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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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Farm ponds offer bass, bluegill action By Larry Myhre

Reprinted from the Sioux City Journal
HARTINGTON, Neb. | One thing I like about farm pond fishing is that ponds are generally loaded with fish.
And the one Gary Howey and I were fishing just southwest of town was proving that it was no exception.
When it comes to bluegill fishing in ponds, there is no more effective method than using a fly rod. And I was proving that fact today. Seven-inch bluegills were taken on practically every cast.
The tiny black ant that I designed for bluegill fishing more than 40 years ago had not lost its charm. While the ‘gills weren’t monsters, they were giving a good account of themselves on my light tackle.

Howey, meanwhile, was casting a spinnerbait for bass. He had caught and released three before I decided to tie on a bass fly. I chose a black wooly bugger in size 6. The black marabou tail behind the black chenille body made the fly nearly 2 inches long.

Wouldn’t you know it: The first cast produced a nearly 2-pound largemouth. After several airborne leaps I brought the bass to hand and then released it.
We weren’t keeping any fish, but if we were, we still would have released the bass. Bluegills, on the other hand, would have been fair game. They are very prolific, and if there are not enough bass in the pond to keep their numbers down, they will overpopulate and become stunted.

If that happens, any largemouth still in the pond will find it difficult to bring off a spawn. The tiny ‘gills will attack the nest in an effort to eat the eggs, and the male guarding the nest doesn’t stand a chance against hundreds of hungry mouths.

In fact, the old rule of removing 10 pounds of bluegills for every pound of bass from a farm pond is still pretty good advice.
I’m not sure how many farm ponds there are in Nebraska, but the Iowa Department of Natural Resources says there are about 110,000 in Iowa providing about 1.6 million fishing trips annually. The local economic impact is estimated at $7.5 million.

That’s pretty good considering farm ponds are on private property and the angler must get permission to fish from the landowner.

Farm ponds also produce big fish. [Read more…]

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West River stock dams yield big bluegills By Larry Myhre

Reprinted from the Sioux City Journal

PIERRE, S.D. | The prairie swept away to the west like an endless sea of waving grass. It was shortly after dawn and antelope and deer scampered away from our vehicles as Gary Howey and Steve Nelson guided their trucks down the gravel roadway.

We were on our way to fish one of the hundreds, if not thousands, of stock dams which dot these grasslands. The ponds are built to provide water for cattle, an industry which anchors the incomes of most who live in this region.

Steve Nelson, Pierre, S.D., has been a friend of mine since we attended the University of South Dakota a generation ago. After graduation, our paths went separate ways until we made contact about 10 years later. Pierre, Steve told me, was an outdoorsman’s paradise. I needed to come visit. Of course I knew that, but my tunnel vision was fishing. It was hard to drive farther than Lake Frances Case, a Missouri River reservoir a lot closer than Lake Oahe. Oahe had bigger fish, but Case had the numbers. Decisions, decisions.

But, I needed to see an old friend.

And ever since then, Pierre has drawn me like a moth to a flame.

No one has a better handle on stock-dam fishing than my friend, Steve. He’s guided me on many memorable trips to these dams for bass, bluegills and perch. And I’m not talking about run-of-the-mill fish. I’m talking about pound-plus ‘gills, perch and bass of nearly state record proportions.

So when Steve called and said we should come out and seek big bluegills, we went.

The pond we were intending to fish is on private land. And that’s the case of many West River stock dams. You must have permission of the landowner to fish them, but that’s not difficult to obtain.

But, there are also a lot of ponds and small reservoirs on public land. More about that later. [Read more…]

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PANFISH ON THE ROCKS ON BIG STONE By Gary Howey

Ortonville, MN. It was not long ago, when I made the remark, “bobber fishing is not one of my favorite ways to catch fish”, but that all changed last week. On that day, Team Outdoorsmen Adventures Member, Larry Myhre, Sioux City, IA. and I would meet Tanner Arndt, a guide from Artie’s Bait Shop, Ortonville, Minnesota to do some bobber fishing.
We were on Big Stone Lake; a twenty-six mile body of water located in northeastern South Dakota along the border with Minnesota is an excellent lake for walleye fishing and for its perch bite.
On this trip, it would not be the walleye or the perch we were after, as we were looking for panfish, crappies and bluegill.
The first afternoon, we launched from the public access near the rearing ponds where many of the bluegill we were after had started out as fingerlings.
With the wind picking up, we made our way across the lake, heading for some of the more protected bays behind the many islands on Big Stone.
As we approached one of the calmer bays, a pair of Canada geese greeted us, let us know we were trespassing on their territory, while several white pelicans perching on the rocks, paid little or no attention to our boat.
Both anchors were deployed as we begin to probe the shallow waters of the bay. We were anchored off one of the numerous islands in the lake, where the panfish, the crappies and bluegill had recently moved into in preparation of the spawn. As I was taking it all in, all that was around me, I gazed across the bay at the islands, its rock-strewn shoreline and the clear water. Glancing back at my bobber, it darted off to the right disappearing into the wave; taking up the slack line, I reared back on the rod, expecting to see a small panfish come flying out of the shallow water. [Read more…]

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Last Ice By Gary Howey

I was keeping an eye on the weather, as we needed cold weather in order to get back into the dam we hoped to ice fish, but didn’t need any sub zero temperatures or heavy wind.

I was looking at ice fishing a pond southwest of town, one that was in the middle of a half section. We had tried once before to get back into it, which wasn’t a good idea as it was just too muddy and we didn’t want to tear up the field.

When the Press and Dakotan indicted next week’s weather would have sixty-degree weather, the next few days of cold weather looked to be our last opportunity.

It was nine below zero when Team Outdoorsmen Adventures member Larry Myhre, Sioux City pulled into the office, bitter cold with the wind that was howling in from the northwest.

We didn’t need to worry about mud on this trip as everything, including much of the water in my minnow bucket was hard as a rock.

Bouncing over the corn rows, we made our way to the pond with some open water around the riser, so it was my job to hit the ice first with my Jiffy auger to see if we had enough good ice. I punched several holes, finding ten inches of ice, signaled my partner to join me.

I would punch the holes with Larry following behind with his Vexilar locator letting me know the depth.

We were looking for deeper water, as this time of the year in this type of pond, the fish searched out the deepest water in the dam. [Read more…]

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Farm Pond produces Nice Bluegills By Larry Myhre

Reprinted from the Sioux City Journal

With a week’s worth of warm weather in the forecast, Gary Howey, Hartington, Neb., and I decided it was “now or never” time to fish a farm pond we’d had our eyes on for quite some time.

Gary had fished it years ago and had great success on largemouth bass. Rumor had it the pond could produce good numbers of bluegills and perch as well.

So, we had to try.

This was actually our second attempt. A few weeks ago we had tried to drive to the pond, but warm weather and greasy mud over the frozen field changed our minds. It was forecast to be even warmer that day, and since we had to drive a long ways through a hilly corn field we felt we might not be able to get out if it warmed up any more.

But this time was different. It was 8 below in Hartington that morning so we weren’t worried about the mud.

Yet, when we pulled up alongside the pond, Gary pointed and said, “Is that open water over there?”

“It sure is,” I answered. “Must be a heck of a big spring.”

Right along the dam the southwest wind was pushing small waves against the ice. The open water field was about 100 feet long and 50 feet wide.

“Keep drilling test holes as you go out,” I told Gary who was firing up his Jiffy propane auger. “That might not be the only spring out there.”

But the test holes revealed a good 10 inches of solid ice. I followed with the depth finder and when we registered nine feet of water we decided to start fishing.

We both were marking fish under us but there were a lot more “lookers” than “biters.”

Finally Gary set the hook and brought up and 8-inch bass. I soon followed with another. We caught several of these little fish before we got a decent-sized bluegill.

We were using tear drop jigs tipped with wax worms. Gary also had a bobber with a minnow on the hook but aside from one bite, which he missed, the minnow provided no action.

We decided to drill more holes.

We found a little deeper water and decided to try there.

[Read more…]