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Things change

Fishing the Midwest

Clear Lake Iowa fishing guide Kevan Paul with a weedbed walleye. Clear Lake is seeing more weedline fish due to clearer water.

This is the time of year when lots of people are on the water, fishing or skiing or swimming or whatever. Sometimes on some bodies of water, we notice changes in the water. We’re noticing these changes more and more in more and more bodies of water. Those changes can affect the fishing. Following are some changes that have been taking place across many parts of North America and also some ideas how you can change your fishing tactics to combat these changes.

Zebra mussels have been invading our lakes and rivers for a good number of years, and they are discovered in more bodies of water every year. Zebra mussels will eventually create greater visibility in a body of water: The water clears up because the “zeebs” strain the algae in the water. Once zebra mussels get established, they grow in population quickly.

So, waters that have zebra mussels get clearer, and that allows the vegetation in the lake to grow to deeper depths. Where the deep weedline was 10 feet before the zebras, the deep weedline is now maybe 15 feet. That changes how the fish react.

Say you’re after walleyes, and several years ago this time of year, you caught them in 12 feet of water. Today you can work that 12 foot depth hard and not catch much: They’re not there anymore. They didn’t leave the lake, they just moved deeper. Move out to where the fish are and you can probably get them to bite. You might also find the early/late bite to be better, maybe dawn and dusk.

As the water clears, vegetation like cabbage weed will become more abundant. That provides more habitat for small fish. It also creates more places for predator fish to hang around. You now have more places in a body of water to hold fish. Maybe the “community spots” won’t get hammered so hard.

Another change that we see from time to time: Fish get smarter, or at least it seems that way. Techniques that used to be productive aren’t as productive anymore. We used to use a lot of live-bait rigs and jigs for walleyes in the summer, and we still do. But there are plenty of times when a straight snell pulled behind a Rock-Runner Bottom Bouncer will produce even better.

Same thing is true with largemouth bass. Back in the day, whenever we fished around rushes or shallow cover, you could bet someone in the boat would have a spinnerbait tied on. And, today when in those areas, we probably still do have a spinnerbait tied on, but chances are good a Hack Attack Swim jig with a 4 inch Rage Grub will be the bait of choice. This presentation will produce outstanding results when more traditional presentations don’t. In fact, we now consider the use of a swim jig to be a traditional presentation. We fish a swim jig about like we do the spinnerbait, it just doesn’t have a blade on it.

Last thing: Something that truly affects fishing is fishing pressure. Lots of anglers working a spot can cause the fish to spook off the spot, or at least become very selective. And, as fishing continues to be popular, we’re seeing more anglers on the water. When you feel the fish that you’re fishing are becoming finicky due to fishing pressure, move to an area of the lake, or maybe even another lake, that isn’t seeing as much pressure. Or try a different technique. When the fish aren’t responding to what you’re doing, do something else.

Fishing today, for the most part, is very good and getting better in many places. We just have to remember that things relating to fish change, and if we want to catch more and bigger fish, we need to change also.

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