A Minnesota Moveable Feast
By James Jay Egan
A wise man once said: “What if I die and get to heaven, and it’s not as nice as August in Minnesota?” To be sure, the wise man was my father. And to be clear, he probably did not believe in a heaven other that our immanent one. To be more clear, he was referring to Wisconsin.
But August, as our bard might have said, is A Moveable Feast. For us, it has always meant time on the clear, cool lakes of Minnesota’s Arrowhead. When we needed an active respite from stalking wild brook trout in overgrown creeks, in the times of the day when the walleyes were hiding from the sun, we fished smallmouth bass. And we made our own heaven here, on earth.
We find smallmouth in fun numbers on medium- to larger-sized lakes, in cooler water rather than warmer (as opposed to the temperate largemouth), in lakes populated more by rocks and less by weeds or sand or silt. Start with the premise that by August the sun is traveling in a lower arc already. Know that the smallmouth’s favorite prey is the crayfish, and that crayfish are light sensitive. This leads you to the southern shore of a lake, heavily forested, or with a height of land coming down to the water. In this shaded water between the horizon and high sky the smallmouth roam, or, if my theory is correct, stake out territories.
From a boat or canoe a cast’s-length from shore, we hammer the shoreline, “fancasting,” or covering the water in an arc in front of us between the boat and shore, casting first here, then there, then over there. Look for rocks or boulders. Look for cabbage weeds. Better yet, find a bottom with both structures.
I still use my closed-face spincaster that I’ve had since I was a kid. And for 30 years, my favorite lure has been a Rebel® Crawdad™, a lipped crankbait that when reeled in mimics a crayfish. Other crayfish-patterned crankbaits like a Rapala® Shad Rap® work well too. Rapala crankbaits in lifelike perch or orange and gold are good options. Either way, don’t hesitate to cast as close to shore as you can without getting hung up. I tell my clients to actually bounce the crankbait off the shoreline rocks or rock faces.
With a more delicate presentation, I might use an open-faced spinning reel and rod. I might use a “pig-and-a-jig” – a jighead with some sort of body – plastic or old-school pork rind – attached and together bounced along the bottom. For beginners or anyone just learning the open-faced reel, I recommend floating surface lure like a Jitterbug® or Hula Popper® retrieved just fast enough to make a bubbly, noisy wake. Having a smallie pounce on one of those on the glassy surface of the water might be as fun as watching your first bobber go down. Another surface favorite is the topwater spinner, maybe used with a baitcasting outfit, retrieved with the rod tip high and with enough pace to keep it gurgling on top.
Our pure experience, where challenging meets easy-to-learn, is smallies with a fly rod and reel. The term “flies” is too limiting, as you’re casting big cork or deer hair poppers that can be made to look like bees, moths, frogs or even mice. For these large flies, a heavier rod – at least a 6-weight – is important. Grasshoppers or stimulators will work. There are even heavily-weighted subsurface crayfish patterns.
I took my buddy out on a local lake last August, and from the bow of the canoe he used, variously, a spinning rod and reel, a baitcasting setup, and a fly rod. He hooked, in a couple of hours, by my count, 60 fish, and landed 30. I hooked just eight. But I landed them all (by my count). Anyway, I was just enjoying his catching fish, the smallmouths, and August. In Minnesota.
As you may have guessed, James is our fishing guide here at Stone Harbor Wilderness Supply. Want to book a fishing tour with him? You can book your tour online or give us a call at (218) 387-3136.