One of the best times to be out on the water, is that time period after most boats have gone in for the evening. Nighttime is a great time to be on the water, especially if you were stuck in the office rather than the boat on that sacred fishing opener weekend.
Fishing at night in May and early June is an under-fished time period that can reap large benefits for anglers who try it. Night fishing is a ton of fun and best of all you don’t have to compete for the best locations..
With all the crowds on the lake during the walleye opener and Memorial Day weekend, walleye can be pressured from their traditional haunts during the day. Move into those places near dark and most of the boats are gone.
A note of caution: night fishing is not recommended for the ill-prepared. Anglers who fumble around during the daytime are likely to have a disaster at night. Also, be sure that your lake is open for night time fishing. Mille Lacs has a night fishing ban right now and a few metro lakes have some special regulations regarding fishing at night.
Night fishing requires a boat without too much clutter, lighting that is hands-free, and a life jacket should be worn at all times. If you’ve never fished the lake before, be sure to have a good map and don’t just rely on your GPS. Mapping software is another great tool, but there are hidden rocks even on lakes with detailed mapping technology.
Some anglers like to tape a flashlight to their landing net but most prefer to wear a headlamp. A good headlamp runs around $20 and must be easily turned on and off.
Getting on the water before the sun sets is best if you can do it because you can get set up while there’s still daylight. Not only that, but the night bite begins before the sun sets so consider it getting out there early.
Walleye like to move from the depths up to the shallows at night, especially during this time of the year. A large flat with emerging weeds is a great location, especially if it’s adjacent to an area with current such as a channel or narrows. Try trolling the seven to 12 foot depth range with a shallow-running Rapala just ticking the tips of those fresh-growing weeds.
Inside turns of underwater structure can be especially good in depths ranging from a few inches deep on down to 12 feet of water. If you arrive before dusk, start at the deeper locations but once night settles in go shallow.
Livebait rigs with or without spinners are great for fishing the lowlight period as the sun is setting. A leech, minnow or crawler will each work but it’s always best to have each along with so you can key in on the most productive lure. Nortland Fireball jigs tipped with livebait are also quite effective.
A jig tipped with a Northland Impulse artificial bait is also very effective and can be easier at night when checking the condition of your bait is not as easy. The scent given off by the Impulse baits attract walleye that more drawn to scent during low-light periods.
Crankbaits are not to be overlooked, especially once the sun has set. A shallow-running or countdown Rapala minnow is effective when long-cast over shallow flats at night. Clackin’ minnows, raps and X-Raps are also great options. Longlining these same lures while using the electric trolling motor or a controlled drift with a driftsock are also quite effective.
Another great thing about nighttime fishing in the spring is that you don’t need a boat to get to the walleye, you just walk out there and they’ll come to you. Many anglers in boats find themselves in depths of two to three feet of water, which anybody with waders will tell you is an accessible range of water.
It’s a lot of fun to be out there in your waders and I’d say it’s a more rugged experience than fishing from the boat. I’ve gone wading numerous times and had tremendous success. I still prefer to be in my boat but wading out to a shallow flat at night is a surreal experience. You have the stringer tied to your waders and your minnow bucket is tied to you as well—if you get a good bite then back up and get ready for a real in-the-water battle.
My favorite method is to pitch a Fireball jig tipped with a shiner up into a shallow point or flat that is adjacent to deeper water. Some of my favorite locations on Lake Bemidji are Diamond Point and the fishing pier by Lake Irvine. On Cass, I like the area around the channel that flows into Pike Bay.
Safety is extremely important with this scenario, however. I always wears a lifejacket while night fishing with waders and take along a powerful flashlight. You will have boats out there with you and if somebody wants to cruise over the shallows at a higher speed you need to be able to signal to them that you are out there just as you would if you were in a canoe or kayak.
The Armstrong Ranch Kennels in Ramsey are set for the 32nd annual Game Fair, with tons of events, activities and attractions for the entire family . The six-day event takes place over two weekends in August beginning August 9, 10 and 11 and continuing August 16, 17 and 18. Fall hunting seasons are coming soon and Game Fair is the best place to see and try the latest gear while learning from the nation’s leading experts.
PIKE BAY LAKE, CASS LAKE, MN--The shoreline ice around most northern Minnesota lakes has deteriorated beyond the bounds of being walkable but a shallow sandbar provided myself and two fellow anglers the opportunity to have some cautiously safe fun this fishing opener.
In 30-plus years of fishing the mythical Minnesota walleye opener, I can safely say I've never seen ice on my favorite lakes this late in the season. It's been close a few years but never like this and, according to the record books, only a time or two like this in the last century. "I can remember there being ice up here in 1996 but that's about it," said Bryan "Beef" Sathre of Fathead Guide Service in Bemidji and Cass Lake. "The old-timers up here tell me that the last time it was like this was back in 1950, so this is probably a once in a lifetime sort of experience," he added.
Armed with tow ropes, extra floatation and wearing life jackets, Sathre, another friend and I ventured out onto a shallow sand bar along the shore of Pike Bay Lake near Cass Lake Minnesota. The edge of the ice was 8-inches thick and we found ice as thick as 14-inches. The depth of the water we were over never exceeded 5 feet deep and we were well dressed in case something dramatic took place.
We had to drill holes using an ice auger when we weren't along the edge of the ice. There were plenty of small to medium sized perch all over the shelf where we were fishing and the edge of the ice was quite stable, once you broke off a few feet of "honey-combed" ice. How did we get on the ice? The water was so shallow that we just stepped up onto it.
A photograph I posted on Facebook went viral around mid-day Saturday with plenty of comments from people both on the positive and negative aspects of our journey. For one thing, all three of us are very cautious individuals who are otherwise very responsible members of society. We didn't venture into anything where we didn't have extra safety measures in place. There were plenty of opportunities for being stupid but we stayed over water shallower than our height and we didn't venture past a small presure ridge that prevented us from the spot we had selected to fish.
Point being, if we were out there with the primary purpose to fish, we would not have been able to access the locations we wanted to. Just being able to say we fished through the ice on fishing opener was the experience onto itself. I'm fairly certain that whitewater rafters and kayakers take a greater risk than we were that day.
Most comments on Facebook said this was the quintessential Minnesota fishing experience and that's exactly what we were going for when we set out. Those who said it was stupid or irresponsible have every right to say that, but I respectully disagree with them. think it's irresponsible to go in a boat without a life jacket on and check out all the photos of people from this weekend who are without one. Cold water is dangerous whether you are walking through it with insulated waders or in a boat.
None of what we did out there was staged or fake. We weren't sitting on a dock either. That was a solid sheet of ice. It looks crazy but really it was quite tame. The photographs of the two guys with their feet dangling in the water were taken by me, standing about six feet away, on the sandy bottom with waders and a life jacket on.
Ice conditions are rapidly deteriorating and we are fairly certain that the ice we were on early this morning will not be accessible within the next day or two. If you decide to do the same, be sure to take the utmost caution. I have a five-year-old and a three-year-old child and both guys who were with me also have young kids. We left them at home for a good reason. If you decide to do the same as we did, leave the kids at home and remember that you are probably at a greater risk of something happening during your drive to the lake than when you are out there.
Good luck fishing and happy fishing opener 2013!
Some anglers go ice fishing—we were out on a trophy hunt.
Not your typical trophy hunt, however. There would be no killing, at least none intentionally. Trophies would be released, a little tired, but no worse for wear.
Whatever the quarry, it’s true that trophies tend to live in special places that require a little extra work to get to. A specific bay on Lake of the Woods was our destination for this trophy hunt and big pike were our quarry.
The mythical number for pike anglers is the 40-inch mark which roughly works out to being a 20-pound fish. It takes a special body of water and the right tactics to land a pike of that size.
Lake of the Woods is loaded with big fish including probably the highest population of pike over 40-inches in the 48 contiguous states. Although there are plenty of excellent big pike entry points on the American side, our trophy hunting crew decided to cross the border into Canada—Manitoba to be specific.
Only a small portion of massive Lake of the Woods is in Manitoba, most of the lake is in Ontario. The segment in Manitoba is known as Buffalo Bay and we stayed at the beautiful Buffalo Point Resort located right on the lake complete with a marina—a great access point for four-wheelers and snowmobiles.
The group leader for my trip was Bryan “Beef” Sathre of Fathead Guide Service. A national pro-staffer with companies like IceForce, StrikeMaster, MarCum Electronics, Rapala and Otter Outdoors, he has fished Lake of the Woods a ton but usually from the American side.
Also along with the group was seasoned big pike angler Sabin Rasmus who has iced numerous big pike and is equally adamant about releasing every pike as quickly as possible into the waters. “Celebrate the catch with a few photos and then let it go again—there’s nothing cooler than that big tail disappearing back in the hole and the gush of water as it swims off to be caught again someday,” Rasmus said.
Trophy pike can be caught in a variety of ways but it’s tough to beat a solid spread of tip-ups over the selected area. Pike roam the lake in search of easy food, often in the form of dead fish floating just underneath the ice. These pike will kill anything they come across as well but an easy meal is tough for any predator to turn down.
Our bait for the day was a dead minnow right around a foot long that was hooked with two trebles on a quick-strike rig. This “Slew-Dog” rig is a special set-up and the rig of choice for big pike anglers. Northland Tackle also makes a quick-strike rig called the Predator Rig and we used a few of them as well.
Anglers can make their own rig as well so long as the treble hooks are big enough to fit the bait. In our case, foot-long frozen herring with one treble through the head and the other between the dorsal and tail. Large baits tend to deter smaller pike. Once a pike is on the line, it’s important to set the hook during the initial run to ensure a hookset in the mouth rather than deeper in the throat. A mouth hook is what makes a successful release possible.
Connecting the Slew-Dog rig to the tip-up was mason line. The thick white line performs very well in these conditions and doesn’t slice and dice your hand as a big pike burns the line on your fingers as you let it run.
Main base was at the midpoint of a J-shape resembling a decoy spread complete with 12 tip-ups set at various depths below the ice. None of the tip-ups was further than 200 feet away but only the end of the “J” was within 50 feet of home base. It makes for some high-stepping sprints when a flag pops, not to mention plenty of falls when your boot busts through the layer of slush and your other leg takes too big of a step.
On the snow, near each hole, we placed a small black bucket to provide for an easy visual reference. Monitoring a dozen or so tip-ups from sunrise to sunset can be quite exhausting without visual references.
Over two days of hardcore fishing, in cold and blustery conditions, our group found its fair share of trophies. Five of the seven anglers in our group caught the biggest pike of their lifetime and seven pike over 40-inches were caught along with many others just shy of that mark.
When you fish this way, the only fair way to do it is to take turns. We decided who would be first before the first flag ever popped but it’s funny how multiple flags tend to pop all at once, knocking that system out of order. No complaints, however. When two or three flags go in succession and you are running from one hole to the next, it’s the peak of excitement and anticipation. It’s also a great way to warm up! This is cross-training at its finest.
Adding to the thrill was the sheer girth of Sathre’s pike. “It was a very thick fish that just rolled over my hands as I held it—definitely the biggest I’ve ever caught. Best of all, it’s still swimming,” he said.
All the pike our group caught were successfully released, often without time to take photographs. Normally a March trip features warm weather and plenty of opportunities for successful releases and photographs. Not this year with below zero wind chills and temperatures in the teens at best.
Crossing into Canada at the point of entry just north of Warroad was relatively easy and a passport card or book was all it took. Just a few hundred yards past the international border is the turn-off for Buffalo Point Resort. The resort has a wide variety of accommodations for visitors year-round including cabins for sale right on the lake. Check www.buffalopoint.ca for details or visit lakeofthewoodsmn.com for general information on fishing and accommodations on the American side.
Buffalo Point Resort has a full marina that offers access in the winter and a landing in the summer. When not covered in snow, there is a lush 18-hole golf course with the perfect blend of lakeshore and woods.
That said, Canada is under strict price controls on adult beverages so if that’s part of the after-fishing plans, make sure to come fully prepared. Just not over prepared—customs has strict restrictions on how much adult beverage can be brought into the country.
Positioned on a point, Buffalo Point provides visitors with beautiful views of both sunrise and sunset. Being so far north, and relatively away from metropolitan areas, the stars shine brighter and the northern lights glow more colorful.
“We Can Do It!” blares across the top of the famous poster from World War II featuring a woman flexing her arm in the rolled up sleeve of a blue denim work shirt.
The grips of winter are rapidly slipping across the southern two-thirds of the state. This is bad news for ice anglers who have been cheated out of a typical Minnesota winter this year.The good news is that, normally, it takes a lot more than a few warm days to put ice anglers out of commission along the northern edge of Minnesota.
I wouldn’t dare venture out on most lakes in the metro area but there was little concern driving the truck several miles onto Lake of the Woods, specifically Muskeg Bay, this past Saturday morning to do some late season trophy pike fishing.
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