Minnesota Outdoorsman - Minnesota Fishing and Hunting Reports
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Mastering the Mouse Retrieve

Written by Charlie Robinton

Looking to catch big fish? Maybe it's time to use a big fly! Mouse-patterned retrieves are designed to resemble live mice and attract larger fish looking for a bigger meal! But it's not just about casting the mouse and waiting - you need to have the mouse simulate what the real thing would look like in the water. It's not just a fly - it's a proven technique to catch yourself some big trout!

The Mouse Fly - Mastering the Mouse Retrieve 

Mouse-pattern flies are meant to look like a small field mouse and behave like one in the water. A typical mouse fly designed for trout fishing will be 2-3 inches long and tied on a size 2-6 wide-gap hook. Mouse flies are most often tan, brown, or grey, just like the real thing. Many materials can be used to create mouse-pattern flies, but the most realistic flies are tied using deer hair because of its buoyancy and natural appearance. Keep in mind that mouse flies are meant to ride high on the surface of the water, so your pattern of choice should feature deer hair, foam, or other buoyant materials to help it float.

Many fly shops carry at least one mouse-pattern fly, but these flies are often designed for bass fishing and have a heavy monofilament weed guard looped over the hook to protect it from snags. This feature is helpful if you are fishing in weedy or brushy areas, but it is unnecessary for trout fishing and can hamper your ability to hook fish. You can easily remove the weed guard by cutting it off with nippers.

Even large trout have relatively small mouths for their body size, so hooking them on such a bulky fly can be a challenge. To get better hookups, some anglers have started tying their mouse flies with stinger hooks positioned farther back on the fly, toward the end of the tail. If you are getting strikes but having trouble connecting with fish, a stinger hook fly may be the answer.

Making It Swim - Mastering the Mouse Retrieve 

There are two general ways that mouse flies are fished. They can be "waked" or "skittered" using the rod tip, or "stripped" by pulling in the line by hand. Both techniques are effective and have their place in the mouse angler's bag of tricks.

The Wake and Skitter

Waking a mouse fly is most effective when there is a steady current. In most cases, you will want to position yourself across from your target and place your cast upstream. Make a quick mend when the fly hits the water to remove any drag that might pull the fly away from your target, then raise your rod tip to remove slack line from the water and create a direct connection to the fly. Twitch the rod tip as the fly comes toward you while slowly retrieving the slack with your free hand. This will make the fly look as if it is swimming and struggling in the current.

This method can also be used to fish in a downstream direction to wake the fly on a tight line. Cast the fly across or slightly downstream, make a quick mend to reduce unwanted drag, then allow the fly to swing slowly across the current, generating a sizeable wake behind it. Follow the fly with your rod tip to keep it swimming at a steady pace. You can experiment with raising the rod and imparting the twitching action with this retrieve as well.

The Strip

In areas with little or no current, you will need to change your approach to get the fly to swim properly. Cast beyond your target and allow the fly to settle. If there is some current, you may want to make a mend so that the fly is not pulled away from the strike zone. Keep the rod tip low and point it at the fly, then retrieve the line in very short, steady strips with your free hand.

Emulate a mouse

Try to imagine how a mouse would look while swimming. Mice do not pop and splash their way through the water like an Olympic swimmer doing the butterfly. They plod along treading water with their head slightly above the surface and their body submerged. Imitate this slow, steady swimming action with your retrieve and you will attract the big fish.

Let the Fish Eat

When a big trout rockets out from beneath an undercut bank and smashes your mouse fly, your first instinct might be to jerk on the rod, but you will be pulling the fly right out of the fish's mouth. Try to stay relaxed here! Allow the fish time to close its mouth and turn with the fly before setting the hook. Simply watching the fish eat and turn can be helpful for some, but if you are having trouble keeping it together, try counting "one, one thousand" before slamming the hook home.

Fish the Bank

Mouse flies work in a variety of water, but it makes sense that presenting the fly where trout are most likely to see the actual critter will get you more strikes. Mice, voles, and other rodents end up taking a dunk more often than you may think, but when they do it is usually because they fell from the bank. When they end up in the water, their first instinct is to escape danger by swimming as fast as possible back toward shore. By presenting your fly as close to the bank as possible and doing your best to keep it there, you are offering the most natural presentation to the fish. You can accomplish this either by making short, quick presentations to the opposite shore while wading, or casting upstream and using the wake and skitter technique to swim the fly back toward you along the near bank.

Keep an eye out for steep banks with plenty of structure and depth, undercuts, and grassy shorelines, as all will have the potential to be good mouse fishing spots.

Tips, Tricks and Techniques - Mastering the Mouse Retrieve 

Cover the Water

Whenever fishing large flies with an active retrieve, it makes sense to cover the water quickly rather than saturate an area with multiple casts. Trout have acute senses and they are sure to immediately notice a giant mouse struggling across their dining room table. You are searching for an aggressive reaction from a predator, and not all trout will be in the mood to react at all times. Keep moving and cover the water methodically by placing a cast every few feet, paying extra attention to any obvious structures and fishy looking lies. This way you will place your fly in front of more fish and increase your odds of finding one that is in the mood.

Try Fishing at Night

Where it is legal, nighttime mouse fishing can be a real adrenaline rush. Do some daytime recon on your favorite river to determine some good areas that will be safe to approach at night, then return well after dark with a mouse fly attached to some heavy tippet.

Nighttime fishing introduces an obvious challenge. The darkness will make it harder to wade, cast, and detect a strike. Try to use just your flashlight on the trail as you approach the river, and turn it off well before you reach the water. This will allow your eyes time to adjust to the low light.

In areas with some current, a wake or swing retrieve on a tight line can be the best approach at night. Start at the top of the hole and work methodically, moving a couple of steps in between casts. With the line tight from downstream water tension on the fly, you will feel the weight of the fish when it strikes.

If there is little or no current, you will need to tune in with your senses to detect a strike. Try to focus your vision on the general area where your fly is and pay attention to any unnatural movement. Get in tune with the rhythmic sound of the river and listen for any splash or swirl that is out of sync. This could signify a fish has come up to take a swipe at your fly.

You will hook more fish if you are patient and don't set the hook until you feel the weight of the fish. This can be hard to do when you can barely see and your adrenaline is racing, but you will be rewarded with more big fish in the long run.

Choosing the Right Fly Fishing Outfit

Written by
Charlie Robinton

Charlie Robinton has loved fly fishing since he was 10 years old. He turned his passion for fishing and the outdoors into a career as a fly fishing writer and instructor.

Published on

When choosing a new fly fishing setup, today's angler is faced with a multitude of options, and the choices are enough to make a neophyte's head spin. This article will explain the most important factors to consider when looking at different rods, reels, and fly lines, as well as how to match them together to create an outfit that meets each angler's specific needs.

Understanding Fly Rod Length, Weight, Action, And Construction

A fly rod is arguably the most important tool a fly fisherman owns. Modern fly rod designs vary greatly depending on the intended use, so it is important to understand the mechanics and basic design characteristics of fly rods when selecting between the different options available.

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Switchin' to Glide

Extend your spring pike season into early summer by borrowing these baits from the muskie playbook

5Leavon Peleikis

A large, dark shadow appeared in the crystal-clear water behind my glide bait, getting closer and closer as the lure walked seductively from side to side. With every snap of my wrist, the Phantom Softail changed direction, and the looming shadow moved with it. Then I cranked up the speed as the lure drew closer to the boat, changing its slow, wide, methodical action to a tight, erratic scramble. It was just too much for the big northern pike to resist. Fish on!

Caught on a Canadian Shield lake near Magnetawan, Ontario, that 43-inch fish ended up being my biggest pike of the season. And I landed it at the end of June, a time when most other anglers have already traded in their spring pike gear. For the fortunate few of us who stick it out, however, there's still plenty of action to be had. With a few minor adjustments to your spring pike program and the addition of the often overlooked but productive glide bait, the early-summer period from the beginning of June to the middle July is a great time to catch numbers of northerns, as well as trophy fish.

Glide baits are by no means new to the sportfishing scene. Muskie hunters and saltwater anglers have been using them for decades, but only recently have they started to gain popularity with pike anglers, and for good reason. Their side-to-side action is absolutely deadly for triggering big northerns to bite—if you know when, where and how to fish them.

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10 Secret Catfish Baits You Didn't Know About

Everyone has their own special bait that they swear by. For some people it's chicken liver, other people prefer raw chicken breast. Other people would never fish with anything but doughballs.

This variety of preferences isn't news to anyone, but they all work to varying degrees. As anglers, we love experimenting with what will work best. Sometimes we run out of ideas and need to turn to new sources of inspiration.

Check out the following list to see 10 tried and true catfish baits that you may not have thought of on your own!

1. Canned Dog Food

Canned Dog Food
Channel catfish have taste buds studded throughout their skin, and they love the smell of this particular bait. The best type of dog food for your line is a chunky one, not a paste. If you've only got the paste kind, you just have to put a little extra work in, by placing it in cheesecloth before putting it on your line. Dog food also works really well as a chum for attracting schools of fish.

2. Cow's Blood

Cow's Blood
While this may sound a little gross at first, it's been proven time and again that blue catfish go nuts for cow's blood! People from Arkansas that swear by this bait regularly hook and bring up 35 pound fish. To prepare this unique bait, just fill a 2.5 gallon bucket with blood, and allow it to congeal. Grab chunks of the congealed blood and place in pantyhose to keep it solid, and thread it onto your hook.

3. French Fries

French Fries
Fried spuds are beloved by all, including creatures with fins! The grease, coupled with the interesting smells put off by it is sure to cause some big bites. For best results, try using french fries in a channel where you know flathead catfish like to hang out. Another great place to try is by waterside restaurants, where fish may already be accustomed to eating these tasty treats.

4. Garlic & Chicken Skin

Garlic & Chicken Skin
Chicken skin is an excellent and resilient bait. Unfortunately it doesn't have much of a natural aroma, so you'll have to more accurate with where you're fishing. To increase your chances, soak the chicken skin in garlic water overnight, giving it a pungent smell, and increasing its chances of getting a great bite!

5. Green Apple Bubblegum

Green Apple Bubblegum
Fish appreciate the strong flavor of this gum, the same as humans. This bait is particularly convenient because of its packaging and long shelf life. Not only does it lure in some large catfish, it can help the fish stay on the line due to its sticky nature. If you find that fish don't like green apple, other fruit flavors can also work well!

6. Liquor

Marinating various types of meat is a favorite for fishermen all over the world. Strong smells that represent humans typically aren't favored, such as perfumes. Something that many anglers overlook is the attraction that fish have to booze. MD 20/20 grape is great for chicken breasts, Aniseed liquor for bait, and beer to salmon steak. These are tried and true recipes for success!

7. Ivory Soap

Ivory Soap
Anyone who's spent time with a line in the water has heard of the secret of hand soap as bait. Nobody's really sure why they love it so much, but people have spent great amounts of time trying to figure out which one will have the most success. Ivory soap has a high success rate, as it doesn't have certain chemicals that are discouraging to catfish.


While it's intended for human consumption, this processed meat product is also a favorite for catfish everywhere. The state record in Arkansas was set by a single individual using SPAM as bait, and caught a hopping 116 pound catfish. SPAM has plenty of oils and other fats that will quickly and easily bring catfish to your hook. Carp will also be drawn to it, and that means you'll have to check on your bait often!

9. WD-40 and Preparation H

WD-40 and Preparation H
If you've read this far, you'll notice the theme is that catfish love strong smelling bait. These two household goods go a long way towards enhancing other traditional bait such as hotdogs. While no one is really sure why fish love WD-40 (and using it isn't great for the environment) Preparation H contains some shark liver oil, which may bring catfish swimming around.

10. Spoiled Shrimp

Spoiled Shrimp

This strong smelling bait will spread its pungent aromas around, bringing fish from far and wide. If you have a good relationship with your grocery store, they will happily give it to you to use as bait, or use some shrimp that you forgot about. It might not make your nose particularly happy, but some people agree on leaving it in the sun for several days before using it as bait.

Don't overlook weed walleyes in fall


"The combination of still-green weeds and wind were a baitfish magnet."

by Jim Edlund

Some of early fall's best (and overlooked) walleye fishing can happen in or near weeds. But not just any weeds — they have to be green — as in alive, and still producing oxygen and attracting baitfish. .

"Lake Commandos" TV host Steve Pennaz discovered this first-hand while recently fishing the glacial lakes of northeastern SD.

"We saw numerous boats working the deeper breaks and basin with spreads of cranks on boards. We decided to do something different and look shallower, primarily because we were shooting a multi-species show."

Pennaz and guest Colonel Scott St. Sauver worked shallow flats for the first couple hours of the day with just one fish to show for it.

"Then we hit a narrow stretch of a sunken island with grass on top and breaking quickly into deep water on both sides.  It produced four bites in a short period. We didn't get another bite until we reached a second area that was also narrow, had grass, and broke quickly into deep water. It produced three fish.

"And here's what cool about digital mapping like Garmin's Lake Vu. When I studied the areas that produced fish the similarities stood out, so I looked for other spots like it, including shoreline-connected areas.

"One stretch on the windward side of the lake broke quickly into deep water. We started pitching in that area and found still-green shallow grass — a mix of thin-bladed vegetation, coontail, and what I call 'South Dakota cabbage' in 8-12 feet."

"Pitching down wind or directly into the wind was key. The current formed by the wind was moving the weeds around so casting parallel to the weeds cut down on hanging up.

"We used 10-lb. fluoro leaders tied to 10-lb Nanofil superline also helped slice through the salad and facilitated long-distance casts."

pennaz-baits-weed-walleyes-160930Pennaz' multi-species program involved throwing 2.5" Berkley Power Tubes, small swimbaits, and 4" Gulp! Minnows on 1/8- and 1/4-oz jigs. Soon he and St. Sauver were catching fish, each of the walleyes 20″ or better.

"Wasn't just walleyes, either. We found a number of big crappies and bass in the same weeds. My guess is the combination of still-green weeds and wind were a baitfish magnet, a multi-species buffet."

"The tendency in the post-summer and fall period is to head to deeper water, but don't overlook whatever green weeds you can find — especially after turnover when water temperatures and oxygen levels equalize throughout the entire lake. There are times when walleyes can be found in ultra-shallow water and weeds, even during the day."

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