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Early Hunting Season Grouse & Prairie Chicken By Gary Howey

  The early upland game bird hunting seasons are just around the corner and the bird surveys that have been completed on the sharptail grouse and the prairie chicken seem to indicate good numbers of both species.

  In South Dakota, the lek count indicates that the sharptail grouse numbers are up slightly, while the count for prairies chicken is down slightly, which pencils out to having about the same number of birds that were in the state last season.

  Counting the male birds on leks, which are often called dancing or booming grounds gives the Game & Parks an ideas as to the number of birds.

   The life span of these birds is short with about a 50% survival rate. Young of year birds usually outnumber adult birds in the fall.

  This is reason these counts are taken in the spring, when the males gather on the lek, these counts are a good indicator of the adult bird and how things will look in the future.

  Distinguishing the difference between the two isn’t difficult as the sharptails have a shorter tail with their two middle feathers longer and darker than the outside tail feathers; their sharp tail is the reason for their name. A sharptails feathers are marked with spots or blotches of a different color or shade.

   The prairie chickens tail is short, dark, and rounded with the greater part of their feet feathered.

  Hunting grouse on the prairie means that you have to cover a lot of distance, as the birds are generally in large flocks and found in the western grassland of the state.

  In the morning in the spring both the grouse and prairie chickens dance or display or dance on the lek with the male prairie chicken raising the feathers on its head and inflating the orange sacs on their neck, trying their best to impress the females.

  The females arrive at the lek each morning to check out the males as they strut, display and stutter step as they move around in a circle.

  Once the female has mated, like other upland game birds she will tend the eggs and raise then young on her own.

  One thing you can do to locate birds before hitting the field is something I learned from a friend when I first started hunting grouse.  He uses his binoculars to glass the larger pastures and grassland, as the grouse and chickens always seem to have a lookout with its head up watching for danger. He looked for their lookout and said they resembled a bowling pin sticking out of the grass. I’ve tried it several times and have located birds, but without glassing the field first, I would have had to walk the entire field before finding the birds.

  When I was younger, I had a Brittney Spaniel, who led the way, nose to the ground through the fields as he worked to pick up the birds scent. We’d walk until we busted a covey, shot what we could and watched the direction the birds glided to and then walked again, covering several miles in pursuit of the birds. [Read more…]

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Small & Largemouth The Bass Gary Howey

  Bass, both the smallmouth and largemouth bass are one of the top predators in any body of water as they’re some of the most aggressive fish in the body of water.

Largemouth

  The largemouth inhabits most bodies of water from small farm ponds, gravel/sand pits, to the Missouri River Reservoirs of South Dakota and Nebraska. Where’s there’s water, you’ll find the largemouth, including in the numerous lakes found throughout Minnesota and the “Glacial Lakes” of northeastern South Dakota.

  As mentioned earlier, largemouth can be very aggressive and will attack almost anything they might think they can get into their mouth. Among several of the things that bass are known to eat include snakes, frogs, lizards, salamanders, ducklings, crayfish as well as other fish.

  Bass are aggressive feeders, in the spring before the “Dog” days of summer; you’ll find them shallow in preparation for the spawn.

  The male will create a nest with their tail in one to three feet generally less than ten feet from shoreline where the fertilized eggs are deposited. The male will guard the fingerlings until they’re capable of fending for themselves.

  Because the male has been busy keeping predators away from the nest, he hasn’t had an opportunity to eat and one of the final things he’ll do before leaving the nest is chase the fingerlings from the nest by gobbling down as many of the young as possible. This not only allows the male to feed, but it may also show the young fish that they can’t trust anything, not even their father.

  After the spawn, the female moves into the deep water to rest and recuperate from the spawning ritual.  During the cool time of the day and after the sunsets, the females will move from the deeper water up shallow looking for a quick meal.

  In the summer, all largemouth will look for more comfortable water temperatures, this may be deep, adjacent or in the weeds or in the shade of a dead fall or stump lying in the water.

  As summer moves into fall, bass like all fish will start to feed heavily, as they need to bulk up before winter sets in, feeding heavily until water temperature decline when these cold blooded creatures metabolism slows and they ride out the winter.

  Some of the preferred baits for taking largemouth include; jigs and pig, spinnerbaits, buzz baits, Texas rigs with Berkley Gulp, PowerBaits and Carolina Rigs,  dropshot rigs, crankbaits like those manufactured by  Bagley and in some cases live bait rigs.

    The largemouth records for the states mentioned above vary with the South Dakota record for largemouth being 9 lbs. 3 Oz. with the Minnesota record fish coming in at 8 Lbs. 15 Oz. while the Nebraska record tipping the scales at 10 Lbs. 11 Oz

Smallmouth

The smallmouth bass can be even more aggressive than their cousin the largemouth bass are. Called the Bronze-back, a name given to smallmouth because of their aggressive nature and the way they fight once hooked, pretty much describes the fight an angler has on his hands once the fish is hooked. They run hard, test your equipment and come from deep water in a flash, dancing along the surface trying to dislodge the hook in their jaw.

  They inhabit numerous lakes throughout Nebraska, with excellent populations in the Missouri River reservoirs as well as on Merritt Reservoir and other smaller lakes.

  The South Dakota Reservoirs, Lewis & Clark, Lake Francis Case, Lake Sharpe and Lake Oahe all have huge smallmouth populations as do the “Glacial Lakes” in the northeastern portion of the state that include Horseshoe, Roy Lake, Reetz Lake and Enemy Swim.

   In Minnesota, you’ll find numerous lakes where these “Bull Dogs of the Deep” will test your equipment and your fish fighting skill. [Read more…]

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What’s Hot when it “HOT on the Mo. River Reservoirs Gary Howey

   These are the “Dog Days of Summer” when no matter where you’re fishing the fishing can be tough.

  I remember those days, where you could set out there most of the day, using several different presentations and all we had to show for it was a bad sunburn and a tackle bag with less tackle than we started with.

  We knew where the fish were deep as we located them with our locators, but we had a tough time getting our baits to them. They suspended in the deep water, hanging out at different depths in and amongst the trees left when the reservoir filled.

  We tried bottom bouncers and spinners, loosing many of them before switching to another method, which performed about the same as the bottom bouncers.

  Years later, we were filming with Guide and Team Outdoorsmen Adventures Member Joel Vasek of Missouri Valley Guide Service on Lake Francis Case when he introduced us to pulling crankbaits on lead core, which helped us to fill our limits while other anglers were coming up short.

  Hot weather fishing is different from the rest of the year, requiring different presentations: different baits, different rigs, presented at different speeds.   

 I’ve fished many of the hot weather deep-water methods, but by no means am I an expert. 

  Some of the most successful guides and tournament anglers, those individuals that spend hundreds of hours on the water use need to put fish in the boat, no matter what the season or water temperature may be, have methods they use during the Dog Days of Summer.

  To get the best information on this, I contacted some the most successful guides and anglers I know, and quizzed them about deep-water fishing during the “Hot” weather.

  Below you’ll find their suggestions on the lakes they fish and the methods they’d recommend to catch walleyes when it’s “Hot”.

Lewis & Clark Lake:

 Anglers in a recent tournament held on Lewis and Clark had to deal with water temperatures of 75-77 degrees used lead core line to troll the deeper water of the old river channel were awarded 1st place in the event.

   Lead core line and Off Shore snap weights are used to get your bait down deep, along with Off Shore Plainer boards that will spread those lines out seems to be a good bet when water temperatures warm up on Lewis & Clark.

Joel Vasek, Geddes, S.D. Missouri Valley Guide Service, www.walleyetamer.com:

Joel guides on Lake Francis Case on up to Chamberlain. S.D. and feels that deep-water walleyes are easy to pattern as they seem to suspend in 30′ to 50′ of water and as long as the baitfish are there won’t they won’t move much.

  To get deep, where the walleyes are located he uses lead core, snap weights and downriggers. He also uses Off Shore Planer Boards with lead core as when you make a turn with the boats the boards stop and this is when the walleyes seem to like to hit.

  Vasek feels that the best deep-water fishing happens when there is the right sun with a little chop on the water and feels that cloudy day’s hurt deep-water fishing. As the depth increases, visibility becomes poorer, with the sunlight penetration helping the walleyes to locate your bait.

  Walleyes will follow the Gizzard Shad and when they move, some of the walleyes will stay put as larger fish during the heat of the summer don’t seem to like chasing bait and this is when the odds are in your favor, when crankbaits work well as there’s less baitfish for the fish to feed on.

  Vasek and his guides have excellent luck trolling crankbaits over the trees or along 45′ to 55′ break lines. [Read more…]

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How to not Launch Your Boat By Gary Howey

  Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time setting at boat ramps waiting to launch and load my boat.

  Most of these were quick and painless, but a few that really sucked!

  Most anglers or boaters know where I’m coming from, when you have a 20 to 30-minute wait while there’s someone who is trying to launch their boat.

  More than likely, there will be several other boats who are in the water waiting to get to the dock that will have to cruise around the bay, with others waiting in their vehicle as one-boat clutters up the launching area.

  I’m sure the person who is doing this wouldn’t be doing it on purpose, they just aren’t aware of proper boat ramp etiquette.

  Most of you reading this column have run into similar situations.

 Another thing that will drive a person crazy who’s trying to launch their boat is the person that pulls into the boat ramp with their tarp on the boat, backs down just short of the water and then proceeds to remove the tarp while other boaters waiting to launch.

 Or how about the person that backs down to the water only to spend the next ten-minutes unloading all the ski equipment, inner tubes and picnic supplies into the boat?

Then there’s the person who backs down, unhooks his boat and ties it to the dock, then heads off to park his vehicle.  While he’s up there, he uses the bathroom and then five-minute later makes his way down to the boat.  As he finally pulls away from the dock, he can’t understand why the people in the six or eight boats waiting to launch behind him are not very friendly.

  Then how about those who pulls up to the dock, tie up, right where the next boat needs to launch and then heads up to get his rig and trailer.  

  With low water ramps and the distance a person has to go to park their trailer, it takes quite a while for you to get to and from the ramp and to the parking area.  If a boater or angler doesn’t launch or load the boat properly, it can tie up a boat dock and really screw things up.

  How about the person who backs their boat down to the dock, hits the starter and realizes the motor is not going to start.  Instead of putting the boat back on the trailer and pulling it up into the parking area to check it out, decides to pull the cover off the motor and thinks that the boat dock is a good place to overhaul the engine. [Read more…]

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Going deep with Lead Core by Gary Howey

  The thermometer says it’s close to 100 degrees out there, and everything getting “hot.” With temperatures like those that we’re having, the summer sun warms everything up, including the water, the warmer water forces fish to go deep to find comfortable water temperatures.

  To many anglers, it’s one of the toughest times of the year to catch walleyes, as deep-water fishing is something that many anglers don’t do that often.

 Some fish a deep-water using snap weight that’s attached to the line out in front of a crankbait, while others use bottom bouncers with spinners or crankbaits, which works fine until the fish you’re after suspended in the tops of submerged trees.

 If you’ve fished over submerged trees, you know the depth the trees lie in can vary from a few inches to a few feet.  If you’re fishing these areas using

bottom bouncers/spinners or with crankbaits, you’re going to be hung up and loose tackle.

  When going deep for walleyes is when Lead Core on a line counter reel really shines, allowing you to put your crankbait to the exact depth the fish are using. When you catch a fish, it allows you to return to about the same depth.

  What exactly is Lead Core and how does it work?

  The easiest way to describe Lead Core is that it’s a line where metered colored Dacron is woven around a lead wire core. It’s available in numerous pound tests including: 12, 15, 18, 27 and 45# with the breaking strength measured using the outside Dacron’s breaking strength.

  The heavier pound Lead Core take up a lot of room on a reel as it’s larger in diameter and contains more lead in its inside the Dacron sheath.

  When fishing Lead Core, I run 27# as it works well for the lakes that I fish.

 With the line you’re able to fish deep because the line sinks, allowing you to get your baits down where the fish are located during the heat of summer. [Read more…]

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It’s Hot and They’re Deep By Gary Howey

  There have been days when I wondered if the warmer weather would ever get here. Not here right now, but have no fear when it arrives, it will be with a vengeance.

  When it does arrive, it warms up quickly. This along with the higher humidity we get in our area will be the perfect combination for nasty weather and of course, tougher fishing conditions.

  This is the time of the year, when fish need to adjust to numerous conditions, which includes low water, high water, rising water temperatures, rising or falling barometric pressure and the summer’s bright sunlight all making walleye fishing during this time of the year, tough.

  We anglers will need to adjust, heading to be fishing  deeper water and water where there’s  less sunlight penetration as this is where the fish ware going to be once temperatures start to rise.

  With these hotter temperatures, walleyes and other species of fish will go deep, searching for comfortable water temperatures.

  These deep-water haunts provide the cooler water temperature the fish need to survive when things heat up.

  Another reason is that their food source, the baitfish have moved down, bringing the predator fish with them.

  There are several methods where you can take these Deep-Water fish; those that have worked well for me in the past include leadcore line, snap weights or downriggers pulling crankbaits.

  During this time of the year, the movement of the fish can vary drastically, especially just prior to a sever weather change. [Read more…]

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When the fish won’t bite! Do a Change-Up! By Gary Howey

   What I’m writing about happened to me numerous times over the years and I’m sure it will happen again.

   We were fishing on one of the numerous lakes in the Glacial Lakes and Prairie Region of Northeastern South Dakota, near Watertown and not having much luck. I knew there was a tremendous fisheries here as I was born and raised in this area but was beginning to think there wasn’t a walleye in the lake and as I was about to call it a day, I finally located some fish with my locator.

   My eyes were glued to my locator, as they had most of the day, hoping to find these fish.

  As I was working my way back and forth over this one particular spot, there they were fish just off the bottom in 12 foot of water, as well as several on the bottom. They were showing up as those big lazy arcs indicating the presence of fish and by the size of the marks on the locator, they appeared to be big!

  Since they were located right on or just a couple of feet or so off the bottom, I guessed they were active walleyes and immediately marked the spot.

  Grabbing a couple rods one rigged with a live bait rig while on the other I used a jig. I put the one rod with the live bait rig in a rod holder letting it drag along the edge the drop off, while I used a jig, working it up from the deeper water onto the flat where my locator indicated the fish were holding.

  Even though the fish appeared to be active as they were off the bottom, it didn’t take me long to realize that these fish were in a negative mood or weren’t interested in what I was offering.

  I started digging through my tackle bag, switching from one walleye bait to another, going with my old standards, a bottom bouncer with a spinner baited with a minnow. I tried a livebait rig with a crawler, a jig with a Gulp leech, bottom bouncer and spinner and finally going to a crawler on a plain hook with just a small split shot for weight, all to no avail.

  These fish weren’t in the mood, no matter what I was putting in front of them; they just ignored my offerings or lay tight on the bottom refusing to move.

  Once again, I started rummaging through my tackle bag, looking for something different that the walleyes may not have seen before, something to get them to bite. I needed something, that might get the fish’s attention, and to pull them out of their negative mood. [Read more…]

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Multi Species, Multi Lakes & Mega Opportunities It’s Alexandria, MN. By Gary Howey

  The bobber rig on the end of my line was about to reach the boat, when a dark shadow, a huge muskie rose up from the depths, paying little attention to my 1/16 ounce jig and leech as it slid by my lure and into the cabbage weed in the deep water.

   It was a “BIG” fish one that appeared to be at least 36 inches long, not a giant on this lake, but one any angler would love to tangle with.

   Our guide Joe Scegura indicated the waters around Alexandria, MN. offer some of the best opportunities for anglers to catch a trophy muskie with one exceeding 50″ not uncommon.

  We had headed north on Tuesday, Team Outdoorsmen Adventures member Larry Myhre, Sioux City, IA, videographer Garrett Heikes, Wayne, NE. and as we worked our way up, Larry who had fished these waters before, clued us in on what we might expect. The fish found there, the lakes he’ fished and of course all the big fish he had taken there.

  Within a short drive of Alexandria you’ll find more lakes than you could count, most having excellent fish populations.

  The main structure on the lakes would be cabbage weed as well as some rocks, with good visibility down to twelve feet or more; these lakes hold walleyes, muskie, crappies, pumpkin seed panfish as well as northern pike.

  We’d be fishing with Joe Scegura, jsguideservice.com a, lunching from the east shoreline and as Joe headed up to park the truck and boat trailer, we spotted several species of fish working in and around the dock, a good indicator as to the number of fish found in the lake.

  Joe who had been on the water the previous day showed us some photos of the fish his groups had taken from this lake using slip bobber rigs.

  Slip-bobbers are unlike the standard bobbers that snap to the line as they have a hollow stem going through the bobber, with your line running through that stem, allowing the bobber to slide on your line.

  Slip bobber rigs are a simple set up, we used a small 1/16 ounce jig tipped with leeches or minnows, with the size of the jig you use can be smaller, use one you’re comfortable with, a clear leader leading to a swivel. It’s tied to the main line; Berkley Fireline, a small bead, Thill slip bobber slid up the line and a bobber stop attached to the line, which is generally, a small knot that slides through the guides on your rod.

  The weather reports weren’t very good, with thunder storms predicted that afternoon, so we were anxious to get on the water, and as we motored across the lake, Joe kept a close eye on the locators.

   As bad weather approaches, fish seem to sense them ahead of time and have a tendency to feed heavily before the storm, and because of this, we should be looking for some great fishing.

Author Gary Howey with guide Joe Scegura with one of the numerous walleyes took using slip bobber rigs while fishing the one of the many lakes in and around Alexandria. MN.

  I fired my slip bobber rig towards the outside edge of the weeds, my bobber hit the water, came to rest against the bobber stop, stood up, wiggled a bit then darted to the side before disappearing underwater as the fish attempted to dive deep into the cover of the cabbage weed bed.

Reeling up the slack, I felt the additional weight on the line; rearing back setting the hook hard, and if the way the fish was fighting, was an indicator, it appeared to be a good fish.

  As the fish came close to the boat, it let us know it wasn’t ready to give up the fight, peeling off several yards of line as it dove back under the boat.

   Gaining on the fish, I worked it towards the net, where Joe scooped up the nice 21 ½-inch walleye, one of the many fish we’d land on this trip.

 The weather we were facing, overcast skies and slight wind cutting the light penetration, allowed the fish to move shallow to feed, with the wave action allowing us to float our rigs into the wed line ,as Joe held the boat well away from the water we were fishing with his bow mount.

  Moving from one location to another, looking for the big fish, we were working the weed bed openings, when Larry’s slip bobber disappeared, he set the hook connecting with another decent walleye. While this was happening, Joe fought a fish up front, as I was fighting one at the back of the boat, our first of numerous doubles and triples we had on that day.

  A light shower moved in and didn’t last long, just long enough to force us to don our rain gear. The shower passed with the storm clouds moving away, with the sun coming out, which slowed our walleye action. In several hours, wed landed numerous walleyes with the two largest a 24 ½” and a 20″ fish. 

  As the sun moved higher in the sky we moved to different part of the lake to fish shallower water hoping to find some crappies.

  Garrett was the first to spot the huge schools of minnows using the area and then the crappies and other predator fish lying in ambush in the weeds.

  If you can spot the fish, they surely can see you, so fishing clear water required that you position the boat out and away from the fish, making long casts in front of where they’re located and let the wind drift your rig to them.  There were all kinds of fish in this part of the lake as we landed crappies, other panfish, walleyes, both large and smallmouth bass, as well as northern pike in the short period of time we fished that area.

  We called it early, as we needed to do some filming at the Arrowwood as well as some sights in Alexandria as well as to pack for the return trip the following morning.

  As we headed back, Joe had mentioned to and Garrett that there was a good smallmouth lake not far from where they were and they decided to do a late afternoon- early evening smallmouth bass excursion to another lake. Even though the wind picked up, they were able to boat several big smallmouths with the largest in the 20″ range.

  We caught all of our fish, numerous species in a short period of time with Joe putting us on the right spot, with the right rigs.

  The Alexandria, MN, area offers Multi Species, Multi Lakes & Mega Opportunities for both open and hard water fishing, visiting and vacationing and is an area all of us plan to return to in the near future.

  More information on all that the Alexandria, MN has to offer is available at explorealex.com.

You can contact Guide Joe Secgura at (320) 260-9056 or on line at jsguideservice.com.

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Small Ponds, Lakes & Weeds By Gary Howey

  If you fish some of the clearer lakes and ponds such as the Glacial Lakes in the Watertown, SD area and others found in in Nebraska, South Dakota and Iowa or smaller lakes and ponds in late spring and on into summer you’re going to have to deal with weeds.

  As temperatures rise and the sun’s power increases, these bodies of water will weed up in the first eight to ten foot from the shoreline a weedy mess.

  This makes for some tough fishing especially for the bank angler.  Using a simple rig such as the hook, line, sinker and a bobber doesn’t work if the shoreline is weed covered.
  The moss and emergent weed growth can make it impossible to fish from shore, but it’s a blessing for the newly hatched fingerlings as it gives the small fish a place to hide from predator fish such as bass, pike and walleye. 

  It doesn’t take much shoreline cover to give fingerlings a hiding place to keep from being eaten by the many larger species looking for their next meal. 

  Because the predator fish are cruising along and in between the weed lines, why shouldn’t we be fishing in or near them, but that’s easier said than done as nothing eats tackle like heavy weeds.

    There are ways, shore or bank anglers can fish these solid beds of vegetation and take Bluegill and bass. In all weed beds, there are some open areas where the weeds haven’t grown or they don’t come to the surface.  These open pockets may have a rock or sandy bottom where weeds haven’t been able to establish themselves.  These areas form an edge or a bottom change, as all fish and wildlife, like the edge.

  This gives the fish a place to retreat out of sight, a place to hide from any predators and a place for predators to ambush any smaller fish.

  By fishing these pockets, you’re able to pull the fish out of the weedy areas.  Surface lures imitating a frog or insects work well to entice the fish in these areas as do spinners and buzz baits when run over the top of the weeds and through the openings in the weeds.

   When using spinner baits you’ll want to cast your lure into the water past the pocket, hold your rod high and crank quickly in order to keep your bait from sinking into the weeds. Once you come to an open pocket, pause, allowing your bait to helicopter into the pocket and then crank hard to bring the bait back on top and over the top of the weeds.   Your strike should come as the bait helicopters into the pocket or when you start bringing it up out of the pocket.

   The worst thing you can do when fishing weeds is to work your bait too quickly.  All species of fish use their five senses to locate their prey, sight, sound, vibration, taste and hearing. You’ll have to remember when it comes to fishing in the weeds; the fish aren’t able to use all of their senses in heavy weed growth. Its vision and sense of vibration become impaired because of the thick weeds and it will take them longer to locate your bait, so work it as slow as possible. [Read more…]

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Bottom Bouncing Slow Death Rigs On Francis Case By Gary Howey

 As we pulled into the parking lot on Tuesday, the second day of our fishing trip on Lake Francis Case, there were sixteen rigs inline waiting to launch their boats, my first thoughts were, Wow doesn’t anyone work anymore!”

  When the bite is on, news travels fast and the bite was definitely on with boats launching out of Platte Creek in the Dock 44 area.

  As I mentioned in the beginning of this column, it was our second day on the water, where we’d be filming with professional angler and Freshwater Fishing Hall of Fame inductee, Ted Takasaki, Sioux Falls, S.D.
  Larry Myhre, Sioux City, IA., camera operator Bill, Miller, Elgin, NE.  and I had driven up on Monday in heavy wind and intermittent rain showers, and it looked like the bite would surely be off because of the front coming through and we’d have to pound the water late into the first day to find some fish.

  Ted, who arrived mid afternoon had waited out the storms, which took roofs off several buildings in Armour, S.D. and dropped hail east of Sioux Falls. He’s been busy as he just returned from fishing the National Walleye Tour on Lake Sakakawea where he finished in 5th Place.

  We launched Ted’s Lund 219 Pro V mid afternoon, heading out of the bay, expecting to having to fight the wind, when it  calmed down, making for a perfect walleye chop and a nice smooth ride to where we would be fishing.

  This was the first day of our two-day trip and with all the fronts that had gone through, I didn’t know what to expect as cold fronts generally shut the fish off.

  When we arrived at the first spot we’d planned to fish, we were greeted by several boats working the point, with the majority of them pulling plugs.

  Because we were filming, which seems to attract a crowd, Ted maneuvered the boat to an area that was less crowded?

  On this trip, we’d be using bottom bouncers and spinners. Ted uses the Smile spinner blade Slow Death rigs, which proved to be deadly on walleye. The Slow Death hook is off set causing the bait to spin with a corkscrew action with the blade’s extra wiggle gives off more vibration. If you’re using the rig with crawlers, you want to insert the barb of the hook as close to the top of the crawlers head and thread it up past the hooks eye, the pinch off all bur 5 or 6″ of the worm. The vibration from the blade and the action of the hook along with the scent being dispersed from the crawler seemed to draw fish to the bait. [Read more…]