Fall is a great time to be on the water and with a great week of weather in the forecast it’s time to get hardcore. Recently I spent a day on Big Whiteshell Lake. It had been a number of years since my last visit but with reports of big crappie getting caught there in the past year, I decided to head out and see for myself.
The last lake survey done on this body of water was in 2012 and since that time the crappie population has been increasing, which shows in the Master Anglers records over the last two years. While the population is improving it still only makes up a small percentage of the overall fish population with perch #1 and walleye # 2.
At this time of year crappies like to move onto deep flats in search of food. Some move from shallower water and others that tend to suspend in the summer, move shallower in depth ranges from five to eight metres. This is usually a good starting point in most natural lakes in this part of the world. Big Whiteshell is not an overly deep lake, with ten metres in spots but most is shallower. While a fairly large lake for the Whiteshell Provincial Park, it is pretty average in size compared to a Lake of the Woods. So the theory was it shouldn’t take long to find the fish, at least that’s what I thought as I headed out on the water with friend Pete Hiebert. I had downloaded a contour map off of the Manitoba Sustainable Resources website. “Lake Information for Anglers” allows you to access information such as bathymetric data, fish stock assessment data, largest fish caught by angling, and fish stocking records. (http://www.gov.mb.ca/waterstewardship/fisheries/fish_stocking_gMap_MVC_V2/index.html
I decided to spend time looking on the sonar because if you don’t find them schooled up on the electronics catching them becomes a crap shoot (pardon the pun). Look and look we did crisscrossing points, drop-offs, large flats, deep water to shallow water and everything in between. Unfortunately I did not see one thing I want to fish. Left with no choice I decided to put the boat in gear and troll. One of the best ways to find fish when they are hard to find is use a three way swivel, a weight and a small crankbait that crappie will hit. After an hour of working shallow to deep I had a hit in 10 feet of water. While the fish got off, we had a starting point. Unfortunately it was not to be a day in which we would catch crappie. We ended up with a quite a few walleye, including seeing one large specimen that spit my crankbait four metres from the boat. We caught just three walleye under the slot size, the rest were in the protected 45 to 75 centimetre range.
We also caught a ton of small pike, which actually made the day quite enjoyable overall as we had constant action once we found the fish on a windy shoreline. With boat control tough in the large waves we decided to troll # 7 Flicker Shads in three to five metres of water. The majority of fish were on the weed edges on hard bottom. Crayfish seemed to be the food of choice from these locations.
FALL PERCH LOCATION: While we only caught one perch it was very large, which might suggest a fishery worth tapping. It’s not a surprise we found a perch mixed in with the pike and walleye. They love to get into 4 to 10 feet of water at this time of year and hunt for food. Like other species they are trying to bulk up for winter and will roam the flats in medium sized schools. It pays to use small crankbaits for them as well. Chip Leer, who does a syndicated column in the U.S always sends me his articles. In the latest one he outlines a few tips for tracking down perch at this time of year
“The shallow flats bite gets better as the water cools from the summer peak all the way to the fall turnover. After that, perch still roam the flats, but the big schools tend to break up.
Flats lying in 4 to 10 feet of water are generally a good starting point. Since schools of portly perch roam these areas like buffalo herds grazing the prairie, the trick to finding them is covering water. Keep in mind perch tend to school by size, so don’t settle on a spot until you find the fish you want.
In search mode, I like throwing tiny crankbaits like LIVETARGET’s HFC (Hunt For Center) Crawfish (https://www.livetargetlures.com/freshwater/hfc-crawfish). The 3/8-ounce, 2-inch floating bait dives 6 to 8 feet, which is perfect for fishing fall flats. It wiggles and wobbles in an off-center manner just like a real crayfish swims. Plus, it comes in a variety of colors, so you can mimic crayfish colorations in the waters you’re fishing.
The HFC Crawfish excels fished on 6-pound monofilament and a 6½-foot, medium-action spinning rod like 13 Fishing’s Muse Gold MG (http://www.13fishing.com/muse-gold/) S66M.
Make a long cast, swim the lure down, then retrieve it just off bottom. Pause when you nick vegetation, allowing the bait to rise a few inches before continuing the retrieve. This crank-nick-float routine is extremely effective at pushing fat fall perch over the edge.
After locating perch, follow up with a 1/16- to 1/8-ounce hair or marabou leadhead jig, tipped with a chunk of nightcrawler or half a fathead minnow (head or tail, doesn’t matter).
Experiment with jig action. Sometimes a subtle drag is best. Other times, perch prefer a pop-and-pause locomotion. Dialing in the right cadence takes a few minutes, but is key to milking the most perch possible from a spot before moving on in search of the next school of autumn jumbos.”
You can find more articles from Chip at www.fishingthewildside.net