The public access was almost empty when I pulled in. As I unloaded my four wheeler, I could see a few vehicles still on the ice, but for the most part, the lake was quieting down for the mid day lull.
Once on the ice, I pointed my rig toward the cluster of houses at the far end of the lake. As I zipped across the frozen surface, I couldn’t help but wonder what I would find amongst the ice shelters today.
Once at the edge of the shanty town, I parked and began the process of looking for suspended fish. It was not hard to do as there were plenty of old, frozen over holes that allowed for me to pour a little water on the surface and get a reading through the ice.
It took some time but eventually, my Vexilar lit up with fish signals that were hovering just off of bottom. Although there are never any guarantees, I was quite sure these red marks were going to lead to another fine morning of deep basin crappie fishing.
It has been a lot of years since I first started targeting deep basin crappie towns in the winter. These clusters of houses are a common site across the Minnesota lakes that I fish and generally get quite a bit of fishing pressure in the low light periods. However, they often get little, if any fishing pressure, during the daylight hours.
There are reasons for the lack of daytime pressure in these crappie towns. First of all, many anglers are working during the day and hit the lake on their way home from their jobs.
I also believe that the traditional method of angling with minnows at dusk does not produce the same kind of results during the day. Crappie are a lot fussier about what they eat when the sun is high than they are when the sun hits the trees and the shadows are long.
From my experience, I have found that by using Euro larvae instead of minnows and by scaling down the presentation to ultra light line and sensitive rods, these fish can be caught during the daylight hours. The bite may not be as fast and furious as it is at night, but the crappie can usually be coaxed into accepting an easy meal.
I will admit that not every deep basin crappie town is going to have fish hanging around all day. Sometimes, they just plain disappear during the bright part of the day and do not come back until dusk
There are other times when they are in such a wandering mode that I can never keep up with them. Once I find them and drill a couple of holes, they disappear.
However, for the most part, I find that searching for suspended, deep basin crappie amongst a cluster of houses is a pretty easy way to go. Because of the nature of deep basin fish, they rarely leave the protection of their deep water sanctuary.
Targeting suspended fish in and amongst a cluster of houses is not foolproof. There are certain lakes and certain days when the process just does not work.
However, I have been successful with this strategy a hundred times over the years. Because of my track record, deep basin crappie fishing is always a consideration whenever I am putting together a game plan for my next outing.
Barrels Up Pro Staff
Every year at the start of the winter season, anglers get all pumped up about spending time on the ice. They often buy some new equipment and make big plans about how they are going to target fish a little differently this year. However, when it comes right down to it, they frequently fall back into the same rut of doing what they have always done during the winter months.
Ice fishing strategies that result in successful fishing don’t have to be all that complicated. In fact, if winter anglers followed a few basic rules, they probably could catch all of the fish they wanted during the frozen water period.
When I got to thinking about what it takes to put panfish on the ice, I came up with five basic tips that are critical for my success. These tips are not the only considerations for winter fishing, but they do cover the nitty-gritty of getting the job done.
The first tip is to know your electronics. Learn to set your scales and gain so you can get the best reading possible. Settings should always allow you to see your jig in relationship to the fish.
Spend time experimenting with reading through the ice without drilling holes. This is an incredible time saver when looking for suspended fish or checking depth. With my Vexilar, I just pour a little water on the ice, place my transducer in the water and check what is under the ice without touching an auger.
The second tip is all about what to do when you do find a place you want to fish. Once a person locates suspended fish or a fishy looking spot that needs checking, don’t skimp on the hole drilling. After the auger is running and you are making noise, you might as well drill out a number of holes so you can adequately cover the area.
I believe auger noise often disturbs and spooks fish. However, they frequently don’t move very far. By scattering eight to ten holes in an area, it is usually possible to find the fish in one of the holes.
In addition to that, fish naturally roam around a little under the ice. Having multiple holes to work makes it easier to stay on top of roaming fish.
The third tip is to use the lightest line and jig possible for the conditions. Most of the time, I find two-pound-test Berkley Micro Ice to be ideal for winter panfish. It is thin enough to not spook fish but strong enough to land quality panfish with ease. For the business end of things I utilize lures from Northland’s Bro Bug Collection and tip them with Euro larvae.
The fourth tip is learning to focus on your bite detection system, especially on the first drop. The first drop down any hole is very important. Active fish will usually take advantage of an easy meal falling into their lap. However, if you miss the first opportunity, that fish may not be gullible enough to bite twice.
Whether tightline jigging or spring bobber fishing, know how to identify a bite. The anglers that catch fish when others can’t are doing a better job of bite detection.
The last tip is to keep moving. Do not sit on a spot and wait the fish out. Go and look for the fish. This is especially true of anglers that work the daylight hours. If the spot you are working is not producing, look for a place that is.
Winter panfish angling is a real passion of mine. Although not every trip to the lake is productive, by following these basic tips I am able to consistently put fish on the ice.
Barrels Up Pro Staff
It was four years ago that I planted a small acre and a half food plot on some CRP land I own. At that time, the pheasant numbers were still fairly strong. However, I knew it was only a matter of time before Mother Nature would send an old fashioned winter our way and the bird population would crash.
As it turned out, it was that following December that Western Minnesota was hit by several severe December snowstorms. The bad winter we had all been hoping to avoid was here.
It was Christmas time when my brother, Jay and I strapped on our snowshoes and trekked back into the food plot to try a little hunting. I was quite surprised at what we found.
The food plot was filled with snow right up to the cobs. Although we kicked out a few birds as we trudged in, there was actually little activity in the corn. The cobs were hanging full of kernels but there was not much feeding taking place.
It wasn’t until spring that I got back to see what the state of the corn actually was. This time, I was totally shocked at what I found. Every cob had been picked clean. I could not find one kernel of corn anywhere. Obviously, the birds had made good use of the food throughout the winter.
Even though pheasant numbers were down significantly across the state the next fall, I noticed very little change in the area I hunted. Birds were plentiful and the shooting was good!
Two years later, as most hunters were frustrated with the lack of pheasants, we continued to do very well. We hunted the CRP several times that fall and never saw fewer than 20 birds on an outing. Others I talked to could barely believe the success we were having.
Habitat is such a critical part of the pheasant story that I believe it is impossible to emphasize it enough. There is no doubt that weather plays a role in winter survival and nesting success, but habitat may be even more critical than the weather.
Nesting cover in the spring and shelter belts for the winter have always been available for the birds in our area. However, I firmly believe that the addition of a winter food supply has made a huge difference. Since adding the corn plot to the mix, we have seen very little population drop.
Pheasants are resilient birds, but they still need some help from time to time. Anything we can do to promote quality habitat is going to make a difference.
From my experience, the addition of a food plot has been a key ingredient in keeping the roosters cackling.
Barrels Up Pro Staff
Everyone looks forward to the hunting season for different reasons. For some, it is all about the quest of game. Whether it is geese, ducks, roosters or big game, hunting season is focused on getting afield and participating in the hunt.
There is no question that chasing your quarry is the real nitty-gritty of hunting, but there are other aspects of the experience that are also pretty darn important. For many, one of the most enjoyable parts of the hunting season revolves around the social life and events that occur in hunting camp.
The look of a hunting camp can be quite unique among different hunters. Frequently, it is a cabin of one form or another, often relatively primitive with a generator and one source of heat. For others, it may be a motor home, a small travel trailer or a tent camper.
The type of accommodations a person is dealing with has a lot to do with the memories that become associated with the camp life experience. Weather changes and time of the year also play a role.
For many years, our hunting camp mansion was a tent camper that barely slept four people. It was a place that rattled when the wind blew and leaked when it rained. On cold and frosty nights, it offered some comfort but still required the use of a quality sleeping bag in order to stay warm enough to sleep.
And sleep was about all we did in the camper. The rest of the day was spent outside chasing ducks or geese, scouting or relaxing in whatever sunshine we could find.
Evenings were spent grilling or cooking our one big meal of the day. While this was taking place, the day’s events were discussed and relived. We also put considerable time into finalizing the plans for the next morning’s hunt.
Although roast duck on the grill was about as traditional as our meals ever got, some hunters view the food quite differently. Traditions get started for fancy steaks, spicy chili or other delicacies that never seem to go away once they get the approval of the group.
Camp life certainly isn’t without its list of chores. Hanging deer, cleaning game, cutting firewood and doing dishes are all part of the routine that needs to be done. The funny thing is, work at hunting camp never really feels much like work. It is just all part of the process we call hunting.
As I have aged, I have gone through the natural progression of a seasoned hunter. Although chasing game is still critically important to my desire to hunt, it isn’t as important as it once was. I now find that life at the cabin is an important part of the overall experience.
Lying in the goose blind, waiting for the sun to set takes on a new meaning when you start thinking about a cold beverage and brats on the grill. It isn’t that you want the day to end, it is just that you realize there is more to hunting than the hunt.
As Roger Lydeen, my long time hunting partner recently said after an unsuccessful day of scouting, “Hunting isn’t just about the hunt, it is about going hunting.” Those that enjoy camp life certainly understand the importance hunting camp plays in the process of “going hunting.”
Barrels Up Pro Staff
It was not much to look at. The 20 acre field of small grain was tiny compared to some of the other potential hunting spots in the region. According to the landowner, the geese had pretty much been ignoring it, favoring the larger fields instead.
Still, I was totally thrilled to get permission to hunt this field. It had a couple of critically important attributes that would make this spot a sure thing on opening day of the early goose season. This field, as small as it was, had tremendous potential.
The first thing this field had going for it was visibility. The rolling structure of the field had a knoll that offered a view of the entire area. By placing a spread on this gentle rise, we would have a vantage point that would allow us to see birds in the distance and vice versa.
Over the years of hunting, I have learned the importance of good visibility. Having a spread in a location that geese can see from a great distance is really important. Flocks of honkers can be pulled in from far away with flagging and proper calling. If the birds can’t see you, hunting is going to be tough.
On the flip side of this, you need to see the birds. With visual eye contact, you can read exactly what they are doing. If they are sliding in your direction, do enough flagging and calling to keep them coming. If they start slipping away, get more aggressive.
On some occasions, I have set up in fields that did not have great visibility. One field I recall had trees growing on three sides. Although the field was secluded and appealing, there was little hope of attracting traffic geese that were flying through the area. They simply could not see us.
The second really positive aspect of the small grain field we had chosen for our opening day hunt was the lack of natural obstructions around the field. This may not seem like a big deal, but it is.
Geese learn to avoid tree rows, brushy fence lines and standing corn because these areas can conceal hunters. It doesn’t take them long to figure out that they get shot at every time they fly over some form of cover.
Areas that are great for hunter concealment are extremely negative to birds and form a distinct barrier. If they do have to cross areas of cover, they often fly so high there is little chance of getting them to decoy.
Choosing the correct field and the best location within that field to hunt comes with experience. Unfortunately, experience is usually gathered through poor decision making and failed hunts.
There is no doubt that setting up in a field the geese are using on a regular basis is ideal and obviously my first choice. However, when those options are not available, finding a place that allows for visibility with no obstructions becomes critical.
I know that over half of the birds we shoot each season are traffic birds that happen to be flying through an area looking for a place to feed. Our success in harvesting traffic birds comes from picking the right spot to hunt.
Knowing how to identify a good field and then finding the best location within that field for setting the spread is an important part of hunting Canada geese.
Barrels Up Pro Staff
I believe there are a lot of similarities between golf and fishing and often make comparisons between the two. For instance, no matter how good a person’s game is, there is always room for improvement and we strive to become better than we are.
Now, let’s talk fishing specifics. Every angler I know is looking for an edge to take them to the next level. It doesn’t matter if you are a weekend warrior or on the tournament trail. Anglers always desire to improve their game.
In reality, there are a lot of things that can be done to improve one’s skill at angling. Some of them cost money and some of them cost time. Either way, there is a commitment.
My first suggestion for becoming a better angler is to spend more time on the water. This may not be easy to do for some because time is limited. However, there is a positive correlation between practice hours and skill level. Just ask a golfer or a professional angler.
Learn to focus on your presentation. It seems uncanny to me how fish know when to strike. They seem to have the ability to determine when you’re sipping coffee, eating a sandwich, have a bow in your line or are daydreaming about the one that got away.
Many times, I have taken people out that struggle catching fish because they are always fiddling with something. Their mind is never totally in the game. Consequently, they miss strikes and opportunities to stick lip on willing biters.
Learn to become a multi species angler with an arsenal of different presentations. I find there is a great crossover between techniques for different species. If you are skilled at presenting jigs for walleye, you will have no trouble fishing Texas rigged worms or jigs for bass.
Go fishing with different anglers. Every angler I know has a technique or two that is their favorite “go-to” presentation. At times I have thought there was no way that what they were doing was going to catch fish. I was educated and proven wrong. One can learn a lot by fishing with different people.
Buy the best equipment you can afford. Many times, I have been able to greatly improve the success of anglers in my boat by giving them some of my own equipment to use. This is especially true when jigging or rigging. Quality rods allow for more feel and detect bites easier on finicky fish.
When it comes to equipment, having a good sonar/GPS unit with mapping capabilities is critical. The LakeMaster chip I use (www.lakemap.com) allows me to find fishy spots on water I have never fished before. It also allows me to return to these locations if they hold fish. Ninety percent of the water is pretty much void of fish. To be successful, you have to fish where the fish are.
Last of all, be selective about the line you are using. For the most part, I use the lightest line I can for the conditions I am fishing. I also am a huge believer in Vanish Fluorocarbon for any kind of live bait fishing.
When working tough weeds or crankbait angling, the super lines like FireLine or Spider Wire are hard to beat. They are thin, sensitive and extremely durable.
There are certainly other techniques that can be utilized to become a better angler. These are a few of the items I believe may improve your game.
Barrels Up Pro Staff
I love to fish and I love to catch fish of all species. I enjoy scrappy panfish on light tackle. Watching bass squirt out of the water in an effort to throw the hook is always a treat. However, there is no question that there is something special about catching walleye.
When it comes to sticking lip on old marble eyes, there are many different approaches to try. Jig fishing and the ensuing “thunk” as a bait is sucked into the mouth is addicting. So is the aggressive hammer of a walleye hitting a fast moving spinner. Watching a float slid out of sight is definitely memorable.
Even though I fish for walleye in a variety of manners, there is no doubt my favorite presentation is still a standard live-bait rig. For me, live-bait rigging is as classic as walleye fishing gets.
I believe one of the reasons I like live-bait rigging for walleye has to do with the level of involvement I have in the process. When I am holding the rod, I am in control of feeling the subtle bites, feeding line and determining the correct time to set the hook. It just doesn’t get any better than that.
There are variations that can be applied to live-bait rigging but let’s first start with the basics as proper equipment is critical to success. This equipment starts with the correct fishing rod.
When it comes to spending money on fishing equipment, it is important to get the best rod you can afford for live-bait rigging. If there was ever a time when you need to be able to feel subtle bites, it is during the live-bait rigging process.
I personally like medium light seven foot rods with a soft but fast tip. The reason for the length and soft tip comes in being able to see your rod load up with weight on finicky walleye that merely suck in your bait without really indicating a bite. I find Fenwick products to be ideal.
Line is also critical. Most anglers I know do not like super lines for live-bait rigging as walleye feel you as much as you feel them. Instead, quality six or eight-pound-test mono is preferred.
The leader is extremely important. I tie all of my standard leaders with Vanish Fluorocarbon. Six-pound-test is my favorite. Fluorocarbon is less visible in water than standard mono. I usually start with a five foot leader and go up or down from there depending on what the fish are telling me.
On the business end, I will thread on a chartreuse or orange bead and then the smallest hook I can get by with. Many anglers prefer red hooks but I have had plenty of success with glow colors and plain bronze.
There are times when using a Gum-Drop floater is ideal, especially if the fish are up, off of the bottom or you are fighting moss or snaggy rocks. Chartreuse is hard to beat. Sometimes, a single bladed Baitfish Spinner can be deadly, as well.
As for the bait, it depends on the time of the year and the lake I am fishing. Early in the season minnows, especially shiners are hard to beat. Later in the year, leeches and crawlers become the norm.
If baitfish are chewing up your offering, switch to something else. On northern lakes like Kabetogama and Rainy, shiners work all summer long.
There are lots of presentations that will catch walleye, but for me, my all time favorite is still the standard live-bait rig.
Barrels Up Pro Staff
As I look back on my angling experiences from my youth, there are few memories that grab me like the ones spent fishing for suckers on the banks of a river. Now that I am a few years older and gray is a dominant color in my beard, I still relish opportunities to make withdrawals from meandering water.
It is not an easy task for me to put my finger on the specific appeal I have for this spring and early summer tradition. Maybe it has something to do with the peacefulness of watching the water slide by on a sunny afternoon. Maybe it comes from the patient approach of detecting bites on a pole propped up on a forked stick.
Some of it may have to do with enjoying the power of a good sized sucker as it uses the current to enhance the battle. And then again, it may be nothing more than just appreciating the sights, sounds and smells associated with a quiet day on the river.
There are several factors that make this spring and early summer adventure popular. First of all, most anglers live fairly close to some type of flowage that is going to have a population of suckers. Secondly, suckers are fairly easy to catch if you follow some basic rules.
Most of the suckers anglers catch are either members of the redhorse family or are white suckers. These bottom feeding fish spawn when water temps reach the mid forties. During the early spring, they make a noticeable spawning run and will be moving upriver towards spawning areas for several weeks.
Although the spring spawning action can be impressive, suckers continue to be active and easy to catch through much of June. The key is to find the right stretch of river to target.
Like other river fish, suckers love to travel along the current break between fast water and the quiet water of an eddy. The goal is to focus your efforts close to where these two contrasting water areas meet. Generally, the calm water of an eddy is not productive.
Suckers also like to rest and feed in the slow moving water of deeper pools. They will move back and forth in these areas looking for crustaceans and invertebrates.
The simplest method I know of for targeting suckers is a standard slip sinker, short leader, hook and night crawler. The specifics of this rig look like this.
The sinker needs to be heavy enough to keep from constantly tumbling downriver. A half or three quarter weight works well. I often use Northland Rock Bouncer weights because they do not roll in the current like barrel weights and are quite snag free.
Leaders need to be 12 to 18 inches. Suckers feed on the bottom and longer leaders will float the bait too high. Six pound-test Vanish fluorocarbon is about perfect for leader material.
I like a short shanked number four hook. I usually thread half a crawler onto the hook in a manner that hides as much of the hook as possible. Running some of the crawler up onto the line never hurts.
When a bite is detected, I give the fish a little time to chew on the bait. When the pressure feels right, set the hook!
Although most suckers fall into the two to four pound category, they are surprisingly scrappy fighters. Many anglers catch and release their fish while others keep some for smoking.
River fishing for suckers is a great family affair. It is simple, comfortable, and very entertaining. It is easy to get hooked on the concept of making withdrawals from a totally different kind of bank.
Barrels Up Pro Staff
It was over a cup of coffee that a friend of mine and I got into a discussion on boat control. He frequently fishes the Canadian side of Lake of the Woods and spends much of his summer and early fall working deep water reefs for walleye.
Being someone that has spent considerable time chasing walleye in deep water, I could relate to his experiences about the need for precise boat control. As is usually the case, reef walleye will set up shop in a very small portion of the structure. Without pinpoint presentation, anglers will spend much of their time in unproductive water.
In today’s world of big boats and powerful motors, it is easy to get caught up in the need to go really fast and have speed as a top priority. However, no matter how fast a person gets to their fishing hole, if you can’t control your rig to stay on top of the fish, speed quickly becomes a secondary issue.
Personally, I love a tiller motor. I have been in too many situations where other boats around me either ran their bow mounts out of battery life or could not hold their position in the wind. My 90 tiller rarely has trouble competing with the elements.
In response to the boat control issue, there have been many improvements in electric trolling motor capabilities. Powerful 24 volt systems are pretty much standard fare on big rigs. For those that want to maximize their transom control, Minn Kota’s Vantage is clearly the best route to go.
This year, the iPilot has taken boat control to a new plateau. New for this year is the iPilot Link. The Link allows your iPilot to communicate with a LakeMaster map chip in specific sonar units (www.lakemap.com). This makes it possible to direct your trolling motor to follow a chosen contour from the map chip that in your sonar. While the iPilot does the work, anglers concentrate on fishing.
Although this is certainly an innovative approach to working structure, it does not replace other methods of staying on fish. The standard marker buoy is still an important tool in my boat.
There is something about the visual contact with a marker buoy that is very beneficial. I use them to pinpoint the exact location of a school of fish, to lay out trolling runs or to mark a snag I need to stay away from.
It is true that a marker buoy has a way of attracting other boats, but sometimes they are still a valuable tool. I carry a minimum of three whenever I chase walleye.
GPS units are also a great tool for improving boat control. Following the irregular contours often associated with walleye habitat can be tricky. By setting up a trail of icons it is possible to layout a course that highlights subtle points and inside turns.
One time, while fishing on Mille Lacs, we set up a trail that marked the outer edge of a weed line the walleye were relating to. Once this trail was established we were able to concentrate on presenting bait and didn’t have to worry so much about the irregularities of the weed growth.
Walleye often do not stay in one area for a long time. Being able to maximize the time your bait is in front of the fish is essential to success. Frequently, I find the boat with the best control is the one pulling most of the action.
Good boat control does guarantee a person is going to put a lot of walleye in the livewell. However, without good boat control, the number of fish caught will be greatly reduced.
Barrels Up Pro Staff
It was our sixth year in a row that our group of anglers had spent a week on Rainy Lake. As we pulled into the landing at Island View Lodge, anticipation was running high. We knew that within an hour we would have the boats launched, gear packed into the cabin and be ready to head out for an evening of fishing.
After launching the boats, lodge owner, Ron Opp, stopped to welcome us back for another week of adventure. His words were encouraging as he said the walleye bite had been impressive. That type of news is never hard to take.
Once on the water, our boats split up and headed in three different directions. One of the advantages in working with a group of anglers is being able to check out different parts of the lake and then compare notes back at the cabin. This technique is very valuable and certainly shortcuts the information gathering process.
The small hump my fishing partner, Charlie Simkins, and I targeted yielded a number of fish. We slipped a couple into the livewell for supper and photographed and released several others. It was a great start to another fabulous week on Rainy.
Rainy Lake is an impressive fishery that seems to get better every summer. For six years it has provided us with such impressive walleye fishing we have felt no need to cross the border to look for anything better.
Our group has learned a lot during these six years. Unlike many anglers, we prefer to go during the summer months when the fish are setting up on the deep reefs. Although this midsummer pattern is a challenge for some, we find the deep reef fishing to be very enjoyable.
We have also learned a lot about the different presentations that work. Even though the jig is probably the most utilized presentation on the lake, we have had very good luck with live bait presentations as well as bottom bouncers and spinners.
For the standard live bait rig, we often use shiner minnows. Minnows work well on Rainy even during the summer months. We also take along leeches and crawlers and there are days when one of these other choices is clearly the favorite.
As for bottom bouncers and spinners, double hook crawler rigs, single hooks with three inch PowerBait tails tipped with live bait and smile blade spinners with slow death hooks all work. The key is to experiment to find what the fish want on that particular day.
Although live bait rigging with Vanish fluorocarbon line is my favorite walleye presentation, being able to cover water and search out active biters with bottom bouncers is pretty impressive. The bottom bouncer strategy needs to be part of the game plan.
As for the reefs and other fishing locations, they aren’t hard to find. The key is marking fish in an area before spending time fishing. If we don’t find fish on a reef, we keep looking.
Naturally, quality sonar equipment is critical for the process of searching for fish. Our group utilizes LakeMaster map chips for identifying potential hotspots (www.lakemap.com).
There is a 17 to 28 inch protected slot on Rainy. In my opinion, this is one of the reasons the lake is so full of walleyes. We catch lots of fish in the 20 to 25 inch class but have no trouble finding fish for supper.
Rainy is also home to other species. We always catch quality northern during our stay as well as smallmouth bass.
Anglers are missing out if they are ignoring Rainy Lake. This water is a remarkable fishery that is well worth a visit.
Barrels Up Pro Staff
The bluegill and crappie bite had been quite impressive on this Northern Minnesota lake. Although the fish weren’t record breaking in size, they were very respectable. Even though they weren’t stacked in every single hole we drilled, there were enough fish in the area that we never had to look long to find action.
As is often the case with the late season bite, our Vexilars were showing the active fish several feet off of the bottom in deep water. The bottom huggers were lethargic sniffers while the suspended fish could frequently be coaxed into biting.
It was business as usual in the particular hole I was working when I noticed a line on my Vexilar above all of the others. Instantly, I made the adjustment to see if this new visitor to my screen was an interested biter.
Once in front of the fish, it only took a couple of shakes from my Hexi Fly and maggots before my spring bobber dipped and I set the hook. I knew instantly this was not a bluegill or crappie. It had weight and power that I hadn’t experienced on this trip.
It took quite a long time on my light tackle to tire this critter out. When I finally got its head started up the hole, I was not surprised to see a good sized whitefish on the end of my line.
It seems that several times each winter I end up hooking something out of the ordinary. Over the years my crappie gear has yielded suckers, walleye, bass, northern, catfish, and yes, tullibee and whitefish.
The trick to catching the unexpected fish starts way before they are seen on your electronics. The process actually starts with your equipment.
Although I fish two-pound-test line for most of my winter panfish, I am very fussy about which line I use. There is not a lot of forgiveness in light line. One mistake and it is over. I have found Berkley Micro-Ice to be ideal for winter angling.
Next, the rod and reel need to be matched to the weight of the line. Longer rods offer more forgiveness than shorter ones. The bend in the rod absorbs a lot of pressure and helps tire the fish out.
The reel is also critical. It has to have a drag that works smoothly even in very cold conditions. If your drag hangs up on a good fish, you will be retying.
I also believe in using a tightline system of presentation. This allows me to quickly change depths to get in front of the fish. These unexpected fish are usually just roaming through and if you can’t get their attention quickly, it won’t happen.
Catching unexpected fish through the ice is not an unusual phenomenon. I wouldn’t say I expect the unexpected, but it does happen often enough I am no longer surprised by the event. Large fish seem to have no trouble sucking in a tiny morsel if it is presented right in front of their face.
The key in successfully landing the unexpected fish is being able to react instantly when it comes onto your screen and then have equipment that will handle the ensuing battle. When it all comes together, catching the unexpected can really make a day!
Barrels Up Pro Staff
Even though I had my back to the approaching vehicle, I could hear it coming while it was still a quarter mile away. It wasn’t that the muffler was bad or the engine was revved, it was the ice moaning and groaning from the weight that was the clue.
I watched the fish on my Vexilar, hoping I could get one more on the ice before the inevitable was going to happen. Unfortunately, I didn’t get it done before my screen went blank. The fish I had going vanished as the vehicle approached.
This had been the third time in an hour I had lost contact with the suspended crappie. Even though I was working more than 20 feet of water, the fish spooked every time a vehicle came my way. They simply would not tolerate the surface commotion created by vehicle traffic.
Once the truck moved off into the distance, I began the search process all over again. With Vexilar in hand and transducer dangling, I hopped from hole to hole in an effort to relocate the spooked school of fish. Thanks to having drilled out a couple of dozen holes earlier, I did eventually catch up with the roaming crappie and sent a Hexi Fly and maggots down to finish catching supper.
The effect that surface noise has on fish under the ice has always been a bit of a mystery to me. It seems like one day they react to any type of disturbance and the next day, they could care less.
It isn’t like they don’t have opportunities to adjust to noise in the water as the ice booms all on its own. Yet, there are times when just walking on the ice seems to rile them up and get them nervous.
Because I am never quite sure what to expect, I have some personal noise rules I live by that seem to help. These rules start with how I look for fish.
I am a lazy kind of guy and don’t really like drilling unnecessary holes. Because of this, I do as much searching for fish as possible before I start the auger. This can be accomplished by kicking away the snow and pouring a little water on the ice to create a good contact for the transducer.
Once I do find fish or an area I wish to explore more, I don’t drill just one hole. Cutting a hole directly above fish seems to be the best way I know of to scatter the school. If I find something of interest, I will cut eight to twelve holes in the vicinity in hopes of having the spooked fish show up in at least one of the holes.
This may seem like a lot of work, but I would rather get all of the surface commotion out of the way in one shot instead of starting and stopping the auger every time I want to look in another location. Besides, with the quality of today’s augers, drilling a dozen holes is not difficult.
Depth does play a role in the spookiness of fish. The deeper the water, the more they tolerate. Weeds also work to the advantage of the angler. If fish feel secure because of a weedy environment in which to hide, they will not spook as easily.
Regardless of whether I am fishing deep, shallow or somewhere in-between, this process of opening up lots of holes in the area I want to fish has paid dividends over the years. Yes, there are days when you could explode a bomb on the ice and not phase the fish at all. However, I usually find that is not the case.
Since I never know the mood of the fish before I start the auger, I like to play it safe and continue with the practice of giving my auger a work out before grabbing the rod and reel. Once the holes are cut and things quiet down, I can concentrate on catching fish.
Barrels Up Pro Staff
During the course of a winter of chasing panfish, I like to roam. I find it difficult to return to the same lake again and again, even if there is a respectable bite taking place. New water and fresh ice just appeals to me.
My roaming itch is easy to scratch. I don’t have to travel hundreds of miles to feel like I have been fishing. Instead, I like to focus on lakes that are relatively close and are within an hour’s drive. In a normal winter on the ice, that usually translates into 15 to 20 bodies of water.
Although I do throw in a few new lakes to my repertoire each winter, I primarily go to the same water each year. This gives me a chance to generate a basic knowledge base on a particular lake and increases my chances for success when I do return to a body of water.
There are several facts I have learned while working panfish on my milk run of lakes. One of these is the concept of repetition. Panfish, especially those that are suspended over a deep basin, have a tendency to show up in the same locations year after year.
Undoubtedly, there are fluctuations in the population of catchable fish. Panfish, especially crappie, are quite cyclical in nature and can go from a big year class to nothing in a short period of time. The opposite is also true.
Fishing pressure also has an impact on panfish populations. There have been winters when the bite has been consistent for extended periods of time on a particular lake. During these long stretches of activity, a population of respectable fish can be decimated over the course of a winter. It can actually take a couple of years for one of these lakes to recover.
There are some important tools involved with locating and catching fish on many different lakes. The first ingredient for success is having a quality lake map and GPS. I have come to depend greatly on LakeMaster products (www.lakemap.com) to help guide me to fishing locations. Once I do find a spot, you can be sure it will get saved as a waypoint.
Even though fish may not be located in the exact spot every time I head to a lake, having a starting place to look is extremely valuable. I find it astounding how often fish are found in the same general vicinity year after year. This is especially true of deep basin fish.
Another tool that is absolutely critical is a sonar unit. If you are fishing where there are no fish, you cannot catch anything. It is that simple.
Sonar units, such as the Vexilar I use, are extremely important when working through the fish location process on different lakes. If you are not certain where the fish are going to be, it is absolutely critical you have some idea of what is under the ice. This includes weeds, depth, bottom hardness and of course, fish.
None of this “looking” process can be accomplished unless you have a way of getting a reading to the bottom. Many times this translates into drilling a hole every time you want to check things out.
Whenever possible, I try to avoid drilling holes until I am ready to fish. Usually, I find that by kicking away the snow and pouring a little water on the ice, I can get my Vexilar to read through the ice to show me what is happening underneath. I only drill holes after I find fish or an area that needs better bottom definition.
Fishing different water throughout the winter period has always been something I enjoy. As a general rule, fish are somewhat predictable and are frequently found in the same locations year after year.
Spending the time to locate new fishing hotspots and checking out the old ones is an enjoyable part of my winter routine.
Barrels Up Pro Staff
It was an interesting start to the day. The GPS coordinates I had received from a fellow angler were supposedly going to direct me to a super panfish hotspot on a fairly large lake. Now that I was at the lake, I began to have my doubts.
The super hotspot was in the middle of a sea of ice houses. Although I had expected some competition on this popular body of water, I did not expect to be surrounded by anglers.
I could tell from the looks of my two companions that they had their doubts, as well. When they wondered what kind of mess I had gotten them into this time, I explained that my source for the GPS coordinates was very reliable.
In an effort to calm their fears and to reassure my own doubts, I referenced my GPS and LakeMaster chip (www.lakemap.com) to show them how we were perfectly positioned on a two foot break on an otherwise flat piece of structure. With all of the enthusiasm I could muster, I suggested we start drilling holes.
After scattering a dozen and half holes amongst the houses, we started the search process. Although our Vexilars did not show suspended fish in every hole, there appeared to be plenty of activity. The next step was to see if anything would bite.
It soon became apparent that the sniffers greatly outnumbered the biters. Even so, we did manage to pluck a feisty crappie off of the bottom every now and then, but basically the action was slow
We weren’t too far into the adventure when I decided it was time to mix things up. I knew what was not working and felt I had nothing to lose by doing a little experimentation.
For me, experimentation starts with downsizing both my line weight and jig size. It also means switching to a very light spring bobber rod that will detect the faintest of bites.
From my arsenal, I pulled out a rod rigged with one-pound-test Berkley Micro Ice and a Northland 1/28 ounce tungsten Mooska jig. This combination of super light line and small but heavy tungsten jig had worked for me before.
In a hole that had not yielded a fish, I instantly pulled two 12 inch crappie. They were followed by a couple of very respectable bluegills.
Naturally, my sudden success not only caught the attention of my angling buddies, but also brought a couple of people out of their fish houses to see what I was doing. What I was doing was pretty much what I had done for the first hour. What was different was the equipment.
Catching finicky winter fish is frequently a challenging proposition. I have found that many things can help turn the odds in your favor. Fresh maggots, glow jigs, Vanish fluorocarbon line and quality rods can all help. However, there are still days when downsizing equipment is the most important thing that can be done.
There is no doubt that fishing with super, ultra light equipment is not my first choice. However, there are those days when I tolerate the inconveniences associated with a light rig especially if it will help me catch fish.
Barrels Up Pro Staff
There is no question the pheasant numbers have dwindled across the Midwest. This is especially true in the regions that have suffered through a combination of tough winters and loss of CRP. Still, even though the numbers are down, pheasant hunting is not a thing of the past.
Pheasant enthusiasts are a lot like the Chicago Cubs fans. Even though there is little hope of a great season and little to cheer for, they continue to support their sport and head to the field whenever they can.
If there is one thing I have learned over the 45 years I have been hunting pheasants it is this. There are always pockets of birds that will offer good hunting. If you can find these pockets of birds, you will be rewarded for your efforts.
The key in finding these pockets of birds is to locate great habitat. Without question, hunters need to spend more time in search of these quality locations than they did when the bird numbers were higher. This probably means more road time and knocking on a few more doors.
One of the considerations in determining this fall’s population actually happened last winter. Pheasants that had access to food or food plots last winter fared better than those that had to travel. Birds that fed close to their roost areas experienced less predation and entered the breeding season in better shape.
Adequate cover is always a plus for pheasant hunting. Natural prairie grasses that are four or five feet tall offer a lot more in cover that quack grass and weeds. This is true for both the nesting season and the hunting season.
Corn is probably the favorite food of the pheasant in the fall and winter months. Quality grassland cover next to a picked corn field is going to attract and hold more birds than cover that does not have corn fields adjacent to it.
This year, water is going to be another concern. With so many dry ponds in the Midwest, water is not as easy to find as it usually is.
And water is important. I remember hunting North Dakota one year when there was very little water. Our best location turned out to be a water hole in the middle of grassland habitat. Every morning and evening the pheasants could be found close to this water source.
One advantage pheasant hunters do have this year is the dry fall and early removal of row crops. This greatly reduces the cover available to pheasants and congregates the birds into smaller areas. That can never hurt.
Pheasant hunters that truly love their sport do not give up easily. Although the bird count in many regions is up from last year, it is still significantly below the long term average. Because of this, hunters will be forced to potentially drive farther and spend more time looking for pockets of birds that they used to.
This may not be the year for a record pheasant harvest, but those that do their due diligence and hunt where the pockets of birds are located will succeed just fine.
Barrels Up Pro Staff
When it comes to laying out decoy spreads for Canada geese, there are many different strategies to draw from. How a person goes about setting a spread depends on a number of variables. These variables include things like personal experience, location, weather and the time of the year.
When it comes to my own personal decoy strategy for hunting geese, I would have to say my spreads are family oriented. Although I may switch things around a bit in the very late season, for most of the fall, families are key.
There is a reason I am so hung up on utilizing family groupings for my main theme. One of those reasons has to do with observations I have made from watching live geese.
One instance comes to mind that speaks volumes about my philosophy of utilizing family orientation for my decoy spreads. I was walking with my wife around a park when we heard a bunch of honkers in the distance. We watched as a group of about 30 Canadas made a swing and then skidded to a halt on the water.
Even though this group came as one unit, once on the water, they immediately began dividing up according to their families. A short time later, there were four distinct groups lounging on the pond.
I see family orientation in fields throughout much of the fall, as well. Even though there may be a lot of birds on the ground, one can usually still see the clusters of families as they feed.
There is another reason I like to set up family groupings in my Canada goose spread. This reason has to do with repeated success. Unless it is very late in the year and the geese are bunched in large flocks, I continue to successfully decoy geese with my family group philosophy.
I am not the only hunter I know of that makes use of family groupings for much of the fall. Hunting specialist, Chad Allen, from Barrels Up and Dirty Girl Camo internet shopping site, is a big believer in family groupings.
According to Allen, setting a spread in family groupings has never hurt the overall appeal of his decoys. He is also a firm believer that if something is consistently fooling geese, there is no need to change. I couldn’t agree more.
The one variable I put into my family philosophy happens around my layout blinds. I always set a cluster of full bodies and silhouettes tight to the blinds to help conceal them from oncoming geese. Other than these 20 to 30 decoys, the other decoys are grouped in clusters of two to ten.
There are many different ways of setting out decoys. However, as a general rule, hunters continue to work with patterns that bring success. Unless it is very late in the year, I have found that Canada geese decoy well to family oriented spreads.
Until these spreads stop being effective, I will continue to focus on the family.
Barrels Up Pro Staff
It would be nice if Canada geese weren’t so darn smart. However, talk to any hunter that has spent a lot of time in the field and they will have story after story about birds that have learned to avoid the trouble associated with decoy spreads.
This decoy shy phenomena is not something that comes naturally, it is a learned behavior that develops after birds have been shot at a number of times. I believe the more birds are hunted, the more they are able to imprint the dangers associated with decoy spreads into their brains. Snow geese do it, why not Canada geese?
There are a couple of specific patterns I look for that indicate geese are highly pressured and vary wary. When birds start reacting a certain way, I know it is time to mix things up and do something different.
Decoy wary birds often will approach from the front but slide off to the side at a couple of hundred yards. The next move they make is classic and predictable.
Once off to the side of the spread, they will approach from behind and then make a high pass directly overhead. Generally, this is the kiss of death as these birds rarely come back once they have looked at your spread from directly above.
One thing I like to do when this starts to happen is to turn one of the hunters around to face the back of the spread. This hunter is able to watch exactly what the geese are doing behind the decoys without squirming around in the blind and spooking the birds. They can also call the shot if they approach within range, which does happen. When hunters are all facing the pocket, it is difficult to really know what is going on behind you.
Another sure sign of pressured geese can be heard more than it can be seen. Pressured geese definitely change their calling and vocalization patterns.
As a general rule, spooky geese get silent when they approach a spread. Obviously, they are listening to see what kinds of calling sounds are coming from the ground. As a general rule, these geese have lots of experience with decoys.
Recently, I had a serious discussion on the art of calling pressured geese with hunting specialist, Chad Allen from the internet shopping site of Barrels Up and Dirty Girl Camo. Allen and I were on the same page when it came to working wary birds.
Allen believed that the more a person knew about calling, the more successful they would be in the field. He felt quiet geese should be hunted quietly with a minimal amount of calling. If they talk to you, talk back. If they aren’t talking, be silent until they are close enough for some confidence building moans and soft clucks.
I certainly agree with this. Too many times I hear hunters overcall geese. It is important to remember that the purpose of calling is to help get the birds in range. It is not to try and wear the reed out of your call. All too often hunters shout at geese instead of talking to them.
Hunting pressured birds is always a challenge. No matter what you do in the field, you will not fool every flock. However, if you are not fooling any birds, you may need to change up your routine.
Simple adjustments, such as facing a hunter the opposite way or cutting way back on the calling, are two simple tactics that can help.
Barrels Up Pro Staff,
Unless you are hooked on chasing Canada goose, it is hard to explain the enthusiasm for hunting that starts to develop in late summer. If you are a goose hunter, you know exactly what I am referring to. For us goose hunting junkies, the off season is always too long.
When you enjoy hunting geese as much as I do, you look for every article you can find on goose hunting strategies. You also welcome conversations that revolve around the sport of chasing geese.
It was over lunch this past summer that I had a lengthy conversation about goose hunting with hunting specialist, Chad Allen. Allen is someone that not only loves all aspects of hunting, he has also turned his enthusiasm for the sport into a business called “Barrels Up.” This internet shopping site for outdoor gear is loaded with quality merchandise and worth checking out.
Although Allen and I hashed over many different topics, we spent considerable time discussing concealment. Allen is convinced that hunters hurt their chances by not paying enough attention to concealment.
Like most hunters, Allen utilizes layout blinds. He likes the versatility of being able to use them in nearly any type of field and appreciates being able conceal the blinds with material that is indigenous to the field being hunted.
Allen also commented that he has started using Killer Weed bundles for a base covering. Killer weed or Raffia grass can be purchased in different colors or spray painted to achieve the desired coloration.
Another hunter that will echo Allen’s thought on concealment is waterfowl guide, Brian Cahalan, from Goose and Duck Smackers Guide Service. Cahalan is in the business of bringing success to his clients and knows it all starts with concealment.
Last fall, while hunting Mississippi River backwaters with Cahalan, I had a chance to witness firsthand the incredible time and effort he puts into concealment. His boat was a floating blind that was covered with natural vegetation as well as Raffia grass.
When picking our shoreline set-up, Cahalan was very particular about choosing a location that helped break up the outline of his boat. And it worked! Even though the mallards were not flying hot and heavy that day, the ones that did come by were completely fooled by the concealment of our boat and blind.
Over the years, I have had a number of opportunities to hunt from some type of pit. If done right, the low or no profile of a pit can greatly increase your hunting success. It quickly makes one realize that wary geese are not all that wary if they do not see danger mixed in with the spread.
When I take hunters with me to the field, I am very fussy about their strategy for becoming invisible. I am not afraid to criticize a fellow hunter if I think they are not concealed well enough. This includes a well covered blind and facemask or a mesh screen to hide the glare of a shiny face.
Most hunters invest a lot of capital in their hunting gear. However, all too often they don’t go the extra distance to make sure they are properly concealed. Lack of concealment may be the most common mistake made by goose hunters.
Barrels Up Pro Staff
Everyone that has fished a reasonable amount has had a northern experience or two they will never forget. These experiences are broad based and include fish that were caught, ones that got away and the ferocious strikes that can occur when a northern hits a hooked fish you are trying to reel in.
I find all of the stories about quality northern to be exciting and entertaining. However, I am especially intrigued by situations where one finds northern interested in eating your catch, particularly when your catch is walleye!
I can’t even begin to count the times when northern have tried to strip walleye off of my hook. In fact, there have been a few cases when the gator was so serious about eating my catch that we actually netted and landed the fish!
The northern – walleye combination has happened enough times for me to realize these toothy critters love to eat walleye. I am convinced they will follow schools of walleye around a lake making them their main food source during the summer months.
When you think about it, this makes perfect sense. Walleye are long and slender and the ideal shape for a tasty meal. Couple this with the fact a northern can easily eat a fish one third the size of their body and you have the makings of a predator - prey correlation between these two fish.
Although it may be difficult to catch northern that are targeting walleye for their dinner, there are a few tricks that may trigger these fish. They are not foolproof methods, but will work some of the time.
I remember a situation on Lac Seul in Ontario when we had northern frequently hitting our walleye whenever we fished one particular reef. Finally, enough was enough and we put away our walleye rods and grabbed out heavy rigs.
After a short dig in my tackle compartment, I came up with a couple of very large, deep diving crankbaits that looked perfect to me. My partner was not so sure as he had never fished with a lure of that stature before.
We set up our trolling run carefully so our baits would be at the optimum depth when we entered the walleye staging area. We pulled two huge gators on our very first pass.
A few years later, I was staying at Caribou Lake in Ontario when one of my fishing cronies described an area where they had been having some northern issues when fishing walleye. I gave him a bottom bouncer and the biggest Rapala I had in my tackle box. After rigging up a heavy leader, he proceeded to go out and catch the largest fish of our trip.
Over the years, Rainy Lake has been another location where we are frequently bothered by big northern attacking our hooked walleye. In an effort to take advantage of this opportunity, we have found that large shiner minnows will sometimes get their attention.
Having toothy northern harass smaller fish is nature’s plan. Put a hook in this small fish so it acts wounded and vulnerable, and you will greatly increase the appeal.
Sometimes it is worth the effort to try and trigger these northern and catch ‘them’ instead of them ‘eating your catch.’ When this happens, you not only appreciate the power of these brutes, but you also feel somewhat vindicated.
And best of all, you have one more gator story to tell on your next fishing trip!
Barrels Up Pro Staff
It had been a couple of tough days for our group on Rainy Lake. For some reason, we couldn’t seem to zero in on an early summer pattern that would provide consistent walleye action for our anglers.
In an act of desperation, I suggested to a couple of people that we should try something different. I thought perhaps there might still be some northern hanging in the shallow bays and we could target these fish for a morning instead of stubborn walleye.
As we motored into a bay, I explained the concept we would be using to trigger our fish. We would be fishing suspending, shallow running jerk baits over the tops of the weeds. However, instead of a cast and retrieve approach, we would utilize a twitch and pause technique.
The success of our morning operation surprised even me. I had no idea the size and quantity of the fish we would find in just that one bay.
Since that Rainy Lake adventure from 15 years ago, I continue to be impressed with the fish catching ability of twitch baits. They aren’t a solution for every fishing outing, but they can be very productive in some situations.
The key to successfully catching fish with this type of approach is to understand the presentation. Predator fish love the chance to target an easy meal. That is what live bait fishing and bobber fishing is all about. Fish hit a struggling minnow because it is food that is too easy to pass up.
Twitch baits appeal to the instinct predator fish have of looking for an easy meal. With the twitch and stop retrieve, the lure is mimicking a struggling baitfish.
The twitch of the retrieve is created by a rod snap that will make the lure jump erratically. When done properly with a good bait, the lure will dart from side to side with each twitch.
As a general rule, I will make two to four twitches and then pause. The suspending lure will sit quietly in the water and not sink or rise to the surface. This is an important part of the appeal as many of the strikes come on the pause.
On a recent trip with a couple of angling friends, we targeted walleye using twitch baits. On a previous outing, these two companions had discovered walleye lounging in a weed bed in 6-10 feet of water. By working our lures over the weeds, we were able to bring the walleye up to engulf our baits.
I must admit, I am normally targeting bass and northern when working twitch baits. However, if walleye want to hit lures presented in this manner, I have no problem with that!
As a general rule, I do not use a steel leader with this presentation unless the northern are causing a serious bite off problem. I also believe mono works better than the super braids on many days.
As for the size and color, I like four to five inch suspending lures with dark tops and an orange stripe on their belly. Sometimes Clown is a good pattern. The Rapala Husky Jerk and the Salmo Sting are both good options.
The perfect lure for catching fish in all situations does not exist. For that reason, it makes sense to be familiar with a variety of presentations. Under the right conditions, twitch baits can lead to some pretty awesome action.
Barrels Up Pro Staff
I remember the days when I really disliked weeds. I disliked the weeds hanging up on my lure, I disliked removing the weeds from my hooks and I disliked the frustration caused by fishing in the weeds.
In those days, I rarely fished for largemouth bass. In those days I didn’t understand the importance of weeds as part of a lake’s ecosystem. In those days I was unable to grasp the relationship between fish and weed cover.
However, those days are gone. I look at weeds differently now. I still dislike removing weeds from my lures, but I also realize weeds are a key component in my overall bass fishing success.
It was a day on the lake last summer that really got me to thinking about how important weed growth is to fish location. My fishing partner and I had not targeted this particular lake for bass for years. We knew finding a location pattern was the first order of business.
It didn’t take long for us to get an idea about where to start. After a cruise around the shoreline, we discovered that one section of the lake had a well defined growth of coontail that came close to the surface.
Coontail is a weed that will create quite a large canopy as it matures during the summer months. This canopy effect is very attractive to fish as it creates overhead cover and plenty of hiding places underneath where the weeds attach to the lake bottom.
The clusters of coontail were so thick in places that it was impossible to effectively get a jig through the weeds to where the fish were hanging out. This problem was easy to resolve. Because the weeds were clearly visible, we were able to work the edges and pockets and avoid the perils associated with the thickest clumps.
Although we did our best to avoid hanging up in weeds, it happened. I got to clean plenty of coontail off of my lures that day. However, we also discovered that the rewards were great as we boated some very impressive fish.
Being able to visually target weeds is not that unusual. Anglers that fish lily pads or bulrushes know how important it can be to see the areas that have the greatest potential.
The inside weed line is another edge I have come to appreciate as a visual fishing location. Bass love this edge where the weeds end and shoreline sand and rubble begin. It is a major travel route for bass especially early in the year.
When it comes to targeting bass that are relating to weeds, it is important to think about lures and equipment. Without weedless baits, anglers can’t expect to catch anything but frustration.
I am a big fan of Texas rigged Power Worms. This combination of weedlessness and scent continues to be one of my most consistent producers.
Jigworms are also big on my list of favorites. Northland Tackle makes Weed Weasels and Jungle Jigs that feature an eye forward profile that slides effectively through cover. The baitkeeper design keeps your plastic trailer in place.
Line is also a consideration. If you are going to fish heavy cover, make sure you have a line that is tough enough to pull fish out of the weed growth. I have seen a lot of anglers lose fish because their line and rod were not tough enough for the job.
Weeds can definitely be a pain for anglers. However, for those that want to successfully target largemouth bass, being able to tolerate the headaches caused by weeds becomes well worth the trouble.
Barrels Up Pro Staff
Every year I try to get together with long time fishing friend, Kelley Cirks. Cirks is a great angler that spends a lot of time on the water in the Park Rapids area of Minnesota. Normally, when he calls to say the fish are biting, I can pretty much count on a sure thing. Of course, there is that word “normally.”
It was early in the morning when I pulled into the driveway of Cirks’ residence. He had the boat hooked up and was clearly pumped about the prospects of a good day of bass fishing.
As we drove to the lake, he filled me in on the bite that had been taking place. With the spawn over and the fish recuperated, the bass had moved into the cabbage beds and were hungry and ready to eat. His hot baits had been the Salmo Hornet and PowerBait worm.
Once at the lake, it took little time for us to land the boat and motor to a weed flat that was littered with clumps of cabbage. As we worked along through the weeds, we reminisced about big fish we had taken from this very location on previous outings.
The conditions were ideal and at any moment I expected to tie into a bruiser that would get the morning started in a big way. It didn’t happen. For some reason, the fish that had been camped in this location a couple of days earlier had moved. Two futile hours and several weed beds later, we gave up on lake number one and loaded the boat.
Lake number two was high on my list. The biggest bass of my life had come from this water as had several other five pound fish. We were both confident that this lake would be the ticket to success. An hour later, we had nothing but a few small fish to show for our efforts.
At this juncture, we realized we had hit an off day and needed to change things up. For some reason, the bass had gone negative and were not going to cooperate with a normal presentation.
As is often the case when things go south, we downsized our rigs to something more along the snack size instead of the full meal deal. For me, that meant an eighth ounce Lip Stick jig and a five inch PowerBait finesse worm.
By starting shallow and working our jigs down to the deep weed line, Cirks and I began to find a few fish. It wasn’t anything spectacular, but it was action. The finesse approach was obviously more appealing than our standard rigs.
By the end of the outing, we at least had a couple of opportunities to get the camera out. We also had once again learned the value of not giving up.
Too many times, anglers end a trip early because the fish are not cooperating. My advice is to be cautious about quitting too quickly. When the fish get lockjaw, it is important to pare down your expectations but also to change your presentation strategies.
On this trip, Cirks and I were successful because of two factors. First, we downsized our presentation to something small and simple. Most importantly, we caught fish because we didn’t give up.
Barrels Up Pro Staff
It has happened to me more times than I care to count. In fact, it is such a common occurrence during the late spring and summer months that I have grown to accept it and expect it. Just when I think I have the bite figured out, the fish up and move.
Big water walleye are roamers, plain and simple. They are nomadic in nature and will be on one piece of structure for a few hours and then be gone.
It isn’t an occasional occurrence, either. I have found this late spring and summer pattern to be true on Leech, Kabetogama, Lake of the Woods, Lac Seul, Mille Lacs, Rainy and other big water environments.
The last few years, I have been fortunate enough to spend considerable time on Rainy. Our group of anglers has consistently been successful because we have learned to cope with the roaming characteristics of the walleye.
It is not uncommon to spend as much as two hours searching for walleye on Rainy before we ever drop a line. We make the rounds from structure to structure looking for fish on our sonar units.
The first step in this process is having a boat and motor rig that provides the mobility necessary to do the extensive searching. The other is to have a GPS system that allows you to quickly find structure that has fish holding potential. LakeMaster chips (www.lakemap.com) can be critical for shortcutting this process.
Regardless of the lake you are fishing, structure doesn’t have to be very big to hold fish. Some of my most memorable bites have taken place on small humps and insignificant points.
There are other factors involved in the nomadic walleye characteristic that need to be noted. These fish are not just roaming because they enjoy swimming. They are looking for food in the form of minnows.
Large schools of forage will spend time in open water and sometimes offer a good deep basin bite. However, when the baitfish move onto structure, the walleye are usually not far behind.
Walleye do not take a long time to feed. Countless times we have come across structure that is stacked with fish only to find them gone in an hour or less. Being efficient at working these fish when you find them can be critical.
Once fish are found, they can be caught in a variety of ways. There is no doubt that a short shanked Fire-Ball jig is an excellent way to present bait. Leeches or crawlers work well in late spring and summer, but sometimes shiner minnows are the best.
Live bait rigs are also very effective when targeting feeding fish. A number six hook on the end of six feet of six-pound-test Vanish Fluorocarbon is hard to beat. The bait that will get the most attention may depend somewhat on the day so we always have options available.
There are days when locating scattered fish is the best we can do. During these situations, a two or three ounce bottom bouncer and Rainbow Spinner rig can be the most productive. Occasionally, I will clip off the normal hooks and substitute a long shanked hook with a PowerBait twister tail. I add a piece of crawler or leech for good measure.
Wind plays a major role in where fish setup to eat. Walleye love to feed in the waves. Part of this is due to the baitfish activity and part due to the sight advantage walleye have over baitfish in poor light conditions. Playing the wind is very important.
Walleye on big water rarely setup housekeeping in one spot for very long. Instead, they will come up onto structure, feed, and move back to open water. Success under these circumstances depends on an angler’s ability to find fish.
On big water, walleye are nomadic in nature. Anglers need to be on the move, as well.
Barrels Up Pro Staff
It was the last day of our Arkansas snow goose hunting adventure with Goose and Duck Smackers Guide Service. The early morning rain that had been promised by the weatherman had not yet arrived. However, the leading edge of the clouds was present making for a spectacular red and orange sunrise.
As the guides finished the last minute preparations in the decoy spread, our group of hunters readied our blinds and prepared ourselves for whatever the day would bring. For the previous three mornings, the early flight had been memorable and we were hoping for more of the same on day four.
Although the cloud cover helped attract some flocks to our spread, the total lack of wind made finishing these birds difficult. After a few high passes, the game was up and they moved on to other locations.
We all saw the large group of birds approaching us from our right. They were unusually low and at first we figured they were specs. As they closed the gap it became apparent they were snows and we readied ourselves for the upcoming opportunity.
Thanks to the experienced guides that set the decoys, these birds centered perfectly and came over our party at 35 yards. When the shot was called, there was no shortage of targets and birds started dropping in earnest.
When the dog finally found the last goose, we had a total of eight birds for our first volley. That was definitely a good start to the day.
Arkansas snow goose hunting was a new experience for our group. Instead of waiting for the migration flight in Missouri and South Dakota, we opted to travel south to where many of the birds winter and the initial staging for their trek north takes place.
According to Brian Cahalan, owner of the guide service, being able to hunt the staging areas in February meant more opportunities for juvenile birds. Juvenile birds are much less wary than adults and often make up the bulk of the hunter harvest. That was certainly the case with our crew as the young birds accounted for more than 50 percent of our take.
Although there were many memorable aspects of our hunting trip, the lodge life was a hit with everybody. Being able to share accommodations with the guides and other hunters gave us the opportunity to tell stories and relax in comfort. Not having to cook or go out for meals was also a huge bonus.
Even though I have been involved with many snow goose hunts, I continue to find the outings extremely enjoyable. The unique way snow geese approach the spread from above makes this style of hunting a very visual experience.
Snow geese are rarely in a hurry to set down in a spread. Instead, they will circle high above the decoys and only come lower if they see something they like. Many times the adult birds will make a dozen passes before they decide what they want to do.
Hunters will also witness large flocks of a thousand or more birds working their way north. These high flyers are not interested in eating and won’t miss a wing beat as they pass over your spread. However, they are still a thrill to see.
The spring snow goose experience is very unique. It is an opportunity to witness incredible numbers of birds as they move to their summer nesting grounds in the far reaches of Canada. It is also an opportunity to participate in the Conservation Order that is designed to reduce the overall population.
Barrels Up Pro Staff
Every year I look forward to spring. It isn’t that I don’t enjoy my time on the ice in the winter, because I certainly do. However, there is something about getting back in the boat and on open water that I greatly appreciate.
I am not alone in this feeling as it is shared by most anglers I know. Drive by a few landings after the lakes open up and you will see just how many anglers like the idea of getting back in the boat.
There is more to the story than enjoying the feeling of open water, however. These early season anglers are not just joy riding, they are searching out some fishing action, as well. Generally, this means crappie and bluegill.
Most springs I make frequent trips to area lakes in search of panfish. Even though these fishing trips take place on many different bodies of water, the fishing locations on each lake share some very strong similarities.
The fact that I fish similar structure on different lakes is no accident. Instead, it is a matter of following the habits of the panfish. Once anglers understand the habitat panfish are looking for in the spring, finding and catching fish becomes a lot easier.
After ice out, spring crappie become very interested in eating. This is due to the fact they spawn when the water temperature reaches the low to mid sixties. Female crappie, in particular, need extra energy to help the development of their eggs. In addition to that, spawning takes a lot of energy for both sexes.
Water temperature is one of the keys to finding early season panfish. These fish are looking for places where the insect larvae are active. It is the protein found in the larvae the fish are looking for.
Mud bottoms are also a part of the spring equation for two reasons. Insects live in the mud, and dark, mud bottomed areas absorb sunlight and warm faster than other locations.
When I think about my favorite spring crappie hangouts, most of them have the same thing in common; they are somewhat disconnected from the main part of the lake. This is a huge consideration when picking a place to fish and here is why.
Shallow bays that are connected to the main lake by a narrow channel are going to warm much quicker. The protection provided by the necked down entrance is ideal for creating a mini environment for fish.
On the flip side of things, when the cold wind blows and fronts come through, these areas will cool off just as fast as they warmed up. Like fishing any place else, timing can be extremely important.
Sometimes I believe the fish will actually move out of these sheltered bays during spells of bad weather. Other times, they may stay in the bays but become inactive until the sun comes back and warms the water up.
There are other considerations when fishing these bays that anglers need to think about. First of all, these shallow water fish are quite spooky. Light line, such as four or six-pound-test Berkley Trilene or five-pound-test Northland Bionic are good choices.
I also like long rods that allow me to cast far from the boat. Spooky fish are very much afraid of boats so keep your noise to a minimum. This concept alone can make or break a day.
As for lures, I rarely use minnows at this time of the year. I love 1/64 ounce pink and white Fire-Fly jigs. I usually fish them plain but sometimes a little PowerBait will help, especially if you are targeting bluegill.
Early spring is a great time of the year to be on the water. It can also be a great time of year to catch those early panfish. Disconnected bays that warm quickly will usually produce plenty of action.
Barrels Up Pro Staff