Minnesota Outdoorsman - Minnesota Fishing and Hunting Reports
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BOTTOM BOUNCER BASICS FOR WALLEYE



By Jason Mitchell


In both North and South Dakota, bottom bouncer rigs have been catching walleye on the Missouri River reservoirs for an awfully long time.  The popularity of bottom bouncers however has expanded far and wide.  Come mid-summer, bottom bouncers are probably my go to presentation to catch walleyes day in and day out on many different fisheries.  The reason bottom bouncers are so effective is the simple versatility.  You can speed up to cover water at over two miles per hour with a bottom bouncer.  You can also slow down at a mile per hour or less.  You can fish deep water or shallow.  You can run plain snells and live bait.  You can run half crawler Slow Death style hooks that have become so popular over the last decade.  You can run spinner harnesses with blades.

All these options enable the angler to fish slow or fast, with subtle or vibration with flash.  You can fish shallow or deep.  Through this entire spectrum, bottom bouncers are forgiving in that you can slide out into deeper water or move up shallow and keep your presentation near the bottom if need be.  You can also simply put the rod in the rod holder and the rod simply loads up with a fish.  Bottom bouncers are so simple to use and so effective.  I have often joked that bottom bouncers are a guide’s best friend because you can catch a lot of walleye with a bottom bouncer regardless of experience or feel.  Last, bottom bouncers are simply fun.  Feeling a hard strike on a bottom bouncer and setting the hook is right up with catching a fish on a jig.

Bottom bouncers can also help you really learn what you are fishing.  Great tools for really fine-tuning bottom transitions and feeling rock, gravel, etc. which ultimately greatly aids your boat control and understanding of a location, the wire on a bottom bouncer transmits so much valuable information.

As a rule of thumb, we recommend an ounce of weight for every ten feet of water.  Choosing the right weight is important so that you can keep the bottom bouncer along the bottom upright and close to the boat.  There are exceptions of course, there are times when we will run lighter bottom bouncers behind the boat at faster speeds particularly along shallow flats but this is the basic starting point.  An ounce for every ten feet of water will enable you to easily fish the bottom bouncer below the boat at about a forty-five-degree angle.  This keeps your presentation close to what you are seeing on your electronics.  As you change depths, you can always let out more line or pick up line.  Usually, if there is any doubt, error on the side of heavy because heavier bottom bouncers are much more forgiving with not only depth but speed.  Often, we simply catch more fish with bottom bouncers by simply speeding up to cover water to find active fish and triggering fish.

Since I do like to run bottom bouncers at faster speeds, I am also a big believer in using heavier snells.  This is not a case for finesse.  If I must fish slow with light line, I often prefer to slip bobber or live bait rig.  Heavier snells hold up to faster speeds so much better.  If your snell or harness is getting twisted, you are using too light of poundage on your snell.  I find that fourteen or even twenty-pound snells track behind the bottom bouncer much better at the faster speeds and enable you to use speed to find and trigger fish.  Snell length can really vary.  Most spinners are tied with a five to six-foot snell but I often prefer to use a shorter three-foot snell when fishing around weeds or using slow death style hooks.  Of course, there are exceptions.  Long eight to twelve-foot snells can be deadly in clear water or over a real soft bottom.  When dealing with clear water or high numbers of incidental pike, I often tie snells with Fluorocarbon and offset the sinking characteristics of fluorocarbon by using a float in the snell or spinner harness.

Perhaps one of the hottest trends we are seeing in our travels is the popularity of subtle harnesses that include small metal props, mylar blades like Mack Blades or plastic props like Northland Fishing Tackle Butterfly and Wingnut Blades.  These blade options are more subtle than a traditional metal spinner blade and turn at much slower speeds which is deadly whenever you must turn the boat a lot to stay on structure.

In clear water, using a simple plain snell is extremely deadly and is underrated at times.  From the basic simple snell that has a single hook, you can experiment by adding a single bead or a handful of beads and a float.  The next step with vibration is the prop options described above and of course classic spinner harness rigs are a solid option when more vibration and flash is needed.  I personally like to lean heavily on spinner harnesses whenever the water is dirty or stained either from wind, water color or algae blooms.  Spinner harnesses can also shine when the fish are extremely aggressive as a turning blade can be seen and felt from much further away.  On most inland lakes, deep cup Colorado blades have long been the most popular and offer the most thump or vibration at the slowest speeds.  Indiana blades shine at slightly faster speeds of over a mile and a half per hour and willow leaf blades shine over open water and fast speeds but put off noticeably less vibration.

As water temperatures climb through the summer, speed is your biggest trigger especially when using bottom bouncers and snells.  If we are missing fish, we often find that we improve our batting average by simply speeding up.  There is often no need to drop the rod back or feed line, simply drag the fish and let them choke up on the bait.  When the water temperatures are over seventy degrees, we often see the fish grab on to the bait and as the bait keeps moving, the fish simply do not want the bait to get out of their mouth.  When the rod loads from a fish, simply drag the fish until the rod starts to load even more and as you feel the fish shake, set the hook with a sweep of the rod or use the momentum of the boat to hook the fish… this is why a rod holder will often out fish you holding the rod in the summer when you are using bottom bouncers.

Bottom bouncers and spinner harnesses can be run with no live bait as well which can be extremely deadly at times.  Gulp! crawlers and minnows or traditional soft plastic fluke and worm profiles are much more durable than live bait and really shine around weeds or small nuisance fish.  I often find that I can catch bigger walleye by ditching the live bait options and using soft plastics.  One of my favorite tricks for improving the size of walleye I catch with harnesses is using soft plastic or Gulp! behind a harness and hooking the soft bait with a two hook harness so the bait is warped or curved like a banana.  These curved soft baits zig zag and swim through the water at over a mile and a half per hour and really seem to trigger the larger fish and the added movement seems to keep the smaller fish from being able to get their mouths around the bait.

For rods and reels, I prefer to use a baitcasting set up.  I personally like to use a stiffer seven-foot medium heavy bait casting rod as the stiffer rod loads up and pops the bottom bouncer through rocks and snags much better especially if you have the rods in the rod holders.  Stiffer rods are also needed to hook up fish at slower speeds below the boat.  Scheels currently has a perfect bottom bouncer rod in their Walleye Series that is a seven-foot casting rod in a medium heavy action.  For holding the rod, nothing beats a good baitcasting reel with a flipping switch which are getting harder to find.  Quantum still makes a reel with a flipping switch called the Accurist PT.  For running bottom bouncers in rod holders or when guiding, Scheels has an exclusive low-profile line counter reel that is incredible for keeping bottom bouncing simple and easy.

Bottom bouncer rigs are so incredibly effective on so many fisheries right now.  In fact, if I could only use one presentation alone during the month of July, it would be hard to beat a bottom bouncer teamed up with either a spinner harness or some type of rig.  You can slow down a bottom bouncer and fish a plain snell with live bait for example if the bite gets tough after a front or in the middle of the day when there is no wind.  You can trigger fish with speed and harnesses or go with more subtle hybrid rigs like Butterfly Blades and cover a lot of water on the other end of the spectrum.  Bottom bouncers shine around rock, gravel and sand.  Bottom bouncers are one of my favorite presentations for running weed line edges as the bottom bouncer serves as a large weed guard collecting a lot of the weeds while the harness runs clean behind.  There are few tools that will help you catch more walleye right now under so many different conditions.

 

Photo Caption

Bottom bouncers are an incredibly effective tool for catching walleye on a wide variety of natural lakes and reservoirs come midsummer.  As water temperatures climb, don’t hesitate to use speed to cover water to find scattered fish and also use speed to trigger fish.

Often called a guide’s best friend.  If you ever need to take kids, family members or friends out fishing that haven’t necessarily done a lot of walleye fishing, bottom bouncers are very user friendly.  Picture is the author Jason Mitchell with his oldest son Brennen Mitchell with Brennen’s largest walleye from the summer of 2019.

Prop rigs like Northland Fishing Tackle’s Butterfly Blade are simply deadly as they turn at much slower speeds than traditional spinner blades which keeps the presentation off the bottom and out of snags particularly when you have to turn the boat a lot to stay on tight structure.

 

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HOW DEEP IS TOO DEEP


By Joel Nelson

Walleyes spend the better part of their summer season in deep water.  Provided there’s enough oxygen at depth, they happily enjoy cooler water temperatures and the bevy of bugs and other bait that congregate on deep structure.  Older fish in certain lakes, learn to key in on larger bait stock.  That could mean ciscoes and whitefish, or suckers and even bullheads or rough fish depending on where you’re fishing.  That still puts them deep, maybe coming up occasionally to feed before sinking back down.

Depth however is a relative term, depending on the lake you’re fishing.  On Minnesota’s Upper Red Lake, 10 feet of water and deeper is considered quite deep.  The same is true in the prairie pothole region where there’s plenty of great little walleye holes that never make even 20 feet.  Then again, there’s great walleye lakes like Vermillion, where walleyes can be found in excess of 50 feet of water.  Of course, your favorite walleye lake may be at either end, or anywhere in between.

While the depth of walleyes may be relative to the system in which they live, their ability to survive summer capture at those various depths is not.  Most fish caught in 30+ feet of water will likely die as the result if water temps are at their peak.  Brandon Eder, Assistant Area Fisheries Supervisor for the MN DNR’s Waterville Office confirmed this in a recent conversation while adding, “No matter how slowly you reel in fish from that depth, there’s still likely going to be some trauma.” 

Throughout the walleye-belt then, there’s plenty of catch and release fishing that might as well be catch and kill.  Not that there’s anything wrong with eating a walleye either.  I love ‘em, and prepare them a bunch of different ways.  However, there are plenty of lakes that mandate release of walleyes a certain size, and anglers should know some ins and outs of how depth can affect the release of walleyes during the summer.  Eder suggests, “Be prepared to keep your first 6 fish regardless of size (depending on the regs) and then quit or go shallow.”

There’s a pile of factors that influence walleye mortality, with depth of capture being only one of them.  Hooking method, or how deeply into its mouth a walleye eats the bait is a big influence, as is the use of live bait vs. artificial baits, but those are often related.  Water temperature is another factor, and warmer temps see fish that simply don’t release as well and survive.  It’s why catch and release walleye tournaments aren’t held as often in the deep summer, and why you should consider eating the fish you catch when water temps are the hottest of the year.  Extended or prolonged handling of a fish outside of the water is yet another factor that affects mortality.

Many of those factors an angler can directly influence, especially in the summer as you can’t control the water temp.  Without switching away from live-bait, circle hooks vs “J”-hooks, and pinching down all barbs, what’s a catch and release angler to do?  The answer is to change the depth at which you’re fishing, and to know what depths are likely lethal, and which are not.

Barotrauma is a big word with a relatively simple meaning, especially as it pertains to walleyes caught at depth.  It affects all living things, but with walleyes swimming rapidly from deep water, it refers to physical injuries caused by water pressure.  Quick ascent means a swelling air bladder, which can push their stomachs out, bulge their eyes, and ultimately cause deadly injury.  Releasing those fish at the surface, in extremely warm water may make the angler feel good as they swim away, but may not lead to survival.

One solution to the problem of fish barotrauma has been “fizzing” – the act of releasing that pressure with an accurately placed hypodermic needle into the swim bladder of the fish.  Of course, “accurately” is the key, as stabbing a fish with a needle indiscriminately, can further exacerbate the problem.  Eder says, “I don’t like the idea of anglers running around poking walleye with needles.  It’s hard to get the right spot in perfect conditions and even tougher in rain, wind, or after dark.”

Another solution in the form of re-compression devices may pose some freshwater promise, as they have gained greater acceptance in coastal areas.  These tools can simply be an inverted barbless hook secured to a line with a weight that takes the fish to bottom and releases it with a sharp snap of the line, or a jaw clamp that releases similarly.  The general idea of both being that the fish quickly gets back down to a depth that allows air bladder pressures to recede, and ultimately supports its survival.  For rockfish specifically, studies have shown 80%+ survival rates.  While I’m not aware of any similar research on walleyes, the decompression devices show greater efficacy overall.

Of course, you could always just limit your fishing north of 30 feet, or make sure that you are legally able to take and eat fish of any size for the lake that you’re fishing.  If a limit is what you’re after in those depths, stop fishing once you’ve hit it.  Eder also mentions, “If you are on fish over 20″ you should leave so you don’t kill more than your 1 over 20″.”  All of which means that if you’re putting the hurt on big fish deep, consider switching tactics, locations, and potentially lakes.  Focus early and late when fish are more active shallow.  Break out some slip-bobbers and camp out on a rock pile, or drag some spinners or rigs along a weedline.

There’s lots of ways to get your ‘eyes, but this summer when temperatures climb, do your best to respect the resource by going easy on those deep fish.

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A different way to fish salmon and trout

by Bill Hilts


Salmon and trout fishing on Lake Ontario jumped off to a good start because of the mild winter we experienced and the fact that there was little ice on Lake Erie. Kings showed up in early April all along the lake and with the unseasonably cool spring, they have been hanging around for fishermen to catch.

Of course, the traditional method for catching spring kings is to troll the shoreline (right now in 50 to 120 feet of water) with spoons, stickbaits or flasher-fly combos. No problem there. Action has been fast and furious.

A quick call from Capt. Frank Campbell of Niagara Region Charters to say he was heading out to the Niagara Bar because the wind was going to be 7 mph from the west was all it took. We met at 7 a.m. at Fort Niagara, but there was a problem. The wind was 15 mph out of the northwest. Weather forecasters often lie when it comes to fishing conditions.

Not to be denied, we motored out of the mouth of the Niagara River and tried to find areas that were not as bad as where the wind greeted the river current. Using the traditional method of employing a three-way rig that is the go-to set-up in the river and off the mouth, Campbell attached a 3.0 MagLip plug called “Keeper.” we tried to drift with the wind, bouncing bottom with an ounce of lead.

The wind was switching. We decided to use the trolling motor to go into the wind but with the current, heading north to the iconic green buoy marker – one of the best identifying marks for specific fishing locations in the area. That was where Campbell was the day before, catching king after king with his kids. We could not make it there on this day – too rough.

Spring salmon fishing in May is prime time for the Niagara Bar and Campbell cannot share this with anyone this year because the charter fishing industry was deemed non-essential. That is another story for now.

Before Campbell threw that MagLip on, he did one thing to it. He doused the outside with Alewife Scent from Atlas Mike’s. It was not long before I had the first fish of the day, a big lake trout. I caught 2 more before Frank put scent on his lure and almost immediately, he had the first salmon of the day, a small king. Ten minutes later I had a small Coho salmon. We had 2 other rods out, but without scent.

Before our 2-1/2-hour photo shoot was over, we had 5 lake trout, 2 salmon and a smallmouth bass under terrible conditions. Of that catch, only one fish hit a lure without scent on it. We had 2 lures that did and 2 that did not. The experiment worked.

Before we headed in, though, Campbell pulled out his casting rods and decided to rig some up with Strike King Magic Goby tubes. The jigs that went inside the tube were a new design – Rapids Scent Keeper heads that allowed you to put scent onto the jig itself and hold it inside of the tube.

Once we were rigged, we did a few minutes of casting, but the brisk winds and cold fingers got the better of us and we headed into the launch ramp. In that short amount of time, we had 3 hits, but no fish. We will save that for a future blog because the bass are snapping right now, too.


 

LAKE OF THE WOODS, MN


Lake of the Woods, fed by the Rainy River and other tributaries, is a magnificent destination for sportfishermen and nature-lovers alike. At 1,680 square miles in area, the huge lake occupies parts of Minnesota as well as Ontario and Manitoba, Canada.

Despite its expanse, and its many square miles of deep, featureless mud flats, veteran fishing guide and Team Northland Pro Jon Newburgh of Baudette, Minn., says Lake of the Woods is one of the easiest walleye lakes to fish. Jigs, live bait rigs and crawler harnesses cover all the hardware an angler needs.

Vast areas of Lake of the Woods lie within Minnesota, and a general fishing license is all that’s required if you remain within the boundaries. For 2016 the daily bag limit in Minnesota is 6 walleyes and saugers in combination, with no more than 4 being walleyes. There’s also a protected slot limit of 19½ to 28 inches, though one walleye within the legal bag may measure more than 28 inches. If you intend to fish Canadian waters, you’ll need an Ontario and/or Manitoba fishing license, as well as your Passport and a Remote Area Border Crossing permit. You must follow reporting procedures, and observe all provincial fishing regulations regarding bag limits and tackle restrictions.

1. According to Newburgh, who guides out of Wheelers Point Resort & Lodge, Lighthouse Gap, between Sable Island and Pine Island in Fourmile Bay is a productive—and popular—spot for walleyes from late May through early June. Fish the gap as well as the sandbar that extends into the lake. He recommends vertical jigging a Fire-Ball® Jig or Swivel-Head Jig tipped with a frozen shiner or white Impulse® Paddle Minnow in 13 to 19 feet of water. The gap gets a lot of boat traffic, as well as numbers of anglers; it’s best to anchor and jig below the boat rather than drifting or trolling,” he says, “and stay on the Pine Island side as the borderline runs down the middle of the gap.” Current strength varies with the flow from an upstream dam on the Rainy River, so necessary jig weights range from 3/8 to 1 ounce. In the lake’s tannic-stained water, Gold is a go-to jig color, but Bubblegum is hot as well. “I’ve done very well with the Bublegum Fire-Ball® Jig and white Impulse® Paddle Minnow,” he says.

2. Later in June many walleyes have moved over lake’s the vast mudflats. Anglers must search for fish on sonar or by making long drifts with a live bait rig, Baitfish Spinner Rig or Baitfish Spinner Harness behind a ¾-ounce Roach Walker Sinker or Rock-Runner® Bottom Bouncer, according to Newburgh. Spice the hooks with Impulse® Nightcrawlers, Rig’n Leeches, live bait or frozen shiners. In addition, the guide suggests fishing the structure-rich reefs and shoals near Knight Island. “Anchor off edges of rockpiles and humps and vertical jig ¼- to 3/8-ounce RZ Jigs using the baits already mentioned,” he says.

3. Through July and August look for walleyes and on the flats as well, especially in the great expanse between Garden Island to the north and Long Point on the south shoreline, as well as the zone out from Pine Island. “They are big areas,” says Newburg, “but you’ll find walleyes there in the summer.” If you choose to bypass the Pine Island Flats, the guide suggests starting your search closer to Long Point as the bottom falls faster, and drift or troll the baits, ‘crawler harnesses and spinner rigs already mentioned behind a 1-ounce bottom bouncer. “Gold is a standard color, and when I’m fishing ‘crawlers, I like some gold in the blade—Gold Perch or Gold Shiner. With leeches, bright blade colors work better. Dace Pink is a great option,” he says.

4. Walleyes start moving back toward Rainy River in September and October. Among the early-fall hotspots is the area off Zippel Bay. Newburgh recommends vertical jigging or drifting Fire-Ball® Jig, RZ Jig or Swivel-Head Jigs, starting at the 20-foot contour, and moving shallower or deeper until you connect with fish. A white or emerald shiner Impulse® Paddle Minnow is a good bait option, as are frozen or live shiners. Lighthouse Gap is another good spot this time of year as shiners are beginning to move upriver now, and walleyes stage there to intercept them.

Lake maps courtesy of Navionics. For more information, visit: Navionics.com

 

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LIMBER LEECH WALLEYES



By Eric Brandriet

There is no doubt walleyes, or for that matter all fish, prefer leeches on their menus at least sometime during the open water season.  For some anglers, leeches are rarely used and unfortunately they can provide some of the hottest angling of the year no matter the species being chased.  Leech availability usually starts the beginning of May and often will run through the end of summer.

Plastics have earned a solid place in my and other angler’s presentations for good reason.  Action, color and scent have literally been produced in products matching that of live bait.  Plastics create an advantage as little care compared to livebait is required while they can be used with a variety of jig weights and styles.

Northland Tackle realizes the importance of plastics and leeches and just introduced (in the Mimic Minnow Family) a new member called the Limber Leech!  It’s unique lifelike and segmented flat body provides a gliding/swimming movement that fish simply can’t resist.  The Mimic Minnow Limber Leech comes pre-rigged in 5 convenient jig sizes and 8 different colors to compliment different depths and water conditions,

After a few hours of casting the Limber Leech on emerging weedlines, I wished that this would have been available years before.  Walleyes didn’t merely bite this new jig, they chomped it!  The unmatched action was surely irresistible and unseen as many fish bit what seemed like as soon as the jig hit the water (on the fall).   A jig and fall casting cadence produced the most fish most likely due to how lifelike it really is.  It’s versatility and fondness by many species will allow this jig to be cast just about anywhere (lakes and rivers), shorelines to mid-lake structure.

For anglers not accustomed to using leeches, the Mimic Minnow Limber Leech will give them a new option that can be fished very easy.   For others that use leeches on a regular basis, this jig will become a “Go-To” jig starting in May and will become a major player in their arsenals.   A bait like the Mimic Minnow Leech, which simply replicates the real thing, that can be caste to pinpoint locations will play a role in walleye success throughout the whole summer!

 

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