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.
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.
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.
I am not exactly sure when I first started to realize that crankbaits and swimbaits are pretty good lures for early season game fish. What I do know is I never seem to use them often enough.
If I am going walleye fishing, my favorite early season presentation is definitely a live bait rig and shiner minnow. I have lots of faith in this combination and it usually does not let me down. However, I use the word “usually” because this presentation is not foolproof.
It was just last spring when I found myself at a loss over what to do next. I had worked several of my early season walleye hangouts with live bait rigs and had yet to boat a walleye or any other fish for that matter. Something was wrong.
The hours I had available were ticking away and I knew I had to do something different. Instead of continuing to work the depths, I pulled out a box of crankbaits and headed for the shallow food flats.
Over the years, I have had pretty consistent success working the shallow flats during the low light periods of the day. However, my mid day success has been somewhat limited. Still, if the fish weren’t deep, they had to be somewhere.
I was only a few casts into the tactic switch when I had my first hit. The fish turned out to be a northern and not a walleye, but I was encouraged and figured the walleye had to be somewhere close by.
I caught several more northern before I hit my first walleye of the day. It wasn’t a monster but I was moving in the right direction. Crankbaits in the shallows were producing action.
It was early June and I decided to make a short run to a nearby lake. The weeds were coming up nicely and the bass were moving out of the shallows to some of the mid-depth weed structure. It seemed like a perfect day to experiment with some cast and retrieve lures.
It was a Mimic Minnow that got the morning started. This swimbait with its paddle tail drew lots of attention. Largemouth bass and northern kept me adequately entertained.
Depending on my mood and size of the lure, I will use both baitcasting rigs and spinning reels. Spinning combos are usually hard to beat.
Because this shallow presentation attracts a variety of fish species, a person can never be sure what will hit next. For this reason I frequently utilize a short, very lightweight, black steel leader. It doesn’t interfere much with the catching ability of my lures, but it sure does save on losing them to toothy critters.
The retrieve can also be important. There are times when I will use a straight retrieve, but I usually find myself varying the speed a little. If the weeds aren’t too thick, a dead stop once in a while doesn’t hurt, either.
Like everyone else, I have my favorite methods and presentations for fishing. However, I keep learning the lesson that crankbaits and swimbaits are effective game fish options that we sometimes forget to use.
It was one of those perfect mornings. The wind was calm, the temperature was cool but comfortable and the bass season was open. The table was set for a great day on the water. The only thing left was to feed these bruisers some steel!
My fishing partner, Duane Osgood and I, have spent quite a number of hours together in a boat. We both relish the shallow water fishing that is associated with early season bass angling and usually put together an impressive catch during our outings.
Although we were not the first ones at the landing on this perfect bass fishing day, we were the first ones down an undeveloped shoreline on this noted bass lake. We were moving slowly to make sure we were hitting the open pockets on the inside weed line and were picking up a fish here and there.
I remember seeing the change in the weed structure while we were still some distance off. From what we could tell, there appeared to be short stretch of water where the weeds were not growing. This pocket held promise.
Osgood was the first to toss a chunk of plastic into the opening. Almost instantly, his PowerBait worm was inhaled by a giant largemouth. I quickly followed with a wacky rigged worm and also hit pay dirt.
The next hour was undoubtedly the best hour of bass fishing I have ever experienced. We caught a fish on nearly every single cast and most fish were 18 inches or larger. There were so many big bass in this small area there was little room left over for the water.
Eventually, the incredible bite ended and we were forced to continue up the shoreline. Although we still managed to catch scattered fish, it did not compare to the school we had worked over in the weed pocket.
As is usually the case, there were a couple of lessons to learn from this outing. The first lesson has to do with the inside weed line. This is often an ignored transition area that is found on many lakes. Because the inside weed line is associated with shallow water, many anglers do not pay enough attention to this location.
A second lesson that came from this outing was the need to fish irregularities and pockets in the weeds. Many times, the inside weed line is shallow enough that it is possible to actually see the edge. The subtle points and dips in the weeds will often hold fish.
It is also important to have a variety of rigs primed and ready to go. I always have a wacky rigged rod and a Texas rigged plastic worm at my disposal. In addition to that, I have great success with the Northland Lip-Stick jig fished as a jig-worm combo. The bait holding collar on this jig makes it superior to others on the market.
Twitch baits are also necessary for this early season shallow water bite. Osgood has given me a number of lessons on how to entice bass with a shallow running crankbait that is twitched on the retrieve.
Being able to cope with the weeds is often a concept that needs to be considered when rigging rods. Lure options must be compatible with working through and over the greenery.
Bass love the shallows for the first couple weeks of the season. Focusing your efforts on pockets and edges in good cover can definitely pay big dividends.
I have always enjoyed catching big perch. It is an activity I have experienced on a number of different lakes in several states. Although most of my perch have been caught through the ice, I recently learned about a new open water opportunity for popping jumbos.
It all came together at a sport show in Minneapolis. I was visiting with celebrity angler, Brian Brosdahl, about the spring panfish bite taking place in his part of the country. Somehow, our conversation drifted from crappie and bluegill to jumbo perch.
As Brosdahl explained, it had been years since he had discovered the secret to locating big jumbo perch in their pre spawn mode. More recently, he had refined his approach into something that is quite simple and logical.
Perch like to spawn in and around vegetation. On many big, windswept bodies of water, the vegetation that is preferred is bulrushes. Bulrushes grow in areas that have a pretty firm bottom and are a favorite spawning location of many fish species including bass, crappie and sunfish.
According to Brosdahl, pre spawn perch stage in areas close to their spawning grounds. Sand flats in 10-12 feet of water that are adjacent to bulrushes are ideal, especially if they contain light weed cover and forage opportunities.
After all of this perch discussion, I became pretty interested in a spring fling with some football shaped jumbos. It didn’t take long before a tentative date was set.
It was cool and brisk when fishing partner, Charlie Simkins and I met Brosdahl at a designated landing in Northern Minnesota. As we added on extra layers and loaded gear into Brosdahl’s boat, we talked about the prospects of the day.
During the discussion, Brosdahl made it very clear that we would not be keeping many fish. He explained that the perch were very vulnerable at this time of the year and it would be easy to hurt a lake’s population by keeping limits of big jumbos.
As we motored through a channel to the main lake, Bro went on to tell us that this spring perch phenomena took place on all good jumbo perch lakes. The examples he gave were Cass, Winnie, Leech, Bemidji and Black Duck. In Central Minnesota, he suggested Osakis, Minnewaska and Mille Lacs.
Our fishing strategy was much like walleye angling. With the aid of a LakeMaster map chip, we located a ten foot shelf that was close to a bulrush spawning area. Next, we cruised the flat and looked for fish on our electronics. Brosdahl also watched for signs of remnant weeds and new growth cabbage.
Once a school of fish was pinpointed, we fished these perch pretty much like walleye. The combination we used was a Northland 1/8 ounce Thumper Jig tipped with a small minnow. The drop spinner on this jig offered a little extra flash that the perch couldn’t resist.
For the next couple of hours, we drifted across the flats taking perch of many different sizes. Although we did not break 13 inches, we had lots of fish over 12. Several of the fish spit up tiny crayfish.
When it was all said and done, I was a believer in the spring perch theory. The fish we caught were fat, scrappy and plentiful.
I could also see how easy it would be to decimate a population of big, spawning perch at this time of the year. When Brosdahl said they were very vulnerable in the spring, he wasn’t kidding.
Many anglers think of perch as a small, bait stealing pest. Under the correct circumstances, perch are anything but small and pesky. Getting into a school of jumbos is like stepping into fishing paradise.
- 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