Tag Archives: Strategy

Walleye tip

June 13, 2011


For those looking for good walleye fishing, I have a suggestion: Go to Upper Red Lake on Wednesday or later.

Starting on that day, the normal protected slot of 17-26 inches for walleyes shrinks to 20-26 inches. So, those fish between 17 and 20 inches, for the first time this year, will be fair game.

Folks, there are a lot of fish that size in this lake. If the weather holds up, it should be a bonanza. Since the opener, the walleyes have been shallow and biting aggressively when the weather is decent. But, strong winds can make the lake unfishable, especially when they’re out of the west, northwest or north.

Looking at the weather forecast for the area, things are looking pretty good for this week. Looks like there could be some rain on Wednesday, but nice after that. If the winds are light, anglers should have a walleye feast.

The nice thing is, we have had a cold spring so far, which means the walleyes will stay shallow. There is a break along the shoreline that goes from 4 feet to about 10 feet, and as long as the water stays cool enough, the walleyes will hang out on this break.

I have anchored on the break and fished many times, and it’s generally pretty easy to catch walleyes on a jig and a minnow. Some folks troll Rapalas and catch fish, too. In fact, both methods work well.

I looked at a recent fishing report on a website called iDoFishing.com and the fishing has been good on Upper Red, as I suspected it would be. What’s nice about Upper Red is that it’s an easy lake to fish — find the break, anchor and throw out a jig and a minnow. You will catch walleyes, and also freshwater drum (commonly known as sheepshead). With the expanded slot, it will be possible to catch a four-fish limit of walleyes, all between 19 and 20 inches. That’s tough to beat on any lake!

If you’ve got a little more time, I would suggest adding a day or two on Lake of the Woods to your agenda. The fishing is also excellent on this lake, and it has a year-round protected slot of 19 1/2-28 inches. Not only that, but once you reach your four-fish limit on walleyes, you can add two more sauger (you can keep up to six walleyes and sauger in combination, with up to four of them being walleyes).

What some people don’t know is that, if you fish both lakes on the same trip, you can keep a total of six walleyes (the statewide limit), as long as no more than four come from either one of these two lakes. So, if you would like to take home the most walleyes that you can, this would be a nice way to go. I’ve never been able to a catch a combined six walleyes on the two lakes, but have tried a few times.

A good place for a fishing report on Lake of the Woods is a website called Walleye Hunter. It actually has fishing reports from several sources, including resorts on the lake, which are updated regularly. Plus, on several of them, you can read the history of fishing reports going all the way back to the opener and, in some cases, the ice-fishing season. Basically, unless the winds are really strong, the fishing is good on this lake. There were some high winds last week, but things look quieter for this week.

If you can take some vacation days this week, now’s a good time to head up north!

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Trying a new lake

May 31, 2011


“Nothing venture, nothing gained.”

This is what I told my oldest son, Joe, as we fished the waters of Lake Traverse, which runs about 15 miles or so on the border of Minnesota and South Dakota. We were hoping to cash in on a hot walleye bite that has been running strong for the last few weeks.

I got a great tip for a local fishing guide, Steve Carney, who has fished this lake many times over the years. He says it is typically good in the spring and fall. In fact, he said it’s usually “on fire” in May.

I was envisioning an outing like I’ve had on Upper Red, where dozens of walleyes come over the gunwale, and many more fish are thrown back then kept. What I liked, in particular, is that the protected slot for walleyes on Traverse doesn’t start until 20 inches. And, you’re allowed one fish over 20. So, you would be able to keep at least one walleye per person of any size.

That was enough to lure me and my son three-and-a-half hours west. I left with high hopes, confident we would be bringing home eight walleyes.

Unexpected results

Unfortunately, the fish had other ideas. We ended the day with three 13-inch walleyes in the livewell. Typically, we throw those back. But, it took us several hours to land the first one, so I kept that one and the other two. We pulled back to the boat landing scratching our heads.

I feared we might learn that other anglers were successful using different tactics, but that was not the case. In fact, Carney had told me that a number of people catch lots of walleyes fishing from their docks. We worked areas where there were docks and people fishing from them. We saw very few fish caught, and even asked a few how they were doing.

The reports were all the same — very few walleyes, and all of them small. Of course, we heard the classic line: “Shoulda been here yesterday.”

I emailed my report to another friend who has fished the lake. And, he said this lake can be very tough at times. Thus, he was not surprised that we had a tough day.

Still, we had fun, especially with the half dozen silver bass that we caught. They put up a pretty good fight, and I wouldn’t mind targeting them sometime. That is, after we have caught our limit of walleyes.

On the positive side

One bright spot was meeting Todd Johnson, owner of Wing N Fin Resort located on the south part of the lake on the Minnesota side. He was very accommodating and did his best to help us find good spots to fish. His information was solid, the fish just didn’t cooperate.

He said the fishing can be good all summer, and generally picks up in the fall. I think it would be fun to come back in October and try for some walleyes. What I like about the fall is that there generally are fewer boats on the lakes. In fact, sometimes you can have the entire lake to yourself.

Time to hire a guide?

Given the long drive and higher gas prices, it makes more sense to go for a few days to make the trip worthwhile. And, it might also be a good idea to hire a guide like Steve Carney. He has a keen attention to detail and he has fished lakes like this so many times, he knows just where to go and what to do. What I especially like about him is that he is very willing to share his tips and techniques. I can read them just about every week in Outdoor News, where he writes a weekly column.

I have had the pleasure of fishing with Steve on a few occasions, way back in the 1980s when I wrote a fishing column for Sun-Current newspapers in the south and western suburbs. Most of the time, we did very well. In fact, on one trip to Mille Lacs, I caught two 27-inch walleyes in one morning. But, Steve topped me with a 29-incher. That was a day on the water I’ll never forget!

I hope to have more days like this. Maybe, it will happen someday on Traverse. My next chance to catch a walleye comes later this month, when I’ll take my son, Andy, and his friend to Lake of the Woods for a fishing retreat led by a priest from the Diocese of St. Cloud. I hope to write about that for an upcoming outdoors column.

Stay tuned!

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Fishing report

May 23, 2011


I got a call from a friend of mine last night who is planning on going up to Lake of the Woods this weekend. He is bringing his wife and kids to spend Memorial Day weekend on the big lake.

I have to confess feeling more than a twinge of jealousy. This is a prime time to be up on this lake — and many others. Judging by the fishing reports I have been reading for Lake of the Woods, the fishing is good and getting better. Because of the cold and wet spring we have had, the fish are a bit more sluggish than usual. But, on this lake, that just means that, rather than catching 100 walleyes a day, you might only catch 30-50.

In other words, a slow day of fishing on Lake of the Woods is often better than a good day on many other lakes. That is precisely why I consider the six-hour drive well worth it.

I also like the fact that you can keep walleyes up to 19 1/2 inches, before reaching the protected slot of 19 1/2 to 28 inches. On this lake and many others, I often catch walleyes between 17 and 19 1/2 inches, which I can keep on LOTW. For some reason, many other lakes, including Upper Red, have protected slots that begin at 17 inches. I sometimes get frustrated by the number of fish between 17 and 19 inches that I have to throw back on these lakes.

Another nice thing on LOTW, at least on the south end, is that finding the fish and catching them is relatively easy. You don’t have to hover on small pieces of structure and finesse fish with complicated rigs. Rather, you drive across Four Mile Bay and out through the gap near Pine Island, find where the boats are clustered, drop anchor in the mud and drop a jig and minnow down to the fish. It’s so simple, even kids and inexperienced anglers can do it.

I find that very appealing. As much as I like to fish, I don’t fish for walleyes enough to have learned many of the complex methods for catching them. But, I am pretty good with jigs, and you rarely have to use anything else on this lake, even in the middle of the summer.

Actually, I will be heading up to LOTW in late June with my son, Andy, and one of his high school classmates. We will be going on a five-day fishing retreat organized by a priest of the St. Cloud Diocese. That will be the subject of a future Outdoors column. We will be going to the Northwest Angle, which is several hours north of Baudette on the south end of the lake. It will be interesting to see what the fishing is like farther north on the lake.

I’m excited to find out!

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Double blessing

May 12, 2011

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I have heard that male wild turkeys can have two beards or more, but I had never seen such a bird until yesterday. For the first time, I not only saw such a bird, but shot one.

It came after several hours of work trying to call in a tom in Wisconsin. After shooting three yearling toms (called jakes) in Minnesota and Wisconsin, I had one tag left to try for an adult tom (also called a longbeard, in reference to the longer beards adult gobblers have).

Fast start

I decided to hunt a 40-acre piece of property where my son, William, had shot his first deer last fall. Woods surround the property on three sides, with a small cluster of pine trees in the middle of a big field of clover.

Wouldn’t you know it? When I pulled up the long driveway and parked in front of the landowner’s garage, I heard a turkey gobble from that cluster of pines. I tried to figure out a way to get close without being seen. I decided to move away and try to circle around and get to the back corner of the property, which is where I thought this bird would go.

He went there after flying down, alright, but he got there long before I did, and then left the property soon after. Other birds were gobbling on the roost, but they shut up quickly after flying down, except one bird across the road that continued to gobble.

I moved to the woods closest to him on this property, and hoped to call him across the road and up the hill. But, this bird was stubborn and stayed on the other side. Eventually, he quit gobbling, and the woods fell silent.

Waiting game

So, I had to figure out what to do next. I decided to walk the perimeter of the property and listen for gobbles. I walked short distances, then sat down and called.

As I did so, I cleared out spots to sit later if I needed to. I used a small pair of clippers – a very important tool – to trim some brush and give me room to maneuver my gun.

Generally, I like to trim some of the brush, but not all. That way, there is still some left to offer concealment. I figured that if I had some spots cleared out, I could jump into them fast if I needed to later. Hopefully, this prep work would pay dividends.

After not hearing much for about an hour or so, I finally heard a gobble at about 8:30. I had reached the corner of the property and turned 90 degrees to follow the property line. Shortly after doing so, I heard a very raspy gobble down the hill and back in the woods. The brush looked very thick – just the kind of place an old gobbler would feel safe.

I found a small opening along the fence line and set up. I called for a while, but the bird never answered. Eventually, I gave up on him and started moving again.

The right time to move?

Sometimes, I like to sit in one spot and wait for the birds to move through. Other times, I move around a lot to try and find an active bird. Because I wasn’t familiar with this property, I decided to stay on the move. I just didn’t know what areas the turkeys liked to use.

After about 9 o’clock, I started hearing birds gobble again. At the same time, the clouds were beginning to thicken and I started hearing thunder close by. I wondered if I may have to make a quick exit from the field. But, there was only a little rain, not enough to chase me back to my car.

For some reason, the weather seemed to turn the turkeys on. Gobbling picked up, and so did my hopes. Problem was, the gobbling was sporadic and there were birds gobbling in several directions. Seems like I would move in the direction of one bird, set up, then the bird would stop gobbling. Then, I would hear a bird gobble near where I had just been, and I’d move back again.

This went on for about an hour. I was along the back edge of the property and heard a bird gobbling on the neighbor’s land not too far away. But, it didn’t seem to be interested in my calling. It never gobbled right after I called, and didn’t seem to be moving closer.

Costly mistake

Finally, I got tired of this bird and decided to move. I went back to the first fenceline I had hunted, which ran perpendicular to the fenceline I was on. I only went about 125 yards or so, and set up in a thin row of trees and brush between the landowner’s clover field and a picked corn field on the neighbor’s land. I figured the birds might move back and forth between these fields. And, it’s where the bird that was roosted in the cluster of pines went at dawn.

This move turned out to be a mistake. Even though I heard a bird gobble from somewhere on that picked corn field, I soon learned that I gave up too quickly on the last spot. Just minutes after sitting down, I heard a gobble from right where I had just been sitting. That is one of the most agonizing things a turkey hunter can experience.

The bird gobbled twice, and I knew it had come in looking for the “hen” that had been calling. Had I just had a little more patience, I might be putting my tag on that bird right then.


Oh well, I thought. What can I do? Perhaps, I could call that bird over to me. Fortunately, while all this was happening, a gobbler sounded off back in the woods near where I was set up. After gobbling a ways off, it sounded like it was much closer. Now, I had two birds gobbing away!

Not a bad problem to have. I was optimistic that one of them would come in. Sure enough, just a few minutes later, I heard a gobble very close. The volume and clarity of the gobble told me the bird was out in the field. In fact, I was pretty sure he was standing in the corner where I had walked earlier. He couldn’t have been more than 50 yards away.

I turned my chair toward the bird and tucked in next to a big tree. There was a lot of brush in front of me now, as I hadn’t trimmed any in this direction earlier. But, there were some holes in the brush, which would give me a couple of small windows to shoot through.

Time for seduction

Sometimes, when birds come out like this, they will sit there strutting and gobbling, waiting for the hen to show up. My strategy at times like these is to hit them with the soft stuff – clucks and purrs that hens make where they’re content and are interested more in feeding than breeding. In other words, playing hard to get.

I pulled out a little push button call made by Quaker Boy called a Pro Push Pin Yelper, and made a short series of clucks and purrs. The bird gobbled with gusto to these sounds. I’m always amazed at how effective soft calling is at bringing in a gobbler those last precious yards into gun range – and equally amazed at how so many hunters fail to employ the “soft stuff” in their calling arsenal.

Within a minute or two, I saw the gobbler’s head bobbing through the brush. He passed through the first opening and was headed for the second. I quickly pointed my gun at the next opening and took the safety off. Within a few seconds, the bird’s head and neck appeared again, and I pulled the trigger.

The bird went down, and I felt both joy and relief. After making a mistake by moving at the wrong time, I still was able to bag a bird. This has happened before, and most turkey hunters will tell you that mistakes in the field are inevitable. You just have to keep at it. The lesson I have learned over and over again is to be persistent. You can fail nine times, and succeed on the 10th try.

Big bird

This ended up being my nicest bird of the season. It was an adult tom that weighed 20 pounds. Sure, toms can get quite a bit bigger than that – up to 28 pounds. But, this bird was big enough for me.

And, it had an extra bonus – a double beard. That’s a first for me, and another great part of the story. It also had 1-inch, pointed spurs, which likely makes it a 3-year-old bird. The older a tom gets, the tougher he is to fool, so getting this older bird makes the hunt even more gratifying.

More about brush

Many hunters consider brush the enemy when it comes to turkey hunting. I’ve heard many stories about how toms have hung up behind brush and the hunter never could get a shot.

But, brush can be your friend, or, at least, it needn’t be the frustration that many make it out to be. For starters, it’s important to understand how turkeys react to brush.

Even though the toms are very interested in breeding right now, their number-one priority at all times is survival. That is why they are so wary and hard to call in.

And, it’s also why they will often come in through thick brush, even when a more open path is available. Because their eyesight is so keen, they can see through thick brush far better than we humans can. They also know that predators won’t be able to surprise them as easily when they have to move through brush.

That’s why so many hunters have birds come in behind some brush. It happened to my brother earlier this week, and to my son two years ago. My brother chose not to shoot, while my son did, but neither got the bird in the brush. Fortunately, in both cases, they later shot birds that came out into the open.

But, you can actually use a turkey’s affinity with brush to your advantage. I like to set up in some brush, so that the tom has to come in close to see through it, which will bring him into gun range. All I need to do is trim enough of it away for me to move my gun and have a few small openings.

That leads us to the problem of shooting through the brush when the moment of truth arrives. I think many hunters are scared to shoot through brush, and too many choose not to take what I would consider to be a makable shot.

A friend of mine helped me with this concept a number of years ago. He noted that every shell contains several hundred pellets, and that many of them get through the brush without hitting it. He said that, basically, if you can see the head and neck of the tom through the brush, and if the bird is in range, your pellets will bring it down.

That’s exactly what happened for me yesterday. In fact, I was amazed at how many pellets hit the bird. My shot was just a bit low, and I found quite a few pellets in the body of the bird when I was taking the breast out. That’s all the proof I needed that shooting though brush isn’t the vexing problem many hunters think it is. Just be sure that there are no thick branches between you and the bird. Those will, in fact, stop or deflect pellets.

Ending with gratitude

So, I finish my hunting season with all four of my tags filled. As always, I said a prayer of thanks to God in the field yesterday as I was carrying my bird out. The Lord has been good to me, and my prayers for successful hunts have been answered.

I just have one prayer left – for my son, William. He has a Wisconsin tag for this week as well, and I plan on taking him out Sunday morning. I tried helping him get a bird earlier this spring in both Wisconsin and Minnesota, but we couldn’t quite get it done. He did take a shot, but it was a long one and he missed. I’m hoping his next shot will be a lot closer!

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Sign of spring

April 21, 2011


In the last few days, I have started to see and hear robins. I like their singing, and I welcome that sound every year. I’m glad the cold weather hasn’t caused them to clam up.

I also noticed that the weather hasn’t put a cramp on their breeding activity, either. Twice, I have seen female robins looking overly plump. That can only mean one thing — they’re about to lay eggs.

Even though Old Man Winter is still hanging around, that’s not stopping at least some of the rituals of spring. I’m hoping that the wild turkeys are moving forward with their breeding as well. With my hunting season starting on May 3, I would like the hens to be busy laying eggs and sitting on their nests, so that the toms have to start looking for more hens. And, hopefully, they’ll come looking for me when I sound off like a hen.

I got an encouraging sign today when a coworker said she saw a tom breeding a hen in a field along the road. That means egg laying and nesting won’t be far behind!

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Taking a shot

April 18, 2011


I took my son, William, turkey hunting during Minnesota’s A season, which started last Wednesday, April 13. We went down to the three adjoining properties near Red Wing that we had permission to hunt.

Our hopes were high. We knew there were birds in the area, and I have hunted these properties for the last eight years, and had taken birds there every time in the spring. Plus, we would have with us a turkey hunting expert, Steve Huettl, who works for Gamehide, a camo clothing company.

Steve really knows his stuff and I was confident he could put us on some birds. Turns out, I was right.

Closing in

We waited until Thursday to go out. The weather looked decent that day and that’s the day Steve was able to join us. At dawn, we first went to a spot where my son, Andy, had killed a bird the year before. But, we didn’t hear any gobbling there. We heard a bird gobble several times to our east, so we hoofed it over to a different field.

We ended  up hearing a hen clucking, then eventually we heard a tom gobble down the hill. We set up and tried to call him in, but he wouldn’t move our way. Then, we changed positions and drew several toms partway up from the bottom.

But, just as it looked like they were going to pop into view any second, they went back down the hill. Steve and William went after them, and eventually got them to about 30 yards. Unfortunately, there was a little hump between them and the toms, and the birds didn’t want to come over to take a look. Actually, one of them came around and moved quickly past them, but William never saw the bird.

They worked on those birds for two hours before Steve finally spooked them while he was walking around and calling. He tried everything he knew, but the birds came out unscathed.

Last chance

The weather turned ugly on Friday and lasted into Saturday, so we didn’t go out. Finally, on Sunday afternoon, we gave it one last try. We went back to one of the properties and set up on the far end on a wooded flat where the birds like to roost for the night. I figured they might work their way back to the roost, and we would be there to intercept them.

We sat there for about an hour and a half, then I noticed that William looked very bored. I asked him if he wanted to get up and walk and he nodded quickly. I told him we would walk around in the woods, then walk the edge of the field and hunt our way back to the car.

We heard nothing in the woods, then came back out into the field. We hadn’t gone more than 50 yards along the edge when I spotted a turkey in the cut soybean field. It was a hen. We ducked down, and I wondered if there was a gobbler nearby. Sure enough, to the right of the hen was a tom in full strut. It was a magnificent sight, but the bird was out of range.

Time for strategy

So, we crawled on our bellies to try and close the distance. It worked well until we we surprised to see the hen at only 20 yards when we poked our heads up. She was standing still and staring right at us.

The good news is she didn’t spook, so I figured if we stayed still, she wouldn’t run off. I looked at the tom and he was still strutting. We inched forward and looked again, and this time he, like the hen, was looking right at us.

When toms come out of strut and run their heads up, that’s generally the time to shoot because it usually means they have spotted something they’re unsure of and are trying to identify it and look for possible danger.

It was a longer shot than I would have wanted for William, but I felt the bird was within range of my 12-gauge shotgun. I handed it to William and told him to shoot.

The moment of truth

The bird kept his head up high and still as William tried to steady the gun on his target. He fired, but the bird ran off. It showed no signs of being hit, and eventually flew off.

William was disappointed, but I told him it was a tough shot and a tough situation to be in. I reminded him how cool it was to see the tom in full strut. It’s not often you can walk in that close to a bird like that.

Of course, I wondered if I should have done things differently, like maybe stayed where we had first seen the birds and seen if they might have come to us. Perhaps, we could have done some calling and brought them in.

Oh well. That’s turkey hunting. There are lots of surprises, and you have to react quickly. Sometimes, you do the right thing. Sometimes, you do the wrong thing. That’s what makes it exciting — and challenging.

And, that’s what I hope will make William want to come back for more.

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