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Late Ice Panfish Only a Spoon Feed Away

When the Right Flash and Flutter Out-Produce All Others 
By Brian “Bro” Brosdahl 

Pulling panfish from frigid water with tiny treats is, no doubt, the modern ice angler’s most popular ploy. But while fishing in micro-mode is a most excellent tactic, there are periods when the flash and flutter of a falling spoon will out-produce any ultra-miniature jig – especially during feeding furies near the end of winter.

Plucking panfish with stamped steel and molded metals is nothing new. In fact, anglers have been hauling multitudes of spoon-caught species through holes since man first fashioned the tools needed for shaping these precious metals. But there’s more to duping panfish with spoons than meets the eye. The best lure for the job depends on the demeanor of the fish, as well as where in the water column the target species is located.   

Falling All Spoons 

If fish could talk, they’d let on that not all spoons are created equal; it’s the diversity in how different spoons flutter and the rate they fall that is often the defining point to whether or not they get smashed.

The first style is what I call the ‘single spoon.’ It’s made from either molded lead or brass, stamped metal, or a combination of all, with a single hook rigidly affixed to the body. And from fishing shallow to deep and all points in-between, they are the most adaptable style of spoon.

On the lift, single spoons raise quickly and then see-saw on the fall, often flipping horizontal. Single spoons combine well with tasty treats like a string of threaded maggots or a whole minnow pierced through its lips. Perch, for example, still pummel Northland's classic Eye-Dropper Jig, as well as the new High Definition (HD) LIVE-FORAGE Fish-Fry Minnow Jig. 

Next in line is the 'treble spoon.' As their name implies, these feature a treble hook attached via a split ring so the barbs can swing freely from the body. The new Northland LIVE-FORAGE Fish-Fry Minnow Spoon falls into this category. 

Fish-Fry Minnow Spoons are heavy and work wonders when bluegills, for example, are holding tight to the bottom on main-lake basins. I like to rip the spoon up off bottom and let it wobble its way back on limp line. Adding the ever-squiggling Medusa's Head (loading the treble with writhing maggots just nipped in their backside) is the perfect companion live bait offering for the ripping technique. 

'Stamped spoons,' on the other hand, are made of lightweight metal, pressed narrow and thin, similar to a trolling spoon. Because they flutter with a side-to-side action that covers a wide swath under the ice, these lightweights really shine when crappies, for instance, are suspended high in the water column or are hanging tight to cover in shallow-water environments and need to be coaxed into the open. 

Northland's LIVE-FORAGE Moxie Minnow, for example, has a narrow and cupped shape that, due to the lifelike flank and flashy chrome-gold on the other, flashes an injured-baitfish alarm from afar. Just don't add too much meat to the hook of a stamped spoon as it will impede the action. One spike, waxworm, or a small minnow head will do.

On the opposite end of the spectrum you find solid spoons of lead or brass, which are heavy and plummet promptly. I use them as "qualifiers" when fish are deep and I need to get a lure down fast before they swim off. The Northland's Macho Minnow is a prime example of a solid spoon. 

Solid spoons don't yield as much action, though, so I add the liveliest live bait available. Reaching into my Frabill Aqua-Life Bait Station, I'll grab the most energetic minnow and nip it just though its lips, or, as an alternative, I'll stick several maggots onto the hook so they wriggle in squid-like fashion.

When fishing stained water, I employ spoons that vibrate like the dickens, most notably bladebaits. Northland's LIVE-FORAGE Fish-Fry Minnow Trap-the most realistic looking bladebait on the market-is my go-to. They shake on the lift and shimmy on the fall and panfish of all species will attack them on the drop. Bladebait-style spoons work wonders in clear water, too, especially when fish are in a funk and unwilling to strike. The vibration triggers the strike instinct from even the most lethargic post-front panfish.

Big to Small
 Contrary to common ice-angling contemplation, if panfish are in a neutral mood, I send down large spoons first. Large-sizing often decoys inactive fish from a distance, and, tipped with a meaty bribe, will trigger strikes from the greediest students in the school. As the day progresses and the most aggressive fish have been duped, I'll finesse the others by switching to smaller spoons, and then eventually jigs. 

And… Action! 
If one presentation isn't turning heads, I quickly switch to another, not wasting valuable time on the ice. Plus, panfish are on the move during late ice, so I keep my internal motor running not wanting to fall behind. I hop from hole to hole like a frog on Red Bull. 

When panfish are in shallow water or just under the ice over deep water, I fish from inside Frabill's Bro-sized Pro portable shelter, which, with the top up, eliminates my silhouette and reduces the possibility of spooking the fish. The Pro's the largest one-man shanty on ice, with an articulating seat that goes forward, back, and side to side, which allows me to peer down the hole in comfort and have plenty of room for fighting slabs. 

As for sticks, the 24-inch Bro Series Ultra-Light Combo's perfect for stamped spoons and is the ideal length for in-house use. The Bro Series 26-inch Light combo is a match set for heavier spoons. Both of these rods match up well with 3-pound BIONIC Ice monofilament. This line-strength is primo for spooning as it's light enough to maximize lure action yet strong enough to lift gargantuan 'gills out of the hole. When downsizing to a 1/16-ounce spoon, I like the forgiveness of the Bro Series 27-inch Quick Tip Combo, and spool it with 2-pound BIONIC Ice. And no matter the line weight, tie the line directly to the spoon (no snap or snap-swivel) to get the best action from the lure. 

Parting Thoughts
 While micro lures have their place, late ice panfish are only a spoon feed away. Keep an assortment of spoons and combos pre-rigged and ready to rock. Just figure out the flavor of the day and where in the water column the fish are holding. Flutter away and hang on. By late winter, panfish take the role of predator fish, so set the micro-jigs in the back of the tackle box. In all likelihood, you won't be needing them.





Hand to Fin Combat - A proven pattern for hooking gargantuan pike during early ice 
By Brian "Bro" Brosdahl

Up above, I tiptoe across the frozen shallows maintaining a low profile. Stealth is a big part of the game. Down below, however, it's more like lions in the Coliseum tearing and tossing-down everything with blood running through its veins. That's what it's like in early winter when northern pike slash through the shallows with hearty appetites and an equal amount of recklessness. 

These apex predators spent most of late autumn roaming the basin, tracking along offshore humps and deeper secondary breaks. With the flip of a switch, though, they head straight for the shallows - 4 to 12 feet of water - when the surface water solidifies. And there's no secret to the gravitational pull. It's about gorging on the bounty of available forage. 

Panfish are standard fare. Bluegills, crappies, and perch are already making use of whatever green weeds are left. There, they find food, and, allegedly, sanctuary from threats. Pike disrupt the peace, however, ferreting through cuts and openings, as well as cruising along the edge picking off the careless. Ultimately, panfish only find safety in numbers, some brethren sacrificed for the whole. 

On certain lakes and reservoirs the summons comes in the form of whitefish and or tullibee (ciscoes). Their reproductive ritual begins in the late fall and finalizes sometime after first ice. Perfect timing for pike.

So the foodstuffs are up in the shallows, but located randomly. Weeds have already been noted. But make sure your focusing on the greenest and thickest vegetation available.  That could mean a lush garden grove.  In other situations it's a thick spot amongst an acre of spindly brown weeds. The most reliable weeds are found in shallow bays that are adjacent to the main lake.

River mouths are another natural draw. Pike are suckers for moving water. Suckers, the actual fleshy baitfish, are common there. Take heed that ice quality on and around river mouths is several notches thinner than what the main lake offers. 

Although pike activity is at its seasonal peak, there are good, better, and best times to fish. Morning and evening are no-brainers. With that said, historically, I've nailed the majority of my larger fish - 10-pounds plus - during mid to late morning, say from 8 to 11 am. The last hour and a half of the day is next in importance, but a distant second. 

Weather is a factor as well. Invariably, I pound more pike on cloudy days than those marked with sunshine. Pike roam more freely. They loosen their range and don't stick as tightly to cover. In response, I spread the field, which means running Frabill tip-ups while maintaining a rigorous jigging schedule. Depending on the state's legal allotment of lines and how many partners I'm sharing the ice with, it can be half-dozen tip-ups sprinkled about a 200 foot radius.

 The only thing that bests cloud cover is cloud cover on the leading edge of imminent precipitation, either snow or one of those bothersome early winter mists. Pike go bonkers before a front. 

Now about that tiptoeing and black-ops stealth I mentioned earlier… Yes, early winter pike are ferocious feeders. That's to your advantage. But on the flipside, you're operating in shallow water with only a thin veil of early ice. The ice, in fact, is often transparent. To the fish, you're silhouette is as apparent as the old tire and boulder on the bottom you just walked over. Complicating matters, my preferred technique positions me directly over their heads.

Jigging really scratches their itch, though. When pike are on the move an energetic jig is irresistible.

 Pre-drilling puts the angler in position to operate stealthily. Drill your holes 15 minutes to a half hour before show time. To really take advantage of the morning bite, pre-drill in the darkness, before pike take their morning swim.

Finally, it's fishing time. Lurched over a hole, I ready the rig, which was tied-up the night before. There's no finer opening act than an oversized jig fitted with a live sucker minnow, either. My preference is the Bionic Bucktail Jig from Northland Fishing Tackle.  Hand-tied with genuine bucktail, the Bionic Bucktail creates a full-figured and vibrant target. In clear water, I opt for White Cisco, as it mimics most native baitfish. In darker conditions, Yellow Perch is a better choice.

Next comes a 4-inch sucker minnows or chub - they are the ideal length and shape for jigging pike. Lip-hook the minnow with the forged single hook. The rear of the jig features a "sting'r" hook, a treble tethered by teeth-resistant steel. Don't stick the treble in the bait's posterior. It's a common practice, but I've stung more pike with it floating freely alongside the minnow. My theory is that the lightest part of the rig - the sting'r in this case - is the first to find a pike's jaw. 

The action is more of a swimming and dumbed-down-darting than classic jigging. Don't snap it. Instead, smoothly but confidently pump the jig in 1 to 2-foot motions. I'll operate from top to bottom in clear conditions. Pike aren't bashful about rising to the underside of the ice. In darker water, I've found most fish operate within 4-feet of the bottom. 

Not just any old rod will do, either. Put away the panfish stuff. Remember, you're tangling with muscle-bound fish in a relatively small space. It's fist to fin combat. 

A guiding buddy of mine and northern pike nemesis, Paul Nelson, developed a pike-specific rod for Frabill. It's quite the fish tamer. Found in the Ice Hunter series, the 32-inch, medium-heavy stick yields the perfect balance of a firm but playful tip with the backbone of a brontosaurus. 

For battling in tight-quarters I recommend spooling with a superline, not monofilament or fluorocarbon. You'll appreciate the toughness and resistance to shredding. I look forward to testing the new Performance Fuse from Sufix. 

It takes angler skill to bring down fish of this magnitude as well. Expect violent runs and very dynamic directional changes. To win, you must wear the fish out, no horsing it in. Pulling back too hard nearly insures that the jig will tear free. Maintain pressure, letting the drag do what it's designed to do. As a failsafe, I back-reel with the drag-system covering my behind. If the fish runs exceptionally fast, lock down on the handle and the drag takes over - beautiful 2-part harmony. 

Icing a submarine-sized pike in the shallows isn't like walking and chewing gum. Plan that the fish will appear horizontally - wide head in the hole and numerous inches of body tucked beneath ice. Keep the rod loaded, applying constant pressure while turning the fish. Obviously, it's nice having a "net man". As the snout rises, prepare for the snatch and grab. Know that you're going to get wet. In fact, to reduce the risk of breaking off, I take the fish while it's vertical, its movement restricted in the hole. As a bonus, the fish is less likely to flip-out and injure itself. 

Once on the ice, it's a quick photo - titans only - and the head goes back from where it came. Hold and pump the fish a few times until it's self-powered. High-five your partner, or do that faddish knocking fists move, and it's on to another screensaver quality pike.


Piggyback Spoons for Big Bluegill
By Jason Durham

Bluegill fishing is about balance. Each trip is a constant trial and error to figure out if the fish want a tiny speck of an ice jig - the flash, vibration and, meaty profile of a jigging spoon, or any presentation that falls in between. Each presentation has its strengths and weaknesses so experimentation is a must every day-sometimes every hour!

Miniature jigs are great when the fish are super-finicky

Even the most wary fish can be fooled when a tiny jig is paired with a super-thin line. Seriously, what bluegill can't resist a tiny Northland Jiggle Bug tied to the end of two-pound test, better yet, 100% fluorocarbon. The smaller the jig and line the better when fish are lethargic, spooky, or just a little "off". Yet small bluegill love the tiny jig and thin line combination, too. Sometimes the ratio between catching a small fish compared to a nice one is 50:1. And once a bigger bluegill does take your microscopic presentation, retrieving the hook becomes yet another chore. 

Conversely, a jigging spoon is a great choice for bluegill when the fish are very active, spread out, or if you're constantly pestered by smaller fish. The flash and vibration of the spoon calls fish in from afar, and the larger size discourages smaller fish. But sometimes, coaxing a bigger fish to eat such a large offering becomes frustrating. The fish may have been feeding for several days and they're simply not as active compared to last week, not to mention the waxworm, larva or plastic tail dangling from the treble doesn't conceal the hook well enough to grant a bite. Eager smaller fish still attempt to grab the treble hook, but instead get a mouthful of waxworm or Eurolarve, ripping it from the hook with a headshake. Take off the gloves and rebait. Rebait. Rebait. 

So you try the small jig again and silver dollar sized sunfish continually pound the tiny offering you drop down the hole, beating the bigger fish to the hook. Solution? Ride piggyback.

As previously mentioned, jigging spoons and ice jigs each have positives and negatives. Yet putting the two together is like joining peanut butter and jelly, an engine and gasoline, or a young child and a set of blocks; it's simply a good fit. 

It doesn't take much know-how in creating a piggyback spoon in your angling laboratory or garage stall. You can even accomplish the task on the lake if you're careful so the components don't get lost in the snow.

Simply remove the single or treble hook from the split-ring of your favorite jigging spoon, and then add your favorite ice jig to the now empty split ring. A pair of split ring pliers makes the job easier, but sometimes a strong thumbnail can open the ring just enough to remove and replace a hook.

 Jigs that hang vertically work best, but don't underestimate a horizontally sitting ice jig either. Sometimes an odd appearance is enough to trigger bites from inquisitive bluegills.

You'll find endless possibilities to be creative as you begin pairing up various jigs with the wide variety of spoons on the market. Just imagine the color combinations, luminescent finishes, hair, rubber or synthetic attractors on the jigs, spoons that rattle and even the size options for making a wicked, bluegill catching bait. Yet don't be surprised when your piggyback spoon lands a perch, pike, walleye, bass, crappie or other variety of fish swimming in the lake, river or reservoir you're fishing.

My favorite combinations include Northland Tackle's Forage Minnow Jigging Spoon or their super-noisy Buck-Shot Rattle Spoon paired up with a Northland Spider Ant or Jiggle Bug. The legs on the Spider Ant are a great attractor and the Jiggle Bug hauls in the big ones when less is more. 

In other words, when the fish are finicky the Jiggle Bug has just enough color to excite whopper 'gills, but is subtle enough to tempt even the pickiest eaters. Tip the jig with a waxworm, Eurolarve, or one of Northland's lifelike Bloodworms from Bro's Bug Collection.

So the next time you're looking for huge bluegills through the ice, consider teaming up your favorite ice jig and your favorite jigging spoon - a powerful combination that is sure to put a bend in your rod.


Show Them the Light! 
By John Peterson and Travis Peterson

As another winter fishing season grips the ice-belt, hard water anglers gear up with new and improved equipment. Advances in ice angling gear continue to emerge. Electronics, portable and permanent shelters, augers, and cold-weather gear have come a long way in recent years. Arguably the most ice-shattering advancement in terminal ice tackle has been the application of "new age" glow-in-the-dark paint. Glow-in-the-dark jigs and spoons have been mainstays in the winter tackle box for years. Recent photoluminescent technological advances however, have opened a whole new era in the ice tackle world.

It’s no secret that glow is the way to go for winter fish of all species.  From walleye to trout and pike to panfish, glow-in-the dark jigs and spoons will put more fish in the bucket than their relatively dull counterparts.

Anglers use light sources such as flashlights, lanterns, and special lure lights to charge the glow paint. The paint absorbs the light and releases it over time. Glow lures are especially effective in low light conditions. A number of factors contribute to reduced light below the ice and the importance of glow lures. 

For starters, the angle of the sun is reduced. Days are shorter. Nights are longer. When a lake surface becomes hard with ice and then blanketed with snow, light penetration is abruptly hindered. Yes, light will find its way through the snow and ice. However, as if a dimmer switch has been applied, the intensity of the sunlight is reduced. 

Furthermore, consider the prime periods of the day for winter fish activity. For many species, most notably walleye, crappie, and big bluegills, the action heats up during "low-light" and "no-light" hours.  Ice anglers across the Midwest have learned to hit the ice during "prime-time" in an effort to increase their catch-rates. While some target the hours before and after dawn, the masses focus on the night bite. In clear water lakes, which are the norm in the Midwest, night time is the right time for these species.

In addition, fish of many varieties tend to gravitate toward deeper water in the winter months. As weeds in the shallows die, oxygen becomes scarce. The absence of a thermo-cline after fall turnover allows fish to go deep relatively unrestricted. Panfish in smaller lakes will seek out the deepest water they can find. The deeper they go, the darker it gets.

Northland Fishing Tackle has a colorful remedy for getting the attention of fish in their dismal winter environment. A lead dog in the development of ice fishing tackle with popular lures like the Buck-Shot Rattle Spoon, Northland offers "Super-Glo" versions of all items in its line of hooks, jigs, and spoons. Like standard glow-in-the-dark paint, "Super-Glo" paint can be charged using any light source. The paint absorbs the light and slowly releases it. However, "Super-Glo" paint releases the light over a longer period of time. In effect, it holds its charge longer. While the standard glow paint would release light for ten or fifteen minutes, Super-Glo paint will glow for up to forty-five minutes.

In addition, Northland produces "Super-Glo" ice tackle in a number of glow colors. The standard glow paint has been replaced with a rainbow of glow colors. The application of chartreuse, pink, green, orange and other glow paint hues allows Northland’s lure designers to be much more creative.  Some versions of lures such as the Buck-Shot Rattle Spoon are initially painted with Super-Glo paint. The finishing touches further separate Northland from other brands. Non-glow paint is added to give some dimension to the lure. Finally, a "holographic" baitfish image and realistic eyes are added for realism.

Glow lures simply expand the strike zone by attracting fish from greater distances than non-glow lures. The application of Super-Glo paint allows ice fishing lures to hold a charge much longer and be designed in multiple glow colors. It’s a dark world down there. Show them the light and they will bite!

Fishing with a Legend in Brainerd Lakes Area
By Steve Mattson

“When you fish with me, you get two choices of bait to use,” the captain said with a grin.  I thought for a brief second what my top two choices would be.  “Redtails, or Redtails,” Marv said with a smile.  “As you will hopefully see, there is no reason to use anything else.”  Mr. Koep was right.  We spent the morning fishing inside turns, sunken points and shorelines all the while looking for fish.  And almost every time we marked a fish on the electronics, a few seconds later one of us was feeding line to a hungry walleye.  Lip hooked or tail hooked, the redtail chub has been the mainstay in Marv’s Ranger Fisherman boat for years.    

Using the right bait was something that Marv was accustomed to.   He grew up seining minnows for his fathers bait business near Alexandria, Minnesota.  And in 1961, Marv and his wife Judy moved to Nisswa to start Marv Koeps Nisswa Bait and Tackle.

He bought the bait store from Pete Link and at that time they only sold bait.  Now bait was Marv’s specialty, but he also knew that you need hooks, sinkers and tackle to catch fish too.  Marv added basic fishing tackle to his store within the first year.  A few years later, Marv’s store was recognized as the premier bait store of the Brainerd Lakes area.  It was also the home of the legendary Nisswa Guides League.  Former guides out of Koep’s include none other then Al and Ron Lindner, Gary Roach and of course Marv Koep.

Today, Marv no longer owns the business, but the tradition he started lives on, including the legendary Nisswa guides.  Koeps Pro Shop continues to have a full staff of professional guides to service any angler’s desire.   What ever your favorite species is, this area is bound to have an option for you.  Gull Lake, the Whitefish chain, Mille Lacs and even Leech Lake is within reasonable driving distance.  With 450 lakes within a thirty mile radius, suffice to say that this is a major hub for angling opportunities.  Walleye, northern pike, muskie, panfish, large and smallmouth bass can all be found in the lakes surrounding this region.  It is no wonder that many hall of fame anglers have decided to call this area home. 

It was a privilege to be able to spend some time on the water with the legendary guide himself, Marv Koep.  Marv has been inducted into the Minnesota and National Freshwater Fishing hall of fame for his lifelong teachings of fishing.  From my experience with Marv, I am sure there are thousands of anglers out there that have benefited from his teachings.  I am sure he has revised his techniques and skills over the years but he still keeps fishing simple for his customers.  Although you will occasionally find Marv using weed weasel jigs and redtails, his favorite presentation is the live bait rig using a redtail chub, of course.  When you make a living at fishing you have to count on something to work on the fish and this presentation has done just that for him year after year. 

Today, Marv still guides as much as he did many years ago.  He still spends 150 to 160 days on the water each year with customers.  Eighty percent of his guide trips are with repeat customers and his schedule fills up fast every year, however, you can still try to find an available opening with the legendary guide.  Give Koep’s Pro Shops and the Nisswa Professional Guides a call at 218-963-2547 for your next memorable fishing trip in the Brainerd Lakes Area.  And bring along the family, with all the shopping, golfing, races and events, there is bound to be something fun to do for every family member. 

Walleyes Come as No Fluke 
By Brian "Bro" Brosdahl with Mark Courts 

Admittedly, I'm a meat and potatoes sort of guy. I'm eyeing the porterhouse steak on the menu long before the canary food, organic "meals under 500 calories". In fact, I'll take the whole right side of the menu, please. This instinctive weakness for hearty meat translates to my walleye fishing as well. Nine out of ten times I'm elbowing my way to the biggest minnow, not thinking much about soft plastic alternatives. 
Give me minnows, or give me death…or perhaps something less dramatic, but along those lines. 
With that said, I mean no disrespect to guys who put their trust in plastics, sometimes choosing them over live minnows, leeches, and crawlers. Professional walleye angler and educator Mark Courts is one of those guys I respect enough to cut some slack. When it comes to walleyes on plastics, he's one of the savviest on the FLW Walleye Tour. And to give soft plastic its day in court, I questioned Courts…pun intended. 

"Walleyes crush them," began the Harris, Minn. resident and native. "When a walleye eats a plastic, it's game over. I'm digging in there with pliers to pull the hook out of the roof of their mouths."
A certified proponent of live bait, too, Courts knows that plastic have their time and place. And without hesitation, he named springtime fishing on rivers and reservoirs as the foremost situations for busting out the plastics. Courts explained: "Usually, rivers run darker than lakes in the spring. Because of the turbidity, you need to offer them a big target, something with major profile. Plastics fill that role." 

Any broad generalizations about soft plastics end here. Courts is particular about his shapes and sizes. As far as spring walleyes go, nothing does a better job of imitating natural forage (baitfish) than a fluke, sometimes referred to as "soft jerkbait." Typical to soft plastics, they come in more colors and variations than jellybeans at the candy counter. I've seen them as long as a ruler for oceangoing stripers and as miniscule as a blue moon in a box of Lucky Charms to imitate young-of-the-year baitfish. 

Relevant to walleyes, Courts' preferred size falls somewhere in the middle. This is a direct reflection of what foodstuffs are being preyed upon. Typically, you're dealing with some variety of shiner, shad, dace or sucker from an inch to five inches in length. To no great surprise, the marketplace bares numerous makes and models in those sizes and shapes. 

So recognize the general shape and size of the baitfish and you're half way there. The other component, which Courts said is equally as important, is finding "the right body to jig ratio for the current conditions at hand." Essentially, you want to hitch the jig and plastic to create the most natural presentation possible. 

"With too heavy a jig it'll lock in the bottom," said Courts. "Too light, and it'll tumble downstream and never make contact with the bottom." In a perfect world, Courts' properly paired combo "tics the bottom every six inches to a foot." Now that sounds more like the true behavior of a live, river running minnow... 

In order to achieve equilibrium given a wide range of current speeds and depths, it's only logical to tote an array of jig sizes. And Courts does. "I'll throw jigs as light as 3/32-ounce and go all the way up to 3/8 ounce if the conditions call for it." Again, the goal is to keep contact with the bottom without becoming part of it. 

A guy who competes professionally on the bass side, too, Courts is super particular about jig styles. "It must have an extra long shank for reaching back into the plastic body," he stated leaving little margin for error. "A wide gap is necessary as well. The more hook point exposed the better for sticking walleyes in dark and fast moving water. Small hooks are easily missed." 

Last but not least, Courts' jigs are required to keep a solid grip on the plastic. His top performer is the Northland Slurp! Jig Head. "A double-barb, BarbWire™ collar holds plastics better than anything I've ever fished. They hang-on for cast after cast and walleye after walleye." Slurp! Jig Heads also feature the long-shank and wide-gap that Courts demands. 

Maintaining holy matrimony, Courts couples his jig with a soft jerkbait that was designed to wed a Slurp! Jig Head. "Can't get a better match than the Slurpies Smelt Minnow. The profile is perfect. The material is supple yet durable. And I have eight unique colors to choose from." Additionally, the Slurpies Smelt Minnow is available in both 3- and 4-inch sizes, yielding even more match-the-hatch flexibility.

 Rigged and ready for deployment, Courts discusses specific fishing situations where the jig and jerkbait tandem is especially effective. "After the spawn, walleyes, especially big fish, settle into current seams. A number of structures form seams, too. Wingdams are a good example. Shoreline brush and rocky points and fingers also produce seams that hold walleyes. 

Best of all, most seams are visible on the surface." Courts says to watch closely for speed changes on the surface, either fast to slow, or slow to slack or even reversing - an eddy. It's all about fishing those edges, or transitions.

 Wide berthing river bends are worth a look, too. Current sweeps hurriedly along the outside bend while the shallower inside is slacker and more conducive to post-spawn feeding activities. Keep this information in your back pocket in case the typical current seams aren't holding fish. 

Once a spot's been identified, Courts anchors or "slips" downstream across from the target. Slipping is a method of boat-control in current whereby the operator inches ever so slowly downstream while running the motor - gas or electric - upstream to manage speed. Yes, it's effective, but it also takes skillful navigation. Anchoring is the easier choice and lets you focus more on fishing.

Anchored or slipping, Courts casts upstream of ground zero at a 45-degree angle and "walks" the jig and fluke downstream. He holds the rod at the 9- to 11 o'clock position and maintains a taut line to feel every bump of the riverbed and hopeful wallop of a walleye. 

This wicked jig and plastic combo isn't limited to current-going walleyes, either. I'll often throw it in flooded backwater areas. Later in the summer, on natural lakes, jigs and flukes can be very productive along deep weedlines for walleyes and largemouth bass. And if you're into smallmouth bass fishing, there might not be a better one-two punch out there. 

Okay, Mr. Courts, I get it. I'll save some space in the tackle box for jigs and plastics. But don't try talking me into dumping the minnows. I consider them comfort food.

Hidden Structure For Angling Treasures
By Steve Mattson

Most serious fisherman rely on good lake maps to increase their fishing success. Fewer anglers mark hotspots or spot-on-a-spot locations onto their topographical map. And even fewer yet, are the anglers that scribe their own structure onto maps. These anglers are more times then not, the successful, savvy anglers that know what to look for on any given body of water. They go out onto any body of water and use their depth finder as their eyes, combing the lake bottom looking. They are looking for something different such as an inside corner or an offshore weedy sunken island. Knowledgeable anglers look for unmarked structure that fish really relate to. By definition, they are structure anglers. And they are always searching for the hidden treasure that nobody else has discovered. Chances are they will eventually find a treasure and so can you, by making good use of your electronics.

Most good maps do a fair job of documenting the underwater topography of the basin. They highlight the lakes major structures such as islands, main lake points, troublesome spots for boaters and basic underwater topography. However, many maps do not show perfect detail. Some underwater points, saddles, breaklines and humps do not appear on all maps. The only way to really find these areas is to go out and make good use of your depth finder. Cover a lot of water and scan the depths using your depth finder as your eyes. Throw out a marker buoy in a suspect area and then drive around it looking for changes in bottom composition, depth, vegetation and perhaps the presence of baitfish. Set up your depth finder to display twice or even three times the depth you are actually over. Hard-bottomed areas will be displayed as double, or triple echos. In other words, the display will show another bottom twice as deep or even a third (triple echo) line. Mucky or soft bottom typically absorbs the sound waves generated from the depth finder and consequently will only display one bottom line.

I've lost track of how many times I've heard walleye tournament pros say their winning pattern was finding and fishing transition areas such as a rock pile off of a mud flat. Anglers should pay more attention to these fish holding areas. Finding these areas can be relatively easy by understanding what your depth finder is telling you. Is it hard bottom? Muck? Weedy? One of the easiest to operate and yet technologically advanced depth finder is the Edge LC-507 from Vexilar. This depth finder utilizes two transducers with different cone angles and allows you to see them both at the same time using split screen technology. The unit incorporates one wide cone to see a broad view and a narrow cone to see what is directly beneath you. This translates to a unit that can pinpoint weed edges, bottom composition transition areas, display fish on a flat and display near paper graph resolution all in one unit. And setting it up to be able to do all of this can be accomplished with relative ease and very little operator input. How important is this? Finding the exact weed edge, breakline or transition area can be critical to any angler's success. Whether you are fishing for bass, walleye, or pike, fish seem to relate to these areas to increase their hunting efficiency. By finding and marking these areas with close proximity, you can increase your efficiency on the water too.

Make good use of those expensive depth finders and start exploring familiar or unfamiliar bodies of water. By understanding your electronics and the body of water your fishing, you'll be able unlock a few mysteries and catch more fish. Always remember that a fish has simple needs, much simpler then our needs, and the key is to find out how they fill their needs on any body of water. To put it simple, they need to eat, reproduce and be comfortable. A high quality depth finder can tell where the fish are by showing you a school of baitfish, transition areas, surface temperature among many other things. These are all variables that equate to the location of the fish on any body of water.

Try to spend more time with your depth finder this summer and look for the hidden jewels in your favorite body of water. Put in a little extra time looking for the right structure and you just might end up fishing less and yet catching more.


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