Nisswa, Minn. – Not far from this central Minnesota town, resident Rolf Moen and I stood a few yards apart and thigh-deep in a lake, our backs to the shoreline.
Each of us held heavy-duty bait-casting rods and reels, all the better to entice a shallow-water largemouth bass lurking in a fishy-looking mix of bulrushes, cattails, wild rice, lily pads, and other emergent and submergent vegetation. The setting, to an angler, is called slop. It’s attractive to the eye, but not so much to the nose because it stinks like rotten eggs. Bass don’t seem to mind, though, so neither did Moen or I as we stood there a few weeks ago, not too long after dawn.
Under a gray sky, and with a slight north breeze, the two of us began by chucking Scum Frogs, a floating plastic frog imitation that works in weeds, our go-to lure for shallow-water bass.
Only a few minutes had passed when a bass exploded on Moen’s lure at the end of a long cast. With rod tip held high to keep the bass’ head up and out of the weeds, he alternately pumped and reeled until the bass was at his side. Then Moen grasped the fish by the lower lip and hoisted it aloft.
“Not bad,” I said. “That’s about a 3-pounder. Bigger than average.”
By average, I meant that a wading angler primarily catches male largemouth bass during early season. It’s the male’s duty to guard eggs that the female has deposited at least a few days earlier in bowl-shaped depressions in the lake bottom. Because of unseasonably warm late-May weather, Moen and I thought the female bass would have spawned and left the shallows, and the bulk of our catch would be male bass averaging about two pounds.
After casting near our entry point into the lake — Moen covering water to his front and left, and I to my front and right — we began gradually wading down the lake pushing wakes ahead of us, casting here and there to likely looking bass hideouts. Bass catching action was not fast, but enough grabbed our lures to keep us interested.
“You have to like the simplicity of wade fishing,” said Moen, making yet another cast. “A rod and reel, a pair of waders and a pocket full of Scum Frogs. That’s it.”
And Moen was right. We both own fishing boats, but now and then we choose to wade fish for just the reason Moen mentioned.
There were other motivators, too.
One is the wildlife we encounter, mainly bird life. There are common birds such as loons, herons and ducks, but we watched for the well-camouflaged species, soras and bitterns, hidden among the cattails and bulrushes. It’s amazing the treasures one can encounter while waist-deep in a lake along a secluded shoreline.
Red-winged blackbirds were our constant companions, the males flashing their vibrant patches as they sang from swaying bulrush stems. Our angling counterparts, bald eagles and ospreys, glided above us, scanning the water with sharp eyes. Now and then we would watch in awe as an avian angler dove feet first into the water and snatched a fish, grasping them with long, sharp talons.
Largemouth bass are not the only species of fish that can be caught by a wading angler. Panfish and even northern pike will occasionally slash at a topwater lure.
By late morning, we had pretty much covered the roughly one-third-mile-long weedy portion of the shoreline. We had caught about 30 largemouth and four pike.
On a nearby highway, vehicle after vehicle passed with boats in tow. Moen and I wondered aloud if they realized what they were missing.
Bill Marchel is an outdoors writer and photographer. He lives near Brainerd. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.