Saturday, January 2, 2021

Saying Good-Bye to 2020 at Lake Okoboji

 Lake Okoboji has called my name every winter for quite some time.  I tend to hit this body of water around the first of the year when ice isn't that great around the state.  This trip was by far the most difficult in recent years due to the late winter weather.  A lot of the lake was not "safe" to venture out on which limited us to a few areas in Spirit Lake and West Okoboji. Both lakes produced fish, however we ended up sticking to sight fishing on Little Emerson Bay for most of the trip.  The water was very clear and you can see every detail of the bottom of the lake in 9 feet of water, a real treat as it has not been this way in recent years.  Being able to see your jig and how your every movement impacts whether that bluegill below you bites or not can be quite humbling.  This trip provided us with a solid sight bite that was steady enough enough to produce a few dozen good sized keepers each day for our 5 man group.  using small jigs with spikes or small plastics was key to catching most of the fish.  As with any trip to Lake Okoboji many species were caught; bluegills, pumpkin seeds, black crappie, largemouth bass, perch and a northern pike.  

A 13.5 inch Crappie was a big surprise while sight fishing.

If you have never ice fished at the Okoboji Lakes, put it on your list of things to do.

It isn't often that you catch a fish as long as your pole!

Sunday, December 20, 2020

First time on the ICE

It wouldn't be 2020 without another "first".  Today marked the first time on the ice for me in Iowa, most likely the latest ever for me...2020 just keeps stinging!  Anyway, with several small ponds and lakes above the Highway 20 line I had to give it a go.  After several plans were made and scratched I decided to head west and try a small lake.  I had heard the ice was a solid 4 inches and people had been fishing on it all week.  Now it was my turn!

I studied the lake using the Navionics app on my phone and the DNR website.  I had never been to or seen this lake before, only knowing that the bluegill and crappie population were solid.  It was like Christmas Eve all over again as a kid...I couldn't sleep.  I really enjoy trying new lakes and areas to fish, that curiosity of where they are living still puts me in a trance to this day.  

I made the most of this trip, I arrived in the parking lot just before the clock turned 7am.  I was a bit surprised to see 7 vehicles already parked there as I got my ice gear on.  With a small sled packed with my day gear I was once again "walking on water".  I knew where I wanted to start, but instincts took over and I was once again staring at the map on the phone as I paced out to what I thought would be a good spot to start.  I got there rather quickly, the lake is under 100 acres and soon began to drill a grid of about a dozen holes.  I went around with the Vexilar FLX30 and I noticed some marks flying high off the bottom, that's always a good sign!  I quickly grabbed my rod with a spoon on it and started dropping it down the holes.  I rotated around the grid for next two hours picking up bluegills and crappies at a regular pace.  The gills and crappies were very healthy and I decided to keep 10 of them for a meal and put the rest back.  Things slowed down a bit so I grabbed the auger and started to expand my area.  I picked up a few fish here and there, but as the morning disappeared the fish seemed to do the same.  After drilling another 50 or so holes around my starting grid, I ended up back in the same general area as I began.  

While back at the original grid for the second time I was able to tangle with two very large bass.  I was fortunate both times to be holding my spoon rod which I had teamed up with a Quantum Throttle reel.  This reel is equipped with 9 ball bearings and most importantly a very smooth drag.  That drag got a workout with the bigger of the two bass.  It took several runs and took a couple of minutes to bring the bass through the hole using 2# test line.  I got a measurement of the fish, it is my biggest through the ice for sure!  A beautiful fish that someone else will hopefully have the chance of catching someday.

Oddly enough, around noon the bite seemed to pick up once again.  Typically this is the slow part of the day, so my energy level increased and it was hard to pack up!  All in all it was a great first time out.  The plan and method of searching out fish and catching them worked perfectly today, I can only hope the next outings will be as fun and easy!


Monday, December 14, 2020

Do these 6 things before WINTER hits

December always marks the end the open-water fishing season here in Iowa. A lot of anglers have their boats put away and the tackle and fishing poles haven't seen daylight for awhile. This may be a big mistake, and you will want to get some of those things back out soon. No, not to go fishing, it is ice fishing season now, but to help you get off to a good start next spring. Here are 6 things you should do now before it is too late.

#1- Take the line off of your reels (leave about 1/3 of the old line on) = FRESH line in the spring ***see video below about old line

#2- Loosen your drag on your reels = longer life to your drag

#3- Zip up bags to plastic lures = better scent and prevent dryness

#4- Keep tackle indoors = prevent mice from destroying

#5- Replace any rusty hooks, sharpen dull hooks

#6- Make a wish list- What do you need before the spring???

These are a few things I try to do each and every winter.  They don't take very much time, unless you have a lot of hooks to replace which takes quite a bit of time.  These 6 things will help you get off to a great, and fast start this spring as the ice melts away.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

When Fall turns into Summer

In the past couple of weeks I have had the chance to fish same body of water six times.  Most of those outings were in the 2 hour time range, not a large sampling but enough for this time of year.  Late October and the first week of November are typically those last few days when an angler can get out and chase a few smallmouth around the rivers.  This year Mother Nature decided to take those cool, crisp November days and turn them into summer-like days.  We had several back-to-back 70+ degrees days the first week of November...can 2020 get any more bizarre???  With this temperature swing, the water temperature rose quickly.  At one point in a seven day stretch the water temperature rose 10 degrees.  That is a lot for fish, especially when the fish were setting up in their winter pattern.

The interesting change of weather, and the frequent stops at fishing the general areas helped me to peak into the world of the smallmouth bass.  In late October the bass already changed their eating habits, preferring smaller baits like a ned rig, stick baits, grubs and the occasional jerkbait.  Once the unusual summer-like weather hit the bass started to prefer a 4-inch tube, a much larger bait.  Water temperatures ranged from 42-57 degrees throughout this observation.  Fishing has always intrigued me, why do you catch them in a location one day and not the next time?  What bait are they looking for in certain situations?  Amongst other countless questions I am always mulling over while out fishing.  The past couple weeks have helped me answer a few of those, and has let me peer into the world of a smallmouth bass, one that seems complex and ever-changing. 

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Fall Bass Fishing

 The calendar may say October, but the water temperatures are already saying November.  Water temperatures have crashed the past couple weeks and are settling in the 40's.  I have stated many times that Fall is probably my favorite time to chase bass.  I am not sure if it is because my internal clock is telling me that my days in the boat are about to expire, or that crisp clean air that returns in October.  Either way, I always look forward to chasing bass in this time of year.

Fall brings fishing back to simplicity, something that I like.  The summer days when 8 or 9 or 10 rods are on the deck are long gone.  When the water temperatures drop into the low fifties and forties it is time to get back to the basics.  I typically will have 3 or 4 Quantum rods/reels on the boat deck this time of year.  A Texas-rigged Hot Rod Baits tube, a Wig's Jig and Chunk, an IMA Jerkbait, and a Drop-Shot or jighead grub.  Pretty simple, which helps me maximize getting my bait in the water during these shortened days.  Over the years I have noticed that fish do get very picky in the size of bait, color of bait and the speed of the bait during these cold weather months.  My go-to is the 4-inch tube this time of year, if the bass won't bite that then I downsize to a small worm or grub.  Some days the fish will hit one very well, while not touching another type of bait.  Also, like this past weekend sometimes the bass will prefer the jerkbait.  The erratic stop and go method and suspending in the water column must drive them nuts!  Make sure and mix things up, and like always; let the bass tell you what they want.  

Get out and enjoy the weather, not too many more days left and water will be freezing...and we all know what that means!!!

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Reflecting on the 2020 Bass Season

(The full article can be found in the November 2020 edition of The Iowa Sportsman Magazine)  for subscription details


The 2020 bass fishing season was a long one this year.  The ice melted away rather quickly in March opening up lakes all over the state by St. Patrick’s Day.  This gave the spring bite a kickstart as the year began.  Those anxiously awaiting to chase down some big spring bass headed south to the many Iowa lakes that dot the map.  Southern Iowa in the spring is known all over the Midwest as some the best bass fishing a person can have at that time of the year.  The bass did not disappoint anglers in 2020 as many Iowa lakes and rivers were in excellent shape with booming bass populations.

Bait Trends:  Each and every new fishing season brings out our best lures and baits.  I am no different, I have my favorites for certain situations that have treated me well over the past few decades.  However, in my travels throughout the state each year I witness hundreds of anglers casting for bass.  Each year there seems to be some common trends that take the bass fishing world by storm each year.  Several years ago the bladed jig was the buzz, and everybody had to be throwing one, or two.  A few years ago it was all about the finesse baits; drop-shots, shaky heads and wacky rigs were being tossed around all the time.  The Whopper Plopper crashed its way onto the bass fishing scene last year as everyone seemed to have a few in the tackle boxes.  All of these baits are great baits, and yes I have a “few” of each too!  In 2020 things were a little different.  COVID-19 hit the country early in the year and put a halt to the professional bass tournaments that occur all over the country.  Typically, us weekend anglers follow suit with the pros as to what they are using and try the different products that hit the shelves this year.  There wasn’t a big wave of new types of lures or presentations this year, yet I saw one old tried and true bait more than ever.  The good old spinnerbait is slowly making a comeback into the bass scene.  It never left, but the bladed jig and swim jig have taken some of its glory.  This year, many anglers went back to “old school” spinnerbaits and like they have for over 50 years, they caught bass.  I bet 2021 has something for all of us to spend our money on, but I guess we'll just have to wait and the meantime shine those spinnerbait blades up! 

New Gear: While 2020 didn’t have that new, everyone must have bait, it did see a lot of new gear being released for the bass angler.  Trolling motors seemed to be the biggest “latest and greatest” thing coming out in 2021.  Garmin, Lowrance and MotorGuide all came out with new motors to help you spot-lock your way to more fish.  The technology of spot-locking sure has made bass fishing easier the past few years and is a big upgrade to any boat out searching for bass.  Electronics keep pushing the boundaries as well with forward viewing as well as side imaging to allow anglers to not only find structure but see fish swimming around in real time.  Again, this technology is amazing, but takes days and days to learn the units so they can be helpful to aid anglers in catching more bass.  Rod and Reel manufacturers seem to be in a price war the past few years.  Each major brand seems to have a high quality baitcasting reel for around $100.  These reels are great, and worth a look if you have been spending more.  Some of these carry a one or two year warranty while Quantum is the only one that offers five years of warranty on their reels.  Anglers are in luck with rods too, as quality seems to be getting higher, while the prices keep dropping.  You can get a high quality rod from most major brands around the $80-$100 range.  Competition is good, especially when it means a better product for a smaller cost to consumers.   

Sunday, September 27, 2020

2020 Iowa High School Team Championship

Lake MacBride was the venue of the 2020 Iowa High School Team Championship, presented by Scheels in Cedar Falls.  Twenty-Six boats from fourteen different schools showed up to take home over $1,500 worth of fishing gear.  The event was hosted by Hot Rod Baits Bass Series, and sponsored by Scheels, The Rod Glove, Cliff Keen Athletics,  Quantum Rods and Reels and Hot Rod Baits.  This event ended up being the BIGGEST youth bass tournament in the state of Iowa for 2020!

Lake Mac Bride was in great condition for the tournament, the water had good clarity and the bite was good the week before the event.  However, Mother Nature showed up Friday with 20+ mph winds that kept going the day of the event, making fishing a little more challenging for the kids.  Even in the difficult conditions 44 bass were brought to the scale.  many techniques worked throughout the day for the kids, as many bolstered their success at the weigh-in station.  Many of those fish were in 1.00-1.50 pound range but there were also four bass that weighed right at or over the 3.00 pound mark.  As with any bass tournament held across the nation some teams were able to figure out the mystery and walk away the trophies and fishing gear.  The top five individual boats received trophies and prizes as well as the school champion.  The school champion is the total of 2 boats from the same school district.

Here are the individual results of the top 5 and the 2020 team champions:

1st Place: Jace and Tristan- Marion High School       10.45#

2nd Place: Gage and Hayden- Solon High School       9.59#

3rd Place: Noah and Charlie- Washington High School  8.00#

4th Place: Jake and Devon- Benton Comm. Schools     7.83#

5th Place: Cole and Quade- West Des Moines Valley    5.54#

Big Bass- Jace and Tristan: 3.54#

2020 High School Team Champions: Marion- Jace/Tristan/Parker/Haiden 8 bass for 13.61#

Full results and more pictures can be seen on the tournament website: Iowa High School Team Championship