was made to Mr. Dave Genz himself, who just happened to be in Montana for an ice fishing tournament. Dave said “it’s called an RPSX, which is short for “rapid pole slide extreme.” I couldn’t have gone to a better source for this one. Thanks Dave!!
(1/13) From The Iron Range, Greg Clusiau; On Ice with Wings and Walleyes! - I finally put in a full shift last weekend, fishing both Saturday and Sunday. Both days were very productive, catching Upper Red Lake walleye on the first day, followed up by icing a bunch of nice crappie and bluegill on the next.
In my presence was a local four-season fishing and hunting guide, Reed Ylitalo, of Grand Rapids. Reed stays busy during the open water months of summer by putting his clients on fish of all species, with walleye being a favorite. His web site, wingsandwalleyesguideservice.com, describes his company as “northern Minnesota’s only four season hunting & fishing outfitter.”
When fall waterfowl hunting gets going, Reed stays busy in the field hunting ducks and geese, with occasional walleye trips sandwiched in between. Winter time is devoted to ice fishing and that’s just what we did last weekend.
Saturday had me, my brother Joel, and Reed riding up to Red Lake together in Reed’s suburban. In tow was a snowmobile trailer with fishing shelters strapped down for the ride. Reed described the suburban as his “guide rig” as it has plenty of room for hauling clients and all the gear one would ever need.
We traveled to a spot that he had fished two days prior and felt our chances were quite good at going home with an Upper Red Lake limit of four walleye under 20".
Going out of West Wind, lake travel was good, with many miles of plowed ice roads available to us. Getting too far off the main road was another thing, as snow is still fairly deep and pulling a trailer can only make things worse, in case you had the notion of going “cross country.” With that in mind, we set up close to the main trail, in 10' of water.
Ylitalo quickly pulled two small walleyes to the surface, both of which were released back down the hole. It wasn’t fast and furious action but just enough to keep us in that same area for the entire day. The fish were there. Why move?
Reed, the newest addition to HSM Outdoors, was joined by other pro staff members who drove north for the day. That included Blake Liend of Keewatin, Brett McComas of Brainerd, and Chad Peterson from Alexandria. These guys travel far and wide for a good bite, no matter what the species. HSM Outdoors can be found on Facebook, providing the latest hot bites, along with the greatest in new gear.
We ended up going home with a nice limit of walleye and caught approximately 60 fish overall.
It was good. Best baits were of the spoon variety like Northland Tackle “UV BuckShot Spoon”, Slender Spoons, and PK spoons tipped with minnow heads. Some of the spoons were quite large in size, with gold or white being hands-down winners.
On day two, still tired out from the Red Lake trip, we stayed somewhat local and fished one of Reed’s little panfish lakes. This turned out to be a run-and-gun type of bite where fish were below you one second and gone the next. A hole drilling party took place and by moving about, going from hole to hole, we were able to catch a very nice batch of crappie and bluegill. Best baits were small jigs like Northland Tackle’s “Mimic Minnow Fry” and “Mud Bug” tipped with either a wax worm or Impulse “Mini Smelt”.
Ylitalo uses a 16' wheel house to make customers comfortable and mobile. Sometimes a “fleet” of portable ice fishing shelters is used. It all depends on the situation and number of clients. Reed uses a track vehicle when the going gets too tough. This allows him to reach little known hotspots that others are most likely unable to find.
For more information on a fishing or hunting trip with Reed Ylitalo, call (218) 259-0354 or go to his Facebook page Wings and Walleyes guide service.
(1/6) From The Iron Range, Greg Clusiau; Holed Up! - The old saying “the weather’s not fit for man nor beast” certainly applies to our most recent arctic blast. In times like this, I always manage to get a touch of “cabin fever”, feeling like a caged animal wanting to get out there and do something, anything. But then, what little common sense I do have rises to the top and keeps me holed up in the house.
I’ve cleaned up my office, twice, so far and really have to think of any possible errands to run, anything to get out of the house but not for long. In two days, I’ve managed an equal amount of trips outside. One was to make the short drive to Blue Lake, near Nashwauk, to satisfy my curiosity factor. I had to find out how the ice conditions were.
If any lake had vehicle traffic taking place, it would be Blue Lake. No matter how deep the snow, local anglers usually make a trail to the first couple fishing spots. Sometimes it’s even plowed so a 2-wheel drive vehicle can make it. This time it was a rutty path that lead to a small “hard house” village.
Permanent shelters definitely have their place in the winter scheme of Minnesota fishing, although there are pros and cons to this plan of attack.
They are usually very comfortable, bordering on cozy, during the coldest that Mother Nature can dish out, even with the fierce winds. Banked up with a blanket of snow, permanent shelters offer the luxury of driving your vehicle right next to the door and stepping inside. Many times, if it’s being used a fair amount, the heater is left on low to take the chill out. All one has to do is get inside and start fishing.
The downside is obviously mobility. Once there, you’re pretty much committed to one spot, especially during sub-zero inclement weather. No one wants to move about too freely when faced with this situation.
Wondering how the slush conditions were, I locked it in four-wheel drive and backed off the main trail. I was expecting to get stuck but much too my surprise I drove around with no problem, making my way in 12" or more of snow. This isn’t saying the entire lake is like this so one always has to use caution when traveling on ice.
My brother was telling me of the time when he and a buddy were fishing for crappies on Pokegama Lake years ago. It’s was -32º below that day and they were really doing a number on the slabs. When it was time to have a cigarette, the lighter wouldn’t work. Sensing danger, a lack of oxygen, he quickly opened the door and felt the relief of fresh oxygen entering the shelter.
Standing outside, he noticed ½" of ice covering the entire fish house. They were encased in ice and air-tight. Telling me of this tale he said “lucky I smoked back then or I’d be dead.”
Yes folks, it does happen. Be sure to crack a door or vent open when faced with sub-zero temps, when all openings are usually shut tight in an effort to stay as warm as possible.
Oh, I should mention my second trip out of the house and that one entailed a trip to WalMart to buy a bag of potatoes. How lame is that? I guess I was just looking for “something” to do. I can only watch just so much football.
Let’s all hope the weather forecaster is right with the mini heat wave scheduled to hit us this weekend. Temps are supposed to be in the 25-30º range, above! I’ll tell you what. I certainly won’t be buying any potatoes.
Clusiau; "Northland Tackle’s “Jig Wallet” works well for keeping ice jigs safe and sound".
Chad Peterson filleting Crappies using the Fillet Maker.
As evidenced by Amanda Buer holding this monster northern Minnesota crappie, Ice fishing has been good!
Making Waves - Blake Liend pulls his Fish Trap across a snow free lake. There was 1” of water on most of the lake. Please be cautious out there.
A super fussy bite last weekend had me reducing down to 2 pound test, a spring bobber, and this little hair jig tipped with a wax worm.
Good Ice & Great Fishing..Bob Behrner caught a nice limit of crappie in short order.
Dylan Kukkonen iced several walleye like this one last weekend on Upper Red Lake.
Tom Batiuk and Justin Bailey enjoyed a great day of walleye fishing on Upper Red lake last weekend.
Hats off to Harry...Harry Hagsten of Keewatin bagged another nice buck this season. Congrats!
Sorokie; "I am confident things will rebound given a couple mild winters and tightened harvest regulations. After all, the whitetail deer is a fast growing, renewable resource given proper conditions."
Great Fall Fishing...John Kukkonen and his son Dylan enjoyed a great day on the water last weekend, catching suspended crappies.
Jeremy Taschuk with Rainy Lake Crappies on the "cast n blast" weekend.
Jeremy Taschuk in the Duck Blind
Greg Clusiau with Rainy Lake Walleye
Catching suspended Crappies can make for challenging fishing at times. But, not if you know a few tricks of the trade.
Who wouldn't want to spend a day on the water like this one?
Fall Fishing on Fire. Bren Taschuk and his father Jeremy, Ft. Frances, Ontario, pose with some beautiful fall crappie and a bonus walleye.
Fun Hunt. Jeremy Taschuk with a couple shovelers from the Ontario opening weekend duck hunt.
Crappie Fun...Fishing guide Tom Batiuk and his son Daxx pose with some nice crappie taken on a recent trip in Ontario.
Supper...Bren Taschuk holds a stringer of eater walleye taken from Rainy Lake
Across the Border Bucketmouth...Jeremy Taschuk displays a nice largemouth bass caught and released across the border in the Rainy Lake area
Greg clusiau shows off one of the
pot bellied Bluegills that are common in the alexandria area.
Panfish are a way of life for Chad Peterson who has successfully fished for them all the way from Minnesota to Louisiana and back.
Brett McComas shaws off heftyLargemouth Bass from the Jungle. Top Water baits over heavy cover produces a lot of action.
Always famous for photo-bombing, Brett McComas peeks from behind Tom Batiuk in celebration of another nice Minnesota largemouth.
Spoon Box...Always in the boat, spoons usually produce a lot of action when trolled next to the weeds.
Fresh Fillets...If walleyes small enough to take home are eluding you, tie on a spoon and go northern pike fishing. These two fish, 22” and 24”, provided more than enough meat.
Old Reliable...The classic red and white spoon has been around for decades and still continues to produce. The one was new when used last week. How about all of those bite marks? What fun!
Fish of the Day...Dylan Kukkonen caught and released this 29” walleye while fishing with Zach Dagel of Grand Rapids Guide Service.
Bass Master...Dylan Kukkonen displays a nice smallmouth that was caught and released while fishing on Pokegama Lake with Zach Dagel
Last Week’s Hot Colors...The top producing crappie baits on top were a soft yellow twister tail on an orange jig head and a white Impulse “Paddle Bug” on a pink jig. For bass it was a 3 1/2” Northland Tackle Impulse “Jig Crawler” in “Baby Bass” color and a 4” Berkley Power Bait “Ribworm” in the appropriate color “Firecracker/Chartreuse.”
Big Bass a Specialty...HSM Outdoors big bass specialist Brett McComas hoists a couple trophy largemouth bass. Brett lives in Brainerd and chases trophy fish all across the North Country and more.
Bulk up for Bulky Bass...Author Brett McComas releases a monster largemouth bass.
Father’s Day Fun...Lexi Clusiau caught her first rainbow trout ever, fishing with her dad Kris and grandpa Greg Clusiau on Father’s Day.
Dad’s Musky...Greg Clusiau and his father Terry pose with Terry’s first ever musky, caught many years ago on Moose Lake. It only took a couple casts!
Photo coutesy Greg Clusiau: Joel Clusiau did well donning waders and shore fishing for crappie and bluegill.
Home For a Visit...Professional angler Terry Wickstrom, originally from Grand Rapids/Hibbing, was back on his home waters last week. Terry, who resides in Colorado, made it back to Minnesota for some good old fashioned fishing fun. After 900 episodes of fishing television shows, Terry has slowed down his schedule to “only” doing a Saturday morning radio show for ESPN Radio.
Jerkbait Walleye...HSM Outdoor pro Travis Sorokie displays some nice walleye caught last weekend while using Rapala “X-Raps” and “Husky Jerks.” Travis was casting up into shallow water.
First Gill for Tom Batiuk, Ft. Frances, Ontario, who traveled to Itasca county last weekend. Clusiau's goal was to lead Batiuk to catch his first ever Bluegill, a fish that isn’t readily available in his neck of the woods. Tom ended up catching and releasing several nice fish using a Northland Tackle “Fire Fly” under a bobber.
Photo courtesy Chad Peterson:
Professional tournament angler John Mickish poses with a beautiful walleye before releasing it back into the busy waters of Upper Red lake.
The Gauntlet...The channel connecting the Tamarac River to Upper Red Lake was a busy one.
Stacked...is the best way to describe the crappie in Mike Raetz area. Greg Clusiau and Blake Liend traveled to central Minnesota last weekend to get in on fast biting ice out crappie action.
Ice Out Crappie; Walleye pro Ray Welle enjoyed early ice out crappie action “down south.”
Eyes Like a Hawk! A trip up north, looking for open ice-out panfish water was fruitless. The highlight of the day was this young eagle that refused to venture too far off from a fresh skunk carcass.
Border Walleye Action...Walleye expert Ray Welle recently enjoyed good fishing on the Minnesota/Dakotas border waters.
Late Ice Crappie...Chase Holmbeck had a great day recently, catching beautiful late ice crappie like this one.
Late Ice Sunfish...Nicholas Miskovich enjoyed an afternoon with his dad last Friday, catching late ice sunfish.
Late Ice Gill...Greg Clusiau posed just long enough for a quick photo before releasing this nice bluegill back in the hole.
Late Ice Crappie...Blake Liend with some late ice “supper” fish. Fishing has been good but the ice is quickly deteriorating. Please be careful.
Blake Liend caught and released tulibee (cisco) like this one on last Sunday’s outing. They fight like the dickens and smell to high heaven! They are, however, good to eat, especially smoked.
Photo Greg Clusiau: SLAB!..Blake Liend displays a 14” crappie that “got in the way” while perch fishing last weekend. >> Read Greg's Fishing Report .
Big Fish Honors...Brett McComas, Brainerd, a member of HSM Outdoors, took home top walleyes honors last weekend while fishing on Lake Winnipeg. Brett’s fish was “only” just shy of 29” but bottomed out an 11 pound electronic digital scale. How much further the scale would’ve went is anyone’s guess.
Deep Snow...Donny Newman wades through deep snow to reach one of his traps. Excessive snow saved Donny’s life, as an angry cow moose tried stomping him into the ground.
Trophy Gill...Blake Liend poses for a quick photo before releasing this 10” plus bluegill back to the depths.
"No corks or spring bobbers for me", said Michael Thompson as he sets the hooks on another nice panfish. A line watcher, MT sets the hook whenever he sees it straighten out or go limp.
“Fishing the String”...Travis DeWitt drove up from the Brainerd area and enjoyed a great day of crappie fishing on Big Bowstring Lake.
“Sue Wins”...Husband and wife, Jeff and Sue Ekholm, compare crappies. The Ekholms, from the Nashwauk area, drove over to Big Bowstring for a fun afternoon of fishing.
Vexilar Mini Tackle Box Ready...Greg Clusiau carries this deadly assortment of panfish tackle with him at all times. A small tackle box that fits under his Vexilar is always at the ready in case a lure change is needed.
Hammer Time with the Drop Jig...Blake Liend displays a 10” bluegill that fell for a new Clam Outdoors “Drop Jig".” Made out of tungsten, the jig “fishes heavy”, as it is small and heavier than lead. Glow red was the hot color.
Wings & Walleyes on Red Lake...Reed Ylitalo, “Wings & Walleyes Guide Service”, displays a nice Upper Red Lake walleye from a trip there last weekend.
Panfish Paradise; Day two had us catching a nice variety of bluegills and crappies. For a fun day on the ice, catching and learning, contact Reed Ylitalo (pictured).
Cozy, during the coldest that Mother Nature can dish out, even with the fierce winds. Banked up with a blanket of snow, permanent shelters offer the luxury of driving your vehicle right next to the door and stepping inside.
Photo courtesy Greg Clusiau: Slabber! Ray Welle displays one of the several nice crappies that were caught last weekend on our trip to Big Bowstring Lake out of Geiger’s Trails End Resort. >> Read Story Bowstring Lake Crappie Fishing .
Best Baits - A couple of the top producing crappie catchers from last weekend were Northland Tackle’s 1/32 oz “Forage Minnow Spoon” and "1/16 oz “Fire-Ball Tungsten Jig.” Both baits were tipped with wax worms and are smaller versions of the already popular lures.
Rainy Lake Black Gold...Jeremy Taschuk has those Rainy Lake walleyes wired. Make sure of safe ice conditions before venturing across any lakes.
Father of Ice Fishing...Hall of Fame Angler Dave Genz was on hand to talk fishing at the St. Paul Ice Fishing & Winter Sports Show, held last weekend.
Jim and Jason... Clam Outdoors pro staff members Jason Mitchell of “Jason Mitchell Outdoors Television” and former Minnesota Viking Jim Kleinsasser talk fishing.
"Blade Man" - Walleye expert Ray Welle poses with a nice Upper Red Lake walleye before easing it back down the hole. Welle caught several fish using Clam’s new “Blade Spoon”.
Walleyes Love the new UV Spoon. Northland Tackle’s new “UV Buck-Shot Spoon” has worked wonders already this year on Upper Red Lake.
If These Walls Could Talk...Just a few of the antlers gracing the wall of our hunting shack. Even if hunting is slow, a glance at the wall can conjure up enough memories to last a lifetime.
Deer Plaque...A deer plaque from 1985, created by Greg Clusiau, graces a wall of the Clusiau hunting cabin.
Opening Weekend Success...Celia Clusiau bagged this nice spike buck on Minnesota’s deer season opening weekend.
Ontario Deer Hunt - Jeremy Taschuk of Ft. Frances gets ready for another walk in the woods, in search of an Ontario whitetail.