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Panfish in the Fall

By: Bee Xiong

Panfish in the Fall, Bee XiongFall is one of my favorite times of the year. It’s one of the best times to be fishing, especially for panfish. Many anglers tend to hang up their hats with the change in season. Some move on to hunting, and others just wait until ice season comes. Some of the best fishing of the year takes place during the fall months, and panfish can provide some of that action. All types of panfish go on an aggressive bite this time of year. If you’re looking for lots of action, as well as a fresh fish fry, panfish can provide both.

So often in the spring and summer months we see lots of bluegills and crappies around docks and shallow water vegetation. It would be easy to assume that’s where they live. But in the fall months most of the panfish will be a little deeper, especially the bigger ones. This is when your sonar equipment becomes a major factor in panfish-catching success.

Bluegills will be found along deep weedlines in the fall, and crappies can be located near the basin of the lake, often near the bottom, in twenty to thirty feet of water. And, at times, both will be found in the same areas at the same time. On a recent fishing trip I cruised deeper reefs for signs of life on the sonar. I didn’t stop to fish until I saw clusters of what I suspected to be panfish, and usually, they were. Once the panfish are located, the rest usually comes easy. Hover over them by anchoring, or troll over them with your electric motor. When the bite is on, it’s unlikely your bait will reach the bottom before it gets hit.

Crappies will usually go for a bigger bait than bluegills. For one thing, crappies have a larger mouth. When the crappies and ‘gills are mixed together, I go with a sixteenth ounce Minni-Mite jig tipped with a 1” Gulp! Minnow or  with a small minnow. A presentation this size is great for the crappies, and will also trigger the larger bluegills. You can also try tipping the jig with a wax worm but it has become apparent in most cases that the Gulp! and live minnow will catch more fish per bait than the wax worm. If most of the fish are bluegills, go with a smaller jig for more action.

This is the sort of fishing that appeals to almost any angler. Whether you are a kid or an adult, the fast action can be a lot of fun. So before you call it a season, try panfishing this fall. You’ll have the lake to yourself in many areas, and the fish will keep you entertained.

River Walleyes: The Crankbait Effect

By: Chris Raisanen

Chris R Walleye BlogRiver walleyes are constantly on the move. They move up river in fall and through the spring, and then migrate back down the river in preparation for the summer months. Even in rivers known to harbor “resident” fish, walleyes are constantly on the move in search of just the right current and feeding opportunities. A river is an environment of constant change. Water levels rise and drop, current goes up and down, and the abundance of forage is constantly changing. This could mean that where you found an ideal backwater or current break that was holding a ton of walleyes one day might be either a dry sandbar or a raging channel the next. That means the walleyes are constantly needing to move to find ideal feeding and resting areas. One of the best ways to locate these scattered fish is to cover water quickly with fast paced presentations such as casting crankbaits.

River Crankbait Technique
Casting crankbaits in a lake is not the same as casting crankbaits in a river. In a river it is important to keep your bait near the bottom because of the way the walleyes position themselves in relation to the current. The best way to locate walleyes, especially in the late summer and fall, is to find structure that offers forage, current, and cover. Wing dams are one of the best pieces of structure that will hold fish regularly. When I fish a wing dam, I generally will use a crankbait that dives anywhere from 3-8 feet below the surface mainly because I want the bait to dig and bounce off of the submerged rocks and timber. A few of my favorite crankbaits include the Rapala DT-6, Rapala Shad Rap, and the Storm Smash Shad. All of these baits produce a lot of vibration, which helps the walleyes locate the baits by using their lateral lines. Most of the time the walleyes will position themselves facing into the current on the front side of the wing dam. This gives them the best vantage point for seeing and picking off prey, so vibration and sound can play a key factor when trying to intercept fish. However, I always fish the entire wing dam (front, top, back, and tip) mainly because walleyes will utilize the entire piece of structure throughout a portion of the day.

River Crankbait Equipment
The typical setups that I will use when casting crankbaits on the river consist of a 7’0” medium power and moderate action bait casting rod paired with a 10 pound test braided line and also a 7’0” medium light power and fast action spinning rod paired with a 6 pound test braided line. With these two setups I am able to fish any sized crankbait that is needed for the situation I am fishing. The key to the setups I’m using is the small diameter braid that cuts through the water more efficiently than mono, which allows me to get a little more depth from my crankbait. Because the line is no-stretch, it’s also very sensitive, making it easy to feel the vibration of the lure and helps me detect if the bait picks up any debris, stops working, or got bit by a following predator.

Crankbaits play an important role in a serious walleye angler’s tackle box. Used properly, crankbaits can be the best things to use in certain situations. So if you’re looking to put more and bigger fish in your boat this summer and fall, add a few crankbaits to your arsenal and be prepared to start catching quality fish.

Baby Beaver Musky Lure: Hard to Categorize, Hard to Resist

Beaver's BaitsA lure that both defies categorization and triggers giant musky strikes has a tendency to get people talking. Such is the case with the Baby Beaver lure from Beaver’s Baits. We’ve never seen anything like it!

Says Brian Boyum, inventor of the Baby Beaver, “I wanted to create something different—not another crankbait or topwater or bucktail. My bait swims totally under water. And I haven’t seen any other baits on the market that have the up and down movement of the Baby Beaver. I think it’s good when dealers tell me they don’t know what category to put it in!” And the feedback Brian’s gotten thus far on its performance has been “absolutely incredible.”

The bait’s body is tied with deer hair (about one full deer tail per Baby Beaver XL) and is connected with split rings. The rubber tail is molded onto the hook and is attached to the bait with a split ring, making it replaceable. Brian also added the option of turning the bait into a bucktail by adding blades to the front eyelet. “I thought, we’ve got a very unique bait here. Let’s give fishermen the option to run this as a bucktail too. It has some kick to it. The body twitches, the tail kicks, and then there’s the thump of the blades…all using the same lure.” Check out the amazing swimming action of the Baby Beaver on BeaversBaits.com. At the end of the video, right before the musky strikes, you can watch the rod tip action Brian uses to work this bait.

First Inspirations
It was the popular “Musky Fever” that originally led to Brian Boyum’s interest in creating lures. He started out hand-carving crankbaits, top water baits, and tying bucktails for his own personal use. But he soon found it to be too time-consuming, as he was already working full-time as an electrical engineer. At that point, he could not justify spending all that additional time on lure making.

Years later, however, Brian came upon an idea that he knew he simply had to pursue. A good friend and fellow musky angler in northern Minnesota had contacted the DNR for regulations on squirrel hunting, and upon receiving the green light, he went ahead and shot a few. With each squirrel, he then inserted a wire ring through the nose, with a leader attached, and ran another leader to the squirrel’s belly, into which he stabbed a treble hook. He then fished that dead, limber squirrel, and caught two fish in an hour.

Brian knew there had to be a way to mimic that presentation using artificial components. It wasn’t long before he had assembled a prototype. But when he fished it, he didn’t get the results he wanted. In retrospect, he believes the fish just weren’t biting that day. But that slow day led to his decision to shelf the bait.

Persistence Pays Off
Five years went by. And the party responsible for returning the Baby Beaver to the water? It was Brian’s stepson, Cody. As Brian puts it, “he kept hounding me for it, and finally I gave in and said he could go fish it.” Cody went fishing with the same family friend who had been throwing the dead squirrels, and who had also raised a nice fish the day before, so they knew right where to go. That day, Brian received a phone call from Cody who reported, “I just crushed a 49” on the Baby Beaver!” It was only four casts in, with the prototype on the end of his line.

After that phone call, Brian made four more prototypes in different colors. The first time he headed out with a friend to try out the bait, it again took only four casts to land a musky—a 53.5”! He cleaned up that weekend with another two 49’s and two 48’s. Brian went home and jumped into the next stages of lure production, researching different plastics and the how-to’s of casting and making molds.

Amazingly, the current Baby Beaver is nearly identical to the original prototype. Only a few physical characteristics evolved, such as the addition of a face and a unique tail, both of which Brian sculpted and casted to create molds.

Balance? What Balance?
As any lure-maker knows, it is challenging to strike a satisfying balance with your time. Brian says simply, ”There is no balance. I punch out from my ‘real’ job and then punch in to my second job. It wears on a person…I go to bed, get up, and do it all over again. But you’re not going to be successful at something sitting on the couch. I’m going for it.”

In order to get things moving a bit more quickly, Brian invented a machine that holds in place the deer hair and the piece he’s working on, but is also capable of spinning, so he can turn the piece and move it in and out, while the thread and tensioner are stationary. “Without the machine, I wouldn’t have the bait out on the market. Before using the machine, it took me an entire night to build one bait. Now I put the hair in there, push the pedal, and it’s all motorized. It’s pretty cool.” Brian estimates that when he sits down and ties without interruptions, he can tie 4 XLs or 6 Originals in 2-3 hours. But because tying these lures, even with the machine, is prohibitively time-consuming, (especially when he has more ideas in the hopper and more prototypes in the testing stages) Brian is talking with a few companies about getting the Baby Beaver mass-produced. “I’d rather not be sitting in my basement tying lures all summer and all winter long. Who wants to do that?”

There are plenty of bright spots too. In addition to the positive feedback he’s received, Brian reports that the most fun part of this lure-making venture has been the people he gets to meet. “These people have been in the industry for many, many years. And they’ve been great. I started this because I wanted to have fun, and to help people on the water. That’s what it’s all about for me.”

Baby BeaverSpecifications
The Baby Beaver is available in two sizes: the Original is 12” long, weighs 3.5 oz and uses 6/0 hooks. The Baby Beaver XL is 14.5” long, weighs 6 oz, and uses 8/0 hooks. The lure is constructed of plastic with .062 wire molded into each body piece.

To work the Baby Beaver, Brian advises using “a steady reel retrieve, moving the rod tip about a foot as you reel. It’s similar to using a jerkbait, but you don’t jerk as hard. As the operator, you have to make this bait come to life. You can do a straight retrieve and the bait will move, but it’s really up to you to make it come to life by twitching the rod as you reel.” Now, what musky angler can resist a challenge like that?!

Late Summer Bass Fishing: ABC’s to Catching Big Bass

By: Bee Xiong

Late Summer Bass : Bee XiongLate summer can be one of the best times to land the biggest bass of your life. But if you use the wrong tactics and gear, it can be one of the most frustrating times to fish. Countless lakes and rivers in parts of the Twin Cities Metro Area offer outstanding opportunities to catch Largemouths and Smallmouths alike from the season opener through well into the fall. To keep you in the action I’m offering some of my best strategies and techniques for chasing monster summer bass. Before you hit the waters, check out these tactics and bait suggestions.

For late summer bass, you have to know where to find them. Largemouths and Smallmouths are often deep and lethargic during this time of the year, and they’re also frequently starting to relocate and suspend at mid-depth ranges as forage begins to move. This is when a lot of professional anglers and tournament anglers start following the ABCs of summer fishing. The ABCs stand for aquatic vegetation, bridges, and current, three shortcuts to finding big fish.

I’ve learned through many years of chasing bass here on the waters of Minnesota and fishing many bass tournaments to know that these fish do not stop feeding. Bass often burn a lot of fuel, so they need to feed very often.

 Aquatic Vegetation: Bass love lily pads, hyacinths, and other greenery because they hold forage such as baitfish and sunfish. Also they provide cover, shade and higher oxygen. I would look for edge irregularities, especially depth changes; brush, logs, or rocks with vegetation; or patches of greenery. My techniques and tackle include Topwater frogs over the top and through openings, flipping jigs and Flappin’ Hawgs into open holes; run shallow crankbaits along the outside edges. I use 40-to 65- pound braided Power Pro line for frogs and jigs; 15- to 20 pound fluorocarbon for crankbaits.

Bridges: Bass love cover, shade, and abrupt depth changes. Nearby rocks often hold forage. I constantly look for brush lodged on the upstream side of pilings, current breaks behind pilings and baitfish around pilings. I cast a spinnerbait or crankbait parallel to pilings. I also love fishing this area with a drop-shot rig with a finesse worm. Use 8- to 15- pound fluorocarbon line.

Current: Bass like moving water because it produces higher oxygen, washes in food, and usually creates cooler temperatures. I would look for eddies and protected calmer water; rocks, small islands, and other visible cover like stumps and logjams. I prefer to cast light jigs, plastic grubs, or Texas-rigged Senkos and Wacky worms upstream and let the current carry them into the quiet eddies. You can try working small buzzbaits across calmer areas, especially in early mornings or late evenings. I use 12- to 15- pound fluorocarbon line for strenth and visibility.

There’s no doubt the summer’s winding down, the kids are getting ready to return back to school and most of the bass on your favorite lake or river have seen it all by now. Now is the perfect time to also change gears and try something new or different. Bring some new life into your bass tactics and you never know—you might land that trophy bass into the boat.

Walleye Fishing: Slow or Fast Fall Rate?

By: Christopher M. Lagergren

C. Lagergren

When it comes to jig fishing, you have the option to add weight for a faster fall rate, or decrease the weight for a slower descent. How do you know when a slow or fast fall rate is best?

Working at Blue Ribbon Bait & Tackle, I have had the opportunity to talk with fishing guides and customers about how they feel about the fall rate of a jig. When looking through boxes that belong to walleye jig fishermen, such as Minnesota’s legendary guide, “The Griz,” you can see multiple sizes of jigs. Most people who jig for walleyes will have three main jigs in their box (1/8, 1/4 &, 3/8). Griz, however, has over 10 different sizes of walleye jigs. He is a strong believer in how the fall rate of a jig has more of a triggering aspect on a walleye than the color of the jig. Many people come into the shop and ask what color the fish have been biting on. But the color does not matter as much as the fall rate of the jig. On the Mississippi and the St. Croix River, Griz keeps only one color of jig in his box because he believes that the color is irrelevant, as long as the jig is falling at the rate of the baitfish.

My rule of thumb (of course there are always exceptions) regarding the weight and fall of a jig is to first consider water clarity. In clear water I want my bait to fall fast to get a reaction strike out of the fish. If the water is clear, walleyes and many other fish have enhanced visibility and you do not want to give the fish a chance to get a good look at the bait before he realizes what it is. In dirty and dingy water I like to have a slower fall rate because I want to give them a chance to locate it using their lateral lines in the dirty water. I start with this tactic and can usually work my way through my jigs to find the perfect jig for that particular fishing situation. 

So if you’re looking to enhance your jig collection, I’d first recommend adding a few different sizes, rather than a few different colors. That way you can hone in on the fall rate that works best for the particular water you’re fishing.

Walleye Fishing on Mille Lacs Lake

When you head to Mille Lacs Lake, do you go in hopes of catching a few walleye and maybe enjoying a nice shore lunch, or do you dream of coming home with a picture of a monster musky? What does fishing this beautiful lake mean to you?

In the news this week is a lawsuit brought against the Minnesota DNR regarding its rules for Mille Lacs fishing. The non-partisan watchdog group PERM (Proper Economic Resource Management) is claiming that DNR mismanagement is to blame for the dwindling population of Mille Lacs walleye, and contends that the recent prohibition of night fishing (which applies between 10pm and 6am, from May 12 to Dec 1, instead of the usual three-week-long ban) tramples on our fishing heritage rights.

Fishermen know that when it comes to catching walleye on Mille Lacs, heading out during evening hours is usually rewarded with a hot bite. So, if the walleye numbers are dwindling (safe harvest numbers have fallen dramatically over the past 10 years), it makes sense that the DNR would deem those hours as the ones to limit as they work towards increasing the population.

PERM’s stance is that Minnesota’s Preserve Hunting and Fishing Heritage constitutional amendment, passed in 1988, is being violated. An excerpt from that amendment (used from Dennis Anderson’s article Anglers, resort operators sue DNR over Mille Lacs walleye fishing rules reads “…hunting and fishing and the taking of game and fish are a valued part of our heritage that shall be forever preserved for the people and shall be managed by law and regulation for the public good.” And many argue that it’s the walleye that make Mille Lacs Lake a popular Minnesota fishing destination.

Not everyone believes walleye is the superstar species of Lake Mille Lacs, however.  As WCCO TV Channel 4 reports in  DNR Being Sued For Alleged ‘Mismanagement’ Of Lake Mille Lacs , PERM also contends that the DNR’s management strategy favors trophy fishing instead of walleye fishing. As we all know, it’s those sizeable musky, pike and small-mouth bass that give many other anglers a reason to head north with their baitcasters and cameras. And it’s those fresh water monsters that, while providing great stories and impressive photos, are feeding on more walleye.

The DNR has yet to legally respond to this lawsuit. What do you think they should do?

Spring Fishing Heating Up

Spring fishing is finally starting to heat up, especially in pools 2 and 3 of the Mississippi River. Our very own Blue Ribbon Pro Staffer, the Griz, has done extremely well walleye fishing this week. He’s caught 9 walleyes between 5 and 9.5 pounds. Griz is using a fireball jig tipped with a fathead minnow. I’m also happy to report that this warm weather has opened up some great shore angling spots on the St. Croix River and Mississippi River. Many of the smaller local lakes are also beginning to produce fish from shore. Call the shop direct at (651) 777-2421 to get the most up-to-date reports.

Also, make sure you attend our annual in-store fishing expo on April 19, from 9:00am-5:00pm. I hope to see you all there!

Fall Fishing Heating Up

PikeThe fall fishing has been heating up lately, even as the temperatures drop. Griz is boating many nice walleyes for people on the St. Croix river. The  fish have started to group up in certain areas where he and his clients are catching them on a jig and minnow.  Griz suggests using a fireball jig with a fathead minnow and drifting with the current, as it’s faster now with the recent rain.

Nice northern pikes are biting on crankbaits on the area lakes. I guided many anglers last week (including a few teenagers) onto a number of nice tiger muskies and northern pike. I’m using both sucker minnows and an array of crankbaits in deeper water.  I’m also using a few custom colored bulldawgs for some of the metro lakes. They are effective when jigged over the deeper weed edges. I’ll be  heading up to Mille Lacs next week. If you want to book a trip you can give me a call, or book online at www.mightymusky.com.

For all you musky guys and gals, we just got a pile of big sucker minnows at the shop, along with a bunch of sucker harnesses for rigging them.  As many of you already know, there is a major shortage of sucker minnows this year and we’re doing our best to find them.

If you’re a regular customer, you’ve likely seen our Bargain Table in the middle of the store. With a great selection of lures on sale (50% off), it’s been a huge hit! Stop by again to see if your favorite lure is on sale. We also recently expanded our online inventory and are continuing to add products. Please stay tuned as we give our websites an overhaul.

Also remember that Blue Ribbon will be selling a great selection of freshly-cut Christmas trees next month. And as always, we’ve  got you covered for all your propane needs!