Minnesota is an angler’s paradise, particularly because of the variety. Add to that paradise — the thrill of wade-fishing without launching a boat or starting a motor.
Wildlife photographer and writer Bill Marchel of Brainerd lands a largemouth bass while wade fishing in a lake in north-central Minnesota. Bass in many parts of the state are just moving into the shallows to spawn.
No state can rival the variety of fishing Minnesota offers, whether for walleyes, smallmouth or largemouth bass, muskies, panfish, trout and even northern pike.
Yes, western states have productive trout rivers, and Alaska is a wonderful destination for salmon, rainbows, grayling and pike.
But to experience great fishing in Minnesota, you needn’t worry about crossing private land to reach good trout water, as you sometimes do out West.
And you don’t need a floatplane, as you often do in Alaska.
In many cases in Minnesota, you don’t even need a boat.
I was reminded of this the other evening as I pulled on a pair of waders and stepped from shore into a lake not far from this north-central Minnesota tourist town.
The sky was overcast, the air chilled. And intermittently during the next few hours, rain would dimple the lake’s surface.
But the largemouth bass that my fishing partner, Bill Marchel, and I were seeking wouldn’t be disturbed by the inclement weather that has prevailed this spring and early summer,
“I’ll start right … there,” Bill said, arching a Scum Frog toward a hole in the vegetation and generalized slop that extended a couple hundred yards from shore.
Made of soft plastic, and shaped like a frog, the Scum Frog is rigged weedless and is one of a dozen or so go-to baits bass anglers keep in their arsenals.
Built to float on a lake or river surface while being retrieved, this style of bait can — on a good day — trigger explosive hits, as largemouth bass erupt from their shallow haunts to gobble what they believe is a movable feast.
Scum Frogs or their reasonable facsimiles (of which there are many) are particularly effective in spring and early summer, when bass move into shallow water to spawn. But they can be used effectively in June and July as well, and even into the fall, so long as the water temperature is at least 50 degrees.
Of course these fish also can be approached by boat, and often are, as anglers employ bow-mounted trolling motors on their fishing craft to sneak up on bedding areas.
But wade-fishing at this time of year is often more effective, providing the shore angler is properly equipped, and can cast fairly long distances.
“Long casts are important,” Bill said.
So is heavy line — something in the 30-pound-test range or more.
Helpful also are smooth-spooling baitcasting reels and stout rods; equipment that can both catapult baits and provide winch-like retrieves.
Additionally, an understanding of where bass like to make their beds — whether, in a given lake, in and among vegetation, or instead more toward open water — also helps.
“Water about 3 feet deep is where I find most bass at this time of year,” Bill said.
As he spoke, the first fish of the evening appeared from the lake as if discharged from a cannon, its mouth agape. Simultaneously, Bill’s Scum Frog disappeared, and in quick succession his line drew tight and his rod bowed toward the disturbance.
“You really don’t want to let these bass dive on you once you’ve got them hooked,” Bill said. “It’s fun to fight them. But if you let them get too wound into the vegetation, you might not land them.”
As Bill spoke, I cast a Scum Frog that was dark colored, while Bill’s was light.
Also, I was fishing a little shallower than he was. But like Bill, I loaded the tip of my rod as powerfully as possible while casting, hoping to gain maximum distance between where I stood and where my Scum Frogs landed.
The first bucketmouth to hit my bait weighed perhaps 2 pounds and fishtailed on the lake surface acrobatically.
Retrieving the plump specimen quickly, I almost skidded the fish atop the lake surface to keep it from becoming entangled in bulrushes and other vegetation.
This fishing method almost always produces bass for Bill and me in late spring and early summer. But given this season’s cool weather, we were unsure exactly where bass would be in their springtime spawning cycle.
We needn’t have worried. The bass along the lake’s shoreline were both plentiful and hungry.
• • •
Mid- and late summer also can produce productive wade-fishing for bass, depending on the lake fished.
But as summer progresses, early morning and late evening often yield the best action, whereas now, in early summer, midday can be as good as any time to toss weedless baits.
That said, wading anglers should cut bass a break in spring and early summer. Care especially should be taken not to step in spawning beds, which appear on the lake bottom as light-colored circles and are readily identifiable.
Also, pre-spawn females in particular should be released.
And if possible, wading anglers shouldn’t stumble into deep shoreline holes and pitch headfirst into the lake — something Bill and I avoided the other evening, but often do not.
“You can tell the late spring and cold water have changed the timing of everything,” Bill said. “There aren’t many beds made yet, and the bass just seem farther behind in the spawning process than they usually are.”
A half-hour or so into our watery jaunt, and we had already caught and released a dozen bass, the biggest of which pushed 3 pounds.
Another half-hour produced another dozen fish, and soon a dozen more.
As the evening coalesced, finally, in darkness and rain, a deep chill infusing both, we had caught and released close to 50 bass.
All without launching a boat or starting an outboard.
Or worrying about competition from other anglers.
Lakes that offer similar wading opportunities abound in and around the Twin Cities, as well as elsewhere in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
A little scouting might be necessary, and the quarry on some waters often includes not only bass, but crappies and sunnies.
“Wade fishing is about as fun as fishing gets,” Bill said.
I agreed, and launched a final cast, watching in the distant twilight as my bait plopped onto the lake surface, tempting, I hoped, a bass lying below.
Dennis Anderson • firstname.lastname@example.org
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Poll: Should the lake where the albino muskie was caught remain a mystery?