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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.



Posted in Joel Nelson

We’re in an August lull of sorts right now, and that kind of fishing can certainly extend into September depending on weather. Still, I’m given a bit of hope by the cooler nights and drier days. That fall-like air is always an indicator of better angling, or at least better fishing yet to come. On the other side of the spectrum, the dreaded late-summer heat spells that so many favor can simply kill bites that are otherwise keyed up and ready to go.


Right now, water temperatures are at their peak and fish are pretty satisfied. It takes a precision presentation with several factors in your favor to make them eat. Be it wind, early or late feeding windows, or maybe just the proper imitation of whatever they’re preferring at the moment, you have to do a lot “right” to make things happen during this time of year.


Contrast that to the fishing we’ll see in October, maybe hopefully even September. Baitfish will be migrating in preparation for winter, while cooling temps allow fish to be comfortable in more depth zones, especially shallow. Those seasonal changes will trigger more aggressive behavior, and get fish going on a variety of patterns in many places throughout any system. In other words, you won’t have to be doing as many things “right” to get fish to eat then.


Still, fish need to eat and they’re out there to catch during this time period, it’s just easier to do so when the weather more resembles fall than summer. Think of cooler nights that give way to calm mornings, and wind systems out of the northwest that bring such air and stir up the bottom end of the food chain. On a recent trip for gills and crappies, we found aggressive schools of quality sunfish placed exactly where you’d expect a walleye. We used some side imaging to follow a great rock outcropping of only the biggest and greatest concentrations of boulders. That rockpile happened to be at the tip of a main-lake point, and even better, it was getting ample wind from the Northwest. Perfect for Minnesota’s state fish, but also some of the biggest bluegills in the system.

Live bait is a good option during this time period, as some extra scent and realism makes for easier fooling of especially panfish and walleyes. That doesn’t mean that fish won’t eat artificials now however, as the other direct from lifelike and slow, is loud and proud, with the latter being especially effective during those bite windows to elicit reaction strikes. Crankbaits and big plastics with ample vibration are great options during this time period, provided you’re not throwing them during the heat of the day.


Rivers are another prime time opportunity right now, no matter the weather. As lower flows settle out towards fall, fish in small rivers especially start to lose some underwater real estate. That puts them in more predictable locations at the bottom end of runs where the only deep water of the river exists. Smallies, walleyes, and catfish will all pile into these pools, usually still in different portions of it, but they’re pretty willing to eat what comes by. They too are more aggressive in cool stretches as the hottest part of summer goes on.


Weather in general is a tricky deal for anglers. The best days of course are any days you can go out and fish, but if you’ve got your pick, consider stable weather above all else. Big swings in temperature, either direction aren’t exactly favorable to the bite. That said, lasting changes of 3-5 days or even more are the kinds of weather you’re looking for. In this case, that would start with a cold front that ushers in drier and cooler air to stay. The first day or two may be challenging, but the fishing will get better moving into the end of that system, usually just before some southerly winds bring heat back into the equation. Avoid those stretches, especially moving deeper into the fall, as they may be the most comfortable yet least productive.


Big thunderstorms are less common during this time period, and usually when they exist, follow the hot weather that’s been detrimental to fishing, so your pre-frontal conditions are less key. For that reason, I’m not as glued to the barometer this time of year as I am so many other times. I still will avoid spiking high pressure fronts, cool or warm, as again, I’m looking for stability more than anything.


Another key for me during this time of year is perch, crappies, and gills, really whatever is willing to cooperate. I’m of the opinion that too many anglers fish for predator species all year like it was early June. Instead of catching these fish at will, the way the angler wants to catch them, they could focus on all kinds of other species in different places that bend a rod as well. I find each of those species will often play ball when others won’t, extending the summer fun well into fall.


No matter what you chase or where you do it, it’s important to get out when you have time. If that’s 1pm on a hot September Saturday, it still sure beats house chores or work. For those with some flexibility and willingness to watch the weather, you’ll be rewarded with even faster fishing by coordinating your calendar with the weather-man’s.

Posted in 


Funky fish: Gar garners protections from Minnesota lawmakers

by Associated Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. — One of Minnesota’s oddest, perhaps coolest, and definitely historically underappreciated fish – the gar – is about to get some love.

The long, slender, toothy and prehistoric-looking fish will, for the first time ever in the state, be protected in ways similar to other gamefish, the result of a bit of an outcry on social media following a series of mass killings that some saw as wantonly wasteful. In a legislature divided starkly along partisan lines, Minnesota’s gar species found bipartisan support.

Officials say they aren’t sure exactly what restrictions they’ll place on catching and killing gar, but the move carries a growing awareness of changing attitudes toward native fish that humbly live on the opposite end of the piscatorial spectrum from celebrated fish like walleye and bass, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported.

The much-larger environment and natural resources bill approved by both the House and Senate and contains one brief reference to gar: “The commissioner must annually establish daily and possession limits for gar.”

That simple sentence has gar advocates – and yes, there are a few _ celebrating.

“This is a fantastic move for conservation of these underappreciated species,” said Solomon David, an assistant professor of biological sciences at Nicholls State University in Louisiana. More on point: David is a gar researcher and ambassador, having done his dissertation on gars of the Great Lakes region, and is the principal investigator at the university’s Gar Lab.

“Most states don’t have anything for gar,” he said.

It’s true. Most states, including Minnesota, consider any gar, which are native to North America, as a “rough fish” with no limits for how many you can kill, of any size, any time of year. It’s a legacy of the ignorance of European-centric thinking when America was settled and at various times has applied to native trout and muskellunge – vaunted species today.

Today’s Minnesota rough fish include suckers, bowfin, the native carp-looking (but not a carp) buffalo, and freshwater drum, as well as gars. Such fish have virtually zero protection from being killed, be it by hook and line, archery or pitchfork-looking spears through the ice.

Two species of gars (some say “gar” is the plural, and the rules have waivered) are native to Minnesota, the longnose gar and shortnose gar. They slide along the backwaters of the large river systems and for years haven’t gained much attention. Anglers occasionally catch them, but their bony mouths tend to resist hooks. A small subculture of fly anglers target them with essentially tassels of yarn that get tangled in their teeth.

The larger of the two, the longnose, can live for up to 40 years; the official state record, caught in the St. Croix River in Washington County, measured an impressive 53 inches, weighing in at a slender 16 pounds, 12 ounces.

Brad Parsons, director of fisheries for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, acknowledges the agency isn’t exactly sure how healthy gar populations are in the state.

“We assume so, but we honestly don’t know,” Parsons said. Still, the idea of any native fish being regulated as if it has no value has always irked Parsons, a veteran fisheries biologist who spent decades studying the tapestry of native fishes in the upper Mississippi River in Minnesota.

“These are really cool fish,” he said. “At the DNR’s pond at the State Fair, it’s the paddlefish and longnose gar that get the most attention.”

When he took over the DNR’s Fisheries Division several years ago, he began a slow campaign to change things. This year’s fishing regulations contains a half-page section urging anglers to show rough fish some respect.

The eelpout, or burbot, recently was taken off the rough fish list and declared a game fish, much to Parsons’ pleasure.

But the DNR had nothing to do with starting the new gar protections.

That began as a backlash to a video posted to YouTube by some Minnesota ice fishermen who were spearing gar through large holes in the ice _ a legal pastime called “darkhouse spearing” that is generally practiced for northern pike, but also legal for rough fish and harmful invasive species.

The video, which has since been removed from YouTube, showed 82 dead gar laid across the ice. The spearers said modern technology, including sonar, helped them target the fish. The incident caused an outcry _ especially because law enforcement officials determined that the massacre was legal because the fish were not literally discarded, but used in some fashion, likely donated for fertilizer, as is done with non-native common carp.

Similar incidents have garnered backlash elsewhere, including Oklahoma bowfishermen killing and throwing overboard more than 1,000 gar in one outing. It’s the flip side of publicly posting wildlife exploits on publicly viewable websites.

David has been one of those raising a stink.

“These are native apex predators that serve a great role in our ecosystem,” he said in a recent interview. “Instead of of pitching them in a field and justifying it as fertilizer, we should view these fish in the context of other predators.”

For example, David said that, while this hasn’t been established, it’s possible that gar could prove valuable in controlling invasive carp marching up the Mississippi River because gar often favor shallow backwaters, even when oxygen is low, and could be the only predator of young carp in such waters.

The situation caught the attention of some lawmakers and Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn, DFL-Roseville, introduced the measure.

Initially, several Democratic lawmakers wanted to take it further, classifying gar as a gamefish, but that idea lacked enough Republican support to advance. The comprise that resulted will require that the DNR set daily and possession limits for gars – a move that, practically speaking, allows them to be as protected as game fish.

Parsons said even though the DNR had nothing to do with the initiative, the DNR is more than happy to do that. He said the next task is to talk with researchers, gar anglers and other interested parties to try to figure out what those limits should be.

“We really haven’t gotten into it yet,” Parsons said. “I would doubt there would be closed seasons, but we absolutely could see some limits.”


Wisconsin pioneer remembered amid women’s fly-fishing boom

by Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. — Traditionally seen as a man’s sport, fly-fishing has grown in popularity among women and girls over the past few years, and women are its largest growing demographic.

Jen Ripple, editor-in-chief of DUN Magazine, an international women’s fly-fishing magazine, said that could be for several reasons, but particularly because the sport has become much more affordable and women are encouraged by seeing each other try it.

“If they see someone that is just an everyday woman who has picked up a fly rod and had a great time … that’s something women look at and say, ‘Hey, maybe this is an activity that I can do with my friends with my family,'” she said.

“The difference is that in a conventional fishing state, you are using a lure that is weighted,” said Ripple, a professional fly angler and fly-fishing educator. “Our flies don’t weight anything, so the way that we get our fly to our target is through a weighted line.”

Despite being male-dominated, fly-fishing has a rich history of involving women, Wisconsin Public Radio reported.

Carrie Frost was a female fly angler and pioneer who used her experience in fly-fishing to establish her own business that employed mostly women in Stevens Point.

Ripple said Frost, who was born in 1868, found success in part because of her focus on the local environment. She made flies with local feathers and furs to mimic local insects. At the time, flies were brought in primarily from Europe.

“She also tied flies that look like the bugs that were in her area,” Ripple said. “And I think that’s a super important part because flies in the English waters did not always compare in color and size to what she was seeing in Wisconsin.”

But even prior to Frost, as far back as the 15th century, some historians believe the first book about fly-fishing was written by a nun born of nobility, Dame Juliana Berners, who wrote “Treatyse of fysshynge wyth an Angle” or “Treatise of Fishing with an Angle,” that touched on everything from dying horse hair for different water conditions to conservatism.

Although she’s from a family of anglers, Ripple didn’t fall in love with the sport right away. It took her signing up for a fly tying class in Michigan before it really became a passion.

Ripple said the sport is also accessible to young children, pointing to Maxine McCormick, a teenager who many believe to be the best caster in the world.

“Fly-fishing has absolutely nothing to do with strength, which makes it perfect for young and old women and men alike,” she said.

And, she said for fathers and male caregivers, it’s important to pay attention to cues from their children, and especially daughters, showing interest in the sport.

“I think a lot of fathers overlook the fact that their daughters might want to try this,” she said.


Minnesota 112-year-old bigmouth buffalo oldest age-validated freshwater fish

By Outdoors News Staff

A 112-year old bigmouth buffalo from Minnesota blew maximum age estimates for the species out of the water, so much so that the bigmouth buffalo became the oldest age-validated freshwater fish.

The supercentenarian fish was collected as part of a North Dakota State University study, and more than quadrupled a previous maximum age estimate of 26 years. That estimate was based on an Oklahoma State University analysis of six bigmouth buffalo collected in the Keystone Reservoir near Sand Springs in 1998. The OSU team shared its findings in a paper titled “New Maximum Age of Bigmouth Buffalo,” but the authors also included their belief that many bigmouth buffalo populations may have fish older than 20 years, the maximum age estimate prior to their study.

In this more recent study, the North Dakota State University team collected and aged 386 bigmouth buffalo from Minnesota waters from 2016 – 2018. Ages of those fish, including the 112-year old individual, were determined by a count of the annual growth bands on one of the fish’s three pairs of otoliths, or earstones. In addition, 28 otolith samples were used to test whether the otolith annulus counts were accurate. This was done via bomb radiocarbon dating, a particular type of carbon-14 dating. The presumed otolith annulus counts were indeed thoroughly accurate, as they were validated not only cross-sectionally among individuals, but also longitudinally within individuals. The five oldest fish in the study were all more than 100 years old, and many of the populations studied are dominated by fish more than 80 years old.

The study’s authors also had a hunch that bigmouth buffalo develop black and orange markings as they age. So, in addition to examining the fish’s earstones, the North Dakota State University team also looked at individual fish’s body markings to see if pigmentation could give clues about the fish’s age. Of the study’s fish, the markings were almost never found on fish younger than 32, yet were almost always present on fish older than 45. Black markings are thought to be obtained from sun exposure over time, and orange spots are thought to result from the fish’s diet, both environmental factors that can be influenced by water quality.

Finally, the North Dakota State University team estimated the reproductive maturity of bigmouth buffalo. Forty-four of the study’s fish were examined for this objective; 14 were male while 30 were female. The onset of sexual maturity was estimated at 5 – 6 years for males and 8 – 9 years for females, but may have been underestimated for females. This finding contradicts previous studies of the species that indicated bigmouth buffalo may reach maturity as early as the first year of growth.

Not only does this study shatter our perceptions of bigmouth buffalo longevity, it also shows that the fish mature at a later age than previously thought, and suggests that age classes may not reproduce each year. Another study in North Dakota confirmed that bigmouth buffalo exhibit what is called “episodic” or irregular recruitment, and that it is related to environmental conditions. The fish have occasional years of spawning success separated by periods of poor reproduction for a decade or more. They also found that in North Dakota, the onset of sexual maturity is 6 years for males and 10 years for females. As a large-bodied and long-lived species with few natural predators, this slow-paced life history strategy is considered a suitable one. The new life history information on bigmouth buffalo, and similar data specific to Oklahoma, can help biologists better understand and collect further data to manage this species, and other species like it, in Oklahoma.

2019 was a big year for buffalo news. Three weeks before the North Dakota State University study was published in late May 2019, an Oklahoma angler caught his own record-breaking buffalo. Hugh M. Newman caught a 66-pound female smallmouth buffalo from Broken Bow Reservoir. This new Oklahoma record was estimated to be 62 years old, and is thought to be the oldest reported smallmouth buffalo.

— The Fishing Wire

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