Since late February I’ve been fishing the local rivers sparingly; maybe once every two weeks if lucky, and obviously when weather has been nice and air temps warm. Some of the targeted species have been active while some others haven’t. Perhaps they’ve migrated to elsewhere, or are in midst of spawning, One could only wonder. This year’s action began on Saturday, February 18th when global warming quickly started the spring walleye run for us in N. Illinois. Last month we had nearly a full week period of 60 degrees or warmer, and water temperatures had already climbed into the mid 40’s. It woke up the fish and lured them out from their wintering holes. On that date, wade partner, John Barnes, and I experienced some epic bites from an area river that included musky, northern pike, some walleyes, and this gigantopithecus specimen of an northern Illinois river walleye.
About half of my annual musky fishing is spent floating rivers by boat and wading them. Modestly enjoying this local musky fishery in northern Illinois almost feels like I never left the northwoods in October. Muskies live in small rivers and streams across the entirety of their home range. Most are native fisheries, while others are stocked and artificial like ours. John, Alex and I have done our homework in order to determine how muskies exist in our little river, estimated their numbers and range, and located their predictable areas. Two main factors that dictate river musky location and migration during this time of year is forage location and muskie movement towards wintering areas. Wintering muskies is a uniquely challenging game, and that’s the scenario we are now facing. There’s something to be said about catching muskies from small rivers, especially formerly abused waterways like ours that no way in hell should have ever supported these fish but now does.
In many large Midwest river systems, walleyes are a prime target during the fall and early winter months. What most of the angling population keeps forgetting about is that small to medium size Midwest rivers are populated with large numbers of unmolested, unexploited walleyes that are only accessed by anglers suited up in their waders. With shad being the primary migratory forage for walleyes here in northern Illinois, these waters are known to rear some monsters! Since October 31st, I’ve been out on my local flows nearly every evening, solo and with friends. Usually I am fishing at any point from 5 pm until as late as 10 pm. The consistent (and warm) weather along with steady stream flows with comfortable wading conditions has provided an adequate nighttime bite comprised of walleyes to lengths of 25 inches, and other multi-species surprises that includes muskies, northern pike, and channel catfish.
The month of October has passed, and so has my 2016 bass fishing season. My bass fishing wrapped up during the week of October 9th, and after lots of musky and multi-species fishing the Ranger was winterized on October 21st. Our fall season has been confused and I’m not quite sure it knows what to do. Shouldn’t it keep getting colder, and not warmer? The reality is I should still be bass fishing, but having now winterized and closed up the house these circumstances assures me that I’m done until next May. The warm weather and Indian summer we experienced this month prolonged the fall shallow water feeding and bass movements. The warm climate consequently delayed the turnover process, and what anglers got to enjoy was a greatly-extended pre-turnover fishing period that lasted through mid October.
September was a month of transition. Proof is in the weather forecast, on the leaves, on my Lowrance temperature gauge, and below the surface. What was an outstanding end of summer through Labor Day weekend gave way to the first phase of autumn; pre-turnover. Bass are moving and schooling, frequenting depths of shallow for feeding, and deep for homing and sanctuary. Success has varied on a lake by lake basis, but one thing’s for certain; this time of year, the end of my bass fishing season is near. Fall doesn’t offer great fishing for numbers, but what she does give up are some big ones. In my boat, we’re chasing giant bass, looking for that best bite of the year, and catching our late-season home runs. I had a wonderful month of largemouth and smallmouth bass fishing across the waters of Vilas and Oneida county with guests. However, the cold fronts we had early in the month made fishing difficult even though multiple 20+ fish outings were had.
August was a month for trophies, and the inland bass fisheries of Vilas and Oneida County showcased its world class fishing for monster smallmouth bass. For the first time all season fish locations and behaviors were predictable. Despite lake surface temperatures ranging from 75-80 for the first half of the month, we finally had great weather and consistency. With great weather comes bigger and longer feeding windows, patterns that last several days, and awesome fishing. Finally, for the first time all season I can openly say that the fishing was the best its been all year! My guests and I fished a variety of lakes this month, ranging in size from 80 acre ponds to flowages, and the largest waterbodies in Vilas County. Each lake is unique that they are all fished for bass differently, and none fish the same. Some are nothing but action while others have trophies only or are somewhere in between. With all of this available it’s impossible to get bored with bass fishing in the Minocqua region.
Hello readers and anglers, thank you for following my pursuit of the northwoods bass during the month of July. It was a month filled with travel and adventure. First week of July, I traveled to Rainy Lake Ontario, to fish smallmouths and multi-species with Camp Narrows Lodge, located at the northwest arm of Rainy Lake. From Minocqua, it’s a 6-hour drive where one can experience some of the best fishing in all of North America for smallmouth bass, walleyes, and northern pike. After Rainy lake, for the rest of the month I enjoyed the paradise of largemouth and smallmouth bass the Minocqua region offers. Fishing in July required fishing early and late. Feeding windows varied lake by lake, however 7-9am and 6-8pm seemed most constant, even though the fishing inconsistent due to heat and many tree-knocking storms and monsoons. The heat wave we had from 7/17-7/24 took a toll on many area lakes as surface temperatures reached as high as 85 degrees.
June was an interesting month of fishing. Inconsistent weather, coupled with mayfly hatches, busy boat traffic on some days, plus short feeding windows and lack of fish activity made June bass fishing a challenge. Like all problems we face on the water, there are often solutions. My boat succeeded, but fell far below my high standards. We have officially entered the early summer period. Bass are recovering from post-spawn and feeding more frequently. Water temperatures on our Vilas and Oneida county lakes are anywhere in the range from 68 to 72 degrees, though it may vary by lake size and depth, and clarity. In June there weren’t many obvious bass patterns. Mayfly hatches, the early and much prolonged bass spawn, marine repairs for the Ranger, and bad weather forced me to explore new waters, fish places that I normally wouldn’t visit this time of year, try new locations, and experiment with presentations I am not accustomed to.
What another wet and wild month of May, 2016 it was! The weather was lousy, but bass fishing good enough. Thank goodness the season started! Now rain, please go away. It rained 4 inches on us in Minocqua last week. Last month I had the privilege of fishing throughout the northwoods from May 14th through the 31st. Being my first season of operation, I would like to personally thank all friends and guests who joined me aboard my vessel thus far in 2016. I’m glad to fish with, and host, a number of different great people, and instruct and share knowledge with bass anglers of all skill levels. I look forward to scheduling outings with new anglers as 2016 rolls on. In the last few weeks northern Wisconsin avoided a spring season altogether, as in one week we went from 30 degree snow showers to 80 degree sun. Summer already happened, and it took place on a Wednesday this year.
Spring bass fishing has always been personally challenging, engaging, and exciting for myself and guests throughout the years. More heavyweights tipping the scales between 4 and 8 lbs. are caught and released in May and early June than most months combined. Catching them consistently however, isn't easy. While their movements from ice out to pre-spawn are generally predictable, it's usually the unpredictable weather and water temperatures that's throwing curveballs our way. This winter was mild and tolerable, but spring, despite an early ice-out, has been meaner and colder. I anticipate a cold spring season that will last until Memorial Day weekend. This could undoubtedly slow the fishing. There are no shortcuts to consistently catching trophy northwoods bass in spring, but there are certain strategies and methods you can implement to improve your success. The most important order of business is to spend most of your time fishing the right waters.
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