Jon Thelen is a freak of nature. Now, Thelen’s a friend of mine and an awfully nice guy, but it’s true. And here’s why: When Thelen talks in his sleep, he mumbles out fishing quotes that are perfectly suited for print.
As a writer, that was the first reason I liked Thelen. If I was hot on a deadline I knew I could call him at 3 in the morning and even if he was half-asleep he’d effortlessly spit out a well-articulated quote that not only gave me my sound bite but actually illuminated the fishing tactic better than I had previously understood it.
When you’re paid to write articles to help people catch fish, you pay attention when all of a sudden you come across this guy who possesses a natural ability to catch fish and a super-natural ability to articulate the all nuanced how’s and why’s in a way that makes perfect sense.
“I’ve lead two lives,” Thelen said. “My first life in my early days as a pro I kept secrets to myself, then in my second life as a guide and working for Lindy I gave all my secrets away.”
Because Thelen is currently in his second life, guiding on Mille Lacs and working as National Field Promotions Manager for Lindy Tackle, I jumped at the chance to go fishing with him when he invited me out the other week.
In the boat and quickly on quality fish, I was reminded that Thelen hasn’t––that Thelen couldn’t possibly––give away all of his secrets, both because he has so many and because he’s always learning new ones.
We started our day casting topwaters on rock reefs for smallmouth bass, and we each caught bass weighing between 3 and 4 pounds. While conventional wisdom calls to cautiously approach a reef and work your way up from the deeper edge into the shallower water to see where fish are along the way, Thelen defies convention and heads right to the top of the reefs. “I don’t care about sides or edges until I know for a fact bass aren’t on the tops of the reefs,” Thelen explained. “When bass are on the tops, they’re eating, and I’m going to get the active ones first.”
After hauling in a few trophy smallmouth on blue and silver Pop-Rs, we switched tactics to catch more fish after Thelen noticed bruises and bumps on the bass’ foreheads. “If their foreheads are banged up it means they’re feeding on crawdads not minnows,” Thelen said. “Right now these fish are rooting around in the rocks to get crawfish so we’ll catch more on the bottom.”
So just like that we switched to 4-inch Yum Dingers, wacky-rigged, and quickly started catching even more bass. Thelen made another, more subtle switch, that also helped––with the topwaters we fished with superline leaders, but with the worms we moved to fluorocarbon. “With topwaters I want my hook-set to get to the fish right away so I use the no-stretch superline, but with the worm I’m more concerned with visibility so I switch to fluoro.”
After catching a bundle of bass, we decided to switch tactics altogether and target walleyes. After all, that’s the species that made Thelen famous. For years he was among the top-rated professional anglers in In-Fisherman’s Professional Walleye Trail. He competed head-to-head against the best of the best, and came away with more than his fair share of top finishes.
Along the way, Thelen got “discovered” in a big way and became a regular on TV––in fact, during a 4-year stretch he appeared in over 60 shows. Some 75 articles in publications ranging from In-Fisherman to Midwest Outdoors featured Thelen. Sport shows and boat shows quickly came calling next, especially once reputation spread about Thelen’s ability to articulate complex fishing techniques in a clear manner that fellow pros and beginning anglers alike could understand.
And yet, on this day, the Mille Lacs walleyes were none too impressed with Mr. Thelen’s credentials. At first. We tried livebait rigging and trolling a variety of cranks over mudflats with mixed success, before cracking the code and moving up shallower and switching to Lindy Shadlings.
Boom! Fish on! As my rod doubled over time and again, I couldn’t help but shake my head. If I was fishing alone on this calm, 88-degree day, I would’ve given up and gone back to smallies 30 minutes ago, but Thelen–– being Thelen––figured it out and started pounding ’em.
“Last week I was really doing well with a purple Bomber that everybody would say is the wrong color,” he said. “But it worked because the fish were feeding on tullibee. Today, it was all about moving from 28-feet of water into 20- to 22-feet, and then going with these Lindy Shadlings for their tighter wiggle.”
It was the type of adjustment I’d seen Thelen make many times before. He makes on-the-fly adjustments all the time on “Fish Ed,” his made-for-the-web video series. What I love about the show is that it’s real. Some people say working in the fishing industry is like learning the truth about Santa Claus––you see the behind-the-scenes, fish-less footage that’s edited out ofo the show.
But Thelen’s web videos are refreshingly raw. If he hooks a fish and loses it, that’s what you see. The goal isn’t to look like a superhero, it’s to show nearly in real-time how an elite angler figures out fish and puts together a game plan. It’s a bit like a weekly fishing report, but rather than words on paper its video on the web, easy to email a link to share with your friends.
“People are better fishermen today than 5 years ago because of the internet,” Thelen says. “I want to take advantage of the web to share tips and show anglers specific tactics they can use next weekend on their own waters.”
Click here to watch Jon Thelen's "Fish Ed" about giant pike on Lake of the Woods.
Jon Thelen's website is www.proanglingpromos.com. To contact Jon, call (612) 720-3837 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.