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Iowa Great Lakes are a multi-species paradise By Larry Myhre Team Outdoorsmen Adventures

     SPIRIT LAKE,  Iowa — It was shaping up to be a picture perfect, bluebird day. The sun glinted off the calm surface of Emersons Bay on Big West Lake Okoboji as fishing guide John Grosvenor put the hammer down on his big Skeeter WX2060.

     Aboard were Clay Norris, Team Outdoorsmen Adventures member and longtime product manager for the Berkley Company, and me. Following close behind the Skeeter were Gary Howey, Hartington, Neb., who has the Outdoorsman Adventures Television show, and cameraman Garrett Heikes, Wayne, Neb., in my Alumacraft Tournament Sport which would serve as the camera boat for this trip.

     We didn’t have far to run.

     Grosvenor had caught a lot of fish on a rock bar just outside the mouth of the bay the day before. Bluegills, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass and walleyes had rounded out his catch. He dropped down his Minn Kota Ulterra, bow-mounted electric motor and hit the anchor button. GPS tracking would keep us on one spot in spite of a light breeze which was beginning to kick up.

     John handed Clay a rod armed with a slip bobber and a 1/16-ounce jig head tipped with two red wiggler worms. These tiny worms max out at about 4-inches long and are great fish bait because of their wiggling action. After getting Clay rigged up, John handed me a drop shot rod with a Havoc Bottom Hopper Jr., plastic worm, on the short-shanked drop shot hook. A three-eights ounce drop shot sinker was slipped onto the line about 18-inches below the hook.

     Both rods were rigged with Berkley Crystal Fireline with Berkley Vanish Fluorocarbon leaders.

     Both the slip bobber and drop shot rig are finesse techniques and work well in the clear waters of this spring-fed, 3,847 acre lake.

     It didn’t take long for Clay to hook up with a nine-inch bluegill. It was a brightly colored male as were most of the big ‘gills we caught that day. In this deeper water, the ‘gills were still on the beds. Clay took two more fish, a bluegill and a largemouth, before I hooked up with my first largemouth of the day.

     We moved a couple times on that bar, but could not find the larger bass John was looking for. Ours topped out at about 15 inches. And the walleyes, it seemed had left except for the small one that Clay brought to the boat. We had caught and released a lot of bluegills and largemouth, but the smallmouth were absent. A cold front had moved through late the day before and we figured the smallies might have gone into deeper water.

     John decided to make a move. He started the big motor and pointed the bow north. We were headed for the rock bars above Gull Point.

     John has been guiding on the Iowa Great Lakes for the past 16 years. I first met John when he was an Anchor/Reporter for KTIV-TV news and I was working at the Sioux City Journal. John spent 10 years in the news business, both in Sioux City and Des Moines.

     As we began working the rock piles on the flats above Gull, it became apparent that the largemouth and bluegills and even a few walleyes were home, but the smallies still evaded us. We also caught three small northerns along here. I caught a silver northern, my first ever. A silver northern is just a color phase and not a separate species. The silver northern has no spots or coloring along its back and sides.

     Clay remarked, “It looks like a walleye with a northern pike’s head.”

     That’s as good of a description as any.

     Another color phase found in these lakes is the striped northern. The DNR estimates only one percent of the northern population is striped, while some 20 percent are silvers. Apparently, the three color phases originated from Spirit Lake, but the DNR has stocked them in both West and East Okoboji.

     We made one more move into deeper water on a rock pile to the north. [Read more…]

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Myhre signs off after 44 years of columns By Larry Myhre

Reprinted from the Sioux City Journal

After 44 years of writing this column every week, I can tell you this. Some are a lot harder to write than others.

This is one of the hard ones.

You see, I’m saying goodbye.

It’s time to hit the “Shut Down” button on the old computer. But before I do that, allow me to look back over the past 44 years.

I started working at the Journal in 1965 as a summer intern. One of my first stories was a feature on the now-long-gone Sioux City Gun Club. The camera I used was a 4X5 Speed Graphic, a bulky thing, complete with bellows. I came to work full time as a reporter in February 1966.

In those days, the Journal was at the corner of Fifth and Douglas streets. A parking ramp stands there today. The editor who hired me was Erwin Sias. If you’ve followed this column very long you know I have written about him many times. He was among a small handful of men whom I count as among the best fishermen ever.

He and another Journal employee, Marc Cox, the farm editor, wrote outdoors in each Sunday’s Sports section. I marveled at the quality of their writing and the exotic fishing trips they each took and wrote about.

Meanwhile, I was doing some outdoor writing myself. I was writing and selling stories to outdoor magazines. I never cracked the Big Three (Sports Afield, Outdoor Life and Field & Stream) at that time, but I was regularly published in Fur-Fish-Game, farm magazines and some others.

In the spring of 1973, Marc Cox was killed in a private plane crash on his way home from the Minnesota’s Governor’s Fishing Opener, an event he had attended for many years. Being the only reporter on the Journal staff with a farm background, I was selected for his job, which consisted mostly of writing for and editing the Farm Weekly tabloid.

Shorty after, Sias asked me to co-write the outdoor column with him. Of course, I quickly accepted that assignment. I abandoned magazine freelancing and concentrated on my column work.

I still remember my first column. I had discovered the Little Sioux Watershed and its hundreds of fish-filled farm ponds. It was like a man dying of thirst in the desert finally finding a canteen of water. And I drank deeply, the charms of farm pond fishing.

I also had small children and they loved to fish. Farm pond bluegills are perfect for kids. Non-stop action. Kids and farm ponds. That was the column.

I don’t remember what the next column was about, but in those days I had joined Sias and his friends each fall fishing perch at West Okoboji and wrote columns on each trip. There were a lot of them. One winter we fished every weekend from Labor Day to Memorial Day. When West Lake finally froze over usually in mid-December, East Lake had sufficiently thick ice for ice fishing. The Okoboji’s are where I met and fished with C.J. “Cap” Kennedy of Rock-a-Roo jig fame, and Jim Stone, who knew the subtle patterns of West Okoboji better than anybody.

We also headed to the Alexandria, Minnesota, area each spring to open the bass season. There we were joined by Lacey Gee, Si’s friend who owned the Wapsi Fly Company in Independence, Iowa, Bob Brown, sports editor of the Fort Dodge Messenger and their outdoor columnist, and others. We usually spent five days up there fishing crappies, bluegills, and walleyes before the bass opener. [Read more…]

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Ice-out is time for trophy northern pike By Larry Myhre

Reprinted from the Sioux City Journal

If your goal is to catch a trophy northern pike, the best time to do it is coming soon.

The big, old females, those 20-pound-plus leviathans, move into shallow bays to spawn even before the ice goes out. By the time the ice leaves the bays, the spawn is usually over, but those hogs stay around, basking in the warmer water those bright, sunny spring days often bring.

And the good news is, they can be caught.

Much of what these big females are foraging on is winter-killed fish that are lying on the bottom. If your lake has shad, the bottom might be littered with dead fish. And big catfish will join northerns in this feeding frenzy. If there are no shad, rest assured there will be other fish offering meals to the cruising northerns.

South Dakota’s massive Oahe Reservoir is a definite destination for early northern pike fishermen. Just about any of the lake’s many shallow bays will offer good fishing.

For years I would make an annual trip to fish with my friend Steve Nelson who lives in Pierre and is definitely one of the best shore fishermen up there.

While you can definitely catch these big fish from a boat, most of the early anglers fish from shore.

As anyone who has spent much time around water knows, the ice leaves the shallow bays first while the main lake remains in an icy grip. So shore fishermen might get as much as two weeks head start on the northerns before the boats can even get there.

Here’s how we would go about it.

Our rods were long and rather heavy. I used the same rods I used for downrigging at the time, eight-and-one-half feet long, medium heavy action. We would attach big spinning reels spooled with 12-pound-test monofilament.

Our terminal tackle consisted of a 12-inch steel leader with a swivel on one end and a snap on the other. Our hook was a size 1 treble. Our bait was frozen smelt which we obtained at local grocery stores or tackle shops.

We preferred to cast our smelt out onto a flat coming off the shoreline.

Here’s the method. Take one of the smelt and insert the shank of the treble hook into it at mid body. Push the shank through and attach the eye of the hook to the snap.

Using a kind of lob cast, throw the rig as far out as you can, making sure the smelt doesn’t fly off. Then let the whole rig sink slowly to the bottom. [Read more…]