ON LAKE MILLE LACS — Scorching as it is was on July 4th -- 100 degrees or thereabouts by midafternoon -- this big lake seemed hotter still, offering up walleyes and smallmouth bass to anglers willing to brave the relentless heat and sun.
So good was the action that fireworks festooning against black skies Wednesday evening throughout central Minnesota withered by comparison.
Which underscores just how big a deal fishing on Mille Lacs is this summer.
And how unusual.
Because only a relative handful of lakes in this state or any other can cough up so regularly oversized specimens of these two species on the same day to the same anglers with only minor changes in rigging, technique and position.
But on Mille Lacs this summer, catches of this type are common, satisfying anglers no end.
With one caveat:
Anglers who want fish to eat can be frustrated, unless they're willing to eat bass (or northerns). Because eating-size Mille Lacs walleyes that are legal to keep -- those less than 17 inches long -- are relatively rare.
Yet few dedicated Mille Lacs anglers are staying away from the lake because they're likely to catch too many monster walleyes. Big fish are their own attraction, whether they're destined for a frying pan or not.
Instead, the lake's siren call is most often resisted this year by the same anglers who resist it every year:
Those who fear the lake's size.
And those who don't know how to fish it.
The second hang-up is related to the first, because large lakes demand more and better navigation and angling skills than do small lakes.
And at some 20 miles across, Mille Lacs is a large lake.
But assuming on a given day that the big lake is flat enough, an angler's boat is big enough and/or that people venturing onto it aren't devoid entirely of common sense, fear in this case isn't a rational response.
Wanting to catch big fish is.
How to do it?
Here are two basic rigging methods that will put Mille Lacs bass and walleyes on the end of your line on the same day.
Fishing walleyes with slip bobbers is easy. Not as easy as fishing with a jig, perhaps. But easy.
On Mille Lacs, slip bobbers are perhaps the most common walleye fishing method, followed closely by "rigging,'' or using long-leader (as lengthy as 9 or even 10 feet) Lindy-style sliding-sinker live-bait rigs.
By comparison, slip bobber fishing requires less finesse -- another word for experience or skill -- and fewer boat control skills.
Begin by stopping at most any bait or sporting goods shop and purchasing slip bobber components -- preferably, if you're new to this, as a package.
Read the package directions. You'll see that some form of bobber "stop'' -- usually colored string -- is included in the kit, wrapped around a very small plastic tube. Also included will be a bobber and, usually, a bead. (You'll want to buy quantities of beads and bobber stops as you gain experience because they're easily lost.)
You'll also need small jigs of various colors in sizes ranging from 1/32-ounce to, say, 1/8-ounce (generally, the smaller the better). Also, purchase some split-shot sinkers of various sizes.
Where to fish slip bobbers on Mille Lacs? Until you gain experience, the best answer is: where everyone else fishes. Even follow the big communal fishing launches to their favorite haunts, if you like. On the north end, these destinations will include mud flats, or underwater humps or plateaus, while in the south, underwater rock piles often are prime walleye hot spots.
Either way, don't leave shore without a good map that shows the lake bottom and/or a GPS unit.
Arriving at your destination, rig the bobber and other components as directed on the package. Then toss out your baited jig and watch the bobber afloat on the lake surface, waiting for a fish to pull it underwater.
If you don't catch anything within 15 minutes or so, alter your depth, jig size, bait and/or location.
But not to worry: On Mille Lacs this year, particularly in evening and early morning, you'll catch walleyes.
Seeking Mille Lacs smallmouths, you want to fish just about anywhere there are rocks. This might be a shoreline, hump or dropoff.
Look particularly for reefs or other depth demarcations noted by buoys.
Then tie a 2/0 Gamakatsu Finesse Wide Gap or similar hook to the line of the same spinning rod you used for walleyes.
Now thread the hook through the middle of a Berkley Heavy Weight 5-inch sinkworm, so that the worm is perpendicular to the hook -- its ends fluttering as you lift and drop your rod tip. (Other plastic worms, including Senkos, also work.)
Cast the rig a good distance from your boat, toward your chosen rocky shallows. Retrieve the bait slowly, lifting and dropping your rod as you do, while "shaking'' the tip on the down stroke, causing the bait to flutter as it falls.
Beware a vicious strike. Or a tap.
In either case, set your hook hard and enjoy the aerial acrobatics of one of the world's feistiest fish.
And enjoy also Mille Lacs, a lake like few others.
Dennis Anderson • firstname.lastname@example.org