Brad Laabs column: Temps are cold, look for fish in shallow water
Water temperatures continue to hover in the mid 50 degree range, and the lakes continue to be slow to warm due to the weather we have had this last month.
As long as water temps continue to be under the low 60 degree range, you will find all game species of fish using shallow water for both food and comfort.
The shiner run is in full swing as they get ready for their shallow water spring spawning ritual, and they become a primary food source for not only walleyes, but all fish. They are an extremely high protein source that is vulnerable and easy now to be fish food.
As long as they are present, you will find fish shallow-feeding on them. I even caught a 45-inch musky on a 1/16th ounce jig and shiner in eight feet. of water this week. It looks to me like that shiner bite could still last a couple more weeks.
Most walleyes will be found on shoreline breaks and the edges of shoreline flats now in the 6-15 foot depths. Jigs or rigs and shiners are a good option for catching walleyes right now.
Other techniques and bait options will and do work now, too, and a jig and shiner is "old school," but still hard to beat now. In the shallow (5-8 foot) water, you can get away with 1/16 ounce jigs, as you move to the 9-15 foot water you will have better contact and jig control by bumping up to 1/8th ounce.
As fish move off the edges and transition to the 16-24 foot water, step up to a 1/4th ounce jig. In high winds of 15 mph or more, you may need to bump jig sizes up to keep your bait in the bite zone. A good tip in shallow water is to get your bait away from the boat by either casting or long lining.
Bass season opens this Saturday to be able to keep fish. They are very catchable right now in shallow water. They are active and on the bite right now. Pitching jigs and minnows-plastics or casting small crankbaits and spinnerbaits will produce. Weed cover or shallow cover like dead falls and docks will hold fish. You will find most bass using the 2-10 foot water for comfort, food, and cover.
Crappies are still on beds and are shallow as well. Casting small jigs tipped with small minnows or plastics worked aggressively will trigger bites. A favorite producer of small jigs with plastics/minnows or hook and minnow under bobbers is producing — and also a fun and easy way to get kids hooked on fishing.
Searching for crappies you will also run into active sunfish. This last week I have also run into big crappies of 12-14 inches out on the flats feeding on shiners in the same areas I have been catching walleyes a well.
Yes — those big girls are aggressive and will take on the bigger baits.
If you are looking for action, stay shallow, as it is a multi-species, all-you-can-eat buffet for fish up there, and yes, the northern pike will find you. They seem to be everywhere. They also never seem to quit eating, even during the cold fronts and challenging weather! Remember to clean, drain, and dry after every trip.
(Laabs owns Brad Laabs Guide Service in Detroit Lakes)