Muskie Fishing Made Easy

Muskie fishing is one crazy sport. It pits man vs. nature in a kind of blind struggle; your adrenaline starts pumping, and muskie fishing takes on a fanatical proportion for the day. Serious muskie anglers quit fishing for every other species and pursue muskie with a vengeance, most often for the rest of their angling lives.

But it doesn’t have to be as hard as we make it, especially for the first-time angler. In fact, with fall fishing directly upon us, muskie are available right now, even for the casual angler on a limited budget.

In fact, thinking back over the last few years, I’ve fished fewer hours for muskie and caught more fish! This is because I’ve focused on fishing key lakes at key times of the year using whatever pattern is producing.

When you think fall fishing, you think of two things: live bait and big fish. In muskie fishing a big fish is over 45 inches. To the average angler, a big fish is a 30-incher. Most muskie caught are between 30- to 40-inches up to about 20 pounds. Fewer than five percent are bigger than 45 inches. Some anglers spend a lifetime pursuing that fabled 50-incher.

While some muskie purists still insist upon using giant lures to catch fish, a large, live sucker will get the attention of a lot more fish once the temperature starts dropping, and the fish start filling up their bellies for the winter.

A quick strike sucker rig like the Tony Rizzo models made by South Bend Tackle Co. get my nod as one easy-to-use rig. The large hook up front is big enough to accommodate the largest suckers, and the quick-set hook can be adjusted to just behind the dorsal fin on the top of the sucker’s back.

One top fall method is to fish the edge of a sharp-dropping, weedy shoreline with a sucker under a float dragging behind the boat, while casting to the weed edge. I like to use a five- or six-inch Thill Big Fish Slider slip float with my quick-set-rigged sucker set halfway to bottom.

By casting a Tony Rizzo Trophy Tail spinner to the edge, a following muskie will hopefully turn and grab the sucker at boatside. What’s different about the Trophy Tails compared to other bucktails is that these are made from real marabou feathers which “breathe” in the water for a more alive-looking presentation. They are also thinner than most other lures and have a plastic molded squid body which seems to attract more fish. A lot of bucktails are too big and bulky. I know several good muskie anglers who cut up their bucktails to thin them down in order to get more strikes.

One angler should always be casting as you slowly troll or drift a shoreline while the other angler watches the floats. I’ve used this technique with great success over the years. Lately I’ve scaled my tackle down to using smaller lures like the trophy tails, lighter line (Berkley 20-pound test XT), and a bass-sized casting reel locked into a Tony Rizzo seven-foot, six-inch Signature rod. The longer rod makes for a longer, smoother, and easier cast. it also helps make a deeper, wider, figure-eight as well as a nice, sweeping hookset.

Once a muskie is on with a lighter setup, you get a much more enjoyable fight, yet the longer rod and monofilament line will give you less chance to lose a fish due to slack line than a stiffer, heavier pole loaded up with 40-pound test Dacron line.

This October get out and try muskie fishing. When the sky gets cloudy, and the weather gets rough, muskie go on a feeding binge, and that’s the time to be on the water. Give the techniques I’ve outlined a try. Remember, a muskie is just a fish like any other; she loves live bait and will hit a smaller, slowly-retrieved, shiny lure more often than a giant hunk of wood with hooks!

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Lake of the Woods The New Legend of Witch Bay

December 24, 2010 – 1:14 am
The legend of Witch Bay has been around a long time. She’s a muskie of awesome proportions and classic features. Somewhere near 57″ inches and a full girth, this cunning fish has confounded anglers for years. She has dumbfounded some of the sport’s best–some more than once; some more than once on the same day.

Two years ago, while fishing out of Witch Bay Camp, I was with my fishing buddy, Gary VonBergen, casting big minnow baits in a small cove off of Witch Bay. After a dozen or so casts, up she came out of the cabbage and slowly lolly gagged behind the boat. I could tell by her lack of intensity that she was just coming to visit. She seemed to be saying, “No chance, buddy!” After lingering boatside for what seemed like an eternity, she slowly finned off back into the deep weeds.

That night, while sitting around the gazebo at Witch Bay Camp and swapping stories with some of the guests, I was amazed to learn how many of them had raised this fish–to no avail. No one from this group had ever put a hook in her. They all vowed to continue the chase, and some swore that some day, she would be there’s.

Now, Witch Bay has two legends. The second is a new legend and she’s the legend of Witch Bay Camp. Like the fish, she’s cunning as well. However, she doesn’t have a full girth. Her name is Vickie Tennant who along with her husband, Glenn, farms near Coal Valley, Illinois. Glenn and Vickie have made twenty trips to Steve and Gail Hockett’s Witch Bay Camp. Her accomplishments this summer at Witch Bay were extraordinary, if I wouldn’t have been there it would have been a stretch for me to grasp.

Glenn and Vickie arrived at Witch Bay Camp on July 27th to spend a week pursuing their passion; chasing big fish. They selected this particular week because it fell around the full moon and they feel that July weather offers more stability.

Glenn didn’t do bad for his time at Witch Bay. He caught many quality fish including a 7 pound walleye and a close to 5 pound smallmouth. He and Vickie operate as a team and get great joy in each other’s successes.

Vickie’s Witch Bay experience is the mold from which legends are built. Her week in a nutshell; a 6 1/2 pound walleye, 37 inch northern, one muskie, one 43 1/2 inches. Good start, but wait there’s more. A 9 pound walleye in the morning and a 9 1/2 in the afternoon on the fifth day. Not bad but there’s still more. The next day she followed it up with a whopping 11 pound eye.

Lake of the woods fishing

Glenn and Vickie left Witch Bay that week reluctantly but comforted by the fact that they would return in amonth. On that trip, Glenn produced a nice 7 pound eye and Vickie scored big with two muskies; one 46 inches and the other 49 inches. All fish except the 11 pound walleye from the previous trip were released. That beauty went on the wall.

Quite a feat in my book. Oh sure, I hear allot of stories about the big stringers taken out of Erie, Saginaw Bay, and Little Bay de Noc. But for Canada with it’s slow growth rates -simply awesome.

If you look at big fish taken on the professional walleye tours, there’s a big one caught after thousands of man fishing hours and that’s on some of the best walleye waters in the world.

I spent 175 days on the water and my big walleye was 8 1/2 pounds. How’d you do? As anglers we can all appreciate and envy Vickie’s world class summer.

Being a writer, I know I’d stumbled on a scoop. I sat down with Vickie and Glenn and had a enjoyable and tremendously informative conversation. They were most open and happy to share there secrets with the angling public. So here we go.

Location

“We look for shallow food shelves, really shallow, as little as 6 inches deep and tapering to 8 or 10 feet before the dropoff. We prefer points and humps with deep water adjacent. These fish need to have an escape route to feel comfortable. Sand and rocks all work good. A few big boulders doesn’t hurt.” Vickie shared.

I figured that meant windy overcast days were best but Glenn stated, “Dead calm and dead bright works best for us, have to be careful not to spook them, long casts are needed.” Another myth bites the dust.

Vickie added, “We spend allot of time in the winter looking for spots on our map. We have a milk run planned before we ever arrive at camp. Sometimes we don’t follow it and go right back to the spots that we know have produced in other years. But, mostly we do making sure to include some of the old haunts in the run.”Glenn said, “Studying the map in the winter is really plays a valuable role in our success.”

Presentation

“We live and die with basically one method for walleyes. The Shad Rap in sizes #7 and 9.

We cast them up real shallow and work them back. We use a 123 slow and then 123 fast variable retrieve. The fast is not really fast, it’s just quicker than the slow.”

Glenn added, “If your not bumping the bottom, then you don’t get fish.”

The Tennants said that in 1983 when Shad Raps hit the market, they couldn’t find any around home. Finally found one in Sioux Narrows. “Cost ten bucks.” Glenn chuckled.

“That bait out produced everything else we tried, ten to one. We were hooked, so to speak,” said Vickie.

They tie the line directly to the lure, feeling that the action is better. Each uses a different color to start with, and then switches after a fish is caught.

Glenn added, “Remember we are after big fish here. If we were after numbers, we would be using more conventional jigs or rigs.”

Vickie and Glenn feel that the afternoons of a calm bluebird day can be very good for this method. The windy overcast days have not proven to be that productive for them. Boat control requires much more attention as well.

“We knew 20 trips ago that we had found a home, Witch Bay Camp. And, that we had found a good big fish system.” Vickie concluded.

Ultra shallow with Shad Raps. Give it a try, you might like it.

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For bass, use the right fly

Fortunately bass are universal in their taste, and there’s no need to carry the numerous flies that most trout fishermen haul to the water. But there are some bass fishermen who lose out on many fish-catching opportunities by throwing only popping bugs. Being aware that certain basic fly patterns can be used in various situations will allow you to carry a minimal amount of flies, and still let you cope with the different fishing situations.

First, there are two species of bass most fly fishermen seek – the largemouth and the smallmouth. While each will strike flies that are being fished for the other species, it’s good to know that the most effective flies for largemouth are often tied slightly different than those used for smallmouths. Largemouth, as a rule, seem to strike flies that are slightly longer, fatter and with wider undulating movements than the smallmouths. Whereas the smallmouths generally go for flies that are small and have less undulations. Another difference is that many of the best smallmouth patterns are imitations of their food – while that is not usually the case with largemouths.

I would rather fish for bass than any other freshwater species. For about 12 years I was a part-time bass fishing guide. There were two reasons: it brought my family extra money, and it allowed me more time to fish for bass. I’ve been lucky enough to fish in Mexican lakes in the 1950s when it was rare to see or hear of anyone fishing there.

In 1958, I fished Treasure Lake in Cuba – at that time 12-pound bass were common in that watershed. Wherever I hear about good bass fishing I try to get there. I believe that there are only a few patterns that you need carry wherever you bass fish, although you may want to vary their size for existing fishing conditions. While every experienced fly rodder may make a different list, the following patterns have served me well, wherever I fish throughout Central and North America.

Both species of bass often feed on the surface. There are three popping bugs that I would recommend for anyone seriously interested in the sport. One is the Pencil Popper, which was developed by Jerry Jurasik and popularized by Dave Whitlock. This is a super-thin, sleek fly that has a long, tapered body, generally with a small tail of marabou feathers. I prefer it with a monofilament weed guard impaled in the body in front of the hook. This fly has two virtues that make it a must in a serious bass angler’s fly box.

One, it has the shape of a minnow and allows the angler to imitate a struggling baitfish on the surface. The other feature, which is generally unrecognized about this popper, is that it has a face that is a third or less in diameter than a standard popping bug. This means the lure can be fished among lily pads and floating vegetation with far less chance of snagging the weeds. I have fished Pencil Poppers where conventional bugs were constantly snagging and spoiling the retrieve. The color of the pencil popper seems unimportant in my experience. Incidentally, the bug got its name because a round rod of balsa wood was formed for the body, and then the one end was inserted in a pencil sharpener and ground to make the rear taper.

The second popper I would suggest carrying is Lefty’s Bug. I don’t mean to be immodest about this, but for more than 25 years of hard bass fishing I worked on perfecting a bug where the tail never fouled under the hook on the cast; it had minimal air resistance, so that it cast easily; and you could make a gentle or loud popping sound with every twitch of the line. After years of trying all sorts of designs, I finally settled on this design. Unlike most poppers that have air-resistant, bulky hackles wound around the shank, rubber bands hanging down and large feather tails (all of which may entice fish to strike but make casting more difficult), Lefty’s Bug is sleek and a tail so attached that it cannot foul. After many, many years of bass fishing, if I were limited to a single bug, this would be the one.

The third popper is the Gerbubble Bug, developed by Tom Loving of Baltimore early in this century and popularized by the late Joe Brooks. This is a deadly popper for largemouth bass on still-water lakes, ponds and sloughs. The original Gerbubble Bug body was made from balsa wood (although some anglers are now using closed cell foam, which is much lighter), and along each side were one or two hackles, like miniature, multiple oars.

But a vast improvement over the original bug is to substitute marabou for the hackle feathers. When this kind of bug is popped on the surface and allowed to lie there, long after the rings dissipate on the surface, the miniature currents underneath the bug cause the flexible marabou plumes to continue to move, almost as if the bug is treading water. A largemouth, attracted to the popping noise, often lies beneath the bug studying it. The subtle movements of the marabou frequently are what trigger a strike.

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Getting a Line on Walleyes

We hear it all the time at seminars: “What kind of line works best for walleyes?”

The answer depends on how you’re fishing for them. With so many different kinds of lines out there, lines with the right properties will help you catch more fish.

Jigging
Whether vertical jigging in rivers, casting jigs to a rock hump or dragging jigs with big minnows, a jigging line needs to be limp and thin. “Low memory” means the line doesn’t come off your reel “remembering” how it was coiled on the spool. Stiff lines come off the spool like the old Slinky toy and while everyone loves a Slinky, you don’t want your line to behave like one. Lots of memory means you won’t be able to feel the jig as well. You’ll lose good contact with the bottom and a fish can suck the jig in and you won’t even know it.

Thin diameter makes it easier to maintain bottom contact with the jig by what it does above the water. Thin line cuts through the wind and doesn’t let it blow a bow into the line. Bows are bad – they’ll make it real hard to feel the subtle sensation of a walleye sucking in the bait.

We use eight-pound Berkley Select almost exclusively with jig fishing. It has a thin diameter, and although it’s labeled at eight-pound test, the actual break strength is more like 10-pound test. In big winds, drop down to six or even four- pound test. If you’re only going to fill one spool, stick with eight just in case a big one bites.

Bottom Bouncer Fishing
The two important properties for line with bottom bouncers are low stretch and high durability. Low stretch enhances your feel through the weight. High durability is necessary because you’re often dragging a bottom bouncer through some tough territory — rocks and wood can take a toll on line when dragging bottom bouncers.

Trilene XT is a good example of a line with both qualities. On the rod side of a Rockrunner Bottom Bouncer, use 10-pound test because it is a good compromise between strength and thickness. While you want strength to muscle in a walleye, you also want a fairly thin diameter so the line doesn’t billow too much while dragging a bottom bouncer.

For the leader line, use 10- or 12-pound XT for spinners to reduce line wear at the clevis; 8-pound test XT when just using plain live bait. XT will avoid abrasions when the line contacts rocks. Mustad also makes pre-tied No. 2 Finesse Hook snells for leeches and minnows or Crawler Harnesses with No. 2 spade end hooks for nightcrawlers. Both are tied with 10 lb test line.

Rigging
When pulling live bait rigs, the main consideration is thin diameter. Thinner diameter line lets the bait swim around more freely, plus thin line has less water resistance and lets you fish deep without having a whole lot of line behind the boat. Thin line also allows a fish to suck the bait in its mouth more easily.

Trilene’s Select line is strong for its diameter. The low memory characteristic already discussed also allows the line to peel smoothly off the reel when a bite is detected. Use 4- pound test, sometimes moving up to 6-pound test when big fish are around.

Open Water Trolling
Whether pulling plugs or open-water spinner fishing, a tough line is the ticket for trolling. Usually trolling “systems” snap things to the line like Off-Shore Snap Weights or Off-Shore In-line planer boards. The line has to stand up to being pinched in the rubber clamp, and we’ve found that Trilene XT fills the bill. Use 10-pound test because open water often produces some pretty big fish. Plus, the best reference book on crankbait depth, called Crankbaits In-Depth, used 10-pound XT when recording the various depths of many different trolling plugs. By using the same line our results will match those in the book.

If you’d like to achieve some extra depth, drop down to eight XT. The In-Depth book states the lures will get an extra 10% diving depth by using this thinner diameter line.

Structure Trolling
When pulling cranks around rocks without boards, we move up in line strength but stick with the abrasion resistant Trilene XT. By using line as heavy as 17-pound test, we can usually pull a crank free of snags, just slightly bending the hook. The thicker line diameter also prevents the lure from diving so quickly therefore more line can be let out to get the lure away from the boat. This can be especially important when trolling in clear water, or in water less than 10 foot.

Other Line Considerations
We tend to change line more often than most anglers because of our tournament atmosphere. Jigging line is stripped nightly, and trolling line once per tournament. A weekend angler probably doesn’t have to change a good quality trolling line more than once a year. For thin diameter rigging and jigging lines, sunlight and heat can deteriorate them quickly. Try to strip off and replace the last 100 feet or so off spinning reels about every 5 fishing days.

For color, stick with clear or green line. We don’t see a difference in which color the fish bite better. Often, we use different colors just to keep track of the pound test — all the 8-pound test will be green, while all the 10-pound test will clear. Line doesn’t seem to spook walleyes. We’ve even tested the bright chartreuse-colored Solar line against clear line and gotten just as many bites. In dingy water Solar XT makes absolutely no difference and sometimes allows us to see the twitch of a walleye biting. We haven’t seen any difference in clear water, either, but, like most fishermen, we just have more confidence in line that is nearly invisible.

Finally, a word about the newer specialty lines. The only time we’ve used the braided lines is when trolling deep, open water with Dipsey Divers. The super low stretch helps these diving disks to release easier. We’ve recently tried the new Berkley Fire Line for open water trolling with terrific initial results. This ultra thin line allows cranks to dive much deeper and give the bait better actions. More on how to use this low stretch line after we use it through the season and learn more about it.

When it comes right down to it, almost any line will catch walleyes. But matching the line with the right properties to specific presentations will make your fishing more enjoyable by producing more and bigger walleyes.

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VCR for River Jigging

One of the most valuable pieces of electronics for fall and winter walleye fishermen is also the most underrated.

We’re talking about the VCR. You know, the video cassette recorder hooked to the television in your living room. It allows you to tape your favorite weekend football games October through January while you’re out spending quality time on the river. See, October through January can offer the most productive fishing of the year.

All you have to do is do it right.

In fall and winter, walleyes tend to congregate in smaller areas in the first mile or two below dams. They’re easier to find this time of year than at any other. Look for them along outside bends where the river has cut a deeper hole, in areas where the current has created a sort of washboard structure on the bottom and where in-flowing streams have created deltas.

One nice thing about river jigging late in the year is you typically have lower current, making it easier to fish. Lighter current lets you use 1/8 to 1/4-ounce jigs to maintain bottom contact. And lighter jigs are easier for walleyes to eat. The best rule of thumb is to start with as light a jig as you can use and still feel the bottom. If you’re having trouble maintaining bottom contact, go bigger, because feeling bottom is the most important factor in river fishing.

The only way to cover water and maintain bottom contact with light jigs is by matching the current speed, keeping your line as vertical as possible. The wind is your biggest foe that prevents you doing this effectively. Conquer the wind by pointing your bow directly into it to compensate for the breeze. We like to keep our 48 lb thrust Minn Kota All Terrain trolling motors set from 80 to 100 percent and use short blasts to keep our lines straight down.

River walleyes — especially in the cooler months — are almost always flat on the bottom. You need to keep your bait in the bottom six inches. You’re constantly lifting and lowering the jig, six inches up and then down, touching to make sure you’re still in bottom contact. There are two basic jigging motions. The easiest is the “tight line” method, where you lift your jig slowly up and lower it slowly back down. The other method, the “slack line” jigging motion, uses a slow lift, a pause and almost a free fall, with the rod tip chasing the line as the jig plummets to the bottom. The fast fall often triggers strikes when the slower method is ignored.

In either method, constantly watch and feel your line. If it pauses or makes the slightest twitch when the jig is on the way back to the bottom, set the hook immediately. Many bites occur after the jig touches bottom, in this case a slight “mushiness” will be sensed indicating the presence of a fish – set the hook right now!

You’ll find that a stiff rod transmits what your jig is doing better than a limber one. We like the 5′ 9″ Walleye Angler Signature Series jigging rods (in either a high-end HM85 modulus graphite or a less expensive IM6 model) that we help designed specifically for the presentation. It’s also best if your reel has as little back-play as possible. Older reels that allow the bail to swing backwards when setting the hook result in missed fish. We use Bass Pro Pro Qualifier spinning reels with the “infinite anti-reverse” feature. With no back-play the rod becomes an extension of your arm, allowing for immediate bite detection and hook sets.

Another thing that enhances sensitivity and the ability to hook fish is a line with low memory — one that doesn’t come off the reel with any coils set into it. We’ve found Berkley 6/2 FireLine (6 pound test/2 pound diameter) to be the optimum compromise between strength, no stretch, no memory and thin diameter. The no stretch feature gives it outrageous sensitivity. If you try this line, be ready to back reel to compensate for any short runs your walleye might make — the non-stretch property of the line makes it non-forgiving.

At the business end of the line use a jig with a long hook shank. Since you’re setting the hook vertically, the hook gap runs from the head of the jig to the point of the hook. We like the Northland Lipstick jigs, which feature a double barb. That’s extra important when using FireLine as the non- stretch factor is likely to wear a bigger hole in the fish’s lip. The second barb definitely helps prevent lost fish. The Lipstick also has a stand-up head, which pops the bait up a little bit upon bottom contact and can trigger strikes.

What about bait? Earlier in the fall, we like using a nightcrawler or Berkley Tournament Strength Power Jig Worm to tip the jig. Hook it through the tip so that it flaps when you raise and lower the jig. We’ve seen very little difference in the fish-catching ability of this flavored artificial when compared to the real thing. The Power Jig Worm is also more efficient. It’s tougher than worm flesh so less time is spent baiting the hook, and more time is spent attracting walleyes.

When the water gets colder, tip the jig with a minnow. We add a P/K Tackle Clip Stinger, which has two standard hooks and the third turned the other way to keep it from pulling out of the minnow. This “reverse-barb” treble stinger can be easily attached to any jig with it’s small clip.

One last tip is to move with the current, but don’t drift aimlessly. When you catch a fish, circle back around and stay on the spot that produced. Smaller river schools eat for an hour or two and turn off so take advantage of them when they’re active.

This fall and winter, make use of the VCR, the most underrated piece of electronics in your fishing arsenal. While it’s capturing that important football game, you can be out capturing river walleyes.

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Using An “Eye In The Sky” For More ‘Eyes From The Lake

Remember all the uproar about electronic fish finders when Lowrance came out with the Green Box flasher?

“Fishing will be too easy!” was the cry, followed by “All the fish will be caught!”

Well, thanks to many anglers releasing much of their catch plus the fact that seeing fish doesn’t automatically mean you’ll catch them, the electronic depletion of gamefish in North America never took place.

The outcry has pretty much ceased, but we have to wonder what the “techno-phobes” would think about not just using sonar to find fish – but satellites in outer space!

We are, of course, talking about the electronic units that use Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) technology. The newer units use electronic maps on the screen! Used in conjunction with traditional contour maps, GPS is one of the best tools for finding fish and finding them fast.

The contour map has been the standard tool for locating fishing spots for a long time. Not only are they affordable, they’re also handy for taking into bait shops where more often than not, someone will be willing to mark the current hot spots. You’ll make some simple notes of shoreline landmarks – these are needed to help locate points and underwater flats where the fish have been biting. Often there will be local names for different pieces of structure that have traditionally held fish.

But contour maps have their limitations. Suppose a helpful local angler tells you the fish have been hot on Old Joe’s Point, marks it on the map, and tells you the best way to find it is to look for a group of trees that have been blown down. You get in your boat and head for Old Joe’s, but half way down the lake–sooner than you thought–you see a bunch of blown down trees on point, then notice the next point has a couple of blown down trees, too. You’re just not too sure which one is Old Joe’s.

Enter a unit like the Lowrance Global Map 2000 or the hand held Global Map Sport. These are amazing electronic maps, showing an overall background map for any place in the country – and showing your boat as a moving cursor on it. With the new IMS Smart Cartridges and a Map Link Cartridge Reader you can see even greater detail. Your GPS becomes a map that will display Old Joe’s Point and how close you are to it. Not only will this type of unit help you find the hot spot quickly, it will also help you mark it so you can return the next day or the next year. That sort of assistance is valuable whether you’re in a tournament or just want to spend more of your precious recreation time on the water catching fish instead of just fishing.

While the price of these electronic marvels continues to decrease, they’re still fairly expensive. But what many folks don’t realize is that their use isn’t limited to the boat. You can also use them to find the lake itself. Anglers who spend a good amount of time on the road exploring new waters can install a unit like the Global Map Sport right in their car. Lay this small portable unit on the dash and plug it into a cigarette lighter. Since the Lowrance (and Eagle) units have Rockwell’s 5 channel receiver, the satellite signals are easily tracked through the windshield.

With the appropriate IMS SmartMap cartridge, you’ll be able to see what road you’re on as well as how far you are from the next road and your eventual destination. You may never have to ask for directions again!

While the GPS system is good right now, it promises to get better. To keep Middle Eastern terrorists from ordering a GPS unit from a Bass Pro Shops catalog and using it for a missile guidance system, the U.S. government has purposely scrambled the satellite signal – it affects all brands of GPS units. While a good unit can still get you to within 50 feet of a waypoint, the scrambling, called “selective availability” prohibits absolute accuracy. This inaccuracy will be especial evident when sitting still. The unit will indicate movement even though the receiver is stationary. The good news is, once you start moving the GPS system can adjust for the scrambling and give you nice smooth plot trails.

Hooked:
Hooked

Recently the government has made two announcements concerning GPS. First, that GPS will always be available for commercial use (in the past it could have been shut off without notice). Second, selective availability will end in the next 3 to 5 years. When that happens, look for the accuracy of these units to be so exact, you’ll not only be able to record the edge of a flat, you’ll be able to record and find a patch of pebbles that holds fish on the flat’s edge.

There are other instances when GPS mapping is handy. On large bodies of water you will always be able to see where you boat is in relationship to land – even if you can’t see shore. This is especially nice on foggy or rainy days. How about if you fish the Great Lakes and want to know where the Canadian border is? The line is clearly displayed on the screen. What about navigating through an island obstacle course or through a confusing backwater area? Since the mapping units show your current boat position overlaid on a background map, it’s like looking down on your boat from an airplane.

Has the technology gone too far? We think not. Just remember that as you use technology to make you a better angler, realize that walleyes (and all fish) are limited resources – and should be treated as such. Take home only what you will eat, let the neighbors fend for themselves.

The fun of walleye fishing is catching fish and to catch walleye you have to find them. Match up a GPS mapping unit and a contour map on your next trip – the results may be out of this world.

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In Search Of Spring Walleyes

Your head is full of information learned at seminars. Your tackle box has never been more organized and full of fish catching ThunderSticks and BuckShot Jigs. Over the long winter you’ve seen our videos and read every walleye article you could get your hands on. Now all you have to do is find the fish, ’cause if you’re not fishing where the walleyes are this Spring, you sure aren’t going to catch any.

This article on finding Spring walleyes will hopefully make all your early trips a big success.

Generally speaking, springtime walleyes are shallow, 15 feet or less. That’s true in the Great Lakes, rivers, natural lakes and reservoirs. When the water temperature reaches the low 40s, walleyes move to shallow spawning areas or find baitfish around emergent vegetation in warming shallow water.

When walleyes are real shallow (less than 5 feet), electronics aren’t very useful since the boat spooks the fish. You have to fish to find them. Start in a high percentage area like a hard bottom shoreline, a rocky reef, a stretch of rip rap or a shallow point and prepare to pitch jigs to cover lots of water. Covering water doesn’t mean setting the bowmount trolling motor on high and retrieve the jig back fast. The fish are sluggish this time of year.

We’ve found that most early walleyes hit the lure as soon as it hits bottom or within the first couple of short, slow pulls after it’s on the bottom. By choosing a heavier, 1/8- or 1/4-ounce jig, it will sink quickly allowing us to move along at a moderate pace with the front trolling motor, pitching out in front of the boat with lots of fairly short casts. After each cast let the jig and bait hit bottom, lift the jig off bottom six inches and then let it pendulum back to the bottom. This is repeated a couple of times before reeling in to make another cast.

The idea of this pitching approach is to make fish contact and therefore find what sort of area the fish are using on that particular day.

As soon as we get a bite, we back off and use our Minn Kota MAXXUM bowmount to maintain position. We also switch to a lighter jig , like a 1/16-ouncer, making it easier for a walleye to suck the lure into it’s mouth. A compact jig with a short-shanked hook (like the Northland Fireball) is perfect for this sort of pitching. It puts the brightly colored head close to the minnow, leech or crawler and helps the walleye get the hook in its mouth. Once in the mouth, the Fireball’s wide gap hook has a great chance of contacting flesh when you set the hook.

Two years ago we switched all our jigging rods to the new no- stretch, 6-pound test Berkley FireLine (two-pound diameter). Not only does the thin diameter enhance your feel of the jig when the wind is blowing, but the no-stretch property of this space age stuff telegraphs bottom composition – and lets you feel the lightest bite. Feeling the bottom will indicate what is holding the fish in a particular spot – you might feel pebbles or small weeds or the bottom go from hard to soft when you get a bite. You can then look for other spots with the same type of bottom in different parts of the lake.

If you can’t find the fish shallow, look for them in slightly deeper water. Lots of times they will be on adjacent, shallow flats when the water temperature approaches 50 degrees. Start looking for walleyes on your electronics – they’ll usually appear as small bumps on the bottom, sometimes just a widening of the dark line above the gray line. One way to spot these fish is with a unit with lots of vertical pixels (the Lowrance LMS 350As have 200 v.p., the Lowrance X-85s and Eagle Optimas have 240 v.p.). These tiny squares on the LCG screen darken to relay the bottom signal. The more pixels, the more precise the picture of the bottom.

Once you start seeing lots of fishy looking bumps, it’s time to cover this water with a bottom bouncer and a healthy live crawler, leech, minnow. Or try a crankbait set to tick the bottom. Let’s take a quick look at both techniques.

We use long wire Northland Rock Runner bottom bouncers. The “L” shaped wire keeps the bait above snags and adds action to the bait. As it moves along the bottom the long wire falls forward, camming the short arm which gives the live bait an erratic action. For most applications on shallow flats, we use a 3/4-ounce Rock Runner and pull the boat slowly enough with the bowmount trolling motor to establish good bottom contact. Attach a 6 foot leader with light wire hooks (1 for leeches or minnows, a 2 hook harness for crawlers) and you’ll have a deadly spring presentation. Really, nothing could be simpler.

Crankbaits take a bit more practice than bottom bouncers, but not much. Select a crankbait that will run right at the bottom, without getting snagged very often. We often take a medium diver like a Storm Rattlin’ ThinFin or a deeper diver like the Deep ThunderStick Junior and set it so it will run right above the bottom.

We’ve also switched to the fine-diameter 10/4 FireLine for crankbait fishing. With the super thin FireLine, you don’t need to let as much line out to make the cranks run deep. And, when flat lining (no boards), you can feel every move the crankbait makes – if it picks up some gunk off the bottom, you’ll know it right away and can reel up to clean the hook. Incidentally, because non-stretch FireLine is less forgiving, fish can sometimes shake free when using standard trebles. We put Mustad Triple Grip trebles on our lures because the inward bend won’t let fish get off.

For either bottom bouncers or crankbaits, run the rigs behind in-line Side Planer boards. In shallow water spooking is a major problem – spreading lines is the cure. Because FireLine is so thin and so slick, you will want to attach the Offshore Side Planer Boards by putting the line through the pinch pads, wrapping the line over the top of the release and then back through the pads a second time. Since Offshore’s boards are weighted, even at the slow speeds you’ll be fishing the bottom bouncers, the boards will spread nicely to the side.

Spring fishing is the most anticipated time of year for many walleye anglers. A great formula for success is to start by looking for walleyes in shallow water. Then use all that winter research and well-organized tackle to put lots of fish in the boat.

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Walleyes: Taking Control

Whether we’re talking about making money in business or catching a limit of fish, keys to success include such things as preparation, focus, and execution.

In fishing, preparation, focus and execution all involve being in control. While there are those lucky dogs who occasionally drift their way to big limits of fish, more frequently the fisherman who pays attention to his boat control enjoys consistent success.

Let’s focus on boat control for a wide number of walleye presentations and discuss why your best walleye fishing can be done with a bowmount trolling motor.

While some diehard backtrollers refuse to even put a bowmount on their boat, they are becoming the exception among the walleye anglers across the nation. And please note that we’re not knocking the anglers who prefer tiller-style boats. We’re just pointing out that whether you have a console or a tiller, some of your best fishing will be done by controlling the boat from the front deck. Here’s why and how to do it best.

Probably the main reason the bow platform is the best place for most walleye fishing is accuracy–especially when you’re live bait rigging, jigging or fishing with bottom bouncers. A foot control bowmount gives you instant ability to move the front tip of the boat, and your lines, in any direction. The key word there is “instant.” With an eye on your depth finder and a touch of your foot on the control, you can instantly turn, staying over the exact contour that’s holding fish.

A second reason the bowmount outfishes tiller control is that (in states and provinces where it’s legal) you can hold and fish two rods at the same time. That’s impossible to do when you have to have one hand on a tiller control. Controlling the boat with your foot also leaves your hands free to retie or put on fresh bait while your foot keeps you in position.

Now, most backtrollers will tell you that they have an advantage over bowmount anglers in high wind and big waves. And, at the extreme, that might be true as they can ride over or bash their transoms through really big waves using their main gas outboard in reverse. But even in three- and four-foot waves, the proficient bowmount angler has more control. When a big waves slams the back of a transom, it moves the boat. The bowmount angler, facing the wave, can slide up and over it without losing ground, staying right over the fish and structure.

Fishing in bigger waves with a bowmount is really extreme fishing. It’s on the edge and a whole lot of fun. Let’s look at how to use the bowmount in extreme conditions as well as other walleye situations.

In big waves, if you’re moving backwards and can’t stay on the structure, tighten down the tension on your kicker outboard or point your main motor straight ahead and put it in forward gear. The slight thrust of the gas outboard will compensate for the wind; you control your direction with the bowmount electric.

No matter what size the waves, when you fish with a bottom bouncer and need to keep moving to keep the spinner spinning, it’s best to put your electric motor on “continuous on” –we set our Minn Kota 48 All Terrain bowmounts at about 30 percent power–and simply steer on the structure. In low wind conditions, with the motor set to “continuous”, you can point the boat where you want to go, leave it running and move around your boat to get tackle or fresh bait. With rods in rod holders, you never stop fishing.

In river situations where you are vertical jigging, the bowmount is mainly compensating for the wind. It’s best to set the motor on high and use short bursts to keep your line vertical and your boat going the same speed as the current.

The same setting usually applies to deep live bait rigging with a slip sinker set-up like the Northland Roach Rig. Since you want the bait close to what your electronics show below the boat, it’s usually best to use short bursts of the trolling motor to maintain your position.

One last point about bowmount fishing is that when doing it effectively, your front platform becomes the boat’s command center. In other words, it’s helpful to have good electronics up there to show you depth, position, bottom structure and what water you’ve covered. We use a “windows” function on the Lowrance LMS 350A with GPS. Windows allows us to construct a screen that shows a digital depth reading, a small plotter screen to track the water we’ve covered and even add an electronic icon when we catch a fish. Plus, the whole right half of the screen is like a conventional depth finder and shows us the bottom contour and fish arcs.

With the LMS 350A and other units we use a transducer mounted to the bottom of the trolling motor that shoots a relatively narrow, 20-degree cone angle, showing us the bottom directly beneath our boat. This narrow cone angle is necessary so we don’t see too much of the bottom. If the cone were wider, it would be more difficult to see sharp breaks in the bottom depth.

So, take control of your fishing. Get up in front of your boat and experience the pinpoint control you can accomplish. Using precise control with a bowmount motor will put your bait where a walleye is likely to eat it.

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The Otter Shrimp Fly

The Otter Shrimp was developed 20 years ago on Silver Creek, Big Wood River, and Magic Reservoir, all of which are near Sun Valley, Idaho, where the Federation of Fly Fishermen will meet next August. Freshwater shrimp, or scuds are abundant in these waters and this fly is very effective there. It marked the culmination of a long series of experiments to design a fly trout would take when they were feeding on shrimp. Strangely, it often works on waters where there are no shrimp, too!

There are many ways to make dubbing (spun fur) bodies and many ways to tie artificial nymphs. I make no pretense that this is either the best way or the only way to do either. But it is one way to tie one fly that does catch trout.

I use this fly both weighted and unweighted. Winding the shank of the No. 10 hook with .019-inch lead wire. Leave plenty of room for head and tail, then attack the working thread and spiral it back and forth over the wire to hold it in place. Tie in the partridge hackle tail and build a taper at each end of the wire with the working thread.

I use shellac, rather than wax, on a piece of tan thread to hold the dubbing. The stick goes through a hole in the lid of the bottle, and I pump it up and down a few times when I start to work to collect some shellac on the lid. It begins to get tacky in about five minutes and I pull the thread through it.

Spread out the dubbing and press the sticky thread down over it. The thread will pick up all the fur. Roll thread and fur between the palms of your hands. Tightness of the body is determined by this step. I leave it rather loose for the Otter Shrimp, so named because the dubbing is tan otter belly fur. The body is tapered toward both ends by tapering the strip of dubbing as you spread it out.

It is a great economy of time to make at least a dozen of these “boodles,” as Polly Rosborough calls them, at a session. This also saves material. If I’m tying tens, for example, I invariably wind up with some boodles a little too large, which I use for eights, and others a little too small, and they go on No. 12 hooks.

Tie in the boodle near the tail, hold it with hackle pliers and wind it forward to the head. Take two or three turns of thread to hold it in place, then cut off the left-over end. The final step is to tie in the partridge hackle, which I strip off the feather between my thumb and finger and cut to proper length first.

Partridge hackle may have either a gray or a brownish cast, and I prefer the latter for this fly. Its overall appearance should be tan and I use pale tan working thread. The loose, fuzzy body, with a few guard hairs sticking out in odd directions, adds to its effectiveness. I have experimented by putting a little seal hair in the dubbing to add a glint to the finished product, but this apparently is no better.

A supporter of the FFF since its first Conclave, Ted Trueblood’s long association with Field & Stream magazine began in 1941 with the position of Fishing Editor. His popular columns were first featured in 1954, and were continued until his death in 1982.

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