Minnesota Outdoorsman - Minnesota Fishing and Hunting Reports
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Slab secrets: Part 1

Where to find spring and early-summer slabs, and how to hook 'em

As the days warm, the trees bud and the lilacs bloom, black crappies will be flooding the shallows to spawn, making for some of the fastest and finest fishing of the season.



7Credit: Gord Pyzer

Pre-spawn crappies are always looking for the warmest water they can find. The best places to start your search, then, are the warm-water areas where you know they'll eventually be spawning—green pencil reeds, flooded brush, fallen trees, sprouting beds of cabbage and isolated shallow rock piles.

After you've identified one of these hot spots, move away from it, all the while keeping your eyes glued to the water temperature reading on your sonar screen. At this time of the year, marking a school of crappies on your sonar is a bonus—what you're really looking for is the warmest possible water. You'll usually find it along the north shore of the lake, in the south-facing bays, coves and indentations that warm up first. Even a one- to three-degree temperature difference is important, so concentrate your early-spring crappie search in such places.

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Photo by Bill Lindner
Article by Dave Csanda

With water temperatures in the high 50Fs or low 60 Fs throughout the Upper Midwest, northern pike are on the chew, feeding actively atop shallow weed flats. It's one of the best times of year to get 'em. Big ones, too!

In natural lakes, developing weed flats adjacent to marshy spawning bays are the first places to look. Big pike have likely dispersed to nearby main-lake coontail or cabbage weeds, which are only a few feet high at this time of year, seldom rising much more than halfway to the surface. There's plenty of open space above them to fish a variety of lures; even lures with treble hooks, since snagging weed tops isn't much of a problem unless you select a lure that runs too deep-like a deep-diving crankbait.


Rapala's Saltwater X-Rap SXR-14 is actually a great pike lure, all season long.

Rapala's Saltwater X-Rap SXR-14 is actually a great pike lure, all season long.

Large (5- to 6-inch, give or take a bit), shallow- to mid-depth runners are fine, cast or trolled. So are large, bass-sized spinnerbaits, like 1/2-ounce tandems. You don't need to supersize up to muskie baits this early in the season. The biggest pike tend to respond best to baits of modest proportions.

For casting cranks, use fairly steady, moderate-speed retrieves, interspersed with the occasional pump-and-pause to help trigger following fish. The water's still a bit cool for fast-snapping, dash-and-dart lure motions, so don't overdo it on most days.

For spinnerbaits, predominantly use steady swims, with the occasional pause-and-flutter, allowing your bait to tumble down into visible holes in weedbeds, or down along inside or outside weed edges.

Half- or 3/4-ounce Terminator T-1 Spinnerbaits have a titanium wire frame that stands up to the crushing punishment of pike jaws.

Half- or 3/4-ounce Terminator T-1 Spinnerbaits have a titanium wire frame that stands up to the crushing punishment of pike jaws.

Both cranks and spinnerbaits are easily long-line trolled at this time of year. By their basic nature, spinnerbaits will ride higher, nearer the surface, while lipped crankbaits will dive. You don't need to "bulge" the surface with spinnerbaits, nor scratch weed tops with cranks more than occasionally. Clean, mid-depth trolling runs should be sufficient, particularly on cloudy or windy days when pike typically are most active. Once you locate areas with active pike, you can always stop to cast them with similar lures, and fine-tune your tactics as needed.

As a third option, try tossing a mid-sized (3 1/2- to 4 1/2-inch) wobbling spoon, like a Dardevle, Len Thompson #2 or #4, or a #3 Blue Fox Strobe. These are classic, popular lures for pike fishing in Canadian waters, but it seems that most American anglers just stash them deep in the tackle box once they return south of the border to their home waters. Midwestern pike actually see very little of their flashing, wobbling action, even in heavily fished waters. You can't go wrong with a yellow-orange, Five-of-Diamonds pattern, slowly retrieved with occasional pauses and flutters. In fact, you just might be surprised.

Len Thompson #2

Don't overdo it on spoon size for pike. Not much more than 4 to 4 1/2 inches is usually best.


Angler instinct draws many pike anglers to the deep, outside weed edge at this time of year, which can admittedly be very good for big pike. Most fishermen would be astonished, however, how shallow some of these big gators can be at these comfortable water temperatures. Depending on the day, 8 or 9 feet might be the productive depth-or 5 to 7-and even shallower. Mostly, it depends on the depth and thickness of the best weedgrowth; the presence of baitfish; and the activity level of the pike, which is often based on wind and sunlight conditions. Or, simply on the freaky nature of big pike, which can go anywhere they want, whenever they want, until the water temperatures rise much above 70 F, sending them retreating to deeper, cooler water for the summer months.


Longline Trolling For Spring Walleyes

big night walleye

Photo by Austin Gates

Article by Dave Csanda

With the Wisconsin Walleye Opener in our rear view mirror, and the Minnesota Walleye Opener just ahead, it's perfect time to fish shallow water for walleyes, particularly during the lowlight hours at dusk and dawn, and on into the night. And sometimes, even during the day if sunlight penetration into the water is diminished by rain, wind or cloudy skies.

In many cases, postspawn walleyes will be lingering around or near their spawning sites along rocky shorelines, atop shallow reefs, or adjacent to creek or river mouths entering a lake. Particularly males, which are usually slower to disperse than females.

Female walleyes, by comparison, usually waste no time vacating spawning sites; they're already headed for, or have arrived in, adjacent areas with food and/or cover. Like shallow weedbeds that host spawning perch. Or sandy shorelines that draw spawning shiners or shad.

Where you encounter distinctive spots that draw walleyes to a small area, like a creek mouth or causeway, cast minnow-imitating crankbaits from shore, or while wading.

Use a slow swimming retrieve, imparting the occasional pause, to help trigger strikes from following fish. But don't overdo it on the action while the water's cold. Particularly good are neutrally-buoyant cranks like #12 Rapala Husky Jerks, which hang before a fish's eyes on the pause, infuriating them into striking. Or near-neutrally buoyant Shadow Raps that sink ultra-slowly when paused.

Shadow Rap and Husky Jerk Rapala

Where walleyes spread across larger or deeper areas that are unreachable on foot, simply longline troll a similar crankbait. Put your outboard in gear at low throttle, or use your electric motor to start easing the boat forward. Simultaneously, cast a shallow-running crankbait out behind the boat, letting out a total of 75 to 100 feet behind the boat before engaging your reel. At the right speed, you should be able to feel the lure wiggling or your rod tip pulsating, but not vibrating hard.

Now, simply handhold the rod, slowly trolling along, again imparting the occasional pump-and-pause to help trigger strikes. Or, place the rod in a holder and wait for it to bend, indicating a strike.
Handholding is preferred, however; you can feel the bait ticking weed tops or rocky bottom, adjusting line length to occasionally scratch objects with your lures. Walleyes, however, often strike free-running baits; you don't have to bang bottom or cover like you typically do with bass.

Put your time in, changing depth levels on successive passes offshore, or slowly weaving the boat in S-shaped patterns to try different depths. Five to about 12 feet should be about right, depending on the lake.

Your first bite often indicates an area, depth or type of bottom content or cover that attracts bait and walleyes. Net your fish, then circle back with a few additional trolling passes to see if more are present. If so, you have the option to stop trolling and start casting, which is less likely to spook fish than repeated trolling passes through shallow water.

Walleye Release Boatside


Lake Winnibigoshish: Walleyes Through The Seasons


Covering roughly 57,000 surface acres and parts of Cass and Itasca counties, Minnesota's Lake Winnibigoshish is among the state's top walleye-fishing destinations.

A median depth of 15 feet, with spots that drop to 60-plus feet, as well as vast connecting waters that provide exceptional spawning habitat, combine to form an ideal environment in which walleyes can reproduce, feed and grow.

Public boat-launching facilities are scattered around the lake, making access from any direction relatively simple; and because Winnibigoshish and its connecting waters are so productive and popular, a special 18- to 23-inch protected slot limit was established to preserve this vital resource. One fish over 23 inches may be included in the daily bag limit.

Team Northland member Randy Erola grew up fishing Big Winnie and surrounding lakes and has operated Remington Fishing Guide Service for 23 years. A jig-and-minnow is his preferred set-up in spring, early-summer and fall, while the dog days typically find him trolling 'crawler harnesses along shoreline flats.

1. Walleyes fresh off their spawning areas in the spring are looking for minnows and perch in the shallows. Erola advises pitching a 1/8-ounce RZ or Fire-Ball® Jig (Firetiger and Parrot are his go-to patterns), tipped with a shiner minnow in 5 to 9 feet of water. Try the areas on either side of The Gap from Big Cut Foot Sioux Lake, along the shoreline from Pigeon River to Third River, as well as the areas around Mallard and Ravens points. The shallows from Tamarack Point to the Winni Dam can produce fish until about mid-June.

2. A weedline bite becomes more established around the beginning of July. Erola typically trolls nightcrawlers on Northland Rainbow Spinner Harnesses weighted with a ½- to 1-ounce in-line sinker, depending on water depth. Hammered Gold Rainbow or Nickle Rainbow blades are the best options, he says. Try cruising weedlines and breaklines in the 11- to 15-foot range along any shoreline with an incoming wind. Ravens and Mallard points and Muskie Bay can be particularly productive if wind conditions are right.



3. Flats along the shoreline, and farther out from the weedline, heat up in the dead of summer—July and August. Again the areas around Ravens Point and from Stoney Point to the Pigeon River, as well as Muskie Bay are good places to start, but don't hesitate to explore similar areas around the lakeshore.

4. Jig-and-minnow combos rule from mid-September to ice-up. Try fishing an RZ or Fire-Ball® Jig tipped with a redtail chub around Ravens and Stony points, Muskie Bay, or wherever you find a good weedline in the 9- to 10-foot range. Parrot, Firetiger and Glo Watermelon are Erola's favorites this time of year.


Lake map courtesy of Navionics. For more information, visit www.navionics.com



by In-Fisherman 

As spring evolves into summer, river walleyes typically disperse downstream and break up into small groups, setting up temporary residences near current-breaking objects or structures. Once water levels drop low enough, flooded shoreline cover becomes too shallow to attract fish. Now walleyes have no choice but to move toward the center of the river or to holes formed at bends. Current becomes moderate, but it remains a primary moving force in the lives of gamefish and baitfish—something to be dealt with every moment of every day. As water levels drop, then, current-deflecting structures projecting into the river become prime summer walleye locations.

In adult or mature rivers, long shallow runs typically become devoid of walleyes because fish concentrate near deeper holes. Thus even small rivers with weak walleye populations may offer fair summer concentrations of fish.

Aggressive walleyes tend to lie near distinctive current breaks like rock points or along the lips of holes, rather than in basins, which appear to be used chiefly as resting or cold front locations. Look for visual current seams, eddies, or other distinctive interruptions in flows. Without the threat of freezing, currrent-breaking structures that drop into as little as 4-5 feet of water may hold plenty of walleyes in summer.

On larger middle-aged rivers, even straight stretches may be deep enough to hold walleyes in summer, provided that distinctive current breaks are present. The basins of deep holes near river bends may not attract many fish until fall. Natural rock points and wing dams become primary summer walleye locations almost everywhere they occur.

Fishing a big river like the Mississippi during summer is a pleasure. The hordes of fishermen who descend on the river for the spring walleye run are long gone; like walleyes, spring also concentrates fishermen. During summer, fishing pressure becomes lighter and more spread out. You'll catch plenty of walleyes and still have time to pull off the river at noon for a cup of coffee and a sandwich, and you'll be able to find a cozy restaurant to enjoy a traditional riverside fish fry in the evening, too.

During 1982 and 1983, Iowa Department of Natural Resources biologist John Pitlo and co-workers radio tagged and followed walleyes in Pool 13 of the Mississippi River. Their conclusions, coupled with our fishing experience on many large rivers during summer (and fall), provide a clear picture of where walleyes are, based on available habitat and water conditions.

Most larger river pools contain a tailwater area, a main channel, main channel border areas, side channels, river lakes, and ponds. Pitlo compared the time that radio-tagged walleyes spent in specific habitats to the amount of each habitat type in Pool 13. Seventy-five percent of Pitlo's walleye observations occurred in about 25% of the available habitat.

"To be more specific," Pitlo said, "wing dam habitat makes up only about 5% of the habitat available in Pool 13, but it accounted for 32% of our observations. Flowing side channels make up about 15% of the habitat and accounted for 23% of our observations, and main channel border areas make up about 5% of the habitat and accounted for 20% of our observations."

In essence, wing and closing dam structures are the principal walleye areas under normal pool (water level) conditions during summer and fall. Main channel border habitat is most important when the water level is low in winter.

As the amount of water discharged from Lock and Dam 12 increased, walleyes' use of wing dams decreased. Under high water conditions, in other words, walleyes vacate wing dams for side channel habitat, in which they are protected from heavy current. When the water drops, they move back to wing dams.

The Best Wing And Closing Dams

Wing Dams

Some habitat areas, in this case certain wing and closing dams, are better fish attractors. The two most important physical characteristics affecting walleyes' use of wing and closing dams are the depth over each structure and the location of the structure in relation to the river's meandering channel.

Water depth is greater around structures located on outside river bends and less on inside bends; so is the current velocity over the top of those structures. Some of the volume is directed toward the main channel, while the remaining volume increases in velocity in order to pass through the restriction. Current velocity almost doubles over the top of the structure compared to velocities upstream and downstream. Higher current velocity increases scouring action and results in deeper scour holes below wing and closing dams, especially near structures located on outside river bends.

The quality and diversity of habitat appear to be enhanced by dams with shallow water depth over the top and deep scour holes below them. Many bait- and gamefish species gather around structures that possess those characteristics. Current velocity decreases with increase in depth, so deeper scour holes make better resting spots. This, plus the diversity of fish life, probably makes wing dams with these traits better areas for walleyes.

Feeding Versus Resting Walleyes

The deep scour holes behind wing and closing dams make good resting spots for walleyes, but fish don't usually feed there. During summer and fall, feeding walleyes almost always position themselves at the base, just up the face, or on top of wing or closing dams.

Wing and closing dams are best located by (1) consulting a map of a river pool, (2) looking for marker cans that occasionally mark main channel ends of dams, or (3) watching for telltale signs of surface disturbance caused by water being forced over the top of dams.

Wind blowing against current sets up distinct wave lines that mark the tops of dams. Position your boat from 50 to 100 feet upcurrent from such wave lines, stay there, and you're in proper position.

If wind is blowing with current, you need to create your own wave line by motoring along the backside of the dam with your boat. It's amazing, but one run usually sets up a distinct line that can last for 10 minutes.

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