Chasing King Salmon

Posted on March 26, 2015 / By Jason Wright of Ultimate Outdoor Adventures TV

TRIPLEKINGSCheck out full gallery below!

My crazed passion for chasing Salmon on Lake Sakakawea during the months of August, September and into October from the late 1980’s through the early 2000’s was caused by the indepth biological thinking of the ND Game & Fish Department. I would temporarily stow my walleye gear and become obsessed with “black jaw fever” towards the end of July each year.

It was the ND Game & Fish biologists that determined chinook salmon could thrive in the deep cold-water habitat found in Lake Sakakawea which was nearly void of sport fish. The first stocking efforts took place in the late 1970’s which were successful leading to salmon fisheries in both Fort Peck and Lake Oahe. This eventually caused “black jaw fever” to spread to both Montana and South Dakota. These stocking efforts would lead to a very prosperous salmon fishery providing another great opportunity for anglers. It was usually mid-July in North Dakota when a strange metamorphosis began to take place. Anglers, once satisfied with a freezer full of tasty walleye fillets, became obsessed with locating salmon in the deep water of Lake Sakakawea near Pick City and Riverdale.

The beauty of salmon fishing is that it was and still is an available option to almost anyone with or without a boat. Depending on the time of year, Chinook salmon – also known as “King” salmon – can be caught not only by trolling deep with downriggers and other means, but also by long lining spoons and crankbaits as well as by casting from shore.

Although my passion for locating and catching salmon from a boat or shore ran strong for many years it lessened as water levels began to drop in 2003 which eventually affected Saks cold-water habitat as well as the smelt population. Mother Nature dealt us very dry conditions with hot temperatures during the summer months creating a “not so ideal” environment for both salmon and smelt – the main forage base for Sakakawea salmon. The lack of water eventually ended after several harsh winters which instantly shot the lake level to an all-time high causing high levels of entrainment the spring/summer of 2011 – again negatively affecting the smelt and salmon population. As salmon fishing became more inconsistent from one year to the next I chose to spend more time chasing walleyes, fishing tournaments and additional time in treestands during September. Memories of seeing a rod pounding as a salmon ripped the line from the release attached to a downrigger ball 90 feet below the surface or the enjoyment of walking the shoreline casting for salmon throughout September always remained quite vivid.

It’s true that over the past decade my desire to chase salmon on Lake Sakakawea had diminished, but similar to glowing embers after an evening campfire, all I needed was a bit of fuel. It’s funny how things have a way of working out – those embers were about to ignite.

February 2014 – Symptoms of “Black Jaw Fever”
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During the 2014 Bismarck Tribune Sports Show it just so happened that I began to come down with what would eventually be determined was a severe case of “black jaw fever” – only cured by the hammering of a rod and screaming of a drag after hooking up with a 4-year old salmon. The symptoms started after passing by the Kinn’s Sport Fishing booth and seeing photos of big king salmon caught from Lake Michigan. That sparked an instant conversation between Kurt Schirado and me as we reminisced about great catches of salmon from both boat and shore during many adventurous salmon outings on Lake Sakakawea, Fort Peck and Lake Oahe – one great fish story after another.

As you can imagine my symptoms were getting worse and the next time we passed by the Kinn’s Sport Fishing booth we greeted Troy Mattson (co-owner), grabbed one of the professional looking brochures and continued on our way. That evening I studied the brochure which looked more like a glossy magazine with high quality photos of great catches of king salmon, steelhead and coho. I was hooked, and it was obvious that my case of “black jaw fever” was severe, so I did what everyone living in the 21st Century would do – started my computer and typed www.kinnskatch.com. I also checked out their YouTube Channel and Facebook page which provided more information regarding them as a premiere charter fishing destination specializing in king salmon, steelhead, and coho on Lake Michigan.

The next morning after arriving a bit late to our booth, I found out that Kurt too was experiencing symptoms of “black jaw fever.” He had thought long and hard about possibly booking a king salmon trip with Kinn’s Sport Fishing. It didn’t take long for him to say, “I think we should book a trip and experience something new!” I immediately responded with a yes knowing that if the research I had done was accurate this could be an awesome adventure. Kurt took the initiative to hook up with Troy Mattson, co owner of Kinn’s Sport Fishing, and set up a time for the three of us to settle on dates for our trip. Later that afternoon we all agreed that early August would be the best time for all of us.

August 2014 – Six Months Later…

Our Toyota Tundra HD was definitely loaded for “kings” on August 2nd as Kurt Schirado, Gerry Meissner, and I rolled into Algoma, Wisconsin, located approximately 30 miles east of Green Bay. We quickly realized that this town of approximately 3,000 was very clean, the people were extremely friendly and its location right on the shore of Lake Michigan created the ultimate sportsman’s atmosphere. Troy gave us directions to one of the condos we would stay in and to say the least it was amazing; it even had a double stall garage. Later that evening we had an opportunity to meet up with Troy as he explained what we could expect for the next few days. He then pointed us to the harbor so we could get an up close and personal look at the Kinn’s fleet of boats. By now it was becoming obvious that we had booked a trip with an extremely professional business committed to providing the ultimate salmon fishing experience, but when we checked out their fleet of 11 boats ranging in size from 32’ – 38’ we were in awe! They were tournament rigged with radar, extremely clean/organized, equipped with GPS, and the latest in marine electronics not to mention top notch rods/reels and tackle for Lake Michigan salmon and trout fishing. The next morning couldn’t come quickly enough!!

The alarm goes off early when you are targeting king salmon on Lake Michigan since the best fishing during early August usually takes place prior to and shortly after the sun rises; therefore, the plan was to meet at the harbor by 3:30 AM. We were assigned to Big Daddy II with Captain Bryan Wiesner along with two of the best first mates you could imagine; a truly well-organized team. As we walked down the ramp towards Kinn’s fleet of boats I was giddy with excitement as every boat was brightly lit up with crews preparing for another day of fishing for king salmon. Bryan greeted us with excitement and enthusiasm while telling us where to stow our camera equipment then pointed us to the freshly brewed coffee and fresh pastries.

It wasn’t long until all rods were secured in rod holders as Captain Bryan was searching for a huge school of king salmon. The tactics weren’t a whole lot different from what we use which included downriggers, dipsy divers, lead core line, planer boards and tackle including everything from spoons to flasher/fly combinations. Although the presentation and equipment was very similar it was amazing at how skilled this crew was at keeping 14 lines in the water at all times throughout the morning.

I think the best way to describe what was about to happen is “perfect chaos!” The king salmon action – which I will never forget – began as Captain Bryan shouted, “Fish On…Here We Go Boys!” I still get goose bumps just thinking about it. The first king salmon was on and nearing the net when another rod loaded up with the drag screaming and soon another king was netted. It was awesomeness as Kurt, Gerry and I handed off the video camera to Captain Bryan in order to keep up with the insane salmon fishing. During the next 3 hours we had constant fish on at all times with doubles and triples very common. Kings were being netted at an incredible rate, but like any other day, we lost quite a few salmon which may have been the only factor that kept us grounded. Gerry was the first to boat an awesome 4-year old which was in the mid 20# range not long after sunrise which made for a picture perfect moment. As the sun rose higher the fishing began to taper off, which to be honest, was ok because we all needed a moment to take in what we had just experienced. We boated over 20 king salmon as well as a few really nice steelhead during our first morning charter with Kinn’s Sport Fishing. As we leisurely made our way back to the harbor that morning the first mates filleted, washed and neatly bagged our catch with awe-inspiring skill and then scrubbed down the deck – another sign we were fishing with the best.

Our incredible first day with Kinn’s Sport Fishing ended with a trip to Bearcats Fish House where we dropped off 85 pounds of fresh salmon fillets to be smoked, vacuum sealed and frozen prior to our departure. During the next couple of days we experienced similar fishing on Lake Michigan aboard Big Daddy II with Captain Bryan Wiesner – salmon spectacular to say the least. I have appreciated many great days on the water in the upper Midwest and Canada, but I can honestly say this was the most incredible.

My first time trolling for king salmon on Lake Michigan during the early hours well before sunrise was revitalizing and successfully calmed my symptoms of “black jaw fever” – for now. The anticipation of waiting for the scream of a drag as a large king salmon slams your lure hoping this could be the big one creates a natural high. But most memorable might be the thrill and challenge of fighting multiple salmon at the same time in the dark of night with friends who share the same passion. Now I understand why so many have said that the Great Lakes salmon and trout bite is legendary. If you would like to find out more about Kinn’s Sport Fishing check them out online at www.kinnskatch.com or search for them on Facebook.

While writing this article I took the time to browse through photos from my experience fishing for king salmon on Lake Michigan last summer, but at the same time I am excited for the opportunities salmon anglers can expect right here in North Dakota. Lake Sakakawea has been experiencing very favorable and consistent water levels the past few years and 2015 is looking very promising. This consistency has allowed for a solid smelt population and an increase of salmon being stocked by the ND G&F compared to the past few years. In my opinion, if Mother Nature will continue to help keep Lake Sakakawea at an elevation necessary for a quality coldwater habitat, and with the increased stocking efforts of the ND Game & Fish, the future looks good for salmon anglers on Lake Sakakawea.

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Scheels Pro Staff: Ten Items That Are Always In My Tackle Box

Posted on March 24, 2015 / By Scheels Pro Angler Johnnie Candle

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Spring fishing is almost here. Scheels Pro Angler Johnnie Candle shares his necessary gear and what’s always in his tackle box:

1)  #5 Berkley Flicker Shad in Pearl Ghost – My most versatile crankbait.  Can troll it at many depths or cast it to the shallows.  It seems to produce on most days.

2)  3.5 inch Berkley Ripple Shad in Fire Tiger – Can’t miss for walleye with this one.

3)  3 inch Gulp! Minnow in Emerald Shiner – Can fish it on a jig, spinner, or drag it on a plain hook.

4)  Size #2 Trokar Revolve Hooks – These are the sharpest hooks I have found out of the box and roll a night crawler or artificial as good as anything out there.

5)  Extra Spools of Line – It never fails that a “professional over-run” is somewhere in your future.  Don’t let a giant bird’s nest wreck your day because you can’t put new line on.

6)  Ample supply of 1/8 oz and 1/4 oz jig heads – These two sizes cover 80% of my fishing.  Color is least important.  If you want to save a few bucks, use the un-painted ones.

7)  3 inch white Twister Tail grubs – The catch anything that swims and work great on the 1/8oz and 1/4oz jigs.

8)  Reef Runner Crank Baits – If you are a walleye angler and don’t own one, you are really missing out.  They work from the Great Lakes to the Western Reservoirs.

9)  Scissors – nothing cuts fishing line better than a great pair of scissors.

10)  Size #2 Octopus hooks – you can deliver any type of live bait on an octopus style hook and size #2 works for all of them.  Red is by far my go to color for a hook.

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Gearing Up for Spring Fishing

Posted on March 20, 2015 / By Kurt Schirado of Ultimate Outdoor Adventures TV
Scheels_Bags-JasonWrightFor years I’ve taken advantage of the bitter days “Old Man Winter” delivers to prepare for the busy spring fishing and hunting months that lie ahead, and even though we may not have had a blustery winter, gearing up for the spring fishing season is in full swing. This past weekend I took inventory of all my fishing gear, and with a new Triton 186 Fishunter, I made note of all my storage options and then raced off to the local Scheels store to meet my best friend and fishing partner, Jason Wright.

We first met for a hot cup of coffee at Gramma Ginna’s Fudge and Coffee Shop where our morning conversation centered on the outlook of the up and coming open water season as well as storage options found within our new walleye rigs. Still deep in conversation, we purposely stumbled toward the fishing department. Our first stop was to admire the new line-up of fishing rods by Fenwick. These newly designed rods feature Carbon Bound Spiral Blanks, Fuji Reel Seats, Titanium Guides and a new sculpted TAC and EVA blended handle. After testing several of these new beauties, without hesitation, we both decided the 6’9″ Medium light, fast action spinning rod would suffice our spring walleye needs…a great rod for casting jigs and or rigging. Perfect!

Our next move would find us in the “tackle bag” aisle. To most, this sounds like an easy decision but after nearly an hour and a half of inspecting all the options, we both decided the new Scheels Outfitters soft sided bags should cover all our fishing needs. First, we needed a compact but roomy bag just to handle our jigs so we both agreed on the small size Scheels Outfitters Deluxe Tackle Bag which includes 4 Plano® 3650 totes. For our tackle tamers, slip sinkers, rigging tackle and bottom bounces we chose the large size Scheels Outfitters Mega Tackle Bag which includes 4 Plano® 3700 totes. Both bags embrace multiple pockets on each side and back to keep all your tackle organized and secure. Convenient tool holders are incorporated to keep your tools handy and safe. The Scheels Mega Tackle Bag is also equipped with a nifty sunglass case attached to the side for safe and easy accessibility.

With most of our tackle already contained in the two soft sided bags mentioned above, we still needed a simple but large storage bag for all our crankbaits. After a continued search for the ultimate set up, we stumbled across the Scheels Outfitters Dry Bag. This waterproof storage bag is great for camping, hunting, or even during those days when fishing with a friend and moving from boat to boat. I carefully chose the medium, olive green bag and found it perfect to handle up to 8 of the large Plano® boxes and 4 of the small Plano® boxes. This would suit me perfect for all my crankbait storage and travel needs as well as fit nicely in my front storage compartments.

With most of my fishing gear already sorted and neatly stowed, I think my next task at hand will be to strip all the line off my spinning reels and re-spool them with some new 6# hi-vis monofilament. Once that is accomplished the Missouri River will become my playground for the next month allowing me to do what I like best…casts jigs for spring time walleyes.

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Late Ice Fortunes

Posted on March 3, 2015 / By Jason Mitchell of Jason Mitchell Outdoors

IMG_1345The last period of safe ice typically offers some of the best ice fishing of the year for panfish like bluegill and crappie.  For crappies in particular, we often find fish shallow and the fish can often be fairly aggressive.  The locations to find crappies is often a matter of connecting the dots.  On most lakes and flowages, crappies will suspend out over holes and basins through much of the winter.  Crappies will than set up in shallow protected bays, marinas and creek arms that have a few feet of water to spawn.  So we know where the fish were and we know where they are going to be in less than a month, the key now is finding structure between point A and B.  More specifically, look for soft bottom locations and if you can find weeds present, even better.  From my own experiences, I have found crappie over rock bottoms through the summer and early ice but not so much at late ice.  The deep lip at the mouth of a shallow bay or a saddle separating the basin from shallower backwater is a prime starting point.  Any soft bottom point, hump or lip that lies between the basin and the bay is a good candidate for searching.  As mentioned above, if you can add weeds to the location… better yet.

As a general rule of thumb, crappie will often keep pushing shallow and further back towards these spawning locations as the late ice season progresses.  There are two things I really keep an eye out for when looking for fish.  Look for any weeds sticking out of the ice or in the ice.  When weeds reach the surface, you will see weeds frozen in the ice and these locations will often reveal where the best stands of weeds are.  As winter gives way to spring and the days begin to get longer with a higher sun, weeds right under the ice will often green up and become vibrant again and these weed stalks hanging out of the ice will often hold fish.  As ice conditions deteriorate, crappies will often concentrate around pencil reeds as well but also remember that anything sticking out of the ice like pencil reeds, cattails or timber absorbs heat from the sun and the ice will often be more hazardous in these locations.

Besides weeds frozen in the ice, the second thing I look for is open holes.  When the days warm up and water starts flowing into old open holes, crappies will often stack right underneath.  The more holes and the bigger the holes the better.  Look for the foam.  The old hole pattern often picks up intensity as the day progresses because as the sun climbs high overhead and the temperatures warm up, the water begins to flow.  Look for crappies to roam right under the ice.  There are often situations where you can actually watch the fish and sight fish for them.

Long days, green weeds and highly oxygenated water flowing down open holes often makes fish aggressive.  Not always of course but some of the most aggressive crappie bites we see each winter often happen during this period of time.  There are times when finesse presentations are needed but don’t overlooked larger and more aggressive lures for finding and triggering these fish.  A great search lure for calling in big crappie is a size 3 or size 4 Salmo Chubby Darter along with size 1 and 2 Northland Fishing Tackle Puppet Minnows.  Spoons like a 1/16th ounce Northland Fishing Tackle Forage Minnow tipped with wax worms or spikes also get seen from a distance and work well.

When crappies are shallow and right under the ice, they really seem to go for the horizontal gliding action you find on lures like Salmo Chubby Darters, Puppet Minnows and Jigging Raps, with that being said I also like to fish horizontal jigs and soft plastics this time of year so that they glide and swim like a small minnow versus quivering like an insect or invertebrate.  My favorite jig for a glide and slide look is a Northland Tackle Hexi-Fly rigged with an Impulse Smelt Minnow.  To get the jig to slide out on the stroke, use a palomer knot and slide the knot towards the hook.  This combination offers a nice profile that fish can see against the ice and can be fished aggressively or much more subtle depending on the mood of the fish.

A video describing these types of locations and how to fish this presentation can be found at:

The hardest part of fishing for late ice crappie is knowing when to quit.  The fishing will often keep getting better each day and the ice conditions get worst each day.  Ice safety is paramount.  Being safe starts with knowing when to say no and not pushing your luck.  When the shorelines start to go and the ice starts sagging with each step, you are on borrowed time.  Also be prepared for the worst by having ice pics, rope and floatation.  Just an inflatable personal floatation device like the Onyx A/M 24 Automatic Manual PFD (shop Onyx here) is dependable, comfortable and doesn’t inhibit your movement.  Even if holes are still open from previous days, still make a point to drill a few holes through the day because this is a good way to monitor the condition of the ice.  When ice begins to chip and come up in chunks when you drill a hole, the ice is not as strong.

The dawn of winter, the eve of spring… whatever you want to call the magical time frame of late ice is some of the most productive and funnest fishing of the winter.  Long days, aggressive fish and weather where you can fish without gloves and wear a sweatshirt is all part of the allure when we know another season is coming to an end.  Be safe and focus on some of the locations discussed in this article and I am confident you will experience some great late ice opportunities for crappie.

Important Safety Tools for late Ice

9558_Clam Emergency Throw Rope

Throw ropes should be carried in your sled or bucket so that you can aid another angler or another angler can aid you. This last season, Clam designed an ingenious throw rope design that contains the rope inside of a bag and can be thrown more accurately much like tossing a soft ball. Shop Here.

9579_Ice_Picks

Ice Picks like this set available from Clam can be worn around your neck and can save your life if the worst happens.  Experts recommend that you use the picks to pull yourself flat across the ice and than roll away from the area where you fell through preferably towards the ice that held your weight before you fell through.  If you don’t have ice picks, at least carry a screw driver in one of your pockets so that you can attempt to pull yourself up. Shop Here.

Personal Floatation Devices don’t have to be bulky or uncomfortable. An inflatable PFD like the Onyx A/M 24 can be inflated by submerging in water or by a manual pull strap so the PFD can be worn or thrown to another angler. Shop other Onyx life vests.

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Scheels Pro Staff: 10 Items That Are Always In My Boat.

Fishing

  1. Humminbird GPS with Lake Master Mapping – I would trade my sonar unit long before I would ever give up an accurate GPS with a Lake Master Map Chip.  These things are so accurate that I rely on them more than I ever thought I would.
  2. First Aid Kit – You never know what can happen out there.  Bandages, antiseptic and super glue (best ever for sealing cuts) are all must haves on a boat.
  3. Multi Tool – I carry a Leatherman Wave Tool in my boat at all times.  It is not the perfect tool kit, but it has got me out of a lot of jams.  It works great taking hooks out or opening a can of lunch.
  4. Side Cutter – It really stinks when you get a hook in your finger, but it is even worse if you can’t get it cut free form the rest of the lure.  This is one thing you carry and truly hope you never need it.
  5. Hook File – If they aren’t sharp, they don’t catch.
  6. Electrical Tape – It is the marine version of duct tape – no explanation needed.
  7. Tool Kit – I am far from a mechanic, but it is amazing how many things are easily fixed if you have an adjustable wrench and a screw driver.
  8. Sun Screen – Even on cold or cloudy days, the sun can cause a lot of damage.  I wear it every day.
  9. Fire Extinguisher – It is the law to have on in most places.  I have only had to use mine one once, and I’m sure was glad I had it.
  10. Dry Set of Clothes – Keep them in a zip lock or vacuum sealed bag.  If you would ever fall overboard or end up drenched in a rain storm, you will be glad you had them.
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Icing Late Season Pike – Lake Sakakawea

Kurt Schirado | Ultimate Outdoor Adventures TV

Season 13 episode 7 from John on Vimeo.

Over the past few decades, Lake Sakakawea has been an ever changing roller coaster of ups and downs because of inconsistent rainfall/snowfall, temperatures and spring runoff. The big lake has not been able to maintain normal water levels for any length of time. One year the water levels are at record lows and a few short years later, flows out of the Garrison Dam are ramped up as full pool is reached. The inconsistent weather Mother Nature provides, water levels which seem to fluctuate with little consistency and fish reproduction/habitat that depends on the afore mentioned variables provides anglers with an exciting but challenging fishery.

Each year Lake Sakakawea has the tendency to fluctuate ten to fifteen feet in depth from the time of ice out to freeze up. In late spring, local snowfall amounts, rainfall and mountain runoff will normally cause the lake to rise until mid-summer. Throughout the summer and fall, the lake usually maintains a more stable elevation which can create excellent fishing conditions…the more consistent the water level, the better the fishing. As winter approaches, the water level is lowered to allow for spring runoff as well as protect us from any possible flooding.

The past few years the water levels on Lake Sakakawea have remained more favorable; therefore, the fish stocking, habitat and reproduction have benefitted. With better habitat comes more baitfish, and with more baitfish come more game fish. The walleye, smallmouth bass and northern pike have flourished and definitely shown strong signs of improvement. Not so long ago, we had back to back record breaking winters of 100 plus inches of snow and above average rainfall the following spring, the water levels on the big lake rebounded and continued to hold steady the past couple of years and look very promising for 2015.

Business associate, good friend and fishing partner, Jason Wright, and I spend many days together strategizing different fishing situations on Lake Sakakawea and the Missouri River. Our similar yet different fishing styles make quite the unique team allowing us to find success as variables change from year to year. Sharing the same passion for the outdoors, it makes for some extremely enjoyable yet adventurous days on the water. During the summer of 2013 fishing on Lake Sakakawea was extremely good for a variety of species such as walleyes, smallmouth bass and northern pike. There were numerous days we navigated our Stratos boats to the far reaches of Douglas Bay pursuing walleyes. At times, it seemed for every walleye we boated, we would match that catch with a northern pike, which made for some action packed days on the water.

As the sun set during our last open water excursion on Lake Sakakawea that summer, and winter fast approached, ice formed blanketing the massive reservoir but little did we know how the open water season would affect our next trip on the big lake atop its frozen covering.

That winter, thoughts of catching northern pike through the ice was burning in the back of our minds, but it wasn’t until March of 2014 that we found the time to plan and strategize. Our plan centered on the incredible numbers of pike we had been catching in the creek channels during the previous summer. A question that came to mind was, “Why couldn’t we set up on the ice in the exact same areas we fished last summer and find success?” Well, one evening we pulled up “Google Earth” on the computer and zoomed in on Douglas Bay locating the nearest road leading to the same areas we had been fishing the previous summer that provided non-stop pike action. Boom, there it was…the road which just might lead us to an incredible day of icing pike during late ice.

Not claiming to be an ice fishing genius by all means, but if our plan worked, we would have the perfect opportunity to film some incredible ice fishing action during late ice. Pike numbers were extremely high on Lake Sakakawea and the late winter ice was just a couple of weeks from breaking free. Our timing couldn’t have been more perfect and the stars were obviously aligning as we put a plan together. The weekend weather called for light winds and warmer temperatures so we loaded the Toyota Tundra HD with our late ice pike gear, appropriate ice fishing food as well as camera equipment and headed north to one of our favorite summer walleye spots, but this time we would be targeting northern pike from atop a frozen covering which was quickly deteriorating.

The iPhone “Google Maps” app was quite handy when it came time to snaking our way back on an old prairie trail to find our final destination. [Note: If you are crossing private land you must have permission from the landowner.] Once our gear was unloaded and video cameras on standby mode, we relied on the collected data from our Lowrance HDS units to guide us as we drilled holes in various depths from 3 – 8 feet paralleling our way in a zigzag pattern along the shoreline. Four fishermen and sixteen “tip-ups” baited with various sizes of smelt and herring strategically set based on collected data from the previous summer – sounds like a perfect recipe for late season pike on Lake Sakakawea.

As John Arman filmed the morning sunrise, Jason, good friend, Lyle Humann, and I continued to bait and set tip-ups. I don’t think half the Scheels “Tip-Ups” were set before the first flag popped and someone shouted, “Tip-Up”! The camera was quickly turned focusing on Lyle, as he anticipated the first hook-up of the morning. As the string marker quickly plunged under the ice, it was now or never to set the hook…a swing and a miss. Lyle quickly re-baited the treble hook with another smelt, checked the depth and lowered the rig just inches off the bottom. Less than 5 minutes later another flag popped – “Tip-UP” – but this time I was the closest angler. The tip-up spool was spinning as line was being stripped out and the string marker was long gone so I set the hook and muscled the first pike through the ice…not a monster by pike standards but a great start.

As the morning sun heated the daytime air, the pike action steadily increased to a point of exhaustion. With just minutes between flags popping, it kept us running like four kids on a playground. After icing a few average sized pike, Lyle hooked the first giant. Again, John turned and focused the main camera on Lyle and captured the natural excitement, as the smaller “GoPro” camera recorded all the underwater action. Like kids in a candy store, Lyle and I shared the excitement on camera as he wrestled the large pike through the hole. Just as Lyle hoisted the big fish in the air, another flag popped – “Tip-UP”! I skated across the ice to grab the nearby tip-up. The depth marker was gone and the spool was emptying quickly. After a solid hook set and long battle, I was lucky to finesse another monster pike through the nine inch hole. Lyle and I teamed up to briefly admired these Sakakawea predators on camera, then took a few snapshots and released the “old girls” for someone else to enjoy on another day.

As the day progressed, the spring time sun was slowly melted the thinning ice. We thought we would take a short break and grill up some Cloverdale Brats and venison burgers – our ice fishing tradition – but the pike were relentless and kept hammering the baits so we took turns eating while the others patrolled the flags. The action continued to amaze us as tip-up after tipup kept popping…singles, doubles, triples and on several occasions four pike on at the same time – they never stopped biting. The flags were popping in all directions as the entire crew had their hands full trying to keep fresh bait in the water. The smelt were definitely working better than the herring but supplies were running short. Six hours of non-stop action had finally depleted all the bait and completely wore out four grown men.

Icing over sixty northern pike that day kept the guys busy slip-sliding from hole to hole acting like four young kids giddy with excitement while appreciating this shared opportunity knowing the stars had definitely aligned. Experiencing late ice action like that, has kept the memory alive all year with anticipation as to what could be expected in the coming weeks. The only regret I/we have from that incredible March day atop the frozen covering on Lake Sakakawea, was not going back the next day to do it all over again.

The motto I/we often toss out when targeting pike from the ice is “Keep it simple”! Why? Well it’s an activity that most anyone get afford to participate in since you don’t need any fancy gear, electronics or heated shack. But rather, pick up a few tip-ups, braided line, large split shot, steel leaders, treble hooks and a sharp hand auger will suffice – don’t forget the smelt/herring. Gearing up for late ice pike can be fun, affordable and easy by “keeping it simple” – and if you are near a local Scheels store just stop in and you will find all the necessary items to make icing for late season pike successful. So as the days get longer and the weather gets warmer, take advantage of the great late season ice fishing Lake Sakakawea has to offer.

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The Day I Made the Biggest Catch

Posted on February 12, 2015 / By Scheels Pro Angler Johnnie Candle

Feature

Fourteen years ago in August, I was preparing for a tournament on my home lake in Devils Lake, ND.  I went out one evening to unwind a bit and had an incredible conversation with a pretty neat gal.  Our conversation turned toward what we did for a living.  She was raising four daughters alone, working as a secretary at the local vocational school and at wherever she could at night.  My story couldn’t compare, but she at least acted interested in the life of a professional angler.  When it came time to call it a night, I asked her if she would be interested in joining me on the water the next day.  She had mentioned her kids were at summer camp and she was on “Vacation.”

She accepted my challenge (offer) and met me at the boat launch the next morning.  We got the boat in the water and headed to a spot where I knew we could catch a few fish.  She mentioned that fishing was not her cup of tea and did not go often, so I wanted her to catch some right away.

“You do have a fishing license, right?” 

To this day, I do not know why I asked her, but I did.

She looked at me in disbelief. I am not sure if it was because I asked her or because her answer was “No”.  Because of who I am and because getting caught breaking the law would end my career, I could not let her fish.  She seemed amazed that I took that stand but accepted it and decided to just ride along.  I caught a lot of fish that day and she seemed interested, at least enough for me to ask her out again.  She still tells people that I would not let her fish that day.

Bobbi JohnnieFast forward to the next time we fished together.  It was October of the same year, and my fishing season had slowed down to the point that I had a few days off.  The fish were biting well, and I asked her to join me again on the water.  This time I was preparing for a big TV shoot in the days to come.  She had no gear for the weather so I loaned her mine.  Again, she proved to be a trooper.  We trolled all day so she could stay curled up and warm.  Her first walleye weighed 7 lb. and her second weighed 8lb.  What a way to start!  We finished that day driving nine miles to the boat ramp on the reserve kicker engine as my main outboard had a few technical difficulties.  To this day she still comments on how I did not even swear when the motor broke down.  She knew how important the TV show was that I was then unable participate in, and it amazed her I handled it so well.  Perhaps it was still the newness of the relationship, I am not sure.

Well, here we are 14 years later.  I am still a stickler for the rules, I swear a little more than I used to, I have 4 step-daughters that I never dreamed of having and I still do not take her fishing enough, but Bobbi Lunday is safe in my livewell, the keeper I will never throw back.

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“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.

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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!

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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.

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