Scott Rall: No roaring around required
If you spend any amount of time sitting on the end of a dock on almost any lake, you will see and experience the “it’s always better somewhere else” syndrome. For every boat that puts into the boat ramp next to the dock you’re sitting on, the boat occupant will almost every time take off at high speed and motor as fast as possible to the other end of the lake and start fishing there.
The guy that unloaded his boat on the other side of the lake will motor his boat at full throttle all the way across the lake and fish right out in front of where you are sitting. I cannot explain this phenomenon, but it is very real. The same can be said about shore anglers.
When a shore angler casts his line into the water, for the most part he will try to throw it out as far into the lake as possible. As this person waits for a bite, a guy in a boat will come cruising along using an electric motor and cast his bait as close to the shoreline as humanly possible without getting caught up in the trees. Many times as close as only a foot or more from the rocks.
The only guy I have ever seen fishing from shore in 12 inches of water is Wayne Grantz. He understands that sometimes the fish are right next to the bank. Why is it that no matter where you are or where you’re sitting the best place to try to catch a fish is at the farthest reaches of your ability to get there?
I, too, just recently did the farther away is better action, too. I went up to Hayward, Wis., to meet up with some work associates to do a little fishing. It was 7 1/2 hours one way and I had a flat spot on my butt when I got there. For me, it is not the different lake that makes a trip like this worth the effort. It is the camaraderie of the folks you get to see and enjoy.
I did come to some very clear conclusions as so why many folks like to go up north fishing as a result of this trip. The answer is the amount of diversity that these lakes offer that our local lakes do not. For all practical purposes, most of our prairie lakes are pretty much the same. They are 6-8 feet deep and pretty much look like a pie plate. Shallow around the edges and a little deeper in the middle.
With a few exceptions they have little structure and few underwater fish-congregating elements. Round Lake has a man-made rock reef, Lake Okabena has a few deeper dredge holes and Lake Shetek has a few rocky points, but this is about as wide as the variety gets.
If you wanted to fish the shallows in spring to catch crappies, the entire north shore of Lake Okabena looks pretty much the same. If you determined the fish might be in the weeds there are no weed beds to find in order to target the fish in the weeds. In Hayward, we decided to fish for crappies in the shallows. We hit a local lake that had a dark bottom bay that was about three feet deep and as we fished a slip bobber two feet down with a very small hook and an artificial bait called a Berkley Gulp, we killed the pan fish.
The thing about this bay was that it was about 200 acres in size and this lake had three other spots just like it. If the fish were not in this bay we could have tried several other bays until we found the location of fish that would bite. In the afternoon they group-fished a tree stump field and had the same luck.
How many tree stump fields do our lakes have? In the prairie lakes of our area this diversity does not exist. All you can do is hop lake to lake hoping to find a bite.
We did the same thing fishing walleyes in the weeds. The weeds were only about 12 inches high but if you could find green weeds there were a few fish in each spot that cooperated. We motored from weed bed to weed bed and caught fish in almost every spot we tried. On one lake alone we must have hit 15 different spots. In the prairie lake of southwest Minnesota there are not 15 weed beds total in all of five counties.
One other big difference between the local lakes and the ones I was on is the fact that we saw almost no other boats. At home if the bite is on there will be 50 boats on that lake the next day. In other areas of the state there are so many fishing spots that all offer cooperative fish that the boats get all spread out and there seems to be little to no congestion.
Lakes in southwest Minnesota are managed for walleyes. All of our lakes are walleye lakes. In other locations in other parts of the state there are pan fish lakes, northern pike lakes, walleye lakes and even some smallmouth bass and largemouth bass fishing lakes. Each lake has a different predominant species and you can pick your spot by deciding what kind of fish you want to catch.
All of these things make a trip up north a different experience than fishing around home.
There is one other very big difference and this one is not necessarily a positive. On many of the lakes we fished the limit on walleyes was only two fish per day. One had to be under 14 inches in length and the other could be over. Both fish could be under 14 inches if you wanted to keep two tiny fish. One other lake had a limit of one walleye per day. Even the pan fish limits were much less. In the area of Wisconsin I fished it was a limit of 10 pan fish per person per day. In Nobles County that limit would be 50 fish per person for crappies, perch and blue gills combined. I can remember a time in Iowa where there was no limit on pan fish at all.
The limits are set after the Native Tribes announce their harvest in the ceded territories of the area. Southwest Minnesota does not have these types of harvest to compete with. It makes it hard for the resorts and other recreational interests to keep the fishing tourism alive when the guide takes out three fisherman and six fish later you’re done.
I did my very best to contribute to the local economy. On every lake there was at least one or two spots to stop in for a burger and beer. You tie up the boat and walk up the dock and sit down. This is one attraction our area lakes, with the exception of Lake Shetek, do not offer. In a 15-mile radius there must be 40 different choices to drop a few bucks. Each one was a small mom and pop shop that, to me, looked much the same as it might have looked 50 years ago.
So there is some merit to driving to a different spot to try your luck at fishing. I just don’t think that roaring all over on one lake might be the best way to catch a fish. Remember that the best part of any outing is the anticipation of the trip and the renewing of old friendships and making new ones. I get to spend this weekend on the lake with my son-in-law Mark Remme, his dad Dave and a great friend of mine, a DNR information officer Scott Roemhildt. He gets the call every time my son is out of county or out of reach.
I think when Mark went fishing with me the first time he did it out of sense of duty or obligation, being the new son-in-law and all. On the other hand, it might have been my charming daughter Brittany that used her powers of persuasion to convince him that it would be in his best interest for him to go along. After the third or fourth trip and several hundred walleyes later, I don’t know who likes the trip better. Is it my son-in-law Mark or his dad Dave? Both have their own new fan-dangled fishing rods and reels so they seem like they might be in it for the long haul.
There old saying that “the best time to fish is when you can” is certainly true. Fish at home or fish far from home, but just go fishing and do it with someone you care about. If you do, it really won’t matter if you catch many fish or not and no roaring around will be required.