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Here's a chilly prediction: Freeze-up before Thanksgiving

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Fishing Columnist Brad Laabs2 / 2

In the middle of August, I made a prediction based on the signs of nature that indicated we were going to have a cold fall and an early winter. I figured by Labor Day we would be into our transition to fall weather.

The prediction has held up. I still believe we are headed for an early onset to some winter weather. It has been a few years since we have been iced over by Thanksgiving, but I think that is going to happen this year. Water temps are in the low 40 degree range and dropping slow and steady. When we get water temps in the upper 30 degree range, a couple of cold calm nights can lock the lakes up. A peek at the long range forecast looks like that could even happen for us a week before Thanksgiving!

It appears, if the forecast holds true, we will only have a scattered few days of above freezing temps to open-water fish after the this opening weekend of deer hunting.

If you are a deer hunter and a bird hunter, as soon as you wrap those seasons up, it is time to start getting your ice fishing gear organized and ready. If you are like me, and focus on the fall fishing, next week will be a good time to get organized for the ice season.

If you did that before you stowed things last spring, getting ready is easy. If you did not, you will have some time you need to commit to be ready to rock and roll for early ice. It is always less of a hassle to work at getting ready if it is 30 or 40 out instead of 3 or 4!

In our area, the early ice bite and first month of the season, is usually the best bite of the season. Be ready, so you can get out as soon as the lakes are ready to have you.

I had the chance to jump on the Mississippi River and fish for about five hours last weekend. The river was up to the top of the levy wall in downtown Red Wing. The river and the flow was higher than I have ever seen for this time of the year.

Mary and I decided to launch at Colville Park and head down to the upper portion of Lake Pepin. As we pulled up to the access, I remembered an incident from some years ago and shared it with Mary. What I was reminded of, was launching my rig for a trip with two long-time river captains and guides, "River Rat" Randy Stevens and Greg "Vandy" Vandermark.

As Randy was getting ready to get in the boat, he looked down and his glasses fell off into the water next to the dock. Vandy, being the helpful man he is, reached into the cold water, hanging off the dock with his shoulder and head under the water (with about zero visibility) and came up with "I got 'em" as he is handing them to Randy.

And Randy says "thanks Vandy, but these aren't mine!"

Fishing, and all the goofy things that happen as part of the trips we take, hold so many fun, and funny memories.

Instead of fishing, Mary decided to hunt the shoreline along the Wisconsin shore, since the high water had deposited tons of trees and driftwood, so I dropped her off while I fished.

Many times in the high water, pitching the rock riprap can produce trophy sized walleyes this time of the year. The water was so high, there was limited access to pitch the rocks with the overhang of the trees. So I just went from point to point pitching the flooded willows. I only got a couple walleyes, and they weren't trophies (nice 17-inchers), but I did get into a great smallmouth bass bite, boating 20 ranging from 14-19 inches, and one largemouth that hit the board at 19 inches.

I stated pitching a jig and minnow, only to get nippy bites I missed. I switched to jig and paddle tails and swirl tails and was getting short hit on them as well (usually they are more aggressive on the plastics).

I reached back to the bag of tricks Randy, Vandy, and my mentor Jeri Eckholdt do on the river ... pitched bare bucktails (with black on black and black and Kelly green being favorite colors). As soon as I switched, the bite was on. Oh, and Mary found a honey hole of driftwood we loaded into my boat to bring back. More great memories.

(Brad Laabs owns Brad Laabs Guide Service in Detroit Lakes)

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