Since the late 1920s, members of our family have been going to the Northwoods of Minnesota, where they played and fished at some of the thousands of waterways that stipple Aitkin, Crow Wing, Mille Lacs, and Itasca counties.
Many of those trips of years gone by were primarily focused on fishing. But for the past 11 years, our family’s annual summer vacation to Minnesota has gradually become more play than fishing. In fact, for me it has become a respite from the rather detailed fishing that I do rest of the year in northeastern Kansas. Thus, the minutes that we are afloat are designed to allow our children and grandchildren to catch largemouth bass, smallmouth bass and some incidental northern pike by employing Midwest finesse tactics. We also spend a lot of time relishing the other delightful elements of this time and place.
In the eyes of some of our children and grandchildren, it is almost a heavenly site, and that is reflected in the photography above that our daughter Nancy Myers of Lawrence, Kansas, took on the evening of Aug. 1.
One sign that our focus is not about fishing is that I do not write elaborate notes about how, when, and where we catch fish. Nor do I keep a log that denotes water conditions, aquatic vegetation, weather factors, solunar times, and other piscatorial factors. And I do not keep track of the minutes that we are afloat. (But I can say the weather was delightfully cool, the wind often blew out of the north and northwest at a brisk pace, there were a lot of clouds and a few rain drops, and there were some sunny spells, too.)
Another sign that it is not about hardcore fishing is that there are long periods when I do not have a rod in my hand other than to help a young grandchild execute an exact cast, untangle some line woes, retrieve a snagged bait, or unhook a bass that has engulfed the bait into its gills or gullet.
What’s more, my wife Patty loves to ply these northern waters, and I love to watch her engaged in an intense donnybrook with a hefty largemouth or smallmouth bass. So, I prefer watching her fish rather than fishing.
And if I do wield a rod, my rod isn’t rigged with the most effective lure of the day, and my casts are not aimed at the best lairs. In essence, I explore areas with my casts and lures that we wouldn’t normally fish, and probably shouldn’t be fishing, but my aim is to allow our kids to catch fish. But as I make these casts and retrieves into what I call never-never land, I am hoping that they will ultimately uncover an unknown honey hole from which our kids can tangle with a plethora of smallmouth bass. To my disappointment, however, my probings into the never-never lands has yet to reveal a bountiful honey hole.
Instead of fishing when Patty and our kids are aboard, I spend a lot of time maneuvering the boat with one of the electric trolling motors, trying to watch every cast, uttering encouraging words and directions, complimenting well-executed casts and bewitching retrieves, and monitoring the boredom factor of the grandchildren, which can erupt quickly.
If our chief focus was to catch fish, we would venture to other lakes. Instead, every cast and retrieve during our vacation is aimed at the largemouth bass and smallmouth bass that abide in a heavily fished 400-acre eutrophic lake in Itasca County, where the fishing is often trying. To our chagrin, we rarely can locate them and catch them along the outside edges of the lace’s many offshore aquatic weed lines and other deep-water lairs. Therefore, we catch the bulk of them adjacent to the shoreline around lily pads, laydowns, submerged logs, wild rice, cattails, boulder piles, and similar objects. In the eyes of most anglers, these locales are the province of power anglers. But we have discovered that our Midwest finesse methods are effective around these snaggy lairs. And to our delight, only one hefty largemouth bass had the wherewithal to break our lines this summer. Of course, a few northern pike nipped our lures off our 8-pound-test fluorocarbon leaders.
The only problem that we have is the fishing usually becomes increasingly problematic after several days of plying these same locales over and over again. That, however, is the only woe of vacationing on a small and heavily fished lake in the Northwoods.
Instead of fishing from dawn to dusk, we spend time walking in the woods, picking blueberries and raspberries, observing the birds, watching the antics of various terrestrial creatures, swimming, sailing, cooking, canoeing, kayaking, sitting on a sandy beach and chatting with and listening to a variety of the kids and adults gathering around an evening fire to watch kids poke the fire and roast marshmallows. Then on rainy spells, we read books in the cabin, and on many evenings our kids, grandkids and Patty play cards and table games in the cabin. We usually make our first casts of the day around 9:30 a.m. and last one usually occurs at 1:30 p.m., and at times we will fish an hour or so after dinner.
Consequently, we never catch fish at the pace that some of our Midwest finesse cohorts catch when they travel further north into Canada and fish hard and long. For instance, one pair caught 897 smallmouth bass in six days in June. Another pair in July tangled with more than 400 smallmouth bass in Canada. But we do catch some fish.
During this vacation our many spinning rods sported the following lures: a 2 ½-inch Z-Man Fishing Products’ California Craw ZinkerZ on a blue 1/16-ounce Gopher Tackle’s Mushroom Head Jig, a 2 ½-inch Z-Man’s green-pumpkin-red ZinkerZ on a 1/16-ounce unpainted Gopher jig, a Z-Man’s dark melon Scented LeechZ on a blue 1/16-ounce Gopher jig, a Z-Man’s green-pumpkin Scented LeechZ on a 1/32-ounce red Gopher jig, a 2 ½-inch Z-Man’s green-pumpkin-red ZinkerZ spin on a red 3/32-ounce Gopher jig, a shortened four-inch Z-Man’s green-pumpkin Finesse WormZ on a black 1/32-ounce Gopher jig, a shortened four-inch Z-Man’s pumpkin Finesse WormZ on a blue 1/16-ounce Gopher jig, a Z-Man’s green-pumpkin Hula StickZ on a red 1/16-ounce Gopher jig, a three-inch Z-Man’s prototype GrubZ in a smoke hologram color, a four-inch green-pumpkin-orange-flake grub on an orange 3/32-ounce Gopher jig, and a shortened four-inch Strike King Lure Company’s green-pumpkin-red ElaZtech Finesse Worm on a black 1/32-ounce Gopher jig. Every once in a while our granddaughters worked with a shortened Finesse WormZ and 2 1/2-inch ZinkerZ affixed to chartreuse Gopher jig.
The two most fruitful combos were the 2/12-inch green-pumpkin-red ZinkerZ and 2 ½-inch California craw ZinkerZ, which were rigged on a 1/16-ounce Gopher Jig. The dark melon Scented LeechZ bewitched a goodly number of largemouth bass and a few smallmouth bass and northern pike. The Strike King green-pumpkin-red ElaZtech Finesse Worm on a black 1/32-ounce Gopher jig inveigled a fair share of the largemouth bass and smallmouth bass we caught.
During our vacation, our son-in-law Mike Myers of Lawrecne, Kansas, made every cast with the 2 1/2-inch Z-Man’s ZinkerZ and 1/16-ounce Gopher jig in the photograph above. And the more tattered and torn it became, the more alluring it seemed to become in the eyes of the largemouth and smallmouth bass.
The best retrieve was the pure deadstick motif, which Patty is a master at employing, and our kids and grandkids did a nice job of replicating her mastery.
Here are some photographs of the fish we caught. The first photograph features our Mike Myers with the first largemouth bass that was caught during our vacation. It was a little one, which he caught on the third cast of the first day. The second photograph features the tiny largemouth bass that was caught by Natalie Myers of Lawrence, Kansas, on the last cast of the vacation, and the photograph was taken by her sister, Emily Myers. Even though the first largemouth bass and the last one were bantams, a goodly number of good-size ones were caught, and photographs of several of them are posted below. The third photograph features Emily Myers of Lawrence, Kansas. The fourth photograph is of Patty Kehde of Lawrence, Kansas. Then there are a few more photographs, featuring Emily Myers, Mike Meyers and Patty Kehde.
As our family chats with other families around the beach or the fire, we occasionally utter a few words about fishing, and most of our words are about the manifold virtues of Midwest finesse tactics, which are the only tactics that our family employs. And every once in a while, we garner a convert or two. This summer’s converts were Benny Waller, who is a six-year-old from Parkersburg, Iowa, and his father, Matt. Benny had struggled for days on end to catch fish until he started wielding a 2 ½-inch Z-Man’s green-pumpkin-red ZinkerZ on an unpainted 1/16-ounce Gopher jig. When they return next summer, Matt Waller said some of their rods will be rigged with the 2 ½-inch ZinkerZ and 1/16-ounce Gopher jig.