Open water observations

Fishing the Midwest

— Submitted photo Mike Frisch took this shallow water largemouth bass on a swim jig.

I’m pretty sure the 2017 open water fishing season is over for me. While it’s still fresh in my mind this is the time of year that I like to look back at the just-completed season. I enjoy taking note of the things I learn from every fishing season. Following are some of those things:

It’s always interesting to see trends in how we fish, and how the fish force us to alter our ways of fishing. For instance, when I started fishing largemouth bass way back when, a spinnerbait was a major part of my arsenal. Spring, summer, and fall, there was always a spinnerbait on one of my rods. In fact, the biggest largemouth bass I’ve ever taken came on a spinnerbait. A spinnerbait is a very versatile bait and it’s still a bait that I really like to throw. However, I’m not throwing it as much as I used to. More and more, many bass-chasers are using a swimming jig in place of a spinnerbait.

A swim jig is a rubber-legged jig to which we add a piece of plastic. A good example would be a Jungle Jig. I’ve been using Jungle Jigs for years. They’ve put so many fish in the boat for me. Another jig designed specifically for this technique is Strike King’s Tour Grade Swim Jig. The head design on this jig makes it perfect for a swimming retrieve.

We fish a swim jig pretty much how we would fish a spinnerbait. Cast it out and start reeling. Experiment with speed and rod action: Sometimes a little lift/drop works well. However, don’t fish it on the bottom as tradition would have us do with other types of jigging. Fish a swim jig where you would fish a spinnerbait and how you would fish a spinnerbait and you’ll catch bass.

Equipment continues to improve. The quality and function of our rods, reels, line, sonar, boats, motors, even clothing has come so far in just a few short years. We still have to make the fish bite, but we can find them easier and quicker now, and we can present our baits so much more effectively. I know that fishing and catching is better now than it was back in my guide days in the early 80’s.

Our equipment isn’t the only reason we’re catching more and bigger fish. In many cases, self-imposed catch and release has been a big help, especially with muskies. However, we can’t count on voluntary catch and release for sustained good fishing. Many areas have implemented rules and aggressive conservation measures to create and perpetuate good fishing. Two of my favorite places to go fishing are two very different fisheries. Clear Lake in north central Iowa has become an outstanding fishery for several reasons, one of which is renovation. Clear Lake has a very developed shoreline and also lots of walleyes, crappies, muskies, and yellow bass.

Lake Kabetogama is completely different than Clear Lake. It is pretty much wilderness and is world class for walleyes and smallmouth bass, and can also put out some really good crappie fishing. A good number of years ago a slot limit was put in place on Kab, and it worked. It worked really well. Today on Kab you get lots of eaters, but there is always a very good chance to take good numbers of big walleyes.

Looking back at last year open water, I continue to be optimistic about fishing in the future. For now though, I’m getting excited about being on the ice.

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