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.
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.
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.
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.
- Pressured Geese? Adjust Your Tactics
- Family Ties Are Strong
- Searching for Roosters Brings Rewards
- Tough Day? Try Downsizing
- Many Lakes, Many Fish
- Rainy Lake Walleyes
- Adjusting to the Unexpected
- Target Disconnected Bays for Spring Panfish Action
- Quitting is for Quitters
- Nomadic Walleye and Big Water
- Twitch Baits Are a Viable Option
- Target Weeds, Catch Bass