Fishing is one of the most popular recreational sports in America.
In the Dakota’s, we are blessed with great fisheries, good access, and robust fish populations. It’s fun, relaxing, and when you go fishing with family and friends, it can be a great bonding experience.
There are many exciting and cutting-edge fishing techniques out there, and with all of the different fishing techniques don’t forget the classic effectiveness of “Fishing Slow”, meaning, fishing in a stationary position, moving slow, or fishing from shore.
I’m all about trying different techniques, and let the fish tell me how fast or slow I need to move. As a full-time fishing guide, I had some memorable days slowing down, fishing slow-slow, and anchoring my boat in a good position. Meanwhile, I see and talk to others trolling bottom bouncers and spinners, fan casting and trolling crankbaits, assuming the fish will chase down their trolled or fast offering. It’s effective, but sometimes, many times, slower presentations and quality live bait saves the day. I enjoy using artificial baits to catch walleyes and other game fish, but the slow approach and a “treat” hovered in a fish’s face is hard to for them to pass up. Let me explain a few experiences I’ve had, and it may help you catch more fish.
One instance was on Devils Lake last spring and the group and I were casting jigs and plastics to an old shoreline with developing weeds approximately 5 feet deep. I knew from the previous days, there was good fish in the area and good numbers. After a couple passes, we didn’t catch a walleye, pike, or white bass. I did, however; get a bump on a long pause when my jig and plastic settled to the bottom. At first, you think let’s go to a new area, but I’ve seen this before and with fairly cold-water temperatures in the morning it’s likely the fish are lethargic. I asked everyone to reel in and hand me their rods. There was a light breeze, so I positioned the boat upwind and near the area, I got a bump and dropped the anchor. New rods with slip bobbers and small jigs tipped with a leech or half nightcrawler were distributed and I told everyone to make short casts downwind from the boat. It took a few minutes, and some awkward silence in the boat and the bobbers started to disappear one by one. We landed a dozen nice walleyes, some smaller walleyes, and several northern pike. Good action was had by all; the mood in the boat was high fives and laughter. The guide clients learned a new technique, and I was kept busy netting and re-baiting. It’s rewarding. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit there is some great satisfaction knowing when to switch techniques.
Another instance was in early September and we were fishing deeper water with a bottom bouncer, spinner, and nightcrawler. We were covering water at 1.5 mph on top of a mid-lake hump and seeing fish and signs of life on the depth finder around the deep edge of this mid-lake hump. We caught two or three small to medium size walleyes, but it wasn’t living up to its potential. I asked everyone to hand me their bottom bouncers and I switched everyone to a 3-foot leader, plain red #2 octopus hook with a half-nightcrawler. I used a worm blower and shot a puff of air in each worm, making it float behind the bouncer. Slowing down to approximately .5 mph we crept through the marks and soon we had a double. Catching was the norm for the next two hours and we had a nice limit of walleyes.
In the Dakotas, we don’t have a variety of minnows to choose from at the bait shop. We have fathead minnows and fathead minnows. Finding an occasional creek chub is legal, but that is an exception. That being said, fathead minnows are good minnows, they are a major food supply in all of our waters and are pretty hardy minnows. I enjoy shore fishing and have fond memories of fishing bridges and banks along the red river growing up. These days, I often pull the boat to shore to fish a current break in the river, channel area with some current, or anchor the boat to position a jig and minnow and/or a live bait rig on a specific spot. Many times, you can use both at the same time and one out-fishes the other. Fishing a jig and minnow ultra-slow in cooler water is really fun after a long winter of ice fishing. Usually, nothing more than a slow drag is very effective.
I often modify the live bait rig, which is simply adding a Northland Gum-Drop floating jig head or float above the hook/minnow combination to the leader. I tend to keep the leader short and approximately 20” in length. Add a minnow, and it keeps the minnow floating and wiggling up off the bottom as well as adding some color. Simply cast it out, prop the rod in a rod holder or v stick on shore, reel up the slack, and watch the rod tip for line twitches or some tension. Simple and keeping the bait up off the bottom seems to attract more fish.
When you go fishing, you want to make the hours you spend on the water count. More than ever, we feel the need to go, go, go. Bites and fish on the line are the goals, so obviously be creative with your fishing techniques, remembering that fishing slow is tried and true. Cooler water, pressured fishing areas, abundant food supply, are just some of the reasons to slow down and fish slow. Some may call it basic or traditional, but I know from experience, slowing down and using live bait it’s super effective and often catches some big fish. Get out on the water, remember some basics, and catch some fish.