It was a glorious mid-March day as we headed out to the Lake of the Woods for a day fishing this past Saturday. Friend Josh McFaddin had expressed an interest in getting out for some lake whitefish and I was only too happy to oblige. For years the angling for these tasty sportfish had been really strong on this body of water until there was a downturn in the smelt population over the last four years. Since that time fishing for these deep water residents has been tough.
Still I was hearing reports of some success for these fish over the last little while. Driving conditions on the ice were ideal, like a super highway with virtually no snow cover along with hard, good ice. Friend Pete Hiebert took us to an area he was familiar with, a rocky island with deep water surrounding it, in the 45 foot range. Whitefish like this type of depth, especially if it is in combination with steep drop-offs.
They tend to forage in small schools, herding the bait up against rock walls. We drilled holes from 30 to 50 feet and in the deeper holes we started marking fish. Josh had a number of fish marking on his new Humminbird Helix 5 unit. It was really neat watching the screen on this digital unit. Since it has a memory, even if you turn away for a second, you can still see if a fish had come in on your lure. Finally he got one to commit on a Lindy Rattlin Flyer spoon jigged just off the bottom. After a lengthy battle a gorgeous 25 inch whitefish was on the ice. What a way to start the day!
A short time later Pete got another fish to commit, this one measuring 24 inches. Two hours later, despite marking a number of fish just off the bottom, we could get no takers so we decided to pack up and head to a new area. This time we fished a shore line point that extended out into deeper water. We started drilling holes in 35 feet and spaced them out all the way to 53 feet. There seemed to be activity in all the depths but it was 20 minutes before Kevin Stobbe hooked into a real solid fish. As Josh helped him keep the line off the side of the hole, this fish ran off a good 50 feet of line. I was checking Kevin’s drag to make sure it was set properly and it was. This fish was just that strong. Finally after about a five minute fight we could see a massive whitefish down the hole. Josh skillfully helped it up the and the group celebrated the catch with a lot of hoops and hollering. While 25 inches in length this fish was a linebacker with massive shoulders, a real tank of a whitefish. While we only landed three whitefish during the day, all were true trophies and put up a great battle. I was starting to feel sorry for myself because as the day wore on, I was the only one to not catch a fish.
As three o’clock rolled around Pete moved us to a spot he had luck on years ago. Josh, Kevin and Pete all had fish as soon as their lures hit bottom! Holy smoke, what was going on? The only reason I didn’t have one is that I was changing my lure and I didn’t have a line in the water. Three smallmouth bass emerged and the bite was on. We were fishing a extended underwater shelf off a small island that was obviously a wintering spot for smallmouth.
As my friend Jeff Gustafson knows, in late March once the snow goes and the sun comes out, this light penetration gets these bass in the mood to feed. We ended up catching a number of smallies on small jigging spoons and I felt a bit of redemption since I got the biggest smallmouth of the day along with the largest walleye! Hooray!
All in all it was a day that makes living in this part of the country a treat.