Hunting fall whitetails

Gotcha! I’ll bet you are asking, “what does a fishing guide, like Duane, know about deer hunting?” Well, while I DO deer hunt in the fall, I am talking about the white-tipped tails of walleyes.

My son, Trevor, with a 31-inch walleye caught and released on Lake Of The Woods in 2011.

I confess, I am a fall walleye fishing fanatic. Every time I hook onto my boat for a fall fishing trip, my adrenaline starts rushing. This is the best time of the year, in my estimation, to be on the water. And, because of where I am fortunate to live, I get my fix often. I just keep on fishing until the lake freezes over.

In this article, I want to zero in specifically on walleye locations in deeper, natural lakes like those I am acquainted with in Minnesota. Certainly, the same types of areas may hold fish in lakes and reservoirs all over the Midwest.

In the fall, the walleyes that have been buried in the weeds all summer start to move out to where we can locate them easily. And, when we find them, they are usually hungry. They seem to be bulking up in time for the cooler water to come. However, they are not everywhere. They may be holed up in some unlikely areas where you probably haven’t looked for them in the last 12 months; in fact, you may never have looked for them in some of the spots where they are found in the fall.

As the air temperatures cool in the fall, many lakes go through a turnover. Usually in deep clear lakes, a thermocline (a steep temperature gradient marked by a layer above and below which the water is at different temperatures) develops throughout the summer. Using an underwater camera, we have witnessed a thick layer of dense milky matter that forms at the thermocline level. Low oxygen and poor light levels below the thermocline prevent much fish activity in deeper water. As the surface water cools, it starts to sink causing a turnover action with the warmer water immediately below. In shallower lakes, it usually causes decaying weeds to float to the surface. Once the water clears, it is “game on!”

Daytime Locations.

Fall is the one time of year when we catch walleyes all day long. They can now move deeper than pre-turnover, and seek out lower light levels throughout the day. It may be more than that; walleyes may simply feed more often during the day.

“Ok, Duane, get on with it. We want to know where you are fishing?” Think deep water and steep drop offs. Look for areas on a lake map with the steepest drop offs into deep water. I will talk about night fishing later, but for now, understand that most fish, including walleyes will spend most of the lowlight hours in shallow water, and then retreat to deeper water during bright conditions. Sharp drop offs mean that they don’t have to travel very far to do that.

Many deep, clear walleye lakes in Minnesota have ciscoes, or tullibees as they are sometimes called. Ciscoes spawn in the late fall on shallow gravel shorelines and long underwater points. They may start showing up in these areas long before they actually spawn in late November to early December. Tight inside turns near shore, with deep water nearby, are likely places to look for staging ciscoes. Hungry walleyes follow any time the pickings are easy. Since ciscoes are fairly large prey, guess what size walleyes congregate nearby? Big pike tend to take advantage of an easy meal also.

Other areas overlooked by anglers are inside turns along mid-lake bars, flats or reefs. During the summer months many walleye anglers concentrate their efforts on points. However, in the fall, tightly schooled fish will take up residence in the slightest indents in the bar away from the beaten up locations.

The Night Bite

During the daylight hours I suggest deeper water for walleyes. When it gets dark, think the opposite. Walleyes could be feeding with their backs out of the water right near shore. At some point in the late fall, frogs start migrating back into lakes to bury in the mud to survive throughout the winter months. Which many would do if not for those dang walleyes. Yep, there they are, waiting for an easy meal. Fishing in waders may be more productive at this time than from a boat. Plus, you don’t have to try and load the boat in the dark. When I see frogs crossing the road, I go night fishing.

Bait

Without question, the best bait for walleyes in the fall has to be redtail chubs. They are hard to find in local bait shops and expensive. You’ll pay more for a dozen redtails than a pound of choice steak. But, they work. Redtails are very hardy and won’t die the first minute you drop them down. In fact, if it weren’t for those hungry walleyes, you may be able to fish with one the whole day. Since they are so strong, they will let you know when big eyeballs are nearby. I like to use larger bait in the fall. In fact, I have caught 16-inch walleyes on 7-inch chubs. Anglers think because they are using larger bait, they need to wait longer to set the hook. I find that walleyes will swallow a redtail almost immediately. We have caught walleyes on creek chubs as well. Use a #1 or #2 hook and hook through the minnow’s nose only. Some anglers will hook large minnows just ahead of the tail with good hook-setting results. I use a shorter leader when walleyes are less active. A heavy weight, up to one ounce, is necessary to keep a big minnow from swimming away from a lethargic walleye.

In lowlight conditions, I switch to shallow-running lures and soft plastics. I like to fish a jig with a soft plastic curly tail to catch walleyes huddled up to greet frogs along shore.

This will be my last post for a while. We are moving to Trapper Creek, Alaska in a few weeks. The walleyes will be safe from Duane this fall.

Dog Bones for Dog Days

Every year I hear anglers complaining about the “dog days” in mid-to-late summer. The number of boats on the water diminishes as fishing success drops. Anglers are referring to a period of warm water temperatures when seemingly the fish stop biting. Some folks speculate that the fish have sore mouths and have quit feeding. I have heard old timers say, “fish lose their teeth”.

I have never heard or read about any scientific or biological evidence of either of those theories. I do know this: Fish are cold-blooded creatures that must eat to survive. The warmer the water, the more they need to eat. The reason anglers aren’t catching has little to do with whether the fish are feeding. Believe me, they are eating a lot. Fish put on most of their weight during this time.

Michael Johnson from Sacred Heart, MN with a nice Green Lake pike caught while fishing with Duane Ryks of North Country Guide Service.

Smart anglers have good success during those “dog days”.  At tournaments, throughout the Midwest, anglers continue to weigh hefty limits of fish. That leads me to believe most casual anglers simply aren’t applying the right methods to catch fish during the warm water periods.

What typically happens during mid-summer is that the baitfish population explodes. There are abundant dining options for predators.  Forage is plentiful, so fish can be selective. The key is to “trigger” fish into biting. Pick up your speed, and switch tactics.

Thermocline.

One of the first things I do this time of the year is to look for thermocline. Deep clear lakes often form layers of warm and cold water separated by a silt layer. Warm temperature periods with little or no wind can accelerate the formation of a thermocline. Move out over deep water and turn the sensitivity up on your sonar. You should be able to identify the depth that the thermocline exists if any. We have also witnessed this cloudy silt layer on an underwater camera. Typically, walleyes and other game fish will prefer to stay at or above the thermocline. Finding that depth is often a key to finding feeding fish.

Locations.

Once you have determined the depth of the thermocline, if any, the next step is to search out locations on a lake map that offer walleyes the best concentrations of baitfish. Deep humps and mid lake structures tend to be best.

On the water, look for inside pockets in weeds. Often there will be hard bottom areas of gravel or rocks that do not support much weed growth. These tend to be fish magnets. If you find fish in one of these areas, you can be pretty certain that here are other spots just like it, in the same depth range, that will also hold fish. I prefer working over the top or through a school of walleyes, if I can find one, versus trolling mindlessly all over the lake.

Trolling.

Walleyes, bass, and northern pike will chase fast moving lures during this time period. Trolling techniques will out-perform slow moving live bait tactics. Many times walleyes and bass will be suspended well above the bottom. I have caught fish ten feet below the surface, suspended over 40 feet of water. Many new methods have been developed by tournament anglers to catch these willing feeders.

Some of these new methods involve using planer boards that move your presentation out away from the boat to keep from spooking these high riders. Planer boards are relatively inexpensive and easy to use. Some states allow more than one line per angler. Planer boards will help you spread out your lines.

Line counter reels are a must for trolling in my estimation. They allow precise line measurement for lure placement and make it easy to duplicate successful patterns.
The smaller line counter reels work well with small diameter super braids; while the larger models are necessary for lead core line.

Line counter reels are a real asset for trolling. They allow you to repeat a successful pattern.

How fast do you troll for walleyes? Most anglers stay in the 1.5 to 2.5 mile per hour range. I have done much better this time of the year by picking my speed up to 3.5 to 4 miles per hour. We have caught most of our largest walleyes, the last few years, speed trolling for northern pike.

Spinner Rigs.

I don’t need to explain these rigs to Missouri or Columbia River anglers. Spinner rigs have been a staple for many years on reservoirs. They work well in natural lakes at this time of the year as well. Anglers typically use heavy bottom bouncers out ahead of a wide variety of beads and blades. When walleyes are in shallow water, spinners with bottom bouncers will trigger a “reaction bite” from finicky fish.

Tournament anglers have come up with some very innovative ideas applied to the old standbys. One that I have seen work very well is a clip on weight system. Anglers use clips normally used on planer boards to attach weights ahead of their spinner rigs to reach walleyes higher in the water column. By using line counter reels, you can experiment with different depths, and the length of your set back lines until you find the right combination. When you hook a fish, reel up to the weight, unsnap it, and continue to land the fish.

Crankbaits.

Trolling crank baits has evolved tremendously over the past few years as well. The huge variety of crank baits available at your sporting goods retailer can be daunting. Which ones do you buy, and for which applications? Unless you own a gold mine or an oil field, you probably don’t want to buy one of every size and color. Besides, most lures probably catch more anglers than fish.

In general, the larger the lip compared to the body size, the deeper the plug will run. Other factors such as rattles, and lure shape also play a role in choosing the right bait. A favorite color of many walleye anglers is the fire tiger pattern. Shad and perch colors often work well no matter where you fish. Reservoir and Great Lakes anglers like trout patterns.

Fire tiger patterns are my absolute favorite. I rarely need to ask my friends what color they prefer. Don’t neglect “purpledescent” and “hot steel”.

The best advice I can give is to “match the hatch”. Often by zooming in on baitfish schools you can get an idea of what the fish are feeding on. The only way to know for certain is to open the stomachs of fish you are cleaning and see what falls out. You may be very surprised. Also look in the bottom of your livewell. Often, I have run back to the bait shop to find something that looks like what fell out of the fish’s gut.

Getting the right size lure down to the right depth is the next challenge. You can save a lot of time by picking up a copy of Precision Trolling by Mark Romanack. (www.precisionangling.com). Mark has provided charts for most popular crankbaits that match lure, line weight, and boat speed to determine the depth the lure will run.

As you troll, watch your sonar closely. Use the zoom feature of your sonar to keep an eye out for high riding fish. Open water walleyes can be at almost any depth in the water column. Baitfish schools are easier to find than predators. Change lures or line length to present your bait at the depth of the best concentrations. Mark schools on your GPS so you can return to them.

When you hook a fish, put a Mark or Way Point on your GPS. After a short period of time you can establish a Trail that will bring you back over the active, biting fish.

Before purchasing a whole bunch of gear, book a trip with a fishing guide who can show you what you need to be successful. www.ifishmn.com

Fish Cooking Recipes

Clients ask me all the time, “how do you cook your fish?” My answer is always prefaced by talking about proper handling and preparation. Keep fish alive or cool them down immediately after catching. Do not let the fish get warm before filleting. I bleed the fish out before filleting. I run a knife into the area between gills and put them in a pail of cool water until I fillet them.

Hint on preparing fish fillets:

Always remove any dark flesh and the lateral line from fish fillets. These are the fatty areas that contain contaminants and give fish that “fishy” taste.

Deep Fried Fish Cakes

2-3 lbs. boneless fillets
1 cup biscuit mix or pancake flour
½ medium onion chopped
¾ cup milk
2 eggs
½-1 tsp. salt depending on preference
dash of pepper
½ tsp. of paprika

Preparation:

Cut fish into ½ inch squares or chunks. Beat eggs, milk, mix and spices. Stir in fish and onions. Add mix or milk until it is the consistency of potato salad.  Heat peanut oil in large fry pan or deep fryer to 375°. Drop fish mixture by tablespoons into hot oil.  Fry until golden brown.

Cracker Crumb Fried Fish

2-3 lbs. boneless fillets
40 saltine crackers
½ teaspoon salt
dash of pepper
1 egg
½ cup milk
½ cup butter

Preparation:

Wash and pat dry fillets. Mix egg and milk. Use blender or food processor to grind saltine crackers into a coarse flour.  Put cracker crumbs in a brown paper or plastic bag.  Heat ¼ cup of butter in a fry pan over medium heat until bubbling. Dip fish fillets in egg mixture and shake in cracker crumbs until well coated.  Fry fish until golden brown, turning once.

Tartar Sauce for Fish

1 Cup mayonnaise or Miracle Whip
2 Tbs. sweet pickle relish
1 Tbs. yellow mustard

Combine all ingredients and chill.

Beer Batter For Fish

2-3 lbs. boneless fillets
Don’s Chuck Wagon Onion Ring Mix
Beer (Hint: Use a light beer for a subtle beer taste.)
Peanut Oil

Preparation:

Wash and pat dry fillets. Mix onion ring mix and beer to a heavy cream consistency. Heat peanut oil in a deep fryer or fish cooker to 350 degrees. Dip fish fillets in batter until well coated. Allow excess to drain off. Carefully place battered fish in hot oil. Fry fish until golden brown.

Speed trolling for summer pike

This is absolutely one of my favorite patterns for mid- to late-summer northern pike in deep clear lakes. Hold on tight to your rod for some exciting action. We catch a lot of big pike and some of our largest walleyes each season employing this method.

Jordon Spronk from Pipestone, MN with a nice pike from Green Lake caught while speed trolling with North Country Guide Service.

Equipment

You can leave your wimpy rods at home. You are going to need to ramp up your equipment before you go. I suggest a stiff, heavy action bait casting or trolling rod. Almost any heavy action musky rod will work. You don’t need an extremely sensitive graphite rod for this. Cabela’s carries a good selection of inexpensive composite trolling rods.  Choose a rod with plenty of backbone. The big-lipped lures, coupled with the speeds we run, pull hard. That means you may want to use a rod with a large comfortable handle. The rod must also be able to handle the sudden shock of a big fish.

My favorite is an eight-foot, Fenwick Elite Tech Flipping Stick. This is not a sales pitch for Fenwick. I do not have any equipment sponsors that I am obligated to. This rod is one of the most sensitive heavy action rods I have ever held in my hands. It has the backbone to handle the tug of a big lure, but still has a fairly soft tip. For speed trolling, you don’t need to have a rod this sensitive, but once you hook a fish, this rod lets you enjoy the fight.

Next, you will need a good sturdy bait casting or trolling reel. These reels have superior drag systems and large handles. Line counter reels are great because they let you know exactly how much line you have out. Generally, these are not as expensive as the high tech reels used by bass fishermen.

Bagley Bang-O-B 8-inch lure with stout muskie rod.

Good electronics are a must. I use a Lowrance® color depth finder and GPS with a LakeMaster® chip installed. Boat control is critically important. The GPS with a lake map allows me to anticipate turns.

Line

Spool up with fairly heavy line in the 20-30 lbs test range. The super braids are great because they have a small diameter compared to their test strength. The smaller diameter cuts through the water cleaner allowing you better depth control for your lure. Plus, the ultra sensitivity reports back to you when you contact weeds.

Baits

There may be any number of baits that will work. I have trolled with spoons, spoon plugs, bucktails, and spinnerbaits. The best lures for this method are deep diving crankbaits. In general, the bigger the lip, the deeper they will run. However, not all deep diving lures will run well at high speeds. My all-time favorites are the Bagley® Bang-O-Bs. It may take a little exploring to find these. Few small bait shops stock them. Some catalogs carry them or go to www.bagleybait.com. These big lures run deep and attract fish with their amazing swimming action. You will have to match the lure size with the depth you need to run. I use the 5-1/4 inch model for depths down to 15-feet. The 8-inch models work best to get down to 20-feet deep. I like the fire tiger, orange tiger, and chrome patterns on bright days; and the white, or shad colors on overcast days.

Speed Trolling Method

This is not an easy technique to master. Speed trolling involves moving along at a faster pace than most anglers ever thought to go. Start at 3-1/2 mph and then go faster. My best action is usually in the 4-1/2 to 5 mph range. The best location on deep clear lakes is close to the sharpest drop-offs. This means very precise boat handling. Expect to dredge up the bottom occasionally.

Most of the lakes I speed troll have deep weed edges. The weeds may end at 18-20 feet or as deep as 30 feet. Lakes that have big stands of cabbage weeds are the best.  Start trolling closest to the deepest weed edge. Your lure choice will depend on the depth you want to run.

You will need to experiment with the amount of line you let out. I usually start with about 100 feet of line back. Speed trolling in deep water means you won’t spook fish by running over them with your boat like you do shallow water trolling. Less line out means better control running along a weed edge.

Set your drag so that the line will slip when a fish hits. Too little drag may mean a poor hook set. Too much drag is also bad. I have pulled right through the lips of big fish because the drag was set too tight. You can adjust the drag once you have the fish on.

I don’t like to put my rod in a rod holder. The sudden jolt of a fish adds a lot to the experience. If you are holding the rod you can control the fish on hook set much better. Hold the rod under your arm next to your rib cage. Keeping your life vest on may save you bruises or even a cracked rib.

Watch your electronics closely. Try to anticipate turns. A GPS with a lake map will help. Maps are not always perfect, but they provide a good starting guide. Once you have made the initial run, the GPS trail will help you make even better runs the next time. Be sure to mark fish on your GPS when you catch or miss one. Pike don’t school tightly like other fish, but they do often swim in loose packs. Look for schools of baitfish. Several fish may be working the same school of baitfish. Big pike feed on big bait like panfish, perch or even walleye.

Early morning, late evening, or on cloudy overcast days the fish will probably be relating tightly to, or above, the weed line. Pike tend to cruise higher off the bottom than other predators. Most fish will be located near sharp inside turns or points. Unfortunately, inside turns and cuts are the most difficult to navigate. You need to get as far into the cut as possible and then back out again. One technique I employ is to turn the boat sharply and speed up to get out of cuts. This will not allow the lure to get all the way into the cut. Generally, I troll past a long point and then swing around and go back rather than try to make a short turn.

On bright days, or after a cold front, pike may locate out away from drop offs. Don’t be afraid to run out over open water at times. Many of these deep clear lakes have tullibees.  The larger pike may be chasing schools suspended over deep water.

Finally, hang on tight. Strikes are sudden and powerful. Even a small pike will provide an initial jolt. Smaller fish will come skipping across the surface. Big pike may stop your lure in its tracks. Be ready to throw your outboard into neutral or reverse. I have had to chase really big pike with the boat.

This trolling method will often injure the fish. Don’t throw back fish that may not survive. Pike caught in these colder lakes are excellent for eating all year long.

To give this method a try without a lot of investment, contact Duane at
www.ifishmn.com.

Take your dad fishing

Take your dad fishing . . . today. As a young boy growing up I loved to fish with my dad, Gordon. He wasn’t necessarily the best fisherman on the lake, but he was responsible for instilling in me a love for fishing that has been a part of my life ever since. My dad is still alive, but he is no longer able to fish by himself. Without my brothers and me making an effort, he wouldn’t get to enjoy this wonderful experience.

These days, Dad needs help getting in the boat. He may even need help baiting his hook, tying lines, and cleaning weeds off. Just like I did many years ago. Now it is my turn to ensure that he has a great experience. Dad can’t stand and cast, trolling works best for him now. He still loves the tug of a fish on the end of his line. It is a joy for me to watch the pleasure fishing brings to him.

Let’s Go Fishing With Seniors Willmar, MN chapter has taken over 10,000 people fishing and boating in the last 10 years. There are currently 28 chapters operating in Minnesota.

Maybe your dad is no longer alive? Take another person’s dad. We have an organization in Minnesota called Let’s Go Fishing with Seniors. Thanks to groups of volunteers, thousands of seniors get to go out on the water in safe pontoons to once again enjoy the great outdoors. To get more information, go to www.lgfws.com.

Follow the Bait

“How do you locate fish?” That’s a question I get asked a lot. The answer most of the time is “ I follow the bait”. Fish, no matter what species, have to eat to live. Other than the short period of time when they are occupied with reproducing; they eat, rest, and then eat again. Fish are cold blooded. The warmer the water they live in, the more they eat and less they rest. That is why fish from shallow stained lakes grow faster than those in deeper, clear lakes.

Merle Kluver of New London, MN with a nice walleye from Green Lake.

To find fish you need to figure out what they are eating and where they are dining. Their dinner table changes constantly. Early in the season fish tend to be shallow because that is where the small minnows are. Water inlets like creeks and rivers draw shiners and spawning fish. Next, shoreline structures such as points and large flats that extend out into the lake are the best bet. Later fish may move out to the weed edges and mid-lake structures such sunken islands and humps. During early summer, bug hatches, like May Flies, may take them out to the deeper mud bottoms. Walleyes often chase bait in open water, not relating to structure at all. Oxygen levels in the summer may dictate the depth that fish will be found. In the fall fish tend to relate to the steepest drop offs in the lake. They also tend to move shallow once again until water temperatures get too uncomfortable.

Before you run all over looking, you need to analyze the lake, reservoir, or river you are fishing. I try to obtain and study lake maps. Many map companies now have electronic SD cards that you can put right into your GPS. Others make software available for your PC that allows you to enlarge and study maps at home; and then mark GPS coordinates you want to check out on the water. You can save the coordinates to an SD card, and then simply upload them to your GPS.

The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has a lot of information on their website about each body of water. They can tell you what the average depth is, water clarity, bottom content, and species that are present. They also have stocking data, and netting surveys.

A few more things to consider before we hit the water:  What direction is the wind from? Are weather conditions stable? Is the barometric pressure falling or rising?

Now that you are actually on the water, where do you start? When you spend as much time on the water as I do, I can usually predict what I will find based on the surrounding terrain, water color, water clarity, weed growth, and season.

The wind direction can make a difference, especially if fish are feeding in the shallows. Food sources tend to get blown into the windy side of the lake structures and shorelines. On some lakes and reservoirs the waves rolling into the shorelines will create a mud line that gives bait a false sense of security. Hungry walleyes follow and feast in the cloudy water. Even though boat control can be difficult in windy conditions, I will check those areas first. Check the down-wind side of shallow flats. Often baitfish will be carried off the top of the flat and stack up on the trailing edge.

Weather plays a huge part as well. During stable weather patterns, which may only be a few days, fish tend to gravitate to points and shallower water. After a cold front they may move into deeper pockets or inside corners on bars and flats. Each species has their preferred water temperature comfort levels. Bass and sunfish can tolerate warmer water than walleyes and pike. A temperature gauge is a must at certain times of the year.

Back to the bait. Schools of baitfish, or clouds of insect larvae are much easier to find than the predators. When you find the bait, the game fish are probably in the vicinity. Birds, like loons, gulls and cormorants, will often give away the location of baitfish schools. Learn to recognize baitfish or clouds of insect larvae on your locator. Once you find them continue to look for larger “hooks” indicating predators. Color LCD graphs are huge advantage in finding fish. No serious walleye angler would accept anything less.

For walleyes, I usually start at the weed edge and then search deeper until I find the bait. Hard bottom areas with rocks and gravel tend to draw baitfish. Sometimes you will find these clean hard bottom areas inside the weed edge. At the right time of the year, these are the fish’s dinner table. When I am searching for walleyes, if I don’t find schools of bait on a sunken island or hump, I move on. While running from spot to spot, I watch my locator. Many times I will see suspended baitfish schools out away from structure. Walleyes don’t seem to care if there is structure close by or not, as long as there is a meal to be had. I have caught walleyes ten feet down suspended over 40 feet of water.

Much has been written about bass relating to cover and weeds. However, a bass isn’t going to stay under the same dock or log for very long if a meal doesn’t occasionally swim by. If there are no small sunfish or minnows relating to a weed bed or structure, the bass will lose interest. In shallow water a good pair of Polaroid sunglasses is a must. Watch for baitfish breaking the surface. Bass will chase bait out into open water. I have often caught smallmouth bass suspended away from structure. Remember, follow the bait.

To learn more, contact me for a guided fishing trip. Nothing beats time on the water.
www.ifishmn.com

Top 10 Reasons to Hire a Fishing Guide

Hiring a fishing guide might seem like an extravagant expense to most casual anglers. Actually, it may be some of the best money you spend all year. Here’s why:

1.  Quickly learn how to fish a lake that may be new to you. The larger the lake and the more structure it has, the longer it will take you to find fish. Fish move and methods change with the seasons. A guide will keep you on top of the fish.

2.  Learn new tricks and techniques. Experienced fishing guides know those subtle changes in presentation that can make a big difference in fishing success. Remember, “even old dogs can learn new tricks”.

3.  Catch more fish. A guide who is on the water daily will have a pretty good idea where the fish are biting. Most of the time they can take you right to the spot on the first try.

Scott Koedem of Sheldon, IA, with an 8-pound Green Lake walleye.

4.  Land the big one. Learn how to play and land that fish of a lifetime; instead of going home with yet another story of the “one that got away”. A prepared guide will have a camera on board for that special photo.

5.  Try out different fishing rods and reels before you buy. Fishing guides often have equipment that most anglers have never seen, much less, used.

6.  Learn how to use some of the latest electronics. Sonar and GPS units are somewhat more complicated than your average DVD player. A little instruction can shorten the learning curve.

7.  Boats and motors are an expensive initial investment. Then add to that electronics, trolling motors, batteries, rods and reels, life vests, fuel, bait, repairs, insurance, maintenance and storage costs. Suddenly the cost of a guide doesn’t seem so prohibitive.

8.  Relax and let the guide do the work. Most guides will not only run the boat, they will tie your lines, bait your hooks, net and handle your fish. Some will even send you home with packaged fillets or cook a shore lunch.

9.  Fish safely in a comfortable, well-equipped boat with a guide who knows how to handle it, and handle the waves.

10.  A guided fishing trip makes a special gift for a new graduate, an employee incentive, a recent retirement, a spouse’s birthday, Christmas, or anniversary present.

For fishing in the Kandiyohi County Lake Area contact: Duane Ryks at 320.441.8112, or check out my website: www.ifishmn.com.

When the Going Gets Tough, Bobber Up

Versatile.  That word describes the best walleye anglers I know. No one method is going to work consistently to catch fish throughout the season. When the going gets tough, smart walleye anglers change tactics. Sometimes the best option is to bobber up.

It is funny how many casual anglers think bobber fishing isn’t sophisticated enough to lower themselves to apply the technique, while the pros consistently do. Professional walleye tournament anglers fishing Devils Lake, North Dakota, and Mille Lacs Lake, Minnesota, have cashed some mighty nice checks over the past number of years fishing with bobbers.

There are times when walleyes are located in places that don’t allow any other method. Other times, weather conditions make boat control nearly impossible, and bobbers save the day.

The Bobber Rig.

Most anglers have read or heard about slip bobbers. Basically, a slip bobber is a sliding float used with some sort of bobber stop. Most anglers use the braided line knots that come pre-tied in packages with a small bead that goes between the stop and bobber. I prefer to leave off the bead–it’s just one more thing that can keep the line from sliding through the bobber properly. The sliding bobber stop allows you to adjust your depth and fish a bobber in deep water.

Slip bobbers come in a wide variety of sizes and colors. There are lighted bobbers that come in handy for low light, or the night bite. Match your bobber selection to conditions. Usually smaller is better, especially in windy conditions. I prefer slip bobbers that have a weight on the underside that make them easier to cast in the wind. The bobber tips upright when it hits the water allowing the line to slide through easily.

Slip bobbers come in many sizes and colors. Use a small jig as an attractor.

Another trick I sometimes employ, if I want to keep the depth fixed; is to use a small piece of rubber band for a bobber stop. Make a small loop in your line, pass a small piece of rubber band through the loop and pull it tight. It will not slide down when you reel up a fish.

Most anglers use a split shot weight above the hook. The amount of weight to use is often determined by the depth you are fishing. I like to use a small jig at the end of the line. For years, I have used a small rattle jig. The combination of bright color and sound call fish to your bait.

Slip bobber rig set up.

Bait.

I prefer fishing with live leeches on bobber rigs. The leeches will swim and move around more than night crawlers. Crawlers will work, but instead of gobbing them on the hook, hook them once through the collar, that way they will float seductively in front of the fish. Panfish will tend to nibble at the longer worm. Check your bait often. Not many walleyes will bite a bare hook.

During the shiner spawning period, I fish with shiners. Try hooking them along side their dorsal fin with the hook pointing forward. This is a little winter fishing tip I learned years ago that has improved my hooking ratio.

Equipment.

I like to use at least a 7-foot spinning rod with a fast tip. The longer rod not only helps cast a little further, but also provides more control of a fish at the boat. A long rod will also allow you to flip your rig under-handed on windy days.

Patterns.

Wood. Bobber rigs excel when walleyes are tucked in wood. There are many reservoirs and small flooded lakes that are lined with trees and stumps. Anglers sometimes tie their boats to the trees and fish right in the branches.  Pay close attention to your bobber in this situation. It is very critical to get walleyes up and out quickly so they don’t tangle in the wood. I keep my line fairly tight to the bobber at all times. As soon as you see the float go under, start reeling. Once you feel the weight of the fish you can get a better hook-set.

Windy days. Another good pattern is fishing bobbers on shallow weed points, rock piles, or reefs on windy days. I prefer to anchor along side the structure rather than on top. Keep your casts low and cast into the wind. With a longer rod I usually flip the rig out underhanded. Let the wind carry your bobber rig over the top and down the side of the structure. In windy conditions it is difficult to keep from getting a bow in your line. When the bobber goes down, start reeling quickly to pick up the loose line. Usually, this method will be enough to bury the hook.

Night fishing. Switch to a lighted bobber for low light or nighttime. A number of companies are making small glow sticks that attach to a regular slip bobber with a rubber clip. Anchor on top of a shallow hump or underwater rock pile. Walleyes move up to feed on top of these structures under low light conditions. For many years, Spicer, located on Green Lake, has held a street dance during the 4th of July Weekend. We anchor on top of a rock hump close to town and enjoy the music while catching fish.

Early season shiner bite. In most Minnesota lakes, spottail shiners spawn in shallow water in the early spring. During the day, the shiners will tuck into the weeds. Hungry walleyes will prowl around and through the weeds under bright light conditions looking for a meal. I have caught many walleyes on gin-clear Canadian lakes in shallow water during the middle of the day. The best weeds to look for are emerging cabbage weeds. The broad leaves provide shade for the minnows and walleyes.  Look for pockets in the weeds.

Bobber fishing can be a waiting game. Keep moving your bobber rig around to locate fish. Try setting the bobber stop at different depths. Walleyes can be found just about anywhere in the water column. The wait is often rewarded with some dandy walleyes.

To learn this, and other rigging methods more quickly, schedule a guided fishing trip this season. Go to www.ifishmn.com.

Fishing the Shiner Bite

One of my favorite times of the year to fish walleyes is during the spring shiner bite. Of course, it often coincides with the first few weeks of the Minnesota Walleye Fishing season; which also gets me pretty excited. What makes this short period so special is the fact that walleyes love dining on shiners–which means predictably good fishing.

First of all, which shiners I am referring to? I am talking about spottail shiners that are abundant in northern waters. You can recognize them by their silvery sides and distinct spot on the base of their tails. Walleyes love to eat them. Don’t be confused by creek shiners or golden shiners. Side-by-side, spottails will out produce the others at this time of year.

The common spottail shiner. Notice the black spot on its tail.

In early to late spring, depending on water temperature, spottail shiners spawn in creeks and on shorelines near creek inlets. Wherever you find them, hungry walleyes are sure to be nearby.

Bait shops carry spottails for only a short time in the early season because they are difficult to keep alive. Once they quit running in creeks, they are also difficult to catch. They tend to work best soon after they are caught.

My friends and I prefer to catch our own.  If fact, we enjoy “minnow-ing” almost as much as fishing. Good creeks are “best kept secrets.” It is hard to find creeks that don’t get harvested by bait dealers. Once you do find shiners, they are difficult to catch. Shiners are very quick and shy of nets. We use seine nets and chest waders. It works best to have at least three people–two to handle the seine, and one as a chaser. Typically, we must navigate swift current to get to them. Expect to get wet.

Ok, back to fishing the shiner bite. At night, walleyes will follow shiners right up to shore. Many anglers catch walleyes from docks or by casting to the shoreline from a boat. The best areas are near creek inlets or culverts with water running into the lake. Shorelines with the wind blowing into them can be awesome if you can keep the boat out away.

Rapala® Minnow Raps® are my preferred baits at night. Other small shallow running crankbaits work as well. The big key is to be very quiet. Once spooked, the minnows will leave, and may not return anytime soon. The predators will leave with them.

Night fishing can be frustrating without good lighting. I use an LED light that clips to my cap. Many LED lights have both white and red light switches. Red LED light doesn’t seem to draw as many bugs.

Sandy Ryks with a pair of Gull Lake walleyes caught in the late evening trolling Rapala® Minnow Raps® in 10 feet of water.

Daylight hours are my preference. In lakes that have emerging cabbage weed growth, the shiners will hang out in the weeds during the day. Walleyes will cruise the weeds looking for schools of shiners. I have caught walleyes in very clear shallow water, during bright daylight hours, when shiners are spawning. Many times I just use my Polarized Glasses to visually locate walleyes. I look for small openings, or pockets formed by gravel or rocks inside the weeds, then cast a small jig with a Berkley Gulp® Alive™ minnow, or Northland® Mimic Minnow® (Shad Tail, Shiner Tail, or Swim Shiner) into the openings. Soft plastics work great in these situations and don’t fly off the jig as easily as minnows. Often, I will switch to a slip bobber rig, once I find the walleyes.

Some anglers prefer to long line leeches, shiners, or crawlers over the top of the weeds. Long lining involves trolling with small split shot weights and a long line, up to 100 feet, to get your bait away from the boat to catch walleyes that may be spooked in the shallow water.

In deeper weeds, I prefer livebait rigging, especially with a lively shiner. Again, hard gravel areas that form inside pockets in the weeds are the best. A lively shiner will telegraph back to you when a walleye is chasing it. Walleyes will suck a shiner right down. There is no reason to delay setting the hook. When I feel any sort of tap, I set immediately.

Book a Guide Trip during May.  You won’t be disappointed.
www.ifishmn.com.

Get Skinny for Early Season Walleyes

Most fishing experts agree on one thing:  No matter what species you are after, “match the hatch” for fishing success. For walleyes in late spring, and early summer, that means using smaller lures pays big dividends.

As lakes shed their covering of ice across the upper Midwest, the shallows, which warm faster, come alive. Just about every species takes their turn spawning in shallow water. That means lots of small baitfish for hungry predators. Walleyes feed on just about anything they can swallow.

One of the first forage species walleyes seek is spottail shiners. Shiners will spawn just about anywhere in shallow water, but key locations on lakes are creek mouths and culverts with incoming water.

Lures.

Small minnow baits work exceptionally well during this time. The old standby, the Original Floater Rapala®, works great in shallow water. However, one of the very best lures I have found are the new Minnow Raps® from Normark®. The Minnow Rap is a skinnier version of the Shad Rap®, a long time favorite for many walleye anglers. The #7 size is a near perfect match to the size of spawning spottail shiners.  They will dive to about 5-6 feet on a casting retrieve with 8# test line. Trolled on light line, they will run about 9-11 feet deep.

Experiment with colors. There are several shad colors available that match shiners. I like the bright colors, like fire tiger or chartreuse during lowlight conditions.

Rapala® Shad Raps® on the left. Skinnier Rapala® Minnow Raps® on the right.

Casting Tactics.

At night, walleyes will follow shiners right up to shore. Many anglers catch walleyes from docks or by casting to the shoreline from a boat. Shorelines with the wind blowing in can be awesome if you can keep the boat from beaching.

This is one of those times of the year when wading may be the best option for catching walleyes. If you can gain access to the areas where shiners are spawning, you probably won’t have to wait long for your first walleye bite of the season. The key to success is to be very quiet and try to stand still, which may be hard in cold water. I have caught walleyes within a foot of the end of my rod while wading. You can imagine how “thrilling” that can be.

When casting in shallow water, a deep diving lure like the Minnow Rap may run too deep on a constant retrieve. Try a slower stop and go approach. Crank a few turns, pause for few seconds, and then start reeling again.

Night fishing can be frustrating without good lighting. I use an LED light that clips to my cap. Many LED lights have both white and red light switches. Red LED light doesn’t seem to draw as many bugs.

Trolling Tactics.

Dave Coleman from Redding, California, formerly of Willmar, MN, with 2 walleyes caught trolling Minnow Raps on Green Lake.

This is my favorite time of the year to do some late evening trolling on clear water lakes. The bugs generally haven’t hatched yet, and you probably don’t have to worry about a lot of boat traffic. The best times tend to be the last hour of daylight to about an hour after dark. The walleyes probably feed most of the night, but I need my “beauty” sleep.

I like to use a line counter reel rigged with 8-10# Berkley® Fireline®. The line counter lets you know precisely how much line you have out so you can replicate a successful pattern, or make adjustments. The small diameter line allows the Minnow Rap to run down to about 9-11 feet with 100 feet of line back.

Start trolling at the emerging outside weed edge. Typically, I start at about 11-13 feet deep. Your lure doesn’t have to be right on the bottom. Walleyes will swim up to take a bait. I try to keep the boat speed at 1.7 to 2 miles per hour. At these depths I use my outboard, if I need to go shallower, I switch to my electric motor. Watch your electronics for baitfish schools and larger fish activity. I like to use an “S” trolling pattern to cover different depths until I find a pattern. Once you establish the right depth, watch your GPS to duplicate trolling runs. A lake map chip installed in your GPS unit will help to anticipate turns, especially in the dark. Punch in icons where you catch fish–it will help you zero in on schools.

Fish the windy side of the lake if possible–the fish don’t spook as easily. I like to stay close to emerging cabbage weed beds if the lake has them. Steeper drops along shore tend to be better than gradual tapers. Irregular shorelines seem to be better than long, featureless ones. The mouths of creeks or channels are often the very best.

Try to work as far into weed pockets as possible. Make quick turns and speed up the boat to get out of the pocket again without fouling your lure with weeds.  Work past points and then circle back to get the best run possible. If you are not dredging weeds once in a while, you are not running close enough.

Boat control requires closely watching your sonar. Your passengers will need to watch out for other boats and structures.

I don’t like to use rod holders when fishing in the dark–you can’t tell if your lure is running correctly or contacts weeds. As you troll, try moving your rod tip ahead about a foot and then go slack. This action tends to entice finicky walleyes.

If you miss a strike, quickly drop the lure back towards the fish. Many times walleyes will come back and hit it again.

As it gets darker, walleyes may move inside the weed edge. Switch to shallower running lures and use an electric motor. I have caught many walleyes trolling in and out of a line of docks. Watch out for swimming buoys and rafts.

Be safe. Keep your life preserver on anytime you are fishing in the dark. Minnesota, and a lot of other states, require running lights whenever you are under power.

If you would like to learn this technique, schedule a late afternoon or evening guide trip. I will keep a cap light on for you.
www.ifishmn.com