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Finish the laker season in style with precision trolling

By Tim Lesmeister

I was never much of a troller until I began to spend my summers on Madeline Island on Lake Superior. I still love to cast swim baits to the smallmouth bass in Chequamegon Bay. It doesn’t get more fun than feeling the bite of a huge northern pike that grabbed the jig you were snapping through a big bed of cabbage. But if you want to catch the lake trout, salmon, and brown trout, you better learn to troll.

My son Brent is actually my model when it comes to perfecting the art of precision trolling. He is the master. Brent is laser-focused on keeping the downrigger balls at the perfect depth, which for lake trout is generally a foot off the bottom. For suspended salmon and brown, he keeps the lure just a foot above them.

This often means constant adjustment, which I rarely see other anglers do. I’ve been out on many a boat where the downrigger balls were sent down to a depth that was “close” to the bottom, but no bites were generated because the lures, because they were not close enough. With Brent manning the downriggers we always have the lures in the zone.

A recent example happened just a few days before the season was closed early in the region around the Apostle Islands. We began by trolling the north side of Madeline Island. We started in 90 feet, worked out into 100 feet, eventually straining depths out to 140 feet without a bite and seeing nothing on the sonar. “Let’s move into 65 feet of water,” Brent said. I cautioned that the bottom is pretty erratic in that region, but Brent insisted we try it.

My son stayed on the downriggers while I called out the depths, and we had a limit of nice lakers in less than an hour.

Lures make a huge difference and if something is not working it comes off in 20 minutes. When we discovered the lakers on “The Flats” were not hitting spoons this past summer, Brent tied on a narrow, white crankbait to mimic the smelt he figured they were foraging on, and on another rod he used a small spoon for a dodger in front of a spin-and-glow he tied onto an 18-inch leader behind the spoon. It took us 90 minutes to find the fish, but once we did we had a limit fast.

His leaders are fluorocarbon. His search areas are tight quadrants that get covered by tightly choreographed trolling passes. The lures get switched out until the right one is discovered and that becomes the dominant presentation. The balls are constantly monitored to stay in The Zone. All of this results in a cooler full of fish.

Brent’s mother, Rae, my wife of almost 50 years, also has been bit by the trolling bug. Whenever Brent and I plan a trip we always take our good-luck charm along. It seems like every time Rae starts looking up new recipes to prepare lake trout a fish pops the lure off the ball. Brent has now been relegated to the job of net man as Rae is the designated reeler. Trolling with downriggers after all, is much more successful as a team sport.

For the rest of the summer now I’ll be heading into the Chequamegon Bay to do some casting for bass and pike. The Wisconsin DNR closed the lake trout season early this year on August 15th in the Apostle Islands region (WI-2) of Lake Superior . You can still hunt them in most of Lake Superior’s waters until the end of September so add some precision to your trolling and finish out the 2021 season in style.

On the south end...  A fun week of walleye fishing as the water temps cool to the low 60's and fall colors have started.  The walleye are transitioning to fall locations.  Three different methods used to catch walleyes this week.  Drifting spinners, trolling crankbaits and anchored up and jigging with a minnow, which is becoming more effective each week. 

Walleyes setting up across the south shore and with more shiners running, this trend will continue.  Jigging with a frozen shiner or live fathead has really started to be effective.  Give it 30-40 minutes and set up in a different spot if there is no action. 

Congrats to all MN Tournament Trail tournament anglers this past week.  The winning team had a 7.52 lb avg per walleye for 10 fish.  There are a lot of big walleyes in Lake of the Woods right now.

Daily limit is a combined limit of six walleyes and saugers (with up to 4 being walleyes).   Don't forget the slot, 19.5" - 28" must be returned with one allowed over 28" per day. 

Fall is an excellent time to fish walleyes.  If you like the jig bite, anchor up and jig over the side of the boat for a very enjoyable and typically memorable day.

Pike are active and most are caught but unsuspecting walleye anglers.  The feedbag is definitely on. 

On the Rainy River...   Emerald shiners continue to run in the Rainy River.  Some good runs so far, good angler reports and nice walleyes being caught.  Fall on the river is nice as a small boat will work just fine.

Most walleye anglers on the river are anchoring up along an edge or in a hole with a jig and minnow.  There are 42 miles of navigable Rainy River from Wheeler's Point through Baudette to Birchdale with lots of boat ramps. 

Sturgeon activity has picked up as well with good fall reports.

Up at the NW Angle... 

Excellent fishing continues on both sides of the border.  In U.S. waters, deep mud of Little Traverse Bay continues producing walleyes in 24 - 31 feet.  Gold, white and orange spinners with a crawler or a minnow continue to be effective.  As water cools, minnows on some days are outfising crawlers. 

Areas with structure continue to hold fish.  18 - 27 feet are good starting points.  Jig and a minnow is the goto on structure and neck down areas.

Pike and muskie anglers are locating fish on weedy points using double blade spinners and topwater.  A lot of fish are caught on figure eight.

Travel to and from the Angle via vehicle through the 40 miles of Canada is open.  Boating into Canadian waters is now open.  Please note, no live, frozen or dead bait allowed into Canada from the U.S.  The various plastics on a jig are working well.  Contact a NW Angle resort for details.

Charter boat transport and float planes are still available through the LOW Passenger Service and Lake Country Air. 

A complete list of lodging and fishing packages around LOW, the NW Angle, Baudette and the Rainy River at

The Pierre area is having one of the busiest and best fishing years that we have had for many years. The fishing on Sharpe around Pierre is limits for just about everybody every day and real nice fish. An 18 inch average walleye is not uncommon along with numerous over 20 to 28 inch fish being caught. Oahe is even better for those fishermen that know the lake and far less crowded. I have been fishing both lakes and have had limits of fish by noon every day for all my customers on both lakes. The bite on Sharpe around Pierre is mostly 10 fow or less and I have been using propeller blades bouncer/  nightcrawlers. I have found one I like better than all of them. It is a propeller blade called Loves and it i sold by Bill Love(Wyoming) available in Pierre at Dakota Mart. This blade turns better in slow speeds than any I have used. Lots of presentations are working on Sharpe from bouncer minnows and plug pulling all putting limits in the boat. Things get harder if weather muddies up the water though so watch for that . Oahe fish are coming up into shallower water in many areas making fishing just excellent on the big lake also. Knowledge of the lake however is more important as not all areas are easy to get limits. I have fished the big lake more lately and mixed bags(Northern smallmouth Catfish White bass) are more common so if you want to see less boats and catch different species it can be a very good choice. On Oahe I am using spinner crawler/bouncer rigs fishing in around 20 fow but here many presentations are working just like on Sharpe. Be prepared to see plenty of other boats/fishermen especially on Sharpe around Pierre. The Canada border closing, Covid escape, an affluent baby boomer generation have all contributed to Oahe and Sharpe being a busy place. Busy boat ramps; busy motel resorts; and very busy community spots are normal especially on weekends. I have always tried to fish my customers away from crowed areas and still do but it is becoming harder to do with the amount of traffic around now. Fortunately we have a great fishery so lots of fish and lots of water for everyone. Once again I would like to thank all of my both repeat and new customer for your business and the great times we all had.  In closing I would like to mention the availability of lots of really good guides and resorts/motels in the Pierre area. Many of the guide boats we see this time of the year are from Chamberlin . Lots of good guides there two but you can avoid a 180 mile round trip drive  every day just to catch a walleye by trying the Pierre area. It can get you a couple of hours extra sleep daily an also you have Oahe available to fish. We have the fish here so why not just come here It makes for a lot easier trip and the State Capitol area would love to have you. Lots of other family things are available here also.



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