On a recent or past episode of Fishing the Midwest, we talked about some of the changes that have taken place in the world of fishing. I’ve been fishing for a little more than five decades and have seen many changes. Most of those changes have been for the good, some even great, for those of us who like to go fishing. Following are some of the changes that I’ve seen.
First the changes in equipment, and there have been lots. Perhaps the improvements and advancements in sonar are most noteworthy. When I got my first boat in the early 1980s, a tiller boat with a 50-horsepower motor, it had a flasher by the tiller and a flasher on the bow. That was it, and that’s how many boats were rigged. Some only had a flasher at the tiller. We could see the bottom depth, and by fine-tuning we could determine if the bottom was hard or soft. We could see weeds, and we could see fish for a few seconds.
Today, some anglers have a liquid crystal unit or two at the steering wheel and another one or two on the bow next to the electric motor. These units show what’s currently under the boat and to either side of the boat, and because of the screen size, they show what we went over a ways back. They have mapping that shows where we are on the lake, and where we are on a particular piece of structure. They show water temp, latitude and longitude, and time of day. Truly amazing! The Raymarine units that I use enable an angler to zoom in on a particular area of the water column and they provide unbelievable target separation. They’ve changed the way we go fishing.
Improvements in boats and motors enable us to get to areas that in days gone-by were inaccessible. Back in the day, we rarely ran long distances, especially if the weather forecast included much wind. Weather forecasts back then weren’t as accurate as today, our motors weren’t as reliable, and the boats weren’t built for waves like they are now.
The Suzuki motors that I run are so much quieter, fuel-efficient, and more reliable than those motors of yesteryear. Today, we can go farther with less fuel and a lot more confidence.
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The lakes are changing also, and in most instances for the better. Take Kabetogama Lake in northern Minnesota. I started going there in the early 2000s, and we had good fishing. We fished exclusively for walleyes, and we caught 'em. Mostly small ones, but every now and then, we caught a big one. Then a slot limit was put in place, and within two or three years, we saw lots more big walleyes. We still catch plenty to eat, but the odds of catching a trophy are much better today. Kab is now a world class walleye fishery.
Then a few years ago, crappies became abundant on Kab. We started fishing for them, and we caught lots of 'em, including some truly big ones.
And then a couple of years later, we learned about the smallmouth fishery on Kab. Absolutely outstanding: Another world-class fishery.
Sometimes we compare things back to the past, and sometimes our memory gets cloudy. I know mine does. But when it comes to fishing where I and my friends go fishing, right now are the good old days. And, I expect with even more advancements in equipment and fisheries management, the good old days are going to last a long time.
Photos: Big fish caught in North Iowa
Kathryn Barton - muskie
Steve Young muskie 1
Kid catches muskie
Houston muskie in East Park
Logan Conway and Muskie
Steve Ibarra 2
Sea Wall muskie
Clear Lake muskie
Redig's big fish
12th Street cat
Tom Caswell's Muskie
Big fish in St. Ansgar
Santee's northern pike
Richards' river monster
Mike Uhlenhopp's northern pike
Lenz lands a big one
Georgia Hanford cat
Frank and the fish
Echelbarger's northern pike
East Park walleye
Mom and son muskie
2 for one on Clear Lake
Big muskie caught on Clear Lake in January, 2016
Jeff Lutcavish with giant northern
Catfish in Clear Lake
Fall Classic walleye
Jensen's Fishing the Midwest: Fall can be the best time for trophy fish
Depending on where you live, the young people and their teachers are getting ready to go back to school, football season is either here or just around the corner, and the fall fishing season is not far off. Some folks may not like this progression of seasons, but many anglers do. They know that autumn can provide the best fishing of the year for both numbers of fish and trophy fish. Many anglers have caught the biggest fish of their life in the fall. If we want to take full advantage of fall fishing, now is a good time to make preparations to do so. Following are some things to keep in mind as we prepare for fall fishing.
Whether you’re fishing a lake, river, or reservoir, at some point in the fall the fish will school up. In the summer they’ll be loosely schooled more of the time, but when the fish feel the water temperatures drop and notice the days getting shorter, they’ll group up. Therefore, it works well to keep moving with an eye on your sonar until you find where the fish are hanging out.
The importance of paying attention to your sonar was once again driven home on a fall trip to Lake Kabetogama a couple of years ago. Kab is known for its walleyes, but it’s also a world-class smallmouth fishery. We were fishing for the smallmouth on deep structures. We located the structures on the maps in our sonar units, then cruised over them looking for fish. The first two spots were fishless, the third showed fish.
We dropped jigs and dropshot rigs to them and had immediate action. Just for the heck of it, we tried similar looking structures that didn’t show fish on the sonar, and that’s what we caught: Nothing. The fact that you’ve got to fish where the fish are if you want to catch fish was reinforced that day. We were using Raymarine sonar at the time: I can’t remember which units we had, but the Axiom series of sonar from Raymarine that we’re using now does an amazing job of showing fish, and they have the other features necessary that make fish-catching so much more consistent.
Start the autumn season off with fresh line. Just as we start the season with fresh line, we want to be sure our connection to the fish is in good shape in the fall. Be sure that when that fish-of-a-lifetime eats your bait, your line will be ready to handle it. There are lots of line choices out there, and they all have a purpose. With that said, day-in and day-out, I use P-Line CX or CXX Premium. These are kind of like monofilament line, and I’ve developed a lot of trust in them. If I want more sensitivity and better hooksetting ability, I use XTCB braid with a Tactical fluorocarbon leader. This set-up provides the ultimate in strength and minimal stretch, yet allows for a very natural presentation.
In the fall, fish like larger lures. Even the smaller fish eat bigger baits in the autumn. Mother Nature tells the fish that it’s better to eat one large meal instead of several smaller ones. Use big bait for big fish.
There are lots of options for recreation in the fall. Football and hunting take up lots of folk’s time. But if you like to fish, reserve some time for doing-so. The weather is pleasant, the scenery is nice, and the catching can be outstanding. Discover that for yourself when the leaves on the trees turn colorful.
Muskies: Mitchell County Conservation intern explains 'the mystery fish' (with photos)
OSAGE | Local anglers had an opportunity to hear about the “mystery fish" -- also known more commonly as the muskie, from Levi Nettleton, recent naturalist intern with Mitchell County Conservation.
Nettleton, who will be a senior science education major at the University of Northern Iowa this fall, told attendees muskies are known as the mystery fish because of their unpredictability.
“Muskies are very unpredictable,” he said. “You can find them in waters that are 6 inches to a 100 feet deep. They look like a pike, but they have six teeth instead of five teeth like northern, and northern are spotted.”
Nettleton said a female Muskie can lay up to 265,000 eggs, but their survival rate is very low. They spawn best in water temps of 55 to 65 degrees, laying their eggs randomly in shallow waters where predators can consume the eggs.
“Many fishermen believe the muskie is a major consumer of other game fish such as bass and walleye, but they are apt to eat softer fish like bullheads and minnows,” Nettleton said, noting they also eat insects, crayfish, small mammals and waterfowl.
"Many believe they are aggressive, but that isn’t true, unless they are feeding," he said. "They are complicated for naturalists to study.”
Nettleton said Muskies’ habitats also vary, meaning they can be found in weeds like tobacco cabbage or 30 feet deep in open water. He said fisherman can find them in different places throughout the year.
Nettleton shared his enthusiasm for catching the large game fish, something he started four years ago.
“Once you do it, it can become an addiction," he said. "There's a lot of skill in muskie fishing, and sometimes, muskies are called the fish of a 100,000 casts.”
Nettleton’s study has rewarded him well, as he caught and released 36 muskies last year and 12 so far this year.
Fishermen seeking muskies typically use 7- to 10-foot rods, according to Nettleton. He uses a 300- to 400-foot reel with 22 pounds of drag, with 50-100 braid line and steel or fluorocarbon leaders.
He also carries needle-nosed pliers longer than 8 inches and a rubberized net, so he doesn't harm the Muskie.
He gave some additional pointers:
• Leave the catch in the water and support and release it when the fish is calm.
• Cut the hook if the fish has been deep-hooked.
• Don't fish over 80 degrees.
• If trolling, start at 2 mph, increasing to 4 mph.
• Do figure-eights to attract muskies.
Nettleton, who whose biggest catch was 53 inches long, said there are Muskies in the Cedar, Iowa, Shell Rock, and Winnebago rivers, as well as in Clear Lake.
The largest populations of muskies are in Minnesota, according to Nettleton, where the largest caught was 56 inches long and weighed 54 pounds.