You made it. You drove six hours with the family to get to that Lake Country resort you’ve been dreaming of for six months. You’ve checked in for a week, unpacked, and the kids are happily …
You made it. You drove six hours with the family to get to that Lake Country resort you’ve been dreaming of for six months. You’ve checked in for a week, unpacked, and the kids are happily splashing in the water while your spouse lounges on the beach with a good book.
That boat you reserved for the week is parked at the dock, gassed, and ready to go. The walleyes are out there. You just need to go find them.
Ah, but where to begin?
There’s a lot of water here in the North Country, far more than you could possibly explore in a week. So, we talked to some area fishing guides for tips on how to make the most of your time on the water. Here’s a breakdown of what they had to say.
Hire a guide: You might expect fishing guides to offer such a suggestion, but we agree this is probably the best money you can spend, especially if you’re planning to fish one of the big lakes in the region, like Vermilion, Burntside or Kabetogama. Even a half-day spent with a guide, which will run you anywhere from $275-$325 for up to two people, will leave you far better prepared for a week of good fishing than anything else you could do. Schedule time with a guide early on in your stay, so you can take advantage of what you’ll learn for the next several days.
According to Lake Vermilion guide Rob Bryers (218-780-7939), your guide will not only take you to a few of his hot spots, he’ll give you even more valuable information, such as the proper depths to fish, the types of presentation to use, and which baits are working at the moment. That’s all critical information for successful fishing.
Get a good map of the lake: You’ll find that most of the popular fishing lakes in the Lake Country have detailed maps, complete with depth contours and, often, a few tips on spots that tend to produce fish, and these maps are typically available at most bait shops. Lake Vermilion guide Cliff Wagenbach (218-753-2005) says maps will reveal structure that tend to hold fish, and will also indicate depth breaks, where fish tend to congregate. These maps are particularly valuable for many of the smaller fishing lakes in the Lake Country, that often are not serviced by guides. If you don’t have a guide, you’ll definitely want a map.
Trust your fish finder: Whether you’ve brought your own fishing boat or are renting from a resort, you’re likely to have access to an electronic fish locater. When you understand how they work, they can be an extremely valuable tool to help you put fish in the live well. In combination with a map, they can help you quickly locate key locations and even tell you whether fish are actually present. “If I don’t seek fish on the graph, I generally won’t even drop a line,” said Wagenbach.
Think structure: “For me, checking out a new lake is always about structure,” says Ely area fishing guide Steve Foss (218-235-1147). While most anglers think of structure as humps and lake points, which frequently hold fish, area guides agree that depth breaks, particularly the first break off shore, where a relatively shallow shoreline shelf falls off into deeper water, is an excellent place to work for fish. And Foss says don’t forget to think of weedbeds as part of the lake’s structure since fish tend to frequent those areas, particularly the weedlines.
While the traditional paper maps offer this kind of information, Foss also likes some of the new fishing apps, like Navionics, that provide detailed information and mapping direct to your smartphone. “Navionics varies in accuracy from lake to lake, but most lakes are pretty well represented, and it’s great for bottom contour and structure,” said Foss. “There are other apps that can help with weedlines and transitions,” he said.
On a big lake, like Vermilion, the amount of structure to consider is almost limitless, so Bryers says he likes to focus on a smaller area, such as a single bay. “Take that bay and pretend it’s its own lake,” he said. Scope out the depth breaks, look for weedbeds, and use your electronics to start marking fish.
Troll: In the hunt for fish, few methods can be as effective as trolling. Whether you’re fast trolling with a rapala or slow trolling with a lindy rig or jig and minnow over a soft bottom, this method allows you to cover a lot of territory. Work along points and known reefs, or any new shoreline you haven’t tried before. The fish will let you know where they are. “In the early season, especially, trolling can be pretty effective for finding fish,” said Wagenbach.
Ask a local bait dealer: Even when you find the right places, getting fish to bite can still be a challenge. And that’s where a conversation with a local bait shop owner can be critical. Let’s face it, you can fill your tackle box with lures from a discount center, but the local bait shop still survives because most anglers recognize that these are the folks who have their finger on the pulse, which makes them a must stop. Pick up an extra lure or two, some live bait, and throw in a six-pack of pop and some ice and you’re ready to hit the water. Most of all, ask the guy or gal behind the counter where the fish are biting, and what they’re biting. When the bite switches from minnows to leeches, they’ll know right away. When the fish are moving into deeper water, or setting up along the weedlines, they’ll hear about it. They may be selling tackle and bait, but they also know they’re selling information, so don’t be shy about asking. You’ll get useful intel from your local bait dealer, and they’ll often have recent reports from some of the lesser-fished lakes as well as the most popular ones.