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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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Warmest memories created in the cold By Larry Myhre

There’s nothing quite like that hour before dawn on the ice. Throughout my long ice fishing career, I harbor many cherished memories. It’s not the big fish or the number of fish I’ve caught on an outing that occupies the high points of my memory of many hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of hours and days on the ice.

No, it is those predawn hours spent on the ice of West Lake Okoboji through the late 1960s and early 1970s that come to mind most often. I was in my early 20s and just happy to be able to join the seasoned outdoors veterans who allowed me to fish with them virtually every weekend all winter.

They were a group of ice fishing addicts. They always ate a big breakfast at whichever lakeside cottage we were staying at. Then they were on the ice a full hour before daylight. And they stayed out there until a limit of perch was reached or dark, whichever came first. Lunch? Forget it. They might have a thermos of coffee and perhaps a snack in their bucket, but most likely not.

My idea of breakfast was a Coke and a cigarette. But I choked down the fried eggs, bacon or sausage and pancakes because I knew we wouldn’t eat again until about 7 p.m.

I was not an early riser. I would hear them banging around and yelling for me to get up. But I was often reluctant to leave the pleasant warmth of my sleeping bag. One morning, one of the group, a big, linebacker-type of man, picked up my sleeping bag with me in it and dumped me out on the cold floor. Another time he dumped me into a baby’s crib. He said that’s where I belonged. Do you know how hard it is to get out of a baby’s crib?

There we’d be. Sitting on a white, five-gallon bucket. If it were windy, a big rock would reside in the bucket so it wouldn’t blow away. Our short ice fishing rods were rigged with a Mitchell 308 spooled with four-pound-test line at the end of which danced a quarter-ounce Swedish Pimple spoon, its single hook sporting several tiny grubs.

So there I’d sit, back to the wind, wondering why in the hell did we have to start so early because perch don’t bite in the dark. Walleyes? Oh yes. They love that hour before dawn. But we were never on a walleye spot. These guys wanted perch. And they usually got them.

Those hours in the pre-dawn darkness reminded me a lot of listening to the marsh wake up when you are duck hunting. It’s eerily quiet at first and then you begin to hear sounds. It might be the wingbeats of ducks flying over, then later the quiet is shattered by the loud quacks of a hen mallard saying nothing in particular. Then the redwing blackbirds begin to sing.

On the ice it is the sounds of vehicles driving out, the snow squeaking under their tires. Loud voices. Laughter. The scream of ice augers punching through 30 inches of ice. All the while a pink tinge to the eastern sky begins to signal that there is, indeed, a sun. As that pink blush splashes into a hot red-orange glow all across the horizon you make out trees, their branches back lit by the morning light.

It’s another half hour before the sun finally crests the hills and splashes its light across the ice.

That’s about when you notice your first bite of the day. A faint pull on the rod tip and you raise it quickly, feeling the resistance of another Okoboji yellow-ringed perch at the other end. Even though the sun is now fully upon the ice, the day seems a little brighter.

And so it is with memories. Time makes them seem a little brighter. [Read more…]

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Best fishing of year is right now By Larry Myhre

Reprinted from the Sioux City Journal

We are currently on the threshold of the best fishing of the year.

I love the fall months, September, October, November. No, I could care less about the football season, even hunting plays second fiddle. Fishing is where it is at for me, and the catching just gets better right up until the lakes freeze over and the mighty Missouri begins running ice.

It never ceases to amaze me how popular fishing has become and how much money the average angler throws into his sport in the purchase of boats, electronics, tow vehicles and gear. Yet come September, only the die-hard anglers remain on the water.

That’s another reason why I like fall fishing. It can get lonely out there. And that’s just the way I like it. And so, too, do trophy walleyes and bass.

Launch off any of the most popular boat ramps on the Missouri River reservoirs in the middle of any week all summer long and you have to ask yourself, “Doesn’t anybody work any more?”

On the popular walleye spots you can count 20 to 30 boats in view at any time. And don’t even think of the weekends.

But from now until freeze up you’ll find plenty of room to park your trailer.

There are a couple of reasons fishing for any species is so much better in the fall. One is that water temperatures are cooling and approaching the fish’s comfort level. Temperatures above a fish’s preferred temperature put them under stress. Stressed fish are less active and not as aggressive. Colder temperatures than their preference does not put them under stress. Being cold-blooded creatures, their activity slows, but they are not stressed.

Females of all game species begin developing eggs in the fall. They instinctively know they must eat a lot to store fat to see them through the less active periods of cold water. So, they are willing to bite your lures. [Read more…]

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Summertime tricks for more walleyes By Larry Myhre

Reprinted from the Sioux City Journal
The dog days are here. Walleye fishing, predictably, gets tougher. With air temperatures hitting the high 80s or 90s most days, the water temperature heats up. Weed growth expands, and some lakes experience horrific algae blooms.
All told, I’d much rather fish walleyes in June than in August.
But, that doesn’t mean you can’t make great catches of walleyes during the heat of summer.
Actually the Missouri River reservoirs offer great walleye fishing in the heat.
If you are fishing natural lakes, some of the presentation tricks I’m going to outline here will help you fill that limit. And you can take them to the reservoirs as well.
First, let’s talk bait. Leeches and crawlers are the traditional summertime baits, with minnows topping the list in the spring and chubs in the fall.
Typically, when I’m fishing natural lakes, I’m using some type of live bait rig such as a Lindy Rig or Roach Rig. They are practically the same arrangement, a sinker (typically 3/8-ounce for most of your fishing) stopped by a swivel in front of 36 inches of snell with a hook at the end.
While I do use bottom bouncers in lakes from time to time, especially if I can’t find fish and have to cover a lot of ground, most of the time I find fish on the depth finder and slow my presentation down.
Most of the time the fish are relating to weeds, particularly cabbage and coontail. I prefer to fish cabbage as it is much easier to move your presentation just outside of the weed line which forms when light penetration can no longer support plant life.
I abandon the typical “Lindy” sinker when fishing weeds and instead use a cone-shaped sinker which is often used for bass fishing. This sinker slides though the weeds without fouling on them and can save you a lot of aggravation. [Read more…]