It’s late November as I write this and I am in a reflective mood looking back on the 2023 fishing season. The prevalent theme that comes to mind is how good the fishing was. I don’t say that in a boasttful way, but rather in a manner recognizing that we are fortunate to live in an era where our fisheries are very healthy and we have great equipment and technology at our disposal to target the fish living in those waters.
My 2023 season started on Big Stone Lake on the Minnesota/South Dakota border in April and I made several subsequent trips there. Big Stone has long been known as a premier walleye fishery and has a booming yellow perch population. In the past several years, however, the lake’s largemouth bass population is expanding and what is really exciting is the fishes’ size. In June, while filming an episode of Fishing the Midwest television, local guide Tanner Arndt had us around big fish and I was fortunate to catch a bass that weighed over 6 pounds, the biggest largemouth of a fishing career spanning 5 decades! In September, a partner and I fished a bass tournament on Big Stone, brought a sack of 5 fish to the scales that averaged nearly 5 pounds, and only finished in 9h place. Big Stone is the best big fish bass fishery in the Midwest right now and I am excited to see what the future holds.
Bass fishing is great in Big Stone Lake and several other fisheries now. Walleye fishing is also booming across the Midwest. National Walleye Tour Angler Drake Herd and I got together in August in the Alexandria area. Drake said he was on a good bite casting glide baits and was catching big fish. We put 7 fish on camera in just a couple hours fishing, with three of those fish exceeding 27 inches. In September, I shared a boat with Kabetogama Lake guide Travis Carlson and we cast jigs and minnows to a variety of structural elements and caught about a dozen walleyes over 20 inches.
The good fishing that I experienced with Drake and Travis is testament to the quality of fishing available in the Alexandria area and on Lake Kabetogama. We did, however, have a technological advantage too. We used forward facing sonar this past season. This technology allowed us to scan around the boat and “see” fish in a nearly 360 degree rotation, some as much as 80 feet away, and then cast our baits to them. This change kept us on the move looking for fish, but also increased the likelihood that we were fishing where fish were and not targeting “dead” water.
Many fisheries across the Midwest harbor good populations of big fish, sonar technologies help us find those fish, and we also continue to have better fishing lures at our disposal too. A lure that came on the market a couple years ago called a Hybrid Hunter is a crankbait with a unique bill that delivers a hunting action. On the recommendation of a professional bass angler from the southern part of the country, I decided to give it a try on a Midwest lake. On an initial offering I hooked two largemouth bass pushing four pounds on the same cast! Now, obviously that is a rarity, but the bait did produce a bunch of good fish that day on and subsequent days.
Tungsten lures have been a hit in ice fishing and are proving their mettle in open water fishing too. Denser than lead, tungsten lures are heavier than similarly profiled lead baits meaning a tungsten bait is smaller than a similar lead bait. This is advantageous in clear water and also around pressured fish. Last fall we filmed a TV segment using a new bladed jig made from tungsten called the Tungsten Thunder Cricket. Slow rolling this compact bait across deep weeds yielded a bunch of largemouth bass, some exceeding 4 pounds. Not only does this offering catch largemouth in good numbers, but it should be dynamite for smallmouth bass too.
Whether bass, walleyes, or another fish species Is your favorite, now is a good time to be an angler all across the Midwest. Fish populations are high, we have great fishing finding technologies at our disposal, and we have dynamite lures to help catch those fish. Fishing really is good!
As always, remember to include a youngster in your next outdoors adventure!
Mike Frisch hosts the popular Fishing the Midwest television series on the Sportsman Channel, World Fishing Network, Bally Sports North, and several other networks as well. Visit fishingthemidwest.com to learn more.