Friday, May 15, 2015

Get to the Bottom for Walleyes - Poor Man's Downrigger

For most of the season, walleyes are on the bottom.  Getting the lure to the bottom is what you need to do to catch walleyes.  If you are three feet above them, you may be too high.  It will take a highly motivated walleye to swim up there closer to the sun when it bothers their light-collecting eyes.  Now that is not to say they won't run up and attack if they are feeding heartily, but for best results, being on the bottom is where you want to be.  Most people who have a hard time catching walleyes in areas where they are present is because they can't figure out where the bottom is and get their lure down there. 

Lead Core Line and Downriggers
For those of you who are unfamiliar, lead core line is essentially a tiny, braided tube of line with lead thread inside.  Think of weaving a a line around a pencil like a Chinese finger cuff and make it about 30 lb. test in width.  That's not very wide and I can imagine how they put the two together with some sort of special weaving machine that would not be found at the local hardware store.

Lead core line is used usually with a round, bait caster reel and a rods made for trolling.  Lead line is only for trolling.  Usually, a mono leader is tied to the end of the lead line and because it sinks like a rock (lead) it allows a lure to be dropped down to specific depths.  It works well, but requires different gear including rod holders and other techniques.

A downrigger is a lead ball on the end of a cable with a clip on the lead ball.  You clip your fishing line from your rod to the lead ball, and lower it to the depth you want to troll the attached lure.  When a fish strikes, the line releases from the clip (like a spring-type clothes pin) and you reel the fish in.  This works well for lake trout in deep water where the fish are suspended.  Some use these for walleyes in really specific environments, but it's a lot of extra junk and usually not needed for BWCA area fishing.  It's really pain when the bottom is variable like it is in the northeastern Minnesota walleye lakes.  Crank the ball up, lower the ball and repeat.  You'll develop forearms like Popeye. 

Lure Diving Depth
One of the biggest questions in the store here are about lure dive depth.  Everybody, and I mean everybody has a really specific depth they are seeking in a particular lure.  When I ask them why, they answer that their required depth is where the walleyes are and that is where they want to be.  At that point, I ask if they are aware as to how lure dive depth is determined.  99.9878% of them have no clue.  Everybody assumes that if the lure says 30 feet of dive depth, that it just magically goes to 30 feet and attracts fish.  Some folks even buy stiffer flex rods to accommodate that tremendous drag that a big, wide lip TDD 11 Rapala Tail Dancer puts on the rod and reel.  It's like dragging a #2 shovel behind the boat. but that still doesn't put the line down to where it needs to go you only have 50 feet out.  Also, how do you actually know where that lure is going really?  i doubt you are going to dive down there and measure.

Lure Dive Depth - How it is determined

The way lure dive depth is measured is by using 10 pound test mono with the lure in question towed 100 feet behind the boat at 2 MPH.  Now, how often does anybody fishing with plain mono and no line counter know that they have 100 feet behind the boat?  Also, I tend to troll at 1 to 1.5 mph.  For me, 2 mph is snortin' right along and pretty rare.  Counting on dive depth that is written on the box is kinda worthless in my case.

A Better, Simpler Way

Rubber Core Sinkers
There is an immensely simpler way to get your lure to the bottom without all this fancy stuff.  Sure, you can use inline chain sinkers, and Lindy Snag-proof sinkers both of which would do the job.  And, then there are bottom walkers and assorted other hardware, but I have a better easier way do it. 

All you have to do is take a step back in time to the old-fashioned days of fishing before braided Spectra even existed.

Enter Rubber Core Sinkers
For the average-to-serious fisherman, this is the poor man's downrigger.  They are inexpensive and easy to use.  To set up for trolling in 16 - 20 feet of water, a popular depth range for many walleyes in middle of summer, simply lay your line in the slot of the sinker and twist the black rubber ends in opposite directions. Give it about four twists and you'll see the line wrapped around the black rubber core inside of the sinker.  The good thing about this sinker is that unlike splitshots or other crimp-on sinkers that will not grip braided line, rubber cores, on the other hand, grip quite well due to the twisting of the core and the sticky nature of rubber.  There are many different types of sinkers out there that will do the same thing, but they not as compact and easy to attach.  But, the one defining feature is the rubber end of the sinker.  The cool thing is that this end, because it is rubber, deflects off of rocks.  When I used to spend a lot of time guiding on Basswood lake, I discovered the anti-snag properties of rubber cores in jaggedy rocks.  Splitshots jam in and hang on.  Rubber cores, more often than not, deflect and continue.  Plus, when they do snag, because they are longer body sinker, when you back up to pop it out of the snag by jerking the opposite direction of travel, the body length gives you leverage.  A splitshot hqas no leverage.  I locks in like a chock under the wheel of a propane truck.  A longer body sinker gives you that little bit of leverage to pop it out in the fairly rare occurrence of it getting stuck.

Position the sinker about 14-18 inches from your snap swivel.  I like to use snaps that are round on the end like a duo-lock snap AKA a crank-bait snap. This type of snap increases the action of any lure because it is round where the lure attaches instead of and increase the area for the lure to wobble.  I like either one of the two pictured, but tend to go with the more minimalist version on the left because it doesn't pick up as many of those fine weeds as the one on the right with the two little ends sticking out.  Now, if I'm not in weed areas where those little slimy weeds a sticking up, then the one o the right works just fine.  In either case, the round end of the swivel promotes a better wobble than a snap swivel that looks like the brass one on the right. Notice how it comes to a point?  That isolates the lure and wide-wobble lures like Ugly Ducklings are almost neutralized in their wobble by that confining point.  The bras snap is fine for using with a walleye spinner rig or like a Mepps spinner or spinner baits in general.  No wobble there.

Watch Your Lip

Rapala Scatter Rap Jointed 9
So finally, after all that discussion about dive-depth of lures, the type of swivel you need to use with simple rigs, here is what the lure's bill  should look like. You do not want a deep diving lure with a big, shovel of a lip.  The rubber core sinker did all the work for you already, so all you need down there is a good wobble and minimal diving.  So, use lures that don't have a deep-diving lip or you'll be shoveling mud, sand and rocks behind that sinker.   This is why I tell my store customers that dive-depth is irrelevant and pointless because virtually none of them know how dive depths are determined.  (they will now after reading this)  Not knowing dive depth measuring method means that they will most likely lot get to the bottom if only relying on the lure.  If they did apply the "100 foot back, 10 lb. test mono, 2 MPH rule" for determining dive depth, they'd have a pretty hard time assuring that the lure is going where they expect it to go while fishing up here in Minnesota's Boundary Waters.  In some lakes here, the bottom goes up and down like a yo-yo in far less than 100 feet.  How do you control your lure's dive-depth in that?  You simply can't rely on the lure and what it said on the box.  You CAN if you use a rubber core sinker.  Any depth you want to go!
Salmo Hornets
Rapala Scatter Rap 5

I like to use 1/2 ounce to 3/4 out sinkers depending the size of the lure and the depth of the bottom.  I also always use a floater diver.   You do not want  to use a lure that sinks so when you stop, your sinker rests on the bottom and your lure floats up. The same will occur with a snag.  Sinker is stuck, with the lure floating off the bottom 14-18 inches.  On less thing to snag up down there.  Salmo Hornets work great in this situation along with Rapala Scatter Raps and various other shallow to medium running floater/diver lures.

So there you have it.  The Poor Man's Downrigger for Walleyes.  Now, get out there and get on the bottom!


Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Reel Deal - A good, solid spinning reel for the buck

Check out this post I put up at Red Rock Outdoors about this Abu Garcia!
Running a  special right now for this ORRA 2 SX reel and Super 8 Slick Power Pro Line Combo with FREE Shipping while supplies last!


Saturday, May 9, 2015

Finesse Leaders - Don't just follow everybody else!

Lures are not cheap for the most part.  They are MUCH cheaper in the long run than any organic bait however, because they require no special attention, can be used repeatedly for years, and don't croak in the sun when you forget about them on the floor of the boat. 

I really like using artificial lures.  You catch a fish, pull the hook out, and you are ready to fish again!  You don't have to get the minnow bucket from over the side of the boat, dig around in the bucket for the right minnow, hook him on, throw him over the side only to have a northern instantly bite it off.  Then, it right back to digging in the crawlers or leeches or minnows again.  By mid-day, you are already watching your bait because you lost more than you anticipated and it looks like the day might get cut short.

With artificial lures, who cares where the bait inventory level is at?  Fish all day long without a worry.   Well, except for one thing:  dang northerns.

Now, I like northern pike. I like to catch and eat them.  Unlike many incorrect fishermen out there denigrating this much-maligned fish, I have nothing against northerns. I just happen to hate losing my plugs to them, however.   First, tackle is not cheap.  Second, I never have an endless supply of lures with me.  If I lose the one they are hitting, I'm SOL.   Using those traditional fat, shiny silver leaders with the big swivel and snap on opposite ends is a guarantee that you will catch no walleyes.  All that junk in front a lure, that a discerning fish can see is not real, just doesn't help your results.  

So, I developed these simple leaders and began to use them with my lures for walleyes.  A more traditional leader has a similar steel core, but then they are usually coated in plastic.  That makes it a big fat thing.  Everybody and his brother are seeking leaders here at Red Rock and they "intend" to fish walleyes with them - or I should say "try" to fish walleyes.  Well, that big fat traditional-style leader is a problem.  Due to technology of today, we now have the resources to make "increased invisibility" the norm.  In the world of fishing, it never hurts to be hard to see except for the lure when seeing is everything.  

These 30 lb. test, ultra fine, seven-strand, stainless steel, bronze-colored leaders are just the ticket.  They come with a crank bait snap so your lure puts out unfettered movement below.  These leaders are so fine, that if you drop one into a corner in your tackle box, you'll have a hard time seeing it.  I've been testing these for about 4 years now.  They don't seem to shred or fray with normal use.  Eventually, with enough northern hits, they will get worn out.  They are great for lure action with the crankbait snap on the end and it's an easy-open snap.  Some snaps are SO hard to open up.  These are formed in such a way to allow you easier unclipping access without resorting to long nose pliers and sore tips of your thumbs.

So, when you are in walleye-mode, or even fishing northerns directly, get this cheap insurance 2-pack.  Or, on the flip side - don't get it.  I'd rather be selling more lures.

Order Your Finess Leaders here

Stay at Northwind Lodge this year!

Ice Tackle for Walleyes - IN THE SUMMER!

Moonshine Shiver Minnows for Open Water Walleyes
Moonshine Shiver Minnows for Open Water Walleyes
Dude! Wrap your head around this one!  Ice tackle being used in open water!  That's insane!
I hear that (or some derivation of it) all the time in the store here.  Guys will be walking around and their kid will pick up a lure and they'll say "No, that's for ice fishing. Put it back.", like it's loaded and has a hair-trigger.

"Sir - I'm going to need you to put your hands behind your head and slowly step away from those ice lures. It's summer outside!"

Take three seconds and think about it.  How does it really make a difference if your lake is 8" in diameter all winter long or 5 miles across all summer long as far as using tackle and fish is concerned?  Why do so many fishermen falsely believe that there are two definitely different categories of "winter" tackle and "open water" tackle?   What the HECK is the difference?

Winter tackle consists of  jigs, spoons and lures that were intended to be lifted up and down - and that's it.  Trolling and casting are pretty much out of the question in winter.  But, when open water arrives, how will it be different for your winter tackle?  Can you no longer jig any of it up and down on a reef or next to a weed bed or even inside the weeds?  Do you not use a jig with minnows in the winter AND in the summer?  Do the fish care?  I have this discussion on a fairly regular basis and they STILL shy away.  Nooo - you can't do that....

Last fall, two guys by the names of Kovias and Parsons both won a pile of cash in some open-water walleye tournament using (gasp!) an ice fishing lure called the Moonshine Shiver Minnow.  We shipped out a zillion of these lures all winter long for fishermen who would be using them in open water and not ice fishing.  These actually are ice fishing lures.  How can that work, eh?  Order Shiver Minnows Here

And then there were Rapala Snap Raps.  They came out with the funky hook design that

doesn't end up snagging the bottom and picking up weeds.  Well, how often are weeds a problem in the winter?  Well, that hook also avoids getting caught on the edge of your hole at the bottom.    It's a completely different lure than the Shiver Minnows, but the principle is very similar.  This, too, is a vertical jig designed for yanking up and down, but you can also, cast-rip-crank slack, cast-rip-crank slack for good results and wild reaction strikes from walleyes and other species.   

Chubby Darters
Salmo Chubby Darter for open water walleyes
Salmo Chubby Darter for open water walleyes
The two lures above are gaining acceptance in wider circles among fishermen who clearly have not lost their ability to "reason and deduce" that open water tackle and ice tackle catch the same fish in the same water year 'round.  However,this lure is one that a total of six people have used in open water.  Those six rave about how well it works for walleyes, bass and northern fishing particularly when the fish are biting minnows.  If you fishing with jigs and minnows, you need to put one of these on an test it out.  When you have luck on it, just think of the money you'd save by not needing minnows!  You can't kill these in the hot sun and you can use repeatedly.  Take a look at that color pattern.  That is exactly what our rainbow dace (incorrectly referred to as rainbow "chubs" in these parts) and what we all look for in the minnow bucket.   They have great reaction-strike-inducing movements and walleyes attack them in the 8" diameter lakes of the winter everywhere.  So, why would they not do incredibly well when anchored over a reef or next to a weed bed and just jigged?  Plus, get this: what if you rigged them up to a slip bobber and could fish a broad area around your boat?  Talk about a secret weapon that nobody else would have!  Try doing that in the winter time.  You'll work up a sweat and burn a gallon of gas through your auger.  In the summer, you simply cast over there and let out your line.  Give it a gentle tug every now and then.  The Chubby Darter will do the rest. 
You can also cast the CD into shore just like the above two lures.  Fish the same way and it will dazzle you.  Order Summer Chubby Darter in Rainbow Dace Here

Put a few of these in you box and see what happens this year!  Come stay at our lodge and test out that ice tackle in those taboo waters of summer!

Friday, May 1, 2015

Northern Pike - Freshwater Shark

Northern Pike, depending on who you talk to, is a complicated fish.  Northerns bring out visceral reactions with some people.  We see it all the time in the our store.  Some fishermen scoff at them and make bold comments about how they would throw a northern up on shore to die.  They speak with disgust about the slimy "snake" or "hammer-handle" and look at me with a grimace when I say that I like northerns.

Now, after almost 25 years of guiding and selling tackle all that time to date, I have had the opportunity to talk to and observe many, many different fishermen and fisherwomen.  Only men really talk negatively about northerns.  I'm convinced that just about every last one of the naysayers would not be able to identify a northern fillet that is breaded, fried, and de-boned, Sure, some could recognize and intact fillet, but not many would notice a northern mixed in with walleyes from the waters of northeastern Minnesota.  The reason, they couldn't identify the fillets is because they haven't ever eaten northern after being raised that northerns are more-or-less evil.  If you know how to fillet and eat a northern, you are missing out if you think they are all bad, particularly from clean, cold waters.  They are excellent to eat and those "dreaded" Y bones are always in the same place.  With a tiny amount of practice, one can de-bone a a cooked northern pike fillet in a mere seconds

Another part of the fishing world is more accepting of this much maligned fish.  They still don't really want to eat northern pike, but they do like to catch them.  This crowd actually goes out and actively seek out northern pike and have a complete ball doing it.

Almost every summer, we'll get an onslaught of customers looking for very specific colors of spoons to catch northern pike.   The funny part is that they all seem to come in within hours of each other and are usually seeking a color they found in the bottom of their box and just happened to throw it over the side.  Everybody has a different color that is doing well.  If we try to point out those alternate colors that worked great for "that guy" and "that other guy" and "that woman", we get the look of disappointment.  

"You don't have metallic rainbow sunflower?  What kind of place IS this?!!!"  they snort with derision and disgusted inflection, "With all these thousands of lures, and you don't have my color of this 30 year old spoon!"   

Well, they quit making that particular spoon 20+ years ago, so yes, we don't have that color sitting here on a shelf waiting for you to come along some 20 years in the future.

Last summer (2014), we had an endless number of customers come in asking us to name the best plug in the store to catch northerns.  Well, since they attack practically everything at one point or another, I usually hold up my hands about 4 feet apart and tell them, "pick something and go with it - they are northerns!".   Northerns like top water, deep water, shallow water, weeds, and everything in between.  Depending on the season and technique, you may want to decide between top water and divers and weedless spoons.

Also, note that it is highly recommended that you use a metal leader if you are using smaller lures.  Bigger lures don't really need leaders.  My leader of choice is now a finesse leader that, while it is 30 lbs., is super thin and very hard to see.  It also has a duo-lock crankbait snap for increase lure action.  (That'll be for another post.)   Traditional nylon coated steel leaders really stick out and eliminate your chances of catching any other species who happen to be present.  Finesse leaders are the way to go unless you like losing $9 dollar lures.

So, over the years I conclude that we have three types of pike catchers:
  1. Those who hate northerns entirely and speak about them with disgust.
  2. Those how love to catch northern pike but don't eat them.
  3. Those who like to catch and eat northern pike
Type #3 is where I'm at personally.  When the walleyes aren't biting, we go look for northerns.  They are usually plentiful in a lot of Boundary Waters of Minnesota and all over the state.  They are aggressive making them fun to cast for and they are the easiest fish in the lake to catch.  When they are feeding it's a wild time for all!   Any one of them over three pounds usually fight like a banshee, and they are good to eat in many, many waters.  I had one northern that was inedible when I was a kid.  It was from Hula Lake and tasted like mud. I don't eat northerns from that lake anymore.

My wife and I prefer eating northerns over walleyes.  We consider walleyes are the "tofu of fish".  They taste like whatever breading you use on them.  I think of walleyes as a sort of placeholder for the breading.  Now, American tastebuds are pretty bland so it makes sense that eating fish with no taste at all is widely accepted and even heralded.  As a fighter, a smaller walleye doesn't do much to get the adrenaline pumping,  You can crank them in with their mouths open and zero fight.  The big ones put up a good fight but they don't do a bunch of runs like a heftier northern.  Northerns clamping down on your wall

Now, some northerns have less stamina and just come up easy to roll and tangle in the net really hard in the boat.  Plus, when tangled in the landing net, the untangler of the net gets slimed.  Being slimed, turns off a lot of people, but the slime isn't in the meat of the fish.  That's the nature of our freshwater sharks. Slime makes them fast like attack submarines.  They can run circles around walleyes.   It's no  secret that walleyes are the more handsome, tasteless, fish with less slime.  Grabbing a northern properly by squeezing it's gill plates shut (NEVER grab by the eyes no matter what your grandpa used to do)  is painless.  Grabbing a walleye properly by squeezing the gill plates shut can result in the your thumbs getting a little shredded but their serrated gill plates.  Plus, you also can have a stabbed palm with one of those dorsal spikes in their dorsal fin.  So, when you are grasping a tangled walleye in you net, you need to be more careful.  Oh, you'll know when you screw up.  With a northern, it's much less difficult except for removing the hook.  Northerns REALLY can clamp down on your pliers.  Some folks use mouth-spreaders but I don't like them if I might be putting the fish back.  They stretch out any fish's mouth unnaturally in my opinion and might lead to the death of a released fish.  Carefully pry the fish's mouth open with your pliers and extract the hook.

In Minnesota, it is illegal to throw a northern up on shore to waste.  It's just a really bad practice that does nothing to save walleyes.  Some fallaciously believe more walleyes will live if the predator is gone.   They ignore the fact that walleyes eat baby walleyes all the time and are now being considered to be more damaging to the school than northern pike.  So, don't be a macho ignoramus.  Just put the northern back if you don't want it.  Somebody who likes northerns might come along later and enjoy that fish.

Order your Mettallic Rainbow Sunflower Spoon Here 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Are you a Meat, Volume, or Adventurous Fisherman?

Well, we all know that a jig and a minnow works for walleye.  Then there are slipbobbers with leeches, night crawlers, spinner rigs and nightcrawler harnesses.  In a nutshell, live bait usually works when they are biting.  But like many fishermen, I have taken the opportunity to find out what walleyes like in artificial lures and have had many days when artificial's produced specifically where organic baits were weak.   It ultimately all comes down to techniques used, but I like to troll artificial's for walleyes.  Casting for walleyes can be done on fairly rare occasions and only if the conditions are right.  Since walleye hang out at the bottom of the lake, trolling is a very effective way to catch them.

 I like to try the lures that don't have big names in the tackle world.  I have nothing against Rapala which grew to a gargantuan company over the last 40 years.  I use Rapala lures but focus mainly on their lure lines that they don't spend a lot of money promoting with fishing pros and slick advertisements.

Why? Well. for me, it is more about the adventure.  Chances are really good that the ads and pro's tell you exactly what that particular top-echelon Rapala will catch.  Where's the fun in that?  Everybody's already tested that one and it probably works reasonably well as all the patrons of  big box retail stores flock in and follow the flickering lights of big marketing money.  Their eyes are agape and mouths drooling at all the hype and flashy cardboard cut-outs of fishing greats smiling and pointing.

For that reason, I prefer to try less-familiar tackle for a few reasons:

1.  The focus of  heavy marketing in any fishing lure (and other products) is to create massive demand so the the product line sells out.  That's just good business - for the company selling the product.  Who wouldn't want to create a huge demand for a new lure just prior to its arriving in the US big box retail outlets?  That's how you make money - sell the sizzle, not the steak.  Is there anything wrong with this practice?  No!  It's fishing tackle, not heroin.

2.  If a company can convince thousands to buy the new Spiffy-Diffy X-Lure, thousands will be throwing that plug into the water all over the place.  How many actually catch fish on it?  Well, maybe only "hundreds" but they all talk in the bait shops, bars, and church about the huge walleye they caught on that plug.  Six guys hear the conversation or watch Saturday morning fishing TV in the winter as Al Lindner or somebody catches fish upon fish with it and those guys are raring to get to that big box retail store to see one, touch it, maybe buy two!  Is there anything wrong with this?  No!  Does using a Spiffy-Diffy X-Lure improve my chances of catching fish over other lesser known lures?  Hardly!!!  Are there other really good lures that nobody know about?  Definitely!

3.  There are other great lures that nobody's even heard of out there and we handle those in particular.  We also like to stock lesser-know famous brand lures, too.  Sure, we carry the main lures as well because marketing is SO ingrained on some customers that they will...not...waver from tradition.  So, we have tons of Shad Raps in stock for those less adventuresome fisherman of which there are many.

We have two types of fishermen among our ranks.  

  1. Meat fishermen - you might as well give those guys a gill net.
  2. Volume fishermen - they are all about numbers and "producing" results like baseball stats - while throwing everything back.
  3. Adventurous Fishermen - they test the "unknown" and get an endorphin rush at the possibility of what this new lure might bring into the boat.
Personally, I find meat fishing ridiculously boring.  Sure, it's a always a lot of fun when they are snapping but I know guys who will troll a chartreuse silver Shad Rap the entire summer in the same spot, taking a limit of walleyes home every day as if they were going to the bank to take out a daily cash withdrawal.  If they only get 5 walleyes today instead of the full 6, they are literally disgusted despite having caught hundreds of walleyes there for the past four weeks.  

Volume fisherman go out and buy $15 worth of minnows and troll back and forth for walleyes to catch and release volumes of fish.  My first question is "Why?".  Walleyes are not notoriously spectacular fighters and when they are schooled-up, they are fairly easy to catch.  Why catch them using live bait to only release them after you stuck a hook in them?   What is the point?  It's like catch-and-release fishing for lakers.  Dragging a laker up from the depths can kill it no matter what you do, so unless you are going to eat him, why stick a hook in him using live bait?  

Adventurous fishing means you know the walleyes are biting on organics, but you're willing to try artificial baits to see what works.  You may get skunked or you may limit out.  In either case, the adventurous fisherman likes to catch fish, eat fish and throw some back.  He or she also doesn't consider the day to be a complete loss if they don't catch a fish every five seconds like they do on TV.   Yes, they have their confidence tackle but they aren't afraid of adventure.  They try new lures in known waters to see how they work, always looking for the next awesome unknown bait.  They also try unknown waters to see what's there.  Adventurous fishermen always know that tomorrow will be a different day with new findings and fishing is not a job.  It's the process not the end result that rewards them.

This site is primarily about adventurous fishing.  We recommend tackle that we know works well for us and our customers.  Will we be mentioning well-know lures?  Yes, on occasion.  But, we'll mainly discuss lesser-known lures and their results.  You've heard it before: Some tackle is made to catch fish and all the rest is made to catch fishermen.  We like to use what works full knowing that sometimes it doesn't work.  There there is this:  That's why they call it "fishing", and not "catching"

We'll try to narrow down the choices to the good stuff, cliches' and all.