Travis Frank

Travis Frank’s motto is "Livin’ the dream." That means he’s on the water or in the field 300 days a year. He’s been a fishing guide at Trophy Encounters for the past 10 seasons chasing Minnesota’s toughest fish, the muskie. When he’s not on the water, he's in the deer stand or chasing Midwest fowl.

Opening Day Walleyes & Wind Burn

Posted by: Travis Frank under Fishing, Walleye Updated: May 13, 2013 - 2:19 PM


Travis Frank with an opening day lake Minnetonka walleye

Travis Frank with an opening day lake Minnetonka walleye

Saturday at midnight the fishing season kicked open.  A few minutes later, so too did the wind.  This year's opener will forever be remembered as the year for wind and ice.  I've fished in crappy weather before, but this was brutal.  Being tough guys, we battled it all day long.  After all, walleyes are always worth it.

My fishing crew consisted of Bails, an opening day regular.  "New Chad," which as the name suggests, made his first opening day start.  And, last but not least, Eric, "the lone wolf," Wolf.  A motley crew of walleye lovers, for sure.

We opted to keep our tradition going and started at midnight.  Lake Minnetonka was our lake of choice.  Chad started off the event with Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's, Fishin' in the Dark, at 11:57pm.  Then, at 12:00 on the dot, we were down to business.  Our first spot was fish less.  At about 12:15 we moved on, and as we motored to spot number 2, the lake erupted.  Gale force winds literally knocked us sideways.  It blew so hard that it would have been miserable even if the walleyes were jumping in the boat.  We opted to take a skunk to bed and get some rest before sunrise.

The morning started slow and cold, but as the sun warmed up, so did the walleyes.  Well, kinda.   While I did my best circus act to hold the boat on the prime spot, Bails landed 3 dandies.  All three were in the 24 inch range, and all three went back into the lake.  Getting rid of the skunk was all we really wanted, then we pulled the plug on our morning.

After lunch and a nap, we returned for the evening bite.  Eric instantly boated his first walleye.  The skunk remained for both Chad and I.  Soon, they placed bets on who would catch a walleye first.  Bails put his money on Chad and Eric took yours truly.  Fortunately, Eric didn't have to wait long to get paid.  My drought was over (insert a Hallelujah)!  I boated my first, followed by a second, which also happened to take big fish honors for the day.  She was a spawned out female over 27 inches in length. I thanked her for the sunset thrill, then sent her on her way.

As darkness approached, "New Chad," was the only man without a catch.  His depression was reaching new depths when suddenly he hooked up.  It was a big fish, possibly larger than mine.  Just as we were about to catch a glimpse, the line snapped.  If he hadn't fished so hard all day, it would have been hilarious.  Seeing the defeat in his eyes, we could only laugh at half throttle.  As he re-tied his line we talked about what we could have done differently.  "Nothing," he said.  A new jig and two casts later the man was hooked up again.  Thank goodness, this time, the walleye made the net.

With Chad's fish, we called it a day.  Four tired boys left the lake with a handful of walleye tales, and wind burnt faces.  In total, we managed 8 walleyes for our efforts.  Four for the pan, Four for the photo album.  A far cry from a normal year, but considering the conditions, we called it a success.  This opener proves that even on a bad day, fishin' is still good.  Until next time, keep on livin' the dream!

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Pondering the 2013 Metro Walleye Opener

Posted by: Travis Frank under Fishing, Walleye, Minnetonka, Waconia Updated: May 6, 2013 - 10:05 AM


Travis Frank with an opening week walleye on Lake Minnetonka.

Travis Frank with an opening week walleye on Lake Minnetonka.

Ice, cold, blah, blah, blah.  I don't think anybody wants to spend time babbling about the cold spring.  Instead, how about we take a look at what this cold weather will mean for the start of our fishing season?

In short, I believe this cool spring will bring good fishing.  Walleyes thrive in cooler water.  Opening day might be slow, but it won't take long for things to heat up.  The next month or two should be solid.  In the metro, the walleyes are spawning as we speak.  They spawn when the water is between 42 and 48 degrees.  After the fish spawn, there is a heavy "feedbag" window when walleyes seem to eat everything in sight.  The cool water keeps them active longer, and many times they remain in shallow, easy to find locations.

On a warm water year, this "feedbag" window often occurs before our season even starts.  Last year the walleyes in the metro spawned 6 weeks before the opener.  Their peak feeding period occurred 4 weeks before opening day.  This year, we should see the peak feeding window occur within the first two weeks of our season.  On a typical year the best walleye fishing generally runs through May, then slowly fades into June.  This year we could be looking at a solid bite that drags into July (if we are lucky).

Considering our conditions, you could target this peak window for over a month.  If you had nothing but free time for the next 5 weeks, you could start out in southern Minnesota on opening day, then each week trek north until you hit Lake of the Woods.  The prairie lakes of the south will be prime for opening day.  The metro waters will be at peak the week after opener.  Mille Lacs should be prime in about 2 weeks.  Leech should be on fire in 3 and Lake of the Woods will be slamming in 4. Timing this bite according to the spawn will give you the chance at an incredible year of walleye fishing, maybe the best you've ever had.

I will be starting my season in the metro.  Lake Minnetonka to be exact.  I'm an optimist, so I believe we will find active fish come opening day.  As of right now, the water temps are in the mid 40's and the walleyes are currently spawning.  Come Saturday, we will be on the early fringe of their heavy feeding window.  If it starts slow, it will only increase as we progress into the end of the first week. 

Here are some things that I will look for to help me find metro walleyes.  First and foremost, I believe the walleyes will be shallow.  I don't expect to fish any deeper than 7 feet of water.   I'm going to search for the first green weeds of the year.  Most metro walleyes are stocked fish.  They spend the first year of their life in a small weedy pond.  When transplanted, they go to what they know - weeds.  The minute the walleyes finish their spawn, they go straight to the green stuff.  Baitfish will use this area, and so will the walleyes.  To get more specific, I believe the inside weed edges will hold the greatest numbers of active walleyes.  On Minnetonka and a handful of other metro lakes, this weedline runs at about 3 to 6 feet of water.

To catch them, my first choice will be to pitch a jig and minnow, followed by casting Rapala's.  Most people think you have to fish deep water to catch walleyes during the day.  I have found the walleyes to be aggressive all day when they are in the shallow weeds.  When darkness falls, they come out of the weeds and roam on the nearest hard bottom flats.  1 to 2 feet of water is not out of the question.  Casting Rapala's on these shallow flats after dark can be lethal.  This tactic should last at least 3 weeks this year.  On a warmer year, I've seen it die in less than 1.

Lake Minnetonka is an obvious gold mine, but there are a pile of small walleye factories nearby.  Small lakes with heavy walleye stocking programs provide some incredible fishing opportunities within a 30 mile radius of the cities.  The past 5 years I've made it a point to try these smaller waters right away.  I've been blown away by the success.  The first 2 weeks being the best.  This year, I think they will all be hopping for a good month.

Thanks to this cool spring, we will be able to fish walleyes throughout their entire peak feeding period.  Ice up north might force you to stay home, but you can be thankful for the bumper crop of fish that await you.  I wish you a safe and prosperous fishing season.  If there is anything I can do to hook you up with more fish, please don't hesitate to ask.  Until next time, keep chasin' your dream!

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Travis Frank -

Muskies on the Brain?

Posted by: Travis Frank under Fishing, Muskie Updated: June 1, 2012 - 11:09 AM

Are you one of the crazy fools that devote June through December to a slimy green colored fish with a bad attitude?  Welcome to my world.  It's time to eat, sleep and breathe muskies.  Are you ready for battle?

Sean Bailey holds a nice early season muskie caught on a metro lake.

Sean Bailey holds a nice early season muskie caught on a metro lake.

Every year my mind gets cluttered with muskie junk.  Is there a hot new bait?  A hot lake that I just have to fish?  Do I have any new goals this year?  Where should I start?  What lure will I use?  I could go on and on.  I've shared a few conversations with other muskie dudes - clearly I'm not alone.

Until we hit the water, it's all just a guessing game.  It's not like any of us actually know what to expect until we cast our big baits.  Even then, it will take a few hours, maybe days, to get things straightened out.

Here are some muskie thoughts on my brain as I think about the "official" opener.  They are in no particular order...

Don't burn out... It's a long season.  I've watched a bunch of my friends get all jacked up in May, fish like crazy until mid-June and give it all up because of a tough spring bite.  Sometimes the early season can be tough.  That's the reality of muskie fishing.  If there was a month to fish muskies 7 days a week, I wouldn't pick June.  As a general rule, it only gets better throughout the season.  Be patient and stick it out.  A good month of September can make you forget about a bad June.  Make sure you have the gas to stay in the game until fall.

The right lake at the right time... It seems that some lakes are better than others at specific times of the year.  For my boat, Minnetonka seems to start out slow.  Why?  I don't know, it just does and I've accepted that.  But, the beauty is that June and July can be dynamite on other lakes, so I move around.  Don't be afraid to try new lakes until you find active muskies.  When you hook up, make a note of it and use that success to your advantage.  Muskies are creatures of habit.  Odds are good that you'll be able to repeat your success at the same time period for years to come.  Muskie fishing is 90% about being in the right place at the right time.  You could be fishing the right lake, just the wrong time.

Starting out Small... I believe it's a myth that you have to start throwing small muskie lures early in the season.  I may be wrong in telling you to leave your small baits at home on the opener, but I have had some of my best luck early in the season on Pounders and big blades.  I've read a pile of articles on this, and it seems everyone has a different opinion.  All I can speak about is my facts.  In the past 10 years, most of my early season muskies have come on big baits.  The bigger the better.  Theory #1 - All of their forage is at least 1 year old.  Muskies are use to eating larger offerings in June.  Theory #2 - After the spawn, there seems to be a few weeks of heavy feeding.  During this time the muskies seem to favor a big meal to help them bulk up in their attempt to recover from the spawn.  Give 'em what they want.

Fishing open water... I have had some good results fishing open water the first few months of the season.  Muskies can disappear from structure and will literally cruise the main basin gorging on bait fish.  I'm still learning good techniques to catch these fish, and I don't have all the answers.  I can simply recommend that you give it a shot.  And I will say, 45 minutes of open water trolling isn't an honest effort.  Give yourself 2 or 3 full trips and you'll be amazed.  Trolling big flashy baits at speeds of 3 to 5 mph is a good way to get started.

What are the best hours to fish?... Obviously the answer is "whenever you can."  But, if you can choose your hours, I have found some to be better than others.  All of our Minnesota muskie lakes are pounded.  The fish seem to have us fisherman patterned.  Most of us get off of work and then hit the lake around 6 pm and fish until sunset..  For this reason I've found the afternoon/evening to be the most difficult time to land a lunker.  The best times in my boat year in and year out have been the first hour before sunrise until a half hour after sunrise.  Then, sometime around 10 am there always seems to be a good push of activity.  In the evening, I seem to score the most strikes the first hour after sunset.  Because my livelihood depends on it, you can bet that I'm keeping tabs on every strike and fishing accordingly.  These have been the top 3 time periods in my boat for the past few years.  They are not stupid creatures, and it pays to be there when they want to eat, not when we want to fish.

What's the best lure to throw?...It's good to mix things up, but I believe that it is even better to get completely dialed into a single lure.  To the point that you run the bait without giving it any thought.  It should be instinctive.  The reason for this is simple.  Muskies eat when they want to.  On most lakes they probably see hundreds or thousands of fish swim past them daily.  Many of them are easy meals.  If you don't believe me, stick a camera down on your favorite muskie spot and watch the schools of bait fish swim around the muskies.  I believe that most of our success is directly related to the exact time that the lure crosses their path.  If they are ready to eat, I don't think the color matters much - they will eat.  I also believe that every lure in your tackle box looks like food to a muskie.  Sure there are triggers and some baits are better at a certain time, but ff you can work a single lure correctly when that fish wants to eat, your odds go way up.  It's better to be good at one thing than decent at a bunch.

Figure eight is your most important tool...With the high amount of pressure that Minnesota muskies receive, the figure 8 has become the difference maker.  It's the difference between a follow and a fish in the boat.  In my boat alone, the figure 8 has accounted for over half the muskies boated during the past few seasons.  At times, reaching over 75% of my fish.  Do it every cast, and put some love into it.  Wide sweeping turns while raising and lowering the bait in the water column will trigger more strikes.  The goal is to make your lure look like a wounded fish/creature trying to escape.  If it's just flopping around the surface, the muskie will laugh at you and swim away.  If I quit doing a good figure 8, I might as well go home.  It's that important.

Long fishing poles... Why are the new super long poles important?  I'm talking 8'6" to 9'6".  If you want to do a proper figure 8, you will need a long pole.  If you want to cast big heavy lures, you will need a long pole.  If you want to fish all day without the wear and tear on your body, you will need a longer pole.  If you want more leverage during battle, you need a longer pole.  I firmly believe that people that swear by their 6'6" and 7 footers simply haven't thrown an 8'6" or 9 footer yet.  Once you do, you will never want to go back.  The longer pole lets you fish with less wear and tear on your body, which in turn allows you to fish more effectively.  If you don't wear down as quickly, you will be ready for the moment of truth.  All of your casts really amount to only 1 or 2 per day.  It's important to be ready.  Plus, if 3 out of 4 fish come on a figure 8 and a longer pole allows you to do a better figure 8, then the facts speak for themselves.  It's just another difference maker in a sport that needs it.

Proper release tools...This might sound elementary, but our sport depends on proper catch and release.  If you aren't prepared you will regret it.  Bring a big net with a deep basket.  Also, a long-nosed pliers and hook cutters. Leave the fish in the water until the hooks are out and then have the camera ready before you take it out of the water.  Don't hold the muskie vertical, it kills them.  Don't lay them on the floor to flop around, this may also kill them.  Lastly, don't drag them backwards in the water when you are reviving them.  It drowns them.  Sorry, this is my only rant, but it's so important that it needs to be mentioned.

Looking at the current conditions, I'd say that the muskie bite should be good on the opener.  The spawn should be completely wrapped up and hopefully the fish are putting the post-spawn feed bag on.  Water temps have cooled in the metro to the mid to upper 60's.  The weed growth appears to be ahead of schedule, so all indications are that you will catch a muskie on the opener, or you won't!  Anything else would be too ridiculous to predict.  I wish you the best of luck this year and hope to see you on the water.  Until the first muskie strikes, keep on livin' the dream!

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Why Wait For Walleye's?

Posted by: Travis Frank under Fishing, Walleye Updated: May 9, 2011 - 12:15 PM


The walleye chomp is going strong.  Travis Frank with a recent catch from the St. Croix River.

The walleye chomp is going strong. Travis Frank with a recent catch from the St. Croix River.

I'm convinced the season never closes in Minnesota.  There are big fish to be hooked 365 days a year.  In my opinion, the walleye opener in 5 days simply means there are more places to get it done.  If you are a fishin' fool like myself, then you've probably already caught a few marble eyes in 2011.

The Mighty Mississippi has been giving them up all winter and spring.  The only thing that slowed it down was mother nature's flood.  The Rainy River is always a good April option.  Walleyes and Sturgeon make the trip extra sweet.  The Mississippi is now back in her banks and so is the bite.  Pools 2 through 4 never close.  Adding to the list, our border waters are now fair game.  The season is open my friends, in fact it's in full swing!

This past Saturday I celebrated another 2011 fishing opener.  This time it was my St. Croix river opener.  Funny thing is, I was late to the party.  Walleye dudes had been hammering them for the past week.  This is the 3rd year that I've fished that stretch of water, and every year I walk away more impressed.  When it comes to quality sauger and eyes, it's hard to beat the Croix.  Rumors of the hot bite were true, and it didn't take us long to catch a meal.  Our method was simple.  Jigs tipped with minnows or plastics.  Honestly, they both caught 'em well.  The secret was finding the fish.  And, judging by all the boats catching 'em, it wasn't much of a secret.  Neither was the bait.

I realize the significance of the Minnesota opener in a few days.  Like you, I am growing restless.  I'm just happy that we never had to stop catching walleyes to wait for it.  If you are looking for a quick fix to your walleye blues, I strongly suggest you head to a border water this week.  The cool water has these fish on a feeding rampage.  Get out there and rub off the dust before the opener hits.  You won't be dissapointed.   Until the next season opens, keep on livin' your dream!

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A 'New' Muskie Lure for 2011?

Posted by: Travis Frank under Fishing, Muskie Updated: May 5, 2011 - 9:10 AM


Travis Frank hoists a 50 inch muskie caught during the 2010 season.

Travis Frank hoists a 50 inch muskie caught during the 2010 season.

Every angler wants an advantage.  In muskie fishing, this takes on a whole new meaning.  The smallest details make all the difference.  Whether its a longer rod, a high speed reel or particular moon phase, everything comes into play.  As a diehard angler and fishing guide, I am willing to try anything that may put an extra fish or two in my boat.  Anything!

The past few seasons I have been searching for a particular swimbait that would give the fish something they haven't seen.  No blades, no topwater plopping.  I wanted the lure to have good action, and the ability to retrieve at high speeds.  The problem was this.  I kept running into lures that would blow out sideways when I picked up the pace.  They just wouldn't run true.

That was until I found the Shadzilla.  it's a new soft bodied swimbait made up in Canada.  I called the owner (Mike) directly and asked him if these lures run true at high speeds.  He assured me that they did and I purchased 2.  The rest is history.  On my fourth cast I picked up the speed and ran it past a known fish.  A large fish.  In the middle of that cast I experienced a strike that I haven't seen in years.  The 50 incher t-boned the bait with such recklessness that it scared me stiff.  There was no follow or advanced notice.  She came out of nowhere and crushed it.  To make the story better, it was high noon on a calm sunny day.  No moon phase in sight.  It was a pure reaction strike.

Was it a fluke?  Not a chance.  The next day I hit the water and made two casts on another known fish.  Again, I was scared straight.  The muskie flew out of nowhere and smoked the bait sideways.  These fish were attacking without any hesitation.  I remember looking at my buddy in the boat and his eyes looked like they were ready to explode.  I hadn't seen this kind of response since the cowgirl was introduced.  It was awesome!  The fish had no hesitations and wanted it bad.

The key ingredient was speed.  It's no secret that muskies react to fast moving objects.  The faster the better.  Plus, many of these fish have been conditioned to our bucktails, bulldawgs and topwaters.  I was excited to finally have something to burn that didn't have blades on it.  Swimbaits have been around for years.  This high speed technique was purely something different. 

The rest of the fall proved that the muskies were also excited about the bait.  I didn't spill the beans on my new approach last year because I wanted to enjoy it with my clients and buddies.  Truth is, it brought back memories of my first years chasing muskies.  When you found a fish, they would eat.  No follows.  And, we caught fish on it until the ice locked us tight in November.

As this muskie season approaches, you may want to throw this lure into your bag of tricks.  If you have the willpower to burn it, I believe you will put a few more fish in your bag.  I'm not 100% sure, but I think the only place in the US that carries the Shadzilla is Big Wood Musky Lures.  The owner of this website is Kyle Knock.  He's a great guy and will hook you up with what he has.  Just know, that it isn't easy to get your hands on these baits.  Mike can't build them fast enough.  So there you have it.  My favorite lure for 2010.  I hope it serves you well as we enter another season of Monster Quest.  Until then, keep on livin' your dream!

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