“The Garrison Dam Spillway” – Never Again!

Kurt Schirado | Co-Host of Ultimate Outdoor Adventures TV

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The summer of 2011… Most of us will remember the devastating flood that changed the lives of those living along the Souris River as well as the historic flooding that occurred along the beautiful Missouri River stretching from the Garrison Dam to the South Dakota border and beyond.

As the month of May came to an end, flood preparations were just getting started in the Dakotas, southern Canada and down the Missouri and Mississippi River systems. Small dykes were strategically being placed by family, friends, neighbors and even strangers. We all took part in joining together in hopes of preventing what Mother Nature was about to unleash upon us. Stores were quickly emptied while people desperately searched for any supplies that would assist with saving their property, streets were backed up for miles, old roads were closed and others opened allowing many to travel from home to work. Boats, waders, water pumps, sewer drain plugs, poly, extension cords and shovels were items in high demand but yet hard to find at the local hardware stores due to the growing urgency of what “might” happen. Everyone was flocking to the supply stores in a panic, not really knowing how deep the water was really going to get and/or the outcome of this first-time historical event that was about to unfold.

After weeks of sandbagging drew to an end, and the initial shock was over, many people were able to move on and enjoy a normal summer, but for many the fight was just beginning. For more than sixty days, families were forced to vacate their homes or travel by boat – daily – just to keep things dry… Summer was not treating us very well. For those of you that lost or nearly lost your home, and/or maybe you are among the fortunate people who won the battle and saved your home/property – you know what I’m talking about. The fear of the unknown along with the anxiety and stress many of us experienced is something not many can understand unless you were there from start to finish.

For myself, I was somewhere in the middle. Three days after moving into our new home, my wife and I built a protective dyke – with appreciated help from family and friends. After learning the City of Bismarck was going to build a massive wall to protect south Bismarck, feelings of relief calmed my stress.

Helping people makes you feel good and is much appreciated by others, but it’s a very small part of what some families had to experience day after day, week after week, month after month with little relief in sight. Eight hours a day on the job and then spending evenings to protect your property became the norm for many who were not willing to allow uncontrollable circumstances take what they called home.

As we all know the flood gates to the Garrison Dam were opened on June 1, 2011 – something never done before. Nobody knew what was going to happen from this massive rush of water, the pathway it would follow and how much destruction it would leave in its path. And, something most of us never considered during this historic event was what would/could happen to the fishery, but more specifically how the “Spillway Pond” would become an incredible fishery.

By August, my summer began to wind down as my stress/anxiety from the flooding up and down he Missouri River was diverted with the upcoming archery season – which was a much needed distraction. The Mighty Missouri River had slowly begun to recede and boats were now able to get back on the water which was a telltale sign that normalcy would soon prevail. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t really thinking about fishing, knowing what families were still going through and the road that lie ahead for many. However, I did manage to venture back out on the water for a few days to experience what I hope will never happen again – fishing the Garrison Dam Spillway!

This was the first year I can remember that I hadn’t been in a boat the entire summer, and even though my heart wasn’t really into it, my wife kept telling me I needed to get out. Some friends had launched their walleye rigs from the Stanton Boat Ramp south of the Garrison Dam – the day before – and had a remarkable day jigging for walleyes while fishing the Garrison Dam Spillway wing walls… so they encouraged me to tag along on a return trip. The Spillway Pond! In my mind, I was thinking the Tailrace.

Not really knowing what to expect, we loaded the boat with walleye gear on a Sunday afternoon and headed for Stanton, North Dakota, which was also my first walleye excursion of the summer. The first thing I remember as we arrived at the Stanton Boat Ramp was the number of dead cisco covering the shorelines and floating down the river. Hundreds, maybe thousands of dead fish…the smell is one that I will not soon forget. As we left the boat dock and throttled up river, I remember the warm sunshine and breeze blowing in my face… this is one part of fishing the Missouri River that I truly had missed and a sensation that I look forward to each year. After a short but enjoyable 20 minute boat ride, we turned the corner and headed straight for the base of the spillway… this is something anglers have never been able to do before. As we traveled up this newly developed river channel, toward what looked like a huge waterfall, I remember it looking like something out of movie. It just didn’t look right!

As we closed the distance on this massive waterfall, I could see it was the bottom end of the spillway apron which resembled a concrete highway of water rushing into the river channel – what used to be the spillway pond. The rushing water created waves which were two to three feet high and constantly pounding on the boat making fishing a challenge, but it was this constant discharge of water that was attracting various species of fish from the original river channel into the spillway.

Overcoming this incredible sight, we began fishing near the wing wall located on the west side, and then moved to the wing wall on the east side, just like the guys had done the day before, but the fish had vacated those areas. Similar to any other walleye trip on the Missouri River, we started to move around, looking for more active fish. It didn’t take long as we made a drift down the middle of the channel, just below the waterfall or directly south of the spillway apron…bingo, the fish were there. It seemed that with every cast our jigs tipped with Gulp Alive Minnows were smashed by walleyes, catfish, white bass and drum – you never knew what would be on the end of your line. The action was “HOT,” to say the least. I don’t think a minute or two hardly went by on this particular outing – after determining where the fish were – without hearing a drag scream as our 6# and 8# test monofilament was put to the test as fish after fish was boated.

The action continued for hours as we shared this newly discovered “hot spot” with only two ther boats, but eventually, word of this new fishery spread, and within a few days it wasn’t unusual to see 50 – 100 boats fishing the Garrison Dam Spillway. The fishing eventually peaked and steadily declined with each passing day, but still great by most anglers’ standards. Within a period of a week, I had fished the “Spillway” three different days, and went from catching more than two hundred fish on my first Spillway adventure to fifty fish on my third trip. Plenty of walleye, catfish, salmon, trout and northern pike kept adventurous anglers busy for weeks last summer and whether the presentation was jigging, rigging or trolling crankbaits, the fishing was excellent.

Fishing the Garrison Dam “Spillway” was both rewarding and memorable, but if I had my choice, I would rather not have had the memory due to the destruction caused which allowed for the fishing opportunity. The fishing may have been some of the best I have and/or will ever experience, but if I find myself fishing in the “Spillway” again one day, I know one thing, thousands of people down river are in for more heartache, and I don’t think I want to experience that again.


Icing Early Pike

Jason Wright, Ultimate Outdoor Adventures TV

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It’s no secret! Early ice is prime-time fishing for northern pike and while more and more anglers today prepare for the season by painting decoys and sharpening spears, there are still plenty of savvy traditional ice anglers that have a different plan. The traditional “hook and line” for these lurking predators beneath the ice is still preferred by many. If you’re after a good old-fashioned line stretching, targeting pike during early/safe ice oftentimes equals hot action. Great action and nice fish, all around, it’s the perfect time of year when you are looking for something to do after your big buck has been tagged. This is oftentimes a great time to introduce non-fishermen/women as well as kids to the sport since the weather can be a bit more tolerable during the early season versus the latter part of the ice fishing season. Once a solid and safe sheet of ice covers the surface this is the best opportunity to search for both numbers of pike and quite possibly a true toothy monster. Big pike are vulnerable this time of year since they are still feeding heavily and can be easier to target on your favorite frozen lake while on foot before winter storms dump snow making moving from one location to the next difficult.

Choosing the right lake is just as important as choosing the best fishing locations on the lake or spot on the spot. The first key to finding larger pike during early ice will be the presence of baitfish that inhabit the shallow water during late fall and briefly during early ice. Most of our lakes in the Dakotas are stuffed with perch, panfish and other baitfish which pike find quite tasty; therefore, find the food and the pike won’t be far away. In most instances it’s simple, find the food and you’ll find the fish. Planning your trip oftentimes begins in the fall, before the ice forms, or think back to your fall fishing outings and jot down the lakes and locations where good numbers of pike were caught. Some of the best pike locations are discovered while fishing for fall walleyes or other fish but are quickly forgotten while standing atop a layer of frozen water. Use what you already know to make a decision as to where the pike will be during early ice; start there and then make your moves based on what you find. A little research goes a long way and will help you narrow down your choices. One of the quickest ways to locate new lakes and/or to find out more about a particular lake is to check in with the Game and Fish Department. Inquire about stocking efforts, species population and they will always do their best to provide up to date information and send anglers in the right direction. In today’s world of social media everyone seems to be reporting about what is happening in the outdoors so find those that you can trust and send them a private message which might lead not only to a great fishing location but a possible fishing partner.

Once you locate a lake or two to target, learn as much about the lake as you can by talking to others that have fished it and study contour maps so you know where to begin drilling holes. Diehard anglers often check a particular lake out prior to freeze up by walking the shoreline locating possible starting locations that are also easily accessed by foot or possibly ATV which is quite common during first ice.

You’ll want to schedule your early trips for the shallower, early freeze up lakes and save the deeper, clear water lakes for your later trips. By getting the schedule arranged correctly, you can extend this early pike season to a month of good fishing or maybe even more.

Now that you’ve laid some groundwork, getting ready to fish is the fun/easy part. A few tip ups, a jigging rod or two and for early ice, I’d recommend a hand auger, remember those? A good hand auger with sharp blades will cut through early ice like butter and is actually much quicker and lighter than toting around your gas auger. These are perfect because it’s important to keep the weight of your equipment down so you’ll be ready to move often and get set up quickly. Another handy or in my case a must-have item for early ice is a pair of ice-cleats that can be strapped onto your boots. You can cover ground much more quickly with a good grip plus it can help prevent a great trip from going bad.

A very popular method to target early ice pike, which some refer to as “ice trolling,” is an extremely aggressive search and destroy presentation and will keep several anglers busy all day long. Using the main drop off – the edge where a shallow flat meets deeper main lake water – as your starting point, drill your first hole and set up tip-up number one. For tip-up fishing, I like to use an egg sinker as the weight. Slip it on to the line and tie on a medium size barrel swivel. From the barrel swivel, attach a two to three foot piece of heavy, clear 100% fluorocarbon line to act as a leader such as Berlkey Vanish Leader Material. The clear 20 to 25 pound test fluorocarbon helps make your presentation more natural while protecting against most bite off problems. In North Dakota we are pretty much restricted to minnows whereas in other states there are other livebait option; therefore, find the largest minnows you can and use a single hook or treble large enough to allow the minnow to swim.

In states where you can get your hands on larger shiner minnows these can really lure big pike your direction during early ice.

I set the tip-up so that the minnow is about a foot off the bottom, but experiment with different depths to find out if high riding fish are present and biting.

Once you have the first tip-up set in place, locate another spot along this drop off, drill another hole and spend a few minutes with your jigging rod using a large jigging spoon of your choice; I have had good success with Jigging Rapalas, but pike are curious so most any aggressively jigged spoon will work. I like to tip most of the jigs with a minnow head or in some cases a whole minnow hooked through the mouth.

After ten minutes or so in this location, put away the jigging rod and use this hole to set up tip up number two, but try a frozen smelt and/or a large frozen herring. Once you’ve got number two in place, go back and retrieve the first tip up and locate another spot along the drop off, drill a hole, try the jigging rod first, then after another ten minutes or so, replace it with the first tip up. As you work your way along the drop off, you’ll constantly be locating new structure and new fish. Repeat this leapfrog approach as often as necessary to stay in the action. Obviously, the more anglers you have fishing, the more tips ups you’ll set and the more action you’ll find. On small lakes with good structure, it’s even possible to fish all the way around to where you started. Remember to keep moving, most of the time the best action comes right away. Occasionally you’ll get repeated strikes from the same hole, but more often you’ll find that moving frequently is your best bet. If I stick a fish with my jigging rod I will set up a tip-up and drill a new hole to start jigging again. It seems that I seldom get bit quickly again from the same hole; the location might be good, but I am looking for action.

This is a perfect approach for ice anglers who like the idea of a fast-paced winter fishing trip; bring along the kids and go out of your way to keep the set up simple. Once the kids get the hang of retrieving and re-setting tip-ups you will be amazed at how much fun they will have especially on an active day. This method of “ice trolling” will work equally as well while walleye fishing too – just lighten up your tackle. This method of searching for and icing early pike can become quite contagious and even addicting once you learn to understand more about the lake(s) you are fishing.

Good luck this season during your early ice outings – the hard water is coming soon to a lake near you!


Basin Bump Gills

Jason Mitchell, Jason Mitchell Outdoors

Fireball Gill

Deep structure can be relative but the location is often reserved for walleye or perhaps lake trout.  So often, anglers targeting panfish, sunfish in particular, often focus on basins but the search is so often concentrated on transitions that correlate with inside or outside turns.  These classic spots are definitely worth the exploration and often hold fish.  Sharp breaks featuring good weed growth that cut along a basin are another classic top pick.

One of my favorite locations however if it exists is any type of mound or hump that exists in the basin. These basin humps or rolls don’t have to be big or obvious, sometimes they are no bigger than twenty square feet.  They are usually best if they are soft bottom, that is no rocks or harder substrate.  Just a bump on the bottom that sticks up from the basin.  Some of these sweet spots only poke up a foot or two from the bottom so they are not always obvious on a contour map.

Finding these locations can be difficult.  Many lake chips offer one foot contours but many lakes have vague contour mapping with five foot contours.  Reading basins with existing contour maps first means understanding how contour maps are often made.  When a lake is surveyed, a boat basically drives a grid pattern across the lake mapping the sonar data.  This data is than converted into a contour map with a computer program. The wider the grid, the less accurate contours.  On more popular and heavily fished bodies of water, the grids are tighter and more time is spent to create the most accurate map.

Smaller, less fished bodies of water don’t create the demand to spend the time to create the best map, simple economics.  The best way I have found these small soft bottom humps is to spend time scouring a map zoomed in all the way looking for anything irregular.  Remember that a hump might not look like a hump, could be a finger or turn on the contour.  What you will also find are locations that look like a hump does exist on a map but finding that no such rise exists.  Finding these locations can be frustrating and takes some work and a little bit of luck but they are worth the work.

What I like about these hard to find locations is the fact that they often hold big fish and they also seem to recharge.  That is, they hold big fish and attract other roaming fish in the area.  You can sit over these spots because they just seem to pull in new fish that are in the surrounding basin.  When you find these sweet spots, save the coordinate.

Typically on these types of locations, we find panfish simply hovering around the bump.  As a rule of thumb, the more stained the water, the closer these fish seem to ride to the bottom but even with clear water, we typically find fish within ten feet of the bottom when they are on these locations.  Especially the larger fish.  Because of the depth involved with many basins where an angler might be fishing as deep as thirty or more feet, presentations that cut through the water column fast are important.

Tungsten jigs like the Northland Tackle Tungsten Fireball teamed up with three pound Bionic Flourocarbon is a solid combination.  Another sometimes overlooked presentation for deep panfish are small spoons like the Forage Minnow.  On tough bites, the Forage Minnow with a hanging treble hook can sometimes work better than the small horizontal jigs often associated with the finesse required to catch fish that are off.  Reason being is that with a tough bite, the fish will suck and spit more and sometimes bump the wrong end of a jig.

For deep panfish, I like the hook set response and leverage of slightly heavier rod blanks because it does take more leverage to set the hook fast in deep water.  If you are using a spring bobber, combine the spring with a stiffer rod action.  Our Meat Stick line up of glass noodle rods are extremely popular with anglers because of the fast hard backbone that enables you to snap a solid hook set.

With the small spoons, no matter how the spoon is turned and no matter how the fish approaches, there is a hook facing the fish.  There are pros and cons of every presentation and picking the jig or lure is often a result of efficiency.  Spoons shine whenever you need to pull fish in from greater distances and need more visibility.  They work great on tough bites if the fish are not giving you that second gulp.  They can work against you if you are on a better bite where it takes longer to unhook a deep treble hook versus a single hook or if the fish won’t approach the larger profile.

Tungsten jigs and small spoons however are a good one two punch because the mood can often change and vary through a typical day.  Some of the deeper basins seem to fish much better with some sunshine overhead.  You will often get windows of activity where you mark fish and pull your hair out, fighting for every bite.  A good bite will often come in spurts and is usually ignited by catching a fish.  This is why spoons and tungsten jigs work so well, you need to get back down fast before the activity dies.

These types of patterns or locations are a favorite of mine because they usually are hard to find and don’t get fished much.  These spots also usually hold larger fish.  We often find smaller fish scattered throughout the basin all through the water column but the larger panfish seem to claim these small pieces of structure for their own.  This winter, make a point to analyze your favorite panfish holes further and be observant as these locations might not jump out you.  Sometimes, we have stumbled on to these spots with dumb luck.  When you can find these main basin bumps however, they typically hold fish.


Fall Walleye Rigs

Johnnie Candles, Scheels sponsored Professional Angler and Sport Fishing Communicator

Fall walleye are an interesting creature.  I do not quite understand them, but the one thing I know is that they eat a lot.  That is good for us as anglers.  Here are a few ways to go after them.

JC Nov 211. Lead Core Fishing Line and Berkley Flicker Shads:  Fall walleye tend to be deeper than at other times of the year so we need lead core to get deeper.  Stick with the large size7 and 9 Flicker Shads because these fall fish want a meal, not just a snack.  Troll along the bottom edges of rock structures and you are sure to connect with a giant.

Gear Recommendation:  Scheels 6’6” Extreme trolling rod, Abu Garcia Alphamar Line Counter Reel, 18 pound Lead Core Line, 10 pound Fire Line for Leaders, Size 7 and 9 Berkley Flicker Shads

2. Large Live Bait:
  Grab a dozen of the largest minnows you can find, a selection of sinkers from ½ to 1 ½ oz., and a bag of 1/0 hooks.  It is all you will need.  Again, look at the bottom edges of the steepest and deepest structure in the lake you are fishing and drop the minnows to the bottom.  There are not many walleye that can resist the temptation of a large minnow sitting right in-front of their face.

Gear Recommendation: Scheels 7’ ONE Rod, Pflueger Patriarch Spinning Reel, 8 pound Berkley Sensation line.

3. Horizontal Jigging Lures:
  Yes, that is right, ice fishing lures.  Jigging Rapalas, Moonshine Minnows and Puppet Minnows are all great open water choices.  They are heavy(nearly 1 oz.) so the fish deep and they fish fast.  Aggressively rip jig these lures while hovering over the same deep walleye mentioned above.  Lift sharply and drop on a slack line.  You will not feel many bites, just be ready on the next lift.  Use a barrel swivel and a two to three foot leader of Fluorocarbon to prevent twist and tangling.

Gear Recommendation: Scheels 7’ Medium Action Walleye Series Spinning Rod, Pflueger Supreme XT spinning Reel, 14 Pound FireLine, 12 pound Berkley 100% Floro for leaders.



Fall Trolling Tactics for Walleyes

By Jason Mitchell, Jason Mitchell Outdoors

IMG_7278HRWhen I look back at past years, there are several patterns that really stand out in the fall. Vertical jigging over deep rock piles. Casting stick baits after dark over shallow rocks. Pitching jigs tipped with soft plastic swim baits into remaining weed beds. Live bait rigging with big chubs. Trolling crank baits along main lake contours. The locations can vary from current areas and bottle necks to classic sharp breaking structure and rock, either deep or shallow.

For much of the fall, trolling crankbaits dominates much of the fishing I do. The location (and how the fish are using a particular location) determines the most efficient presentation. So often, we find fish in transition relating to big pieces of structure. What I love about trolling crankbaits when fish are transitioning in the fall is that trolling is fluid, trolling allows you to see how and where the fish are moving much more effectively especially if you are on the water every day. Big schools of fish might be pushing up or down a reservoir. Fish might be filtering out of back bays and moving across the mouths of bays over deeper holes and main lake structure. Usually, there is a general movement, could be fish moving up or down, in or out but they are collectively moving somewhere and trolling allows you to sample the water and keep tabs on these often nomadic fish much easier than any other presentation I can think of. On big bodies of water, this is especially true.

There is an old adage with fall walleye fishing that bigger baits work better in the fall. From my experiences, this is usually true. Most days, larger baits seem to be much more effective. Anglers theorize that young of the year baitfish are larger in the fall and the other reasoning held by anglers is that fish want to bulk up on food in the fall and a bigger bait makes bulking up much easier. Don’t know the why’s exactly but it is usually a good starting point. I start out with big baits that move water but there are exceptions to everything. There are a handful of baits that are confidence baits for me…Salmo H6F Hornet and Jointed Shad Raps in the size five or seven for inland lakes. Salmo 8SDR Bullheads and Reef Runner Deep Rippers on reservoirs. All of these baits leave a good footprint and move water, these are baits I always try when I am on the water come fall. Each fishery however is unique. Deep Diving Husky Jerks are popular on some Great Lake fisheries in the fall for example and these baits have a pretty subtle shimmy as they move through the water. One particular lure that I have used with great success just about every where I have fished in the fall is the Salmo 8SDR Perch. If it came down to just one lure, that would be it for me during October and November when I am trolling for walleyes.

There are many nuances with trolling and there are a few wrinkles I like to incorporate into my trolling that I think helps me catch more fish in the fall. You can adjust the footprint or vibration of a deep diving lure by how much line you let out. When you run a lure close to the boat, the lure will run more up and down, bill down and tail up where the bait puts off the most vibration and looks the largest from the rear. As you let out more line and the dive curve flattens out, the lure will level off where the bait runs more horizontal. As the bait levels, the lure still displaces water and rolls but the vibration and foot print gets toned down. Many anglers will troll cranks and let out line to get the lure to dive to the depth and that factor dictates how much line they let out. In the fall, there are many times where the fish really seem to like the vibration and look of a lure running bill down and tail up that happens when a lure hasn’t peaked the dive curve. Learn to manipulate that and you will catch more fish this fall.

In deeper water, I often accomplish this task with lead core. You don’t need lead core to get a Salmo 8SDR Bullhead to tick bottom in twenty three feet but if you want that lure moving an optimum amount of water with the bill down and tail up, you will not be able to do that by simply long lining the lure. If you long line the lure, the lure will flatten out as it reaches the bottom of the dive curve. Now there are days when the fish want the lure flattened out and as a general rule of thumb, the fish seem to prefer the lure running more horizontal earlier in the season but this is something to experiment with that can make a big difference in the fall from my own experiences.

The other factor I love about lead core in the fall is that it will snake behind the boat and follow the contour much better, sticking that lure right along the break where it needs to be for longer periods of time. The changes in direction often seem to trigger fish each time you turn the boat. What I don’t like about lead core is that it just takes longer to roll off a spool compared to the speed of sticking a lure down with a snap weight or even a down rigger. You have to have more set up time, you need to approach your zone from further away as it takes a little while to roll off more than three colors of lead.

One thing I have been doing with a lot of success especially when I am trolling tighter or shorter runs where I am in and out of the zone fairly quickly before I have to pick back up and set back out is to use a snap weight in conjunction with the lead core. Typically, I will clip a snap weight right on the leader above the crank about twelve feet, two arm lengths. If I go further than two arm lengths, it becomes hard to net fish without removing the weight. By adding a little lead to the lead core, it rolls off the spool super fast and cuts the amount of line out in about half.

Kind of combines the best of both worlds regarding lead core and snap weights. Gets down fast and still get some snaking and direction change behind the boat. The pendulum effect where the lead core rises and sinks as you speed up or slows down becomes more exaggerated as well which seems to bode well in the fall for triggering fish. There have been times where for whatever reason, this system didn’t work well and I had to go back to traditional lead core but there have been many times where I know I caught a lot more fish by using this system so it is something to experiment with.

When fish are moving on big water, trolling allows you to land on the “x” each day like nothing else. You can just get a feel for where they should be tomorrow because you can see where the fish have been and track that movement much easier. As shared in the first paragraph, it bears repeating. Trolling is a very fluid presentation where you can get a really good pulse of how large the school is, whether you are dealing with fragmented groups of scattered fish or one large school of fish, you can figure out the bearing or direction these fish seem to be heading, you can almost guess where they will be. You gather an incredible amount of information when trolling because you just go over so much water. Come fall, trolling remains one of the most efficient tactics for catching walleyes on many large inland lakes, reservoirs and Great Lakes fisheries.


Autumn Fever

By Jason Wright, Ultimate Outdoor Adventures TV

Kurt Schirado - Fall WalleyeAs the fall harvest comes to full swing across west central North Dakota and the pale rolling prairie begins to show signs that our short-lived summer is coming to an end, the brilliant fall colors signal the approach of yet another season of “walleye-fever,” and the Missouri River from the Garrison Dam Tailrace to the North Dakota/South Dakota border just may play one of its most major roles yet of producing great numbers of fall walleyes.

Some of the finest walleye fishing of the year often takes place during the fall months of September, October and November. And, the Missouri River is no stranger to producing great catches of walleyes during the fall migration from Lake Oahe to the northern reaches of the Missouri River, but the trick is to locate where the bite is, and to match your presentation to the disposition of the fish. Contrary to the spring walleye migration, fall walleye fishing on the Missouri River can be as unpredictable as the fall weather, and from my past experiences, it’s not unusual for this river system to produce some of its best catches and largest walleyes during the most brutal weather conditions. And, similar to most walleye infested waters, the majority of large fish caught this time of year are females on a feeding frenzy timeline in order to nourish their developing eggs prior to the many months of frigid water temps before the spring spawn.

Comparable to the spring walleye migration, the fall is a great time for those that aren’t as familiar with a river system to get their feet wet as schools of fish begin to migrate north from Lake Oahe staging in various breaks and/or slack current areas of the river, south from the cities of Bismarck and Mandan to the South Dakota Border. Although, good fishing can be found within portions of the river throughout the entire year – if you know where to look for them and how to fish for them – it’s the spring and fall walleye migration that causes unmistakable symptoms of “walleye-fever” for most avid “river-rats.”

Unlike lake and reservoir walleyes, river walleyes have to fight current all or most of their lives; therefore, they have learned to adapt to structure and/or areas that provide current breaks (areas of less or no current) so they don’t have to struggle against current all the time. A current break is caused by anything that partially blocks, completely blocks, and/or diverts the river’s current allowing for less or no current. These slack current areas can oftentimes be identified by the unmistakable “oil-slick” appearance on the surface separating the main current from the slack or no-current area; hence the term current break. Most slack water areas are found behind and/or alongside exposed and underwater sandbars. However, other obstructions that can cause current breaks are rocky riprap, wing dams, stumps or fallen trees, as well as man-made obstacles such as bridge pilings.

The key to locating river walleyes during the fall is to start by finding the river channel and then begin looking for areas of slack current and/or the “oil-slick” on the surface nearest the channel. Walleyes will be using the channel to migrate in search of the slack water in order to ambush prey; therefore, key in on anything that might jut out towards the channel or hard bends in the river which might act as a funnel or magnet for both baitfish and walleyes funneling them into the slack water and thus possibly narrowing your search.

2014-08-12 10.16.21Once you have pin-pointed such an area, begin presenting your bait in a natural manner along the current break. During the fall, most traditional summer techniques will continue to produce fish; however, I focus on either trolling larger shad imitating crankbaits such as the new Berkley® Flicker Minnow and/or presenting jigs tipped with either Berkley® Gulp!® Alive™ 3” or 4” Minnows or 3” Minnow Grubs. Another great bait/presentation which has really caught the attention of many open water anglers is the use of jigging raps, and the fall is a great time to experiment with this otherwise well-known hard water presentation. Jigging raps can be jigged vertically as well as pitched out and retrieved with a sweep and drop motion.

No matter the presentation, I recommend starting towards the tail end of the slack current area where there is slightly more current and troll your way up into the slack water. The rise and/or fall of the river level can oftentimes dictate where walleyes will be located, for example; if the river level is dropping, walleyes have a tendency to seek deeper water near the current in fear of being trapped in the shallower water, and the opposite is usually the case when the river level is rising. During stable water levels I usually begin presenting my baits in depths from 5 – 15 feet in hopes of finding the shallow “feeding frenzy,” but since the active bite may have taken place during low light conditions, I won’t overlook deeper water near the river channel where walleyes might be resting prior to the next frenzy or migrator northward, especially when the water temps begin to drop during late fall.

Unpredictable cold fronts of the Dakotas can oftentimes bring with them rain, sleet, wind and snow during the fall which can actually “jump-start” a feeding frenzy by causing water temps to plummet from 70 degrees to near 50 degrees. This sudden drop in water temperature can trigger large schools of baitfish to scatter, while at the same time walleyes will seek areas such as the current breaks and funneling spots mentioned above, which attract and/or funnel roaming baitfish. As the baitfish begin to congregate along the current breaks and filter or funnel into the slack water, walleyes take advantage of this opportunity while using these current breaks/slack waters areas to ambush the roaming bait. As the fall season progresses and the average water temperatures remain lower, the best days on the water will be the warm sunny afternoons after the water has had a chance to warm slightly.

My fall bait theory is…bigger is better, in fact, I don’t think there is a better time to go big than during late fall and just prior to ice-up. When the water temps begin to rapidly cool down, walleyes begin to get sluggish and are not as likely to expend a great deal of energy on nothing more than a snack; therefore, bulk up and slow your presentation down as the water temps drop. But, in retrospect, the fish will be the determining factor as to where they will be located, how active they are, and whether they want a snack or a meal.

Will the stars align, is it possible “Walleye-Fever” will spread like a raging wildfire this fall, could this possibly be the start to one of the best fall fishing seasons, or will it simply come and go like the rising and setting sun, only to go through the motions with a few hot days on the water? I cannot answer those questions, but I will say that the pieces are pointing towards the possibility of a widespread autumn fever.

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Fall Back Walleyes

By Jason Mitchell Outdoors

Fall patterns run the gamut from shallow to deep. Depending on the body of water, there might be walleyes on shallow rocks or weeds, deep structure, deep rocks, open water or current bottlenecks.

Sometimes what is old will again become new in that locations, bays and shorelines that held fish early in the season suddenly load up with fish as water temperatures cool. Some of the best fall spots are often just a matter of going back to where you caught fish during the spring or early summer.

The reality is that there will be different populations of fish on different programs so it is impossible to say that most fish slide out deep in the fall or push up shallow. If only finding fish were that easy. Throw in the seasonal big moves that some fish make as they search out current or position next to bottleneck areas with moving water and the reality is that fall walleyes can be found just about anywhere.

What is a sure thing however is that fish will be moving and change will be a constant. Because fish do move so much in the fall, I have wrote in the past how much I love large community spots late in the year… big locations that intersect the route of many transient fish during the fall when fishing pressure drops off to practically nothing. That is a good recipe for success.

Another good recipe for success is to target smaller lakes that were really good earlier in the year. Now why small lakes versus big lakes? Don’t get me wrong, big lakes often fish really well in the fall and often fish much later into the fall as they take longer to freeze over but there are things I really like about lakes that are less than a couple thousand acres as fall turns ugly.

Small lakes seem to fish better during periods of strong winds. Tough weather is a reality as the open water season comes to a close and too much wind will sometimes make the fishing on big bodies of water much more difficult. Wind pounding hard bottom areas and the fact that water temperatures cool down with each passing front often are good for fishing but everything is better in moderation.

On smaller bodies of water or at least protected bays, you can sometimes fast forward or rewind on the patterns by either looking for protected areas that have avoided the brunt of the fronts and wind or you can look for area that are getting hit. Small lakes are sometimes going to be more controlled than the wide open all or nothing atmosphere of big water.

Not always but often, small lakes start out hot and then get tough as the summer progresses while large lakes often start out slower but then typically offer good fishing through the summer. So often however, we watch these small lakes become really productive again in the fall.

Often as well, cooling water temperatures drive good fishing in that falling water temps only make most patterns better, where as unusually warm trends actually seem to scatter fish. Determining whether the fish are on the scatter routine versus the loading up routine often dictates the strategy…. ie: trolling crank baits covering a lot of water versus fishing vertically on a specific location. As a rule of thumb, pale washed out fish are fish on the run while darker fish are more stable residents of a particular location.

Fall walleye fishing can be some of the best fishing of the season. Classic patterns unfold each season on many bodies of water and there is often very little fishing pressure. Fall fishing however can also be extremely frustrating when fish are not watching the calendar. There can be times when it seems like the fall pattern is no pattern…. fish are scattered everywhere but there isn’t a concentration anywhere.

You can put the odds in your favor this fall by either targeting a smaller or larger lake with some strategy just like you would early in the year. Adjust your strategy and presentation to the fish and not the calendar. Warm trends and scattered fish call for a completely different game plan than cooling temperatures and concentrating fish. Look at the conditions and not the calendar.


How a Weekend Wedding Lead to Fishing the Big Waters

By Matthew Skoy, Wildlife Pursuit

2014 - Unique WeddingMy wife informed me that we were heading to Islamorada, FL. for a wedding. I was excited because I had never experienced Florida, and I was convinced I would come back with a tan. I never expected what would happen when we arrived at our destination, but as faith had it, I met the bride’s dad, who some would call a fishing legend.

The night we arrived in Islamorada, the father of the bride asked if I had ever fished the big water. I explained that my fishing experience had been limited to North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin, and I had never been fishing for deep sea creatures. He laughed and said I was in luck, because he had brought his boat! He insisted on taking me out to Whale Harbor the morning of the wedding in search for a monster Tarpon. To say I was excited would be an understatement – I gladly agreed to the offer.

The day of the wedding, I met him by the docks before sunrise, and we loaded up the fishing tackle. He explained to me that he could not guarantee anything, but would do his best to make a catch happen. It wasn’t an hour into the trip, and I hooked something big. The fight was on, and I was determined to land this creature. As time passed, I knew I was fighting the biggest fish of my life. After about 45 minutes I was able to pull in a tarpon that would kick the scales at over 100 pounds. This was a tremendous accomplishment and I was thrilled! The bride’s dad went one step further and filmed the entire adventure. It was priceless!

A few hours after the fishing trip, his daughter was married and we celebrated the wedding and the catch of the day. I will never forget what he did for me on that warm Florida day. He introduced me to a whole new world of fishing and I will always be grateful. Thank you for the experience and the memory of catching a monster tarpon!


Her First Fishing Adventure

By Matthew Skoy, Wildlife Pursuit

2014 - Her 1st Fishing AdventureShe insisted on wearing her lifejacket before leaving the house for our very first fishing adventure. At two years old, my little girl loves to try new and exciting things, and today would mark our first fishing outing. I picked up a small Dora the Explorer fishing rod and created a small tackle box out of an old toolbox. We had a dozen night crawlers and multiple forms of snacks ranging from juice to cheerios. We had our sunglasses and sunscreen and we were ready to hit the open road.

Finally, the truck was loaded and we were off to a nearby pond. During the drive, I reflected on my first memory of fishing with dad. I remembered the feeling of catching my first fish and how excited and proud my father was in that moment. As memories began to flood my mind, I thought about what this experience would be like with my daughter. I thought about the memories we were making and how excited I was to witness her pulling in the catch of the day. As we approached the pond I felt like a kid in a candy store, so thrilled to being exposing my daughter to the beautiful art of fishing. The time had come to share what I had learned over the years with my daughter.

When we arrived at the fishing hole, we took off toward the dock. Within minutes, I baited my daughters hook, attached a bobber, and dropped the line off the edge of the dock. I took a deep breath and captured the moment of my daughter and I fishing together. Everything was perfect, the sun was up in the beautiful blue sky, the water was calm, and there was no one else fishing, just me and my baby.

Well, to say that snapshot in time was perfect would be understatement, but it did not last long. After just minutes of enjoying the moment, my daughter observed a park in the distance and insisted we leave our fishing adventure and move in the direction of the park. After she repeated the word park several times, I knew that our fishing trip was over, but what a moment, even if it only lasted a few minutes. The rest of the afternoon consisted of running around the park and going up and down the big slide.

Even though our fishing outing was short lived, we still experienced it together. This article is for all the moms and dads out there teaching their kids to fish, because I am certain you can relate. During our time together on the dock, I realized to embrace the moment and enjoy every second of it! We will be planning another fishing adventure in the near future and maybe this time we will find a pond without a nearby park.


Spinning Late Summer Lazy Walleyes

By Jason Wright, Co-Host of Ultimate Outdoor Adventures TV

WalleyeAs mid-summer quickly approaches and farmers are prepping their combines for harvest, those of us that chase walleyes begin to sense just how limited our open water fishing can be in North Dakota. There are those that have already begun to store their long-rods, switching their focus from fishing to bowhunting.  I often wonder if the cause of “early rod storage” is possibly because the late summer/early fall bite can oftentimes be tough.  However, there are many of us that choose to hang on and persevere through the tough walleye bite that can occur – especially on Lake Sakakawea – during the latter part of August and early September prior to the fall “feeding frenzy.”  It is safe to say that for some years the month of August can be phenomenal while for other years it’s just the opposite.


Now here is a scenario I have encountered on various late August/early September outings on Lake Sakakawea, and I think many of you can relate.  You’re excited to get to your favorite spot on the lake more so because there are only a handful of trailers at the ramp.  However, it’s one of “those” days on the water – you know the kind – a bit hot and quite muggy, and as the fishless morning continues your confidence in your chosen technique begins to melt like the ice in your cooler. You’re out in 25 – 35 feet of water, trolling over loads of fish that you know are walleyes – at least you are pretty sure – since this is the same area you caught them in last year not to mention last week.  But today you’re wondering if your Lowrance is stuck on simulation because it is fish after fish on the screen.  Frustration begins to take hold because not one of the perfect hooks moving across the screen is making any attempt at smashing your crankbaits.  Maybe they are salmon!  No, that can’t be since eventually one of them would take a crankbait.  Pike?  Nope, they too would sooner or later tear after a 400 Series Reef Runner; right?  Skipjacks?  Hope Not!


The situation doesn’t make sense. The water is warm, so the metabolism of these walleyes on the graph must be high meaning they should be “active” and feeding. The weather is stable; sunny and hot for the last few days.  But your “400 Series Ripshad Reef Runners” trolled with lead core which simply slayed them last week and is always a great go-to setup this time of year is being unnoticed. The problem could very well be and most likely is something you can’t see. After over-analyzing the situation you begin to wonder if the abundance of baitfish hanging in the 30 – 50 foot range had caused an all-out free for all feeding frenzy the past few days.  That’s it; they’re stuffed like sausages, lazy, lethargic and not in any mood to chase after a crankbait.


If you’re not following me, think of it this way: Many of us enjoy a mouth-watering holiday meal with family and friends, but we oftentimes over-eat, feeling lazy, tired and stuffed.  Now if the ice cream truck was driving down the street, you most likely aren’t going to jump up and chase it down; right?  But, if someone decided you should casually drive to Cherry Berry and sit down for a creamy cup of frozen yogurt you might be able to muster up enough energy to make that happen.  Do you see where I am going with this?


My suggestion, based on my own experience, is if you run into a similar scenario while fishing Lake Sakakawea like my daughter Brynn and I did on a recent outing, offer those stuffed and lazy walleyes a little dessert that is attractive enough to get them to check it out and then strike.


Spinners and CrawlersI have found that a spinner rig trailing a fat juicy nightcrawler can make a fabulous after dinner meal even for an over-stuffed walleye.  Another great tip that I have had great success with is rather than a live crawler try a Berkley Gulp!Alive! 7” Spinner Crawler which provides a rolling action walleyes can’t resist.  However, some days I have found that less is more so I remove the bottom hook from my spinner harness and tip the remaining hook with a Berkley Gulp! Killer Crawler.  If you haven’t tried either of the above Berkley Crawlers, they would be a wise purchase from Scheels. Give them a try, and you might be amazed at your success.


Several key factors make spinners and crawlers the best bet when nothing else works on suspended or bottom-hugging “dog day” late summer walleyes.  First, a spinner is presented more slowly than a crankbait this time of year, meaning the fish don’t have to work very hard to chase it down. Second, that tempting nightcrawler is enough to make a walleye’s mouth water as it rolls through the water giving off an undeniable scent. Third, the vibration of the spinner blade quite possibly mimics that of a struggling baitfish triggering an innate behavior strike.  And finally, the flash of a spinner will attract any fish in the area to it or at least get its attention, so even though you troll more slowly and cover less water; the strike attraction zone of the spinner is probably greater than with a faster moving crankbait. In other words, the fish can see this slow-moving, flashy thing from a long ways away and since it is going slowly, they will swim a fairly long way to investigate.


The dog-day walleye scenario takes place to some extent anywhere you find walleyes and baitfish or other food, such as insect larvae that are not relating to structure, although, I feel it is most common to encounter these “middle-of-nowhere” walleyes in larger reservoirs such as Lake Sakakawea or Lake Oahe where they are roaming large flats.  But, this doesn’t mean that this late summer presentation won’t work on your favorite lake since it has more to do with the time of year and the abundance of baitfish or other abundant food.


Colorado vs IndianaNo one spinner blade seems to work best in this situation, but rather try to match spinner size to the size of fish that dominates the lake. If I am targeting 18 – 22 inch fish (or smaller based on my most recent outings), then I usually choose a No. 2 or No. 3 spinner blade.  If the walleyes that I am targeting are much bigger, then I might choose a No. 6 spinner blade.  I have found that the Colorado and Indiana style blades tend to work better – for me personally – than some of the other styles, possibly because the wider blade produces more vibration than some of the other shapes.  Other blade styles that I have had success using are the chopper and hatchet style blades. These offer different vibrations than more traditional blades and can trigger bites from walleyes that would otherwise ignore your offerings.


As far as colors are concerned, I usually recommend beginning with the age-old rule which is the hammered silver and gold metallic blades work best in clear water and then go with more fluorescent colors when fishing stained water.  But remember these are just guidelines to help you get started and, then you can experiment to see what works for you; or maybe let the walleyes decide since we know they don’t really follow our rules.  There are many cool colors and finishes on the market today when it comes to spinner blades and one of my favorite combinations is the holographic/metallic combination since you get the best of both – color and flash.  These blades are also responsible for winning various walleye tournaments the past few years and are becoming more and more popular amongst fishermen.


Spinner Storage Tackle BuddyI choose to tie my own spinner harnesses so I can decide the length and pound test of the leader as well as the style and quality of hooks.  I begin with a 4 – 6 foot piece of 10# Berkley Vanish fluorocarbon monofilament and then snell two Eagle Claw Style L183 #4 hooks approximately two inches apart, add six 5mm colored beads a quick change clevis and then tie a loop at the end which is needed to attach to a snap swivel.  I use the winter months – during a period of cabin fever – to tie my spinner harnesses and then wrap them around a Tackle Buddy Spinner Holder which keeps them from getting tangled.  I store all my snelled rigs and spinners in a small plastic container so that I’m not digging through a bunch of boxes in order to find what I need when I am on the water.


Bottom Bouncer and Snap WeightTaking the spinner and bait to the fish depends on where in the water column they are. A very effective and efficient weighting system for trolling open water spinners is the use of snap weights. Using the Snap Weight option, clip one of these to the line 50 feet in front of the spinner, let out another 50 feet of line. By varying the weight (1/2 once to 3 ounces), you can vary your depth.  This works best if the fish are suspended 3 – 6 feet off the bottom and when utilizing planers boards to spread out your lines this can be a very effective and overlooked practice.  Another weighting system which is most commonly used is to attach the spinner to a bottom bouncer which enables you to better target bottom hugging walleyes.  I usually begin with a 1¼ ounce bottom bouncer and then adjust my weight depending on the depth of water I am targeting.  Some anglers, myself included, even go a step further and paint the lead part – acting as an attractant – of the bottom bouncer, and there is no doubt this can make a difference.  Both methods can be very effective in targeting and catching late summertime walleyes…sometimes the spinners pulled behind snap weights get more bites, sometimes it’s the ones attached to the bottom bouncer.  Again, it may take a little experimentation to determine what’s going to work best on any given day.


Using in-line planer boards to take the spinners out to the side of the boat increases the amount of water you can cover especially when targeting roaming walleyes on large flats.  By putting lighter weights on the outside lines and heavier weights inside, you can probe different depths until you find the set-up that catches fish and fewer tangles will occur this way too.


So with the remaining opportunities this summer – prior to the fall bite – try “spinning” those late summer lazy walleyes with a slow-moving spinner and a tasty nightcrawler.  Changing your normal tactics this time of year just might turn your “dog-day” outing into a more positive fishing experience.  This technique is also a great way to introduce and/or take a young person fishing since it is not unusual to catch a variety of species and there is always some type of action.