I thought this was a nice photo of 7 yr old Alex holding a nice “release” walleye. I love how the dorsal fin is standing just in front of his smile. Last week brought challenges to Ottertail Lakes Country fishermen. While some anglers on smaller lakes maintained pretty steady fishing—for most species, including walleye—the larger more popular “walleye” fisheries in the county have been difficult. Why? The cool down. Our water temps were very accelerated around the MN walleye fishing opener and crappie were spawning on many lakes, bass and sunfish were even beginning to crowd the shallows, and the shiner minnow spawn was well past the half way point (all of which were about 2 weeks early), and then suddenly, we had 10 days of below-normal temps and overcast skies and rain and everything went to heck. Most species held on for a week, but by mid-last week things really unraveled. Patterns for many species went adrift. I have 25 walleye rods laying out and ready in my boat because things are crazy all over the lakes—I never know what they’re going to want next so I’m constantly switching. Keep an eye out for rapidly changing patterns, and for sure, don’t refer back to last season’s calendar for help! This year is it’s own year, for sure. Despite the difficult changes and challenges of the peat weeks and it’s ugly weather, I saw some very nice walleye catches and a lot of upper-class release fish—too large to keep. The northern have been feeding well too. Shiners are still trying to spawn on several lakes in the county which draws predator species to shore lines and river mouths to feed on them. In the mean while, there are a lot of walleye and northern out and away from the shore lines using middle lake zones and really don’t need to feed on shiners anymore. Be sure and have leeches, crawlers, and minnows with this week. The weather sounds good and I anticipate positive changes and steadying patterns for all species. Once the water temps warm 2 or 3 more degrees, there will be a big up-swing in fishing and catching all around Ottertail Lakes Country. Good luck on the lakes this week. By Ross Hagemeister, meisterguideservice.com.
Holly cow! Look at the size of the crappie in photo! Nice fish Audrey. To catch this crappie—we had to go to a lake where the water was cold. We had tried a couple “traditional” spring crappie spots–lakes with bays and shallow shorelines, and they didn’t work. They were void of crappie and even the sunfish were small. When ever I try traditional seasonal patterns that don’t work, I tend to flip my brain over and try opposite tactics. In this case (last week), I had an easier time finding good sized panfish on straight shorelines on cooler lakes. I didn’t change my bait or tackle approach, just my location. Right now, many shallow bays throughout Ottertail Lakes Country seem to be “past-prime.” As of last night, I was fishing bays that were 64 degrees—and full of lilli pads. Lilli pads are often a cue that crappie may have already migrated out? I prefer bays that are a bit deeper. Lilli pads don’t bother me if they are clumpy/sporadic throughout a bay or shoreline. If entire areas a choked with pads, then it seems the area is too shallow or the bottom isn’t quite right. I tend to do better in bays that have some contour/grade/drop-off towards the middle of the bay. While some crappie may linger in “mature” bays, most have wandered back out onto the lake in search of suitable spawning grounds (unless there is suitable spawning in the lilli pad zones). I’ve been seeing a lot of bays with out crappie—and even good sunfish lately. If you’re struggling with sunfish and crappie, change your location. When I take people on panfish outings right now, they are wondering why I’m not sitting still for very long. The simple answer I give them is because the panfish are biting right now so we shouldn’t have to wait to get a bite—no waiting. Once you find panfish anywhere around the county, you should be able to catch them quite rapidly. For bait—Gulp is the best choice. The fish love it and you can cast it 1,000,000—it doesn’t fly off your line like live baits do, especially when you’re casting in wind or from shore. Be selective—let the large crappie and bull sunfish go. The large crappie that Audrey is holding in the photo was released right after we took the picture. It feels as good to release large fish as it does to catch them. Keep an eye on your equipment when you’re taking your boats in and out of Ottertail County lakes—be sure to check for weeds and any other critters that might be hanging from your boat or trailer and drain all of the water from your boat hull and live wells. We all appreciate your efforts to keep our lakes free of aquatic invasive species! Have a great week on the lakes!
Fishing is happening in Ottertail County! The lakes have seen a perfect warm-up this spring. We’ve had enough warm and sunny weather to fully heat the lakes and bays through out lakes country. As I mentioned in my last report, the water has taken on enough warmth this spring to get us through cold snaps. Cold or not, the panfish that are situated in bays and along shallow shorelines on small lakes keep on feeding. However, the recent cold snaps have slowed main-lake warm ups, so finding good fishing along the shorelines of larger lakes around the county will be difficult for another week or two. I’ve been having good action for both crappie and sunfish using Berkley Gulp “fry.” Be sure and have several different colors with because individual colors change depending on light levels and water clarity. I typically use bright colors like white, pink, silvers, oranges and a few mixed color combos. A key to early panfishing is to manage your lure and weight sizes. Small baits and lures (1/64) work well, but can invite small panfish, and large presentations like 1/16 oz lures or lures with lots of mass (lots of extra hair, twister tails, blades) can dissuade the fish all together. Stick with mid-run jigs and keep hair and rubber add-ons respectable. We are in for a super nice late week and weekend so get your boats out, or find a classic bank to fish from and catch a meal of panfish—they’re a true spring time treat. Also, it’s a great time to get kids out fishing, because the fish are using shallow water, all you need is a decent casting outfit and a bobber set a foot or two deep—that’s it. For best and easiest casting for kids, rig up a slip bobber. Check out the accompanying photo: here’s a couple spring fishing kids with a nice crappie. Way to go guys! Be sure to drain your live wells and pull the drain plug—and give your rig a look over. Lets continue to keep invasive species out of non-infested lakes. Good luck on the lakes this week!
I wanted to make some discussion about graphs. “Electronics” is a huge topic in the current fast moving fishing industry, and many folks simply become overwhelmed by all of the gadgetry. People often tell me how they just bought a graph, but now don’t now how to read it, much less navigate through the instrument’s charts and menus and settings.
My big tip to you is begin with the basics. Think practicality. I’ve been a full time guide for 22 years now, and I find myself using a fraction of the options my graphs give me. Very rarely do I wish I knew more about the graphs I use. I’m a basic guy so all I really want is a good clear depth reading and clean picture. That’s it. The only real trend I’ve followed with my electronics is that I’ve been buying large screened graphs the past few seasons.
If I’m not taking advantage of a bunch of functions why get a big graph at all? To be honest, bigger screens like 9 and 10 inch screens are easy too see. Also, the processors in large units are powerful and fast. I like to have my information coming to me quickly. Also, larger screens break into several different sub-screens if you ask them to—other wise called “split-screens.” I like my graph to show a GPS screen and a sonar screen at the same time. Somewhere on the face of the graph, I need for the water temp, depth, and boat speed to show nicely. That’s it, in a nutshell.
When I was searching my archives for a good image for the purposes of this article, I actually selected a shot from a smaller graph. For a lot of years, I simply used 5 inch screens because they did anything and everything I wanted them to do. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve moved into larger graphs now because they’re easy to see and they’re fast (and they’ve also become more affordable). Anyway, the photo for this article is taken from a 5 inch graph screen. I liked this photo because it has many elements that folks struggle with when they view graphs.
What’s all that stuff? In the upper left hand corner is the depth—nice and BIG—it’s important. The number under the depth is the temp. On the far bottom left of screen is the speed (sorry it doesn’t show well). The white part of the image is “water” and the dark black “bumpy” area is the bottom. Why is it rough or bumpy? It’s a question I get VERY often (and the main reason I chose this shot). When the boat goes up and down the sonar signal simply keeps “signaling” and the screen continues to draw and display a one dimensional image. When the boat goes up, it will draw an incline, and when the boat goes down, it draws a decline. Ultimately, when you’re sitting in waves, your graphing looks rhythmically bumpy—so the “bumpiness” is only the bottom and not fish. The “heavier” black lines suspended off the bottom, on the left and middle section of the screen, are fish. They are dark/intense because they are large and dense objects. I know they are fish because they are separate from the bottom. The lines on the right side of the screen are weeds. Notice how they “stack.” There seems to be some minor separation between each line, but they are faint lines unlike the fish which were more apparent/dark and thick. Also, notice the bottom directly beneath the weeds—it’s faded because it is a mat of weeds. It’s not hard bottom like it is on the left side of the image. I also know these are weeds because they stack vertically and create a “tall” shape. This is exactly the type of situation you need to be very careful of. Don’t think that everything you read on your finder is a fish. The suspended dotty globs in mid-water column are schools of bait. All of the lines that represent fish and weeds and bait in the image are wavy for the same reason the bottom is—it’s wavy and that’s how a graph records when it’s going up and down. If you never see a bumpy bottom on your graph, you probably don’t boat in the waves.
Get to know the graph that you own—old or new, big or small. Make sure you get to understand it’s basic functions and know how to read and interpret the images on the screen. If you buy new graphs every year like I do or want to upgrade to a larger unit this season, don’t be overwhelmed by all of the options they come with. I think it’s OK to get the newest fastest models and not use everything they are callable of. The most important thing to remember is to know your basic fishing needs (from the graph) and then simply continue to grow with the graph and it’s new functions in time. Good luck on the lakes this spring and enjoy getting to know your electronics. By Ross Hagemeister, meisterguideservice.com
Take a look at the photo of my daughter. We were fishing a back bay of a lake about 2 weeks after the ice came off. Notice the bare trees and dead cattails in the back ground. Also, notice the depth setting on Mae’s bobber–it’s not very deep. This is the time of the spring that I get excited about, because the panfish are no longer glued to shore. In fact, in this case, the fish had retracted away from the shore line and were blending in with submerged weeds in about 3-5 feet of water. There were fish closer to the shoreline, but the larger sunfish and crappie were about 20-30 feet out from shore. When the fish are further away from the bank, they don’t scare as easily when you’re fishing for them and they don’t bolt every time a one or two day cold snap comes through the area. I love taking the kids fishing in back bays. It’s easy to duck out of the wind and stay warm which makes it easy for the kids to cast. One thing to keep in mind when you’re using bobbers, especially when you have kids along, is to be sure that they keep the line 90% tight. If there is a large “balloon” of line between the bobber and fishing rod–it’s impossible to set the hook when the bobber goes down. I always have my kids and fishing guests, reel a few times immediately after they cast out and the bobber hits the water–it draws the line tight so they can get a hook set when they get bit. Good luck fishing the warming back waters this week–it’s going to be getting good! Fish Good. By Ross Hagemeister
I love early ice out. I love seeing the water in motion after watching it stand idol for 4 months. Also, seeing lakes in their pre busy-summer state is very peaceful. There’s no noise or commotion and the shoreline is in pure form–it’s not dotted docks and lifts and pontoons and jet skies and gadgets. Also, I think shorter winters are good for me now (I must be getting old). My ice fishing service is cool and good and I’m good at it and my guests have a nice time, but it’s not open water guiding. Open water guiding is who I am. After 22 years of it, it’s what I am. I’m not really sure who else to be on the water? The 2017 will be my 22nd season–already. It seems like I was just starting, and just learning how to guide. Now I have folks calling me and telling me they can’t make it anymore; that we’ve been fishing together for 20 years and they have finally gotten to old to get here–or are dying or are dead. Those are sad phone conversations, and it’s been happening often the past couple of years. They are usually older guys and they cry when they tell me they can’t make it anymore–they love it here. These are ends to eras–mine and theirs. Time flies.
Any way, I’m looking forward to getting the 2017 year rolling. I ordered my new Lund Boat and Mercury Motor, and am looking forward to being sponsored by Berkley this season. My favorite fishing rod as a kid was a Berkley Lighting Rod. I still have it–in my fishing archives. Skip forward to present. . . . and my favorite fishing rod is the Berkley Heritage series. I love those rods. The Heritage is priced right and have a great feel and are strong and sensitive. The 6′ Med Light spinning is super versatile. I use them for walleye, small mouth bass, crappie and sunfish. They are great rods. Anyway, I’ve loved Berkley gear and line and lures and rods forever, and now I get to be a part of it–it’s awesome and I’m grateful.
For fishing this spring, it’ll be an extended panfishing season. Sunfish and crappie will be entering the shallows soon and good fishing will soon follow. Get your boats ready. Make sure your batteries are good (make sure they hold a charge), and get your rods and reels ready with some new Trilene line—it’s fishing time. Fish Good, By Ross Hagemeister, Meister Guide Service.
Hello anglers everywhere. We have a great forecast this week, unfortunately it’s the perfect forecast for ice melting rather than for fishing. The shorelines of the lakes throughout Ottertail Lakes Country look ominous. The ice seems to be sinking rather than washing ashore. All being said, ice fishing is all but over in Ottertail County. It’s time to gear up for opening water fishing. Bank fishing is just around the corner, which I think is a great approach for early-ice-out panfish. First-ice-out panfish really crowd shorelines in ultra shallow water for warmth and I think it’s easier to approach them from the shoreline as you can cast beyond them and retrieve your bait back to them. When you cast at shallow fish from the boat, you’re more likely to spook them with splashing bobbers, etc. Spool up your “light action” poles with some fresh Berkley Trilene XL. I like 6 lb test in the spring from shore. It casts well (even into the wind) and if you get caught on some grass or small twigs from shoreline shrubs or small trees, you can pull your tackle out—hopefully. If you use 2 or 4 lb test lines, which work well for fussy panfish, you’ll never get your tackle back if you get stuck. Also, think about using Berkley Gulp and Berkley Power Bait for bait options, as they can endure strong whip-casts when you’re trying to get your baits further away from shore. Live bait like crappie minnows and worms are good baits but often fly off the hook when casting and rip off when pulling them through shoreline grass.
It’s our fishing down time everyone! Keep busy with getting your boats and trolling motors ready, make sure you have current fishing licenses and current registrations for the boat—it’s maintenance time! Also, it’s a perfect time to read through the 2017 fishing regulations. Check for new rules and regulations and for special regulations specific to your favorite lakes. Also, take some time and learn more about new aquatic invasive species infestations in Ottertail Lakes Country. Unfortunately, the county saw more infestations in 2016 so be sure you know where those are to help prevent their spread into non-infested waters. It only takes a few minutes! Thank you and have a great week. By Ross Hagemeister,