Of Minnow and Men
Live bait definitely has it’s time and place when it comes to walleye fishing, and so it goes for specific types of bait. A good rule of thumb includes using minnows early in the season and again in the fall, during periods of colder water. Leeches come on strong as things warm up a bit, followed by night crawlers which are a good choice for nailing walleyes all summer long. As with most rules of thumb there are exceptions and the live bait rule has a big one; minnows can produce all summer long. Not just any minnow though, and not just any situation.
Under the right conditions minnows can be the hottest thing going, even when they’re not supposed to be. According to Team Crestliner member and full time guide Richie Boggs of Nisswa, Minnesota: “I’ll use minnows all summer long, and do it with total confidence. When just about everyone else has given up on minnows I‘ll keep using them and keep catching fish.”
The fact is walleyes never quit eating minnows and baitfish even during the heat of summer, as they make up the lion’s share of a walleye’s natural diet. Anglers that have gone their own way and stuck it out with minnows have found they can catch fish, including some of the largest a system has to offer. Larger fish are typically more difficult to fool, and the natural attraction of a lively minnow may be too much to resist.
As previously mentioned there are preferred minnow types for using all season long which includes the chub family like rainbows, leatherbacks, redtails and creek chubs. They make up the most sought after and most effective of the species. Richie Boggs will use redtails anytime he can get them, and feels they’re worth the extra money. “My bait bill runs close to $2,000 for an entire season, but it’s money well spent.
In the Brainerd area most of my walleyes are caught along the weed line, and our lakes are loaded with bluegills which will constantly pick on leeches and tear up crawlers. Put down a redtail and the panfish will leave it alone. Walleyes on the other hand can‘t seem to help themselves. Pike and big largemouth will also take a red tail which helps to keep the clients happy.” Richie runs red tails on live bait rigs like the Northland Roach Rig, and will use a quarter ounce sinker and a two or three foot leader and a #2 hook. “The shorter snell helps to keep the bait from getting tangled up with weeds and makes it easier to work a minnow through the green stuff. I also like to tail hook a minnow if I have the fish cornered and will move super slow or hover right over the top of them. By hooking them through the tail they’ll swim and thrash and turn fish on.”
Team Crestliner member and professional fisherman Rick Olson of Mina, South Dakota will use creek chubs to nail deep running reservoir walleyes during the heat of the summer. “When fish set up on deeper points or humps a creek chub on a live bait rig can be deadly. They can be a real pain to find and are tough to keep alive but can be worth their weight in gold, especially if there’s big money on the line.” Rick doesn’t use the standard live bait rig though, and is more likely to employ a lighter bottom bouncer combined with a plain hook on a long snell which can run up to six feet or more; “The longer snell gives the chub more room to roam and lets it act more naturally. It also helps to give fish more time to completely take a minnow before they feel the weight of a bouncer and spit the bait.”
As previously mentioned keeping minnows alive during the heat of the summer can be a tough job and requires some special care and equipment. For starters you have to keep your bait well oxygenated, especially when dealing with the warmer water temps of summer. Crestliner’s Tournament Series boats have a special Aqua Innovations oxygenator built in that helps to keep a live well full of fish alive, as well as bunch of expensive minnows. The Aqua Innovations oxygenator actually separates the water molecule which releases oxygen into the system, and hydrogen that dissipates on the surface. And it does it without heating the water which is a killing factor when it comes to trying to keep fish and bait alive.
If you’re going to try and keep minnows alive for any length of time you’re going to have to keep them cool, but not cold. A mistake that first timers often make is icing down oxygenated air bags filled with minnows, which almost always kills them. The key is keeping them cool, and not any colder than the water they’ve been held in. That means coolers and a little ice added at specific intervals. You can cool minnows down further but you have to take your time and let them adjust to the changes. Anything less and you’ll send them into shock and all you’ll have left is a bunch of expensive but very dead minnows.
Even with the extra effort it takes to keep minnows alive obviously Richie and Rick believe they’re worth it. If creek chubs or red tails can mean extra fish at the end of the day how far would you go? See you on the water.