Midwest Fishing: Six 2017 Highlights


Great Midwest fishing moments of 2017

Here’s a run-through of six highlights from Midwest fishing in 2017, along with some of the lessons learned.  Busy with outdoor shows all winter, my fishing started in late March near Paris, Tenn. on Kentucky Lake. I competed in the Kayak Bass Fishing Open and the bass fishing in late March and early April was phenomenal. Using the diminutive Ned Rig, I landed a 19-inch smallmouth, photographed it and submitted the image via smartphone—all about 18 minutes after the tournament started. I took a screen shot of the TourneyX leader board that showed me in first for the $10,000 prize. From there, though, it was all downhill. Largely because I lost so many fish on the Ned. I tumbled to 86th place by the end of the two-day event.

What I learned is that light, and ultra-light action spinning rods aren’t the best for the Ned. My go-to is now a 7-foot Shimano Convergence spinning rod in medium-light action. With braided line, the rod lets you feel everything and gives you enough power to solidly hook and play fish. I’m also upgrading to 15-pound-test braid with a 12-pound fluorocarbon leader if the water is less than gin-clear.

War on the Water

Later in April, I fished what was called War on the Water, but which I renamed the Slaughter on the Water. This Midwest fishing competition pitted 15 kayakers against 15 guys with bass boats on Michigan’s Pontiac Lake. In short, the bass boat boys murdered us kayakers, catching way more and bigger fish. The highest finishing yakker was in ninth.

What I learned was the effectiveness, even in cold water (the temp was in the high 40s), of a squarebill crankbait. I’d not thrown one much before, but, when the wind started howling, it was the best option. I hooked and landed about a dozen bass and three nice pike on a Strike King KVD 2.0 in bluegill color.

Detroit bassing

The next memorable Midwest fishing trip was in May to the Detroit River, where the white bass run was happening. With Capt. Eric Long of Long Line Charters and his brother Dave Long, we got into a massive school of two-pound females. Every cast with a Ned Rig resulted in strikes and fish. I took a bunch home, cleaned them and ate them. They were great. I even fried up the roe and that was delectable, as well. After we got tired of white bass, we changed locations and caught a limit of walleyes.

When the white bass run is on, look for large eddies and cast anything that looks like a baitfish. My best bait was a pink Z-Man Finesse T.R.D. worm on a 1/6-ounce ShroomZ jighead with an added spinner that Ned Kehde, the namesake of the Ned Rig, made and gave me. I’d frame it, if it weren’t so darn effective at catching fish.

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Private panfish paradise

In July, my buddy Al Malsch and I paddled his canoe upstream. It was a couple miles to a private lake, accessible only through that creek—and perfectly legal to fish once you get there. It’s a world-class panfish lake, and we each kept a 25-fish limit of bluegills and crappies we caught trolling waxworms behind small spinners. I learned that, sometimes, you just have to use what works instead of experimenting. I’d been trying some soft plastics behind spinners and tiny crankbaits. Al soon had me down ten fish to one. So, I switched to spinners and waxies and did just fine.

A new passion for paddling

In August, I gained a new obsession: Kayak fishing in small rivers. We had a tournament on the Kalamazoo River. Friends and I drifted right through the city with the same name. The fishing was non-stop good, although we didn’t catch enough big ones to cash checks. We just caught smallmouth after smallmouth, with the occasional largemouth and pike.

What I learned is, I want to do this a whole lot more. Probably after investing in a smaller, lighter kayak just for river fishing. Ultimately, I plan to chain my mountain bike at a take-out place and launch upstream. When I get to the takeout, I chain the yak and ride the bike back to my vehicle. The Kalamazoo is perfect for this. It has a walking-bike trail right along its bank.

Destination U.P.

In mid October, I took my much neglected 17-foot MirroCraft with its 75-hp tiller Evinrude up to the Upper Peninsula. I bought the boat in 2015, about the same time I immersed myself in kayak fishing. In 2016, I used the boat for two hours. Seriously, one day for two hours before the late fall’s first snowstorm hit. So, it was great to take my chubby old golden retriever and fish out of Copper Harbor for splake: a hatchery hybrid of a lake trout and a brook trout. Other than in pictures, I’d never seen one before. Travis White, co-founder of ProNav trolling motor GPS guidance systems in Houghton, Mich., served as guide,. I caught three keepers, all casting a Rapala RipStop jerkbait. The next couple of days, I fished with old friend Steve Tracey on Munising Bay in the U.P. and caught more of those delicious hybrids.

I’m working on a kayak setup complete with Humminbird flasher, Aqua-Vu camera and ice rods for pre-ice panfish. With anchors off the bow and stern of my Predator PDL, and arms to swing the transducer and camera next to where I’ll be dabbling a new tungsten Chekai jig from Custom Jigs & Spins, it will be just like ice fishing—without the ice.