I woke up yesterday morning in Ottertail Lakes Country to find that about 2 inches of snow had fallen in the night. By the time the sun had set, there were about 6 inches of snow on the yard! What the? Even for the folks that love an extended ice fishing season, winter is getting a little long. It’s nice to get out and ice fish in late March and early April because the pan fishing continues to get better, but by this point most years, we’ve had some degree of ice degradation. The surface ice becomes rotten and softer and there is less over-all volume to drill through. Not this year. We still have solid ice and lots of it. Over-night fish houses are still comfortably camping out on the ice, which means the access points are still in good shape and haven’t been beat up by water and sun light. However, keep in mind that with the lengthening of days, fish will continue to satisfy their biological and physiological needs and urges. What does that mean? It means that they need to keep feeding. Even though our winter is sticking around longer than we’d like it to, all wild life is responding to the sun’s intensity—it’s brighter, rises higher in the sky, and stays around longer each day. Panfish are feeding right now around Ottertail Lakes Country, but you might have to look around a while to find them. You also might have to fish longer to identify when the best bite time is. Predator species like northern pike and bass still have the say so. If the big fish are feeding hard mid-day, panfish will be timid and difficult to catch—but then they’ll have an intense feeding period just before dark–or when the large fish take a recess. These are things that are particular to individual lakes—each lake will have it’s own pattern and rhythm and those rhythm’s will change as our winter season slowly wanes. Here’s a spring-time tip: keep an eye out for fish that are higher in the water column. It’s common, in spring, to have fish just a foot or two beneath the ice sheet (especially crappie). It’s a tricky location—Vexlars and electronics won’t pick them up because they’re too close so you’ll just have to angle and watch your bait (sight fishing). When your bait disappears, that means it’s in a fish! My guess for ice-off in the Ottertail Lakes area is May 5th. I hope that I’m wrong and that it comes off before then. I thought I’d include photos that highlighted open water fishing.
There are chilly days ahead. It’s that time of year. It didn’t start getting warm on the lake this morning till nearly 10:00 a.m. The sun no longer gets directly over head, so it doesn’t feel warm till around noon and there is a bright blinding glare shining off of the lake for long periods of time—my eyes are sore when I get home in the evening. What do all these changes mean to the fish? Lots. There environment is rapidly cooling. The over all look of the water is a dark/stained color. I’v even seen some signs of turn-over on some lakes around the county. When the water cools and changes color, be on the guard for shifting patterns. Be especially careful to use the same colors that you were using a few weeks ago, because they might not work at all now—and that holds true for all species. It’s fall time, so think big: big fish, hungry fish, big baits, big jigs and large lures. Species from Musky to bluegill and crappie are looking for big foods. Why? Most of the young-of-the-year minnow species and fish species have simply grown up over the summer time so fish get used searching and feeding on larger baits. Also, much of the food supply in many lakes get eaten down and the next choice for foods to eat are simply larger. If I put a 5 inch sucker minnow in the lake on one line and a 3 inch sunken on another line, the 5 inch minnow gets chomped a lot quicker than the 3 inch. Use 2-3 inch fatheads for crappie right now or 2-3 inch Berkley Gulp baits—something larger than normal. While locations for some species, like crappie and sunfish, are changing significantly now and require a lot of searching to find, other species are in basically the same location patterns that they have been for the past couple of weeks: i.e. walleye, northern, and bass. Take a look at the photo I provided this week. There are a couple of things to note: Notice how nicely bundled up this 10 year old is. Dress right this time of the year, because it’s about 20 degrees cooler on the lake than it is at the landing and about 100 degrees cooler on the lake than it is in the cab of the vehicle that you drove to the landing. The other thing to note is that this small-sized walleye took a large sucker. Even small fish will eat larger baits in the fall. If this walleye went for a 4-5 inch sucker, imagine what a larger walleye would eat! It’s fall, think big.
What’s that critter in the photo? A sturgeon! Cool! Lake Sturgeon were re-introduced into the Ottertail Lake and river system about 12 years ago. They are a great addition to the lakes residing along the Ottertail River. Even though most of the stocking occurred close to Ottertail Lake, the sturgeon have been making their way up and down the Ottertail River and now can been seen “breaching” the surface on most lakes between West Lost and Big Pine Lake. A question I get often is wether or not they are “good?” Or why were they planted in Ottertail Lake? The best answer I have for those questions is that they are a welcomed species (they are not predators so they don’t eat walleye or other game fish). They eat clams, snails, crayfish, aquatic insect larvae and will even eat Zebra Mussels—I love these fish. Lake Sturgeon can live to be 100 years old. I feel they positively contribute to the diversity of fish species in the lakes on the Ottertail River system. A week ago, an angler aboard my boat had a 60 inch on, but we lost it at the landing net (my net was too small!). All of the sturgeon that I’ve seen caught on Ottertail Lakes Country’s lakes are accidental catches, which is great fun. You just never know what you’re going to catch on the lakes here! They really add to our already-great fisheries in Ottertail Lakes Country! If you catch one, quickly take a photo and release it as soon as you can. They are a catch-and-release only species—you can not keep them. Please read up on your MN fishing regs for more information if you’re interested.
As for the other species in Ottertail County this week. Go get them. Sunfish and crappies are in good summer form located in and around tall vegetation on the edge of flats near deeper water. Use 1/16 oz bladed jigs tipped with 2-3 inch Berkley Gulp fry and minnows. While bass occupy many different parts of our lakes right now, don’t forget about those dandies in deep water on weedy and rocky island tops. Fish them with Texas rigged worms, Carolina rigged slugs, deep diving crank baits or live bait like leeches and crawlers (again look for Berkley Power Baits and Gulp baits). Walleye are tucked into weed stands on many of Ottertail County’s lakes. For easier walleye to pursue, look for the ones on shallow flats with spinners or crank baits, or the walleye situated on deep sandy or rocky islands. Enjoy Lakes Country this week! Don’t forget to drain and inspect your watercraft for weeds and critters when you get off the lake—it’s everyones duty. It all helps. By Ross Hagemeister
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