Missouri River Walleyes 

Posted on April 24, 2015 / By Jason Wright, Co-Host with Ultimate Outdoor Adventures TV

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Spring fishing for Missouri River walleyes is a tradition that many anglers in the central Midwest have cherished for many years usually beginning in mid-March through early June.  It oftentimes is the much needed relief for cabin fever, and this year has been no exception as we all endured colder than average temperatures throughout the winter months.  This lingering “cold spell” has slowed the normal spring migration of walleyes into the upper reaches of the Missouri River and shortened our spring fishing season.  This delay of “spring-like” weather has provided better walleye angling in the southern reaches of the Missouri River stretch from the Hazelton Boat Ramp south towards the ND/SD state line.  But, with warmer weather forecasted and the notion that “spring” will eventually arrive, walleye enthusiasts have changed their conversations from heating bills to spring walleye fishing.

As daytime temps begin to warm into the 50’s and 60’s pushing the river water temperature into the low to mid 40 degree range, fishermen will soon begin to fill the parking lots at boat ramps up and down the Missouri River which have remained somewhat scarce due to the unseasonably cold weather pattern through March and into early April.   Finally, the conversations at local restaurants, bait shops, and sporting goods stores are all about walleyes – Missouri River walleyes. Instead of the weather, the major discussions are centered on which ramps are best to use or “Are people catching good numbers of walleyes north of town?  What is the water temperature? Are you using live bait or Berkley Gulp! Alive! products?  What is the average size?  How has the night fishing been from shore? Are the fish looking healthy?  Any fish being caught on crankbaits?” The quick trips in and out of Scheels are no longer the norm as anglers stand amongst the fishing isles sharing last weekend’s success and planning for next weekend’s outing.  All this while eagerly filling their baskets with jigs, fishing line, the newest crankbaits and other new products that recently hit the shelves hoping that the forecast for spring weather will hold true giving everyone an opportunity to enjoying this incredible resource.

River Rats are blessed with this spring opportunity to catch walleyes which are quite predictable in their springtime spawning ritual, as they migrate into the northern stretches of the Missouri River reach and its tributaries between the ND/SD border and the Garrison Dam to spawn.  Eager anglers search for holding and staging areas in hopes of intercepting walleyes before and after they spawn. The predictable and oftentimes incredible pre-spawn walleye fishing opportunity will begin to subside as the spawn comes to an end when walleyes encounter impassable structures in feeder creeks/small rivers or preferred spawning habitat.  The female walleye then searches for the proper structure and bottom content for laying her eggs.  Water temperature in the mid 40’s is sought along with a hard bottom covered with pea size rock and gravel.  A slight current flowing over the eggs is preferred to help oxygenate the eggs. The male walleyes are the first to begin the migration towards the spawning areas and oftentimes have been in the “staging” area(s) for a couple of weeks. The smaller aggressive males will actively search for females and their eggs to fertilize while at the same time providing excellent fishing opportunities for both shore anglers and those in boats.

Boat ramp access is normally good, but can change depending on the river level, amount of deposited silt/sand as well as ramp repair or necessary improvements in some locations; therefore, it is always good to periodically check out the Missouri River boat ramp status which is updated on the NDG&F website or go to http://gf.nd.gov/fishing/boat-ramps.

Similar to fishing on the ice, where ice houses attract more ice houses, boats often attract more boats. Though, these areas are ok to learn what to look for as far as structure and lack of current, there are oftentimes secluded and less pressured fish in many areas up and down the river. My point is once you begin to have an idea as to what a “good” spot might look like, both above and below the surface, it’s rewarding to head off on your own.  Try to find similar spots which can oftentimes provide better fishing and a sense of accomplishment.  There is always something to learn while angling up and down the Missouri River in search of walleyes, so be sure to pay attention to all the details no matter how simple they may seem.

A struggle some novice river anglers have is that river fishing is a little different than lake fishing in regards to navigating, locating walleyes, and boat control with current.  Unfortunately, this uneasiness for the current has kept many from enjoying this spring fishing tradition; therefore, once you hit the water take your time and be smart…learning the art of understanding, navigating and fishing a river takes time. River walleyes constantly have to fight current; therefore, energy is used, so these fish try and locate any type of structure that is breaking the current.

River walleyes 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 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 the spring and slack water provides staging opportunities as well as areas to ambush prey.  Look for areas/spots 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.

These slack current areas allow the fish to rest and feed without fighting the current. Walleyes can dart out, feed quickly, and then return to their holding spot while conserving their strength for spawning. Good spots can be located up and down the river, so the wise angler will leave the pack and begin learning how and where to locate these spots. It may take some experimentation, but if you take your time you should be able to find these pre-spawn fish. Once you learn to read the river, finding walleyes becomes much easier, and when you find these prime locations you’ll most likely choose not to fish in a pack of boats again. Finding fish is the hard part. Catching river walleyes is much easier than locating them!

The equipment needed to get started is relatively simple. First, a good fishing rod to feel that light tap of finicky spring walleyes is a must. A quality graphite rod between 6 and 7 feet is preferred by most and my first pick is a 6’10” medium light Elite Tech walleye series by Fenwick. Then incorporate a small open face spinning reel spooled with 6# or 8# blaze orange or solar Berkley Sensation or 8# test high vis chartreuse Berkley NanoFil (uni-filament fishing line).  I’ve found that Pflueger has a great line-up of reels and a variety of models that will exceed your expectations.   Remember, you will spend most of your time fishing in water less than 15 feet deep; therefore, a small reel capable of holding 100 yards of 6# or 8# test is sufficient and will help keep your setup light.

Next, have a good supply of jigs ranging in size from 3/16 oz to 3/8 oz in a variety of your favorite colors. Jig shapes vary, but for most applications, you can get by with a typical round-head jig and then begin to experiment with different shapes as you begin to get more proficient.  The majority of the time I use a 3/16 ounce jig tipped with either a live fathead minnow or Berkley Gulp! Alive! 3” or 4” minnow.   The important thing is to maintain bottom contact whether vertical jigging, casting, or dragging your jig. Sometimes, as was the case this past week, we found that a slower jigging presentation was out-fishing a faster or more aggressive presentation telling us to keep it slow and simple.   When you notice this, try a plain light wire hook with a colored bead and split shot above the hook. The distance between the hook and shot varies with the structure and amount of current. A great starting point is to attach the split shot about a foot above the minnow tipped hook and lengthen or shorten the distance based on success. Changing the color of the bead attractor can make a difference too when fish are less active and sluggish. The bait of choice is a good, lively fathead minnow.

A product I truly depend on during the spring bite is the Berkley Gulp! & Gulp! Alive! products which can turn a tough bite into an extremely successful outing.  Besides, it gets exhausting always having to re-bait when the weather is cold or immediately after missing or catching a fish.  This biodegradable non-plastic soft bait comes in many colors, shapes, sizes and is well worth having in your arsenal of walleye gear.

Boat control is another key to river walleye fishing, but with todays advanced 24v and 36v electric trolling motors, such as the Minn Kota Terrova, boat control doesn’t have to be difficult.  Whether you’re simply allowing the boat to drift downstream or using your electric trolling motor to slip slowly with the current, you can vertical jig or cast jigs into shallow water using your jig as a probe to help visualize the bottom contour and locate fish.  Another method which can be deadly is to what we refer to as “horizontal jig” which is to slowly troll upstream with your Minn Kota while your jig is behind the boat just far enough to make contact with the bottom while sweeping the rod forward and then dropping the rod tip backward until making contact with the bottom.

Nighttime wading can also be deadly during the spring because walleyes will move shallow to feed as well as search for a place to rest providing excellent opportunities for those that choose to fish for walleyes via moonlight. The stealthy night angler can catch big fish this time of year by casting jigs or shallow running stick baits with a tight wobble such as an Original Floating Rapala size #11 or #13.  Similar to fishing in a boat, it is important to be mobile and look for those areas where walleyes can get into the shallows along sandbars or rocky rip-rap with reduced current.

It was a long cold winter even though it appears spring has sprung, and chances are that Walleye Fever continues to have a tight grip on you too. But the cure is as simple to swallow as a minnow dipped in olive oil. The prescription is easy, locate your jigging tackle, hook up your boat and head to a Missouri River boat ramp and participate in one of the best springtime traditions. Once you feel the unmistakable “tick” and hook into a few dandy Missouri River walleyes, your adrenaline will soar and you will be on the road to recovery.  However, it has been my experience that it can take several successful trips to actually be cured!

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You asked for it – Jason Wright’s Fishing Opinion 

Posted on April 9, 2015 / By Scheels TV Partner Jason Wright of Ultimate Outdoor Adventures TV

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Throughout the winter months I have the opportunity to travel to various sport show events, host fishing seminars with one of my best friends/fishing partner Kurt Schirado and enjoy collaborating with and meeting new fishing enthusiasts via social media.  And, it doesn’t take long for people to gauge my enthusiastic approach in researching, testing and creating an honest opinion on outdoor hunting/fishing related product or technique.  I’m always keeping tabs on the newest gear to hit the shelves prior to the open water fishing season creating an excuse to head to Scheels almost every Sunday afternoon when the weather keeps me from getting outdoors.

February seems to be the beginning of cabin fever for most open water fishermen and continues through the end of March – depending on weather – causing unannounced trips to a local marine dealerships, gatherings in the fishing aisles at sporting goods stores and unexpected fishing related purchases.  It’s this time of year when I begin to get both emails and Facebook messages from fishing enthusiasts asking for my opinion about certain products and/or anticipating a truthful response to make their next outing more successful as they begin to prepare for the open water fishing season.

I regard all these questions seriously and often will take a day or two before I reply, and if necessary, do a little homework to be sure that my reply is both accurate and based on my own experience.  Just this past week, and since I didn’t have to report to work due to a blizzard, I decided to go back through some of the questions I have received and share some of them with our readers.  If my opinion helps a few people, then my goal was accomplished. Feel free to contact me any time with either a question or an opinion since I too enjoy listening to others discuss how to be more safe, comfortable and successful during their fishing adventures. Below are some of the most commonly asked questions I received from fishing enthusiasts this past winter, and while on a recent outing to Scheels in Bismarck I confirmed my replies as I started at one end of the fishing department and cruised each aisle.

 

Q: I am looking to purchase an outer layer for the spring fishing season, what would you recommend?

00 RainGear 1JW’s Opinion: I truly enjoy this question, not because I am an expert of outer layers, but in my opinion it is very simple.  The most versatile outer layers for year round fishing is a good set of raingear which includes both an uninsulated parka and matching bibs.  Now I don’t mean the cheapest set, but rather, search for quality raingear with areas of reinforcement for extended wear, large cargo pockets, zippered leg gussets with storm flaps and heavy duty zippers.  You will begin to rely on your raingear not only during those unexpected rainstorms or long runs back to the ramp in 4 footers, but by layering properly you can expect to stay warm and dry throughout the entire year.  I rely on my raingear to keep me comfortable during all seasons whether I am fishing a top the ice for big pike in March, pitching jigs for walleyes in May or fishing a walleye tournament Lake Sakakawea in July.  It will be the fishing garment that you will wear the most – especially during the spring – and can be the difference between a great outing and a soggy adventure.  I personally like the Scheels Outfitters Extreme jacket and bibs which have lasted me many years and can be purchased at any Scheels store.  In my opinion, raingear doesn’t have to be worn only on rainy days.

 

Q: My kids are at the age that I want to start taking them in the boat with me, and I always make sure they are wearing appropriate life vests.  Can you suggest a life vest that would be comfortable for me during warm weather?

01x Auto-Manual Life Jacket DisplayJW’s Opinion: A number of years ago, I too was in the hunt for a couple of life vests that could be worn comfortably all day during tournaments and without limiting movement.  Then, while at Scheels I found their automatic/manual inflatable life jacket.  This was the answer to my all day comfort on the water whether it was bitterly cold or scorching hot not to mention a peace of mind when you have the kids on board.  The life preserver will automatically inflate upon immersion in the water or when the inflation handle is pulled manually.  This type of life jacket has become very popular amongst the fishing world and better yet they don’t take up much storage space.   

 

 

Q: I would like to try trolling crankbaits on Lake Sakakawea with lead core and was wondering if you have a favorite style or brand crankbait.  I know you have mentioned using smaller crankbaits with lead core; is there a crankbait that won’t break the bank?

03 Berkley Flicker Shad PROJW’s Opinion: Trolling small crankbaits with lead core can be a deadly and a very productive trolling technique throughout the year on various lakes and reservoirs.  The first of the two baits that come to mind is the Reef Runner 200 Series Rip Shad which is a shad styled bait that rattles.  However, this particular bait can be a fish catching machine, it is important to be sure it is properly tuned.  The other crankbait which I have had great success with while pursuing walleyes with lead core is the Berkley Flicker ShadI like this crankbait because it is available in a variety of sizes and colors, runs true right out of the package, and they are priced much more affordably compared to other crankbaits.  Last year Berkley introduced the New Flicker Shad Pro Slick and Pro Flash series which became very popular.

 

Q: I am in the market for a new rod/reel combo which is going to be used mostly for pitching jigs for walleyes.  During one of your seminars you mentioned Fenwick rods, do they make good rod without having to spend $200 and what about a quality reel?

04 Pflueger Spinning ReelJW’s Opinion: You are right; when it comes to pitching jigs I definitely enjoy the Fenwick line of spinning rods.  My recommendation to you would be to check out the Fenwick HMG 6’9” medium light fast action spinning rod and I think you will find it to be a quality stick with an affordable price tag at just under $100.  Match the HMG up with a Pflueger President model 6925X spinning reel and you will have a quality rod/reel combo for pitching jigs for around $150.

 

Q:  What line do you prefer when pitching jigs during the spring on Lake Sakakawea?

05 Trilene Sensation Blaze OrangeJW’s Opinion: This question is like asking a group of guys which truck is the best; you will receive differing answers.  There are many jigging situations which require different line choices, but since you identified both the lake and time of year, this is a simple recommendation for me.  Whether you are pitching jigs on a lake, river or reservoir during the spring most walleyes are found shallow; therefore, I choose to use a hi-vis 6# or 8# monofilament.  Line color is critical when pitching jigs since it is important to watch your line so that you can determine when the jig hits bottom as well as visually detect the strike.  Berkley Trilene Sensation successfully meets my spring pitching needs and best of all it comes in both blaze orange and solar which provides the necessary line visibility above the water.  Another favorite monofilament which I seem to be using more and more while pitching jigs is the Berkley Trilene XT also in solar for the hi-vis advantages.

 

Q: Is there a difference between one brand of sunglasses and another?  My eyes seem to get fatigued by the end of a sunny day on the water; what brand sunglasses do you wear?

06x Jason Wright_Costa SunglassesJW’s Opinion: For many years, I wore cheaper polarized sunglasses because I didn’t want to spend the money on good quality sunglasses assuming the difference wasn’t that great.  Finally, I decided to meet with one of the experts in the sunglass shop at Scheels and after listening to all the advantages I purchased a pair of Costa sunglasses.  It was absolutely amazing at the clarity of the lenses and I actually felt as though I had an HD view of the world.  Now I own a couple pairs of Costa sunglasses, and whether we are out filming or fishing for fun, I typically have my Costas on for many hours and the lightweight characteristic and clarity is incredible making my outings much more enjoyable.  My current favorite Costa model is the Fathom 580g and I would strongly suggest spending the money on quality polarized sunglasses; there is a major difference.

 

Q: Do you use anything to organize your bottom bouncers or do you just toss them in the glove box?

07 Bottom Bouncer Bag IIJW’s Opinion: I keep the majority of my bottom bouncers in a Rubbermaid storage container about the size of a shoe box.  This way I can keep plenty of extra bouncers on board and stowed in my bow storage compartment.  The bouncers that I plan to be using are kept inside a Plano 3700 tote; however, I recently purchased a Scheels Outfitters Bottom Bouncers Bag that has six pockets that can easily hold a dozen bouncers in each pocket.  It folds up and you will be assured to have the size bouncer for every situation in a compact heavy duty bag.

 

Q: Do you tie directly to your crankbait or use some sort of snap swivel?

08 Fast-Lock SnapsJW’s Opinion: It is ok to tie directly to the split ring attached to the eye of the crankbait, but it makes it more time consuming to switch baits and it’s never a good idea to attach your crankbait to the line with a snap swivel.  The snap swivel can actually act as a rudder steering your crankbait and/or keeping it from running true.  I always use a #2 Fast-Lock Snap which allows the crankbait to run true and it makes it much easier to switch colors or crankbaits.

 

 

Q:  I am planning to upgrade to the newest and best Lowrance electronics.  What model would you recommend and is there anything new from Lowrance?

09 LowranceJW’s Opinion:  Depending on how old your current electronics are, you are in for an incredible upgrade in technology.  Keeping up with other electronic manufacturers in late 2012 Lowrance introduced its HDS Gen2 Touch models which are incredible units.  However, my personal favorite Lowrance model is the HDS-9 Gen3 for its 9 inch multi-touch widescreen display, ease of use and price point.  Although Lowrance has introduced several new series for the upcoming fishing season, the HDS series are the most popular in our region.  If you are really fussy about boat control and knowing exactly where that “spot on the spot” is located or how far you are from the sunken hump you are casting to then I would suggest looking into adding the Point-1 GPS Antenna by Lowrance.  It is much quicker and provides a more accurate boat position and speed update as well as boat direction at any speed. I am excited about adding one of these advanced antennas to my Lowrance equipped walleye machine this spring.

 

Q: My rod locker doesn’t have rod tubes and I am always having trouble with my rods getting tangled together.  Is it worth trying to install rod tubes myself or do you have other suggestions?

010 Rod SockJW’s Opinion: I actually wish that walleye rigs wouldn’t come with “rod tubes” installed in the bow rod storage or at the very least that it was an option from the factory.  In fact, I usually remove them and/or cut them out when possible since I feel it is much more practical to have a large open locker versus the few tubes.  Before you begin adding tubes to the rod locker purchase some “Rod Socks” which easily slip over the entire rod and you can pile a bunch of rods into your locker and be able to choose and remove any rod without trouble.  I always have my rods socked with Scheels Outfitters Rod Socks so that I never have to worry about those troublesome rod tip tangles.  This is an easy/affordable solution to your frustrating rod locker, and in my opinion keeping your rod locker open is much more practical and allows for more rods.

 

Q:  I just recently purchased a boat, and up until this year, my fishing has all taken place from shore with a 5 gallon bucket used to store my tackle. Could you suggest any types of tackle boxes or storage containers that work good?

011 Scheels Tackle Storage BagsJW’s Opinion:  The market is flooded with many great tackle storage options with soft sided tackle bags containing Plano boxes being the most popular.  I use the Scheels Outfitters soft sided tackle systems for all my tackle storage needs.  The small size Deluxe Tackle Bag which includes 4 Plano 3650 boxes work great for all my jigs and are easily removed and/or exchanged depending on fishing location and depth.  Then for all my tackle tamers, slip sinkers, rigging tackle, spinner blades and bottom bounces I prefer the large size Scheels Outfitters Mega Tackle Bag which includes 4 Plano® 3700 totes.  Both bags incorporate multiple pockets and tool holders on each side keeping additional items organized and secure.  My suggestion is to closely check out a variety soft sided tackle storage systems to determine which one(s) will best meet your needs.

 

Q: During one of your fishing seminars both you and Kurt Schirado talked a lot about using Berkley Gulp! 3” and 4” minnows on the river in the spring with jigs.  My family and I fish a lot of smaller lakes for walleyes as well as Devils Lake.  What Berkley Gulp! products would you recommend during the summer with jigs and also with spinners.

012 Berkley Gulp Alive DisplayJW’s Opinion: Berkley Powerbait, Gulp! and Gulp! Alive! products definitely work throughout the entire season and the benefits can be extremely rewarding.  As the water temps begin to warm on any lake, I prefer to target shallow walleyes by pitching jigs to windswept points.  I tip my jigs with Berkley Gulp! Alive! Killer Crawlers this time of year since they so closely resemble a pinched off or half a crawler.  If my chosen presentation is trolling spinners then I will tip my spinner with either the Gulp! Alive! Spinner Crawler, Killer Crawler or the Gulp! 5” Jumbo Floating Leech Many of our lakes are heavily populated with a variety of smaller bait stealing fish and using any of the previously mentioned Berkley products will keep your lines in the water rather than always having to re-bait.

 

In conclusion…

I enjoy sharing information about products that I have found useful as well as fishing presentations and techniques which might help others be more successful during their next fishing adventure.  However, it’s just as enjoyable for me to sit down with others who share my fishing passion and learn about the gear and tactics which they have found useful and/or productive hoping to better my own skills.  My prior opinions are based on my own experiences and by no means am I trying to say these are the “best” or only options, but rather, a guide to finding what just might work for you.  Now that the future forecast looks promising, get your gear organized and prepare for the open water fishing season.

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Tips for More Walleye this Season

Posted on April 7, 2015 / By Scheels TV Partner Jason Mitchell 

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Fishing can remain frustrating, humiliating and most of all humbling regardless of how much you get to fish or how much you think you have learned.  There will always come a time when you feel like you just hit a wall.  Anybody who has never been stumped on the water just hasn’t backed the boat down the ramp too many times or they are not being honest.  Either way we have probably all pounded a lake from before sunrise to after sunset with our pride seriously tarnished.

I can’t tell you how many lessons I have had to learn over and over in my life but regardless, here are a few guidelines that just might help you catch a few more walleye this season.  Believe me when I tell you that some of this Intel is hard earned.  None of you want to know how many tough days of walleye fishing I have had in my life.

Tip One:  Understand Water Clarity

One of the secrets to catching walleyes consistently is just avoiding bad situations.  Extremely clear water and extremely turbid water are two conditions to avoid when possible.

You can sometimes find the right water by using wind.  On really clear bodies of water, wind will give the wind blown area of the lake just enough stain.  On the flip side, what we see so often on wind swept prairie dish bowl lakes is that wind can whip up too much turbidity in the water and we end up looking for areas that are out of the wind so that the sediment can settle.

Fishing is usually better in stained water, that is water that has some color and this stained water often gets moved or pushed around the lake with wind or current.  There is a difference between stain and turbidity.  Fish can still see well in stained water but can’t see well if the water is turbid.

This is why mud lines have a life cycle.  Mud lines create an opportunistic window when waves crash up against a bank until a veil of turbid water protrudes from the shoreline.  In the early stages of the mud line, the plume of churned up muddy water reaches out and hangs like a veil in the top of the water column and at this stage is typically when mud lines are the most productive.  As the wind continues to pound and the veil becomes bigger and sinks down through the water column, the bite will often dissipate.

So often when wind churns up sediment and clouds the water, the day after the big wind can sometimes be the best because as the sediment sinks, the visibility increases yet still offers some stain in the water.

What also happens is that the water will get a green color as it warms up so we often find stained water with the temperature gauge.  Colder water is often much more clear and warmer water is typically more stained.

Tip 2: Focus on the Process

So often with walleye fishing, the key to catching fish is to find fish.  At times, locations will let you down; specific spots will let you down.  Tried and true patterns will sometimes disappoint.  What never fails however if you have enough time is an honest and thorough process of elimination.

In order to truly be successful, you have to almost turn off human emotion and start checking off possibilities from the list.  The walleyes should be shallow but they are not, next step is eliminating main lake structure in depths from twenty to forty feet as an example.  The key is to keep checking off possibilities even if the possibilities don’t feel right at the time.  So often, there are things happening in an ecosystem that we don’t have a grasp of until after the fact.

When it comes to finding fish, the least you know going into the day is sometimes better because you can adhere to the process of elimination easier.  If you give something a good honest effort and it isn’t happening, turn the switch.  It is always amazing how many anglers will cling to a spot or pattern for agonizing amounts of time.

Been guilty of beating a dead horse myself.  This is why a clock is an invaluable fishing tool.  Use the element of time to force yourself out of ruts and also use the clock to slow you down when you begin to scramble.  What can also happen in search mode is not giving any one spot enough time.  Commit yourself to hour increments as you begin the process of elimination so that your day has some structure and you can stick to the strategy.

Tip 3: Worry about Efficiency

I honestly believe that most anglers worry about the wrong stuff.  They get hung up on matching the hatch or they simply out think the fish.  With everything that you do in fishing, focus on becoming as efficient as possible because this can greatly increase your likelihood for success.

Consider this, if you can become twice as efficient, you can basically become twice as successful.  Do some real honest self-evaluation and try to do an honest assessment of how much you actually have a lure or hook in front of fish.  If you can take steps to become more efficient, you will basically increase your success exponentially.  If you can land a higher percent of the fish you hook or hook a higher percentage of bites, your success climbs.

Most people want some secret formula.  Some B.S. reasoning that if there is sunshine, you need to use bright colors or if there are perch in the lake, you need to worry about using a perch color.  Worry about being in the right place at the right time and when you get an inch, take a mile.  You do all of these things right and you can use the wrong color to catch all kinds of fish in the right spot at the right time until the paint is all chipped off.

Tip 4: Chameleons Catch More Fish

We all have our favorite way of doing something.  We all have something that gives us confidence.  Sooner or later however, there will come a time when you are simply an observer.  Somebody else is catching all kinds of fish and all you can do is watch.  A little humility can do an angler a lot of good if you let it.

When it is your turn to watch somebody else put on a clinic, embrace the opportunity and let the experience make you a better angler.  That means no excuses or over evaluation.  Adjust and match, be the chameleon.

Again, don’t get hung up on cosmetics but monitor and break down the big picture, watch the jig stroke, the rate of retrieve, casting angle, visualize what that successful presentation is doing in relation to the structure and fish.  Visualize what the lure or presentation looks like.  If you are fishing below the boat, look to see what the angle is from the rod tip to the water and match that angle with the angler that is catching fish.  Test location versus presentation so that you gather better information.   Locational nuances to test might be pushing the boat up or out of the break.

When somebody is catching fish and you are not, the best thing that can happen to you as an angler, is to figure out why.  This often means you will have to swallow some pride.

Tip 5: Make Time to Learn

As a guide, it was easy to go right back to the same old well because of the familiarity.  Could be as simple as going back to a good spot or sticking with a presentation that had worked well in the past.  There are times however when we cling to the past as anglers and that experience that works so well for catching fish can start to work against us.

Spend parts of your day exploring.  Make a point to try something different each day.  Mix up exploring the unknown with the tried and true.  Force yourself to embrace the unknown.  Experiment with new lures, new tactics and most of all new locations.  Try approaching old locations with a different mindset.

What I have found for myself personally is that learning new things keeps fishing exciting and fresh.  I sometimes hear anglers complain that there is nothing new in walleye fishing but it is safe to say that anglers who are learning nothing new are not making an effort.

By forcing yourself out of the rut, you not only expand your knowledge but also increase the amount of satisfaction from fishing.

 

Editors Note:  The author earned a reputation as a top walleye guide on Devils Lake, North Dakota, now hosting the popular outdoor program, Jason Mitchell Outdoors. www.jasonmitchelloutdoors.com

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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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