Searchbait (Swimbait) Tactics on Lake Mille Lacs

Searchbait covers more water and deliver more results everywhere

“Search” or “swim”?

I went back and forth about what headline to apply to this article. Finally, I decided to just put both swimbait and searchbait in there. After all, swimbaits are a popular lure to cast for both largemouth and smallmouth bass (as well as other species). They remain a top choice, especially for largemouth anglers who seek the biggest bites on a given body of water. They minimize the numbers of “small fish” to weed through when the aim is the biggest tournament bag.

The Storm 360GT Searchbait was introduced last year (the “360” refers to degrees—as in cast it in any direction—and the “GT” refers to “Go-To” as in—this should be your go-to lure choice), and has already proven to be a presentation that anglers must choose for a wide variety of situations. I witnessed firsthand success with this lure last summer on an Ontario fly-in trip to Slippery Winds Resort. A 360GT went head-to-head against the ever-popular jig-n-minnow combo for walleyes. It hooked about 20 walleyes in a row. The live bait tactic caught zero walleyes and about 20 northern pike. Prior to that June fly-in trip, however, I already was a big believer in the Storm Searchbait after several fishing days on Minnesota’s Lake Mille Lacs.

The bass factory

Located about two hours north of the Twin Cities, and long heralded as a walleye factory, 132,000-acre Lake Mille Lacs recently rose to national prominence after hosting consecutive Bassmaster Angler of the Year Championships in September of 2016 and 2017. Huge bags of smallmouth bass came to the scales to impress even the best bass fishermen in the nation. If you love fishing for big smallmouths, this fishery should be a top choice. Plus, there’s the added benefit of possibly loading the boat with walleyes while you’re casting for bass. And, while fishing can be consistent throughout the open-water period, some of the best action comes during the month of May. Then, post-spawn walleyes and pre-spawn bass mingle on the same shallow structure.

A true test of tactics

On this proving ground, where other traditional early season tactics have proven their worth in the past, the new searchbait was put to the test. True, in past years, other swimbaits have had their place in the mix. Other swimbait options also catch plenty of fish. But, the new offering from Storm Lures really seems to excel. Pitch a jig-n-minnow combo on the shallow tops and windward edges of the famous Mille Lacs reefs.

Or, cruise the miles of shallow shoreline structure, making casts to areas where rock and gravel dominate, and you’ll catch walleyes. Bass will appear in your creel, as well. For me, casting a jerkbait in these mid-50s water temps from Minnesota’s Fishing Opener (May 13 this year) until early June is a favorite tactic. The erratic, twitch/pause/twitch of a slender minnow bait is hard to beat. Smallies love jerkbaits, and, on Lake Mille Lacs, you’ll also catch your share of walleyes, casting such lures.

Mistakes made with minnows

Casting a jig-n-minnow has disadvantages when fishing a huge body of water like Lake Mille Lacs. While you can find pockets of congregated fish and experience consistent catches at times, the periods in between when you’re casting in “search mode” can be frustrating. Jigs don’t cast very far. They need to be worked slowly in order to be effective. Frequently adding live bait is hard on cold hands in the spring. Plastic trailers work, but not as effectively, in most cases. Jerkbaits work well as a search tactic, and catch lots of coldwater bass, but the number of walleye bites can drop unless conditions are perfect.

Now, give me a lure that casts a mile, fishes effectively in shallow water, and hammers both bass and walleyes in spring. You’ve handed me a Storm 360GT Searchbait. Simplicity is key, here. A 60-degree line tied to a weighted, rattling jighead ensures a horizontal retrieve, simply by winding the lure in. The rattle adds sounds, a feature common in most jerkbaits. A super-durable soft plastic body features unique ribbing that displaces water to add vibration and attraction. The boot tail wobbles intensely on the most basic of retrieves. Unlike some swimbaits, the 360GT requires no special action imparted to the rod to make it dance and twitch. Actually, the more steady and simple the retrieve, the better the lure seems to work! No wonder they say “Throw it Anywhere. Catch Fish Everywhere!”

A million ways to fish Mille Lacs

My young sons are experienced anglers. During our annual Memorial Day Weekend visits to Lake Mille Lacs, we often employ several different live bait tactics to catch early season walleyes. Jigs-n-minnows, live bait rigging with leeches or nightcrawlers. anchoring the boat and bobber fishing windswept reefs with leeches, fishing vertically with bobber rigs over walleyes we spot in deep water on the Humminbird units, pulling spinner/crawler combos on three-way rigs on deep gravel bars and mudflats. All of these are proven strategies for Mille Lacs walleyes. If you like to fish with any or all of these methods, this lake is the perfect place for you to visit this year. Perfect in spring, summer or fall. And, once the water warms into the 70s, trolling tactics (leadcore or planer boards) come into play, as well.

My boys also love catching smallmouth bass. When we’re on Mille Lacs, it can be a tug-of-war about whether we chase bass or walleyes. When there’s a topwater bite going on, it’s a no-brainer. The lake is so full of giant bass (18-inch smallies generate yawns from most anglers with experience on this lake), the thrill of true 5-pound bronzebacks blasting a surface popper is irresistible.

The jerkbait bite in cold water is similarly fun, when it’s on. The bass slam these lures. Plus, anglers get the added benefit of walleyes from eater-size all the way up to 7 to 8 pounds hitting a lure on the retrieve. It’s delightful, and they fight hard! Casting hair jigs on light tackle, casting shallow-running crankbaits, and a buffet of soft plastics round out the bass tackle on this fishery during the early part of the season. The sheer number of smallmouths exceeding 20 inches you can catch on Lake Mille Lacs is truly astounding!

An easy to learn lure

Last May, it was remarkable to see how quickly my kiddos adhered to the Storm Searchbait. True, they’d heard my stories of success with the lure while filming some MWO TV episodes during the first few weeks of the season. But, when kids are rewarded just a few casts into the day with the friendly tug of a walleye or bass on the end of their line, no sell job is required. Kids just want to catch fish. My younger son, Nicholas, caught his personal best walleye—three times in one day—throwing the 360GT!

Remember to match your forage

Except for perch, which may become meals for large walleyes on Mille Lacs, small minnows are the primary forage during spring for Mille Lacs walleyes and bass. Crayfish and insect larvae also play an important role in the food chain. Accordingly, choose smaller profile lures to enjoy the greatest success in May. Choose a #8 or #10 Rapala X-Rap or #10 Husky Jerk to perfectly suit these spring conditions. For topwater lures, size #7 is the way to go. For swimbaits, a 3-inch size is ideal. Four-inch lures also have their place in your arsenal. The 360GT comes in 3.5-inch, 4.5-inch, and 5.5-inch.

True to form, if you want fewer bites but bigger fish, throw the 5.5-inch Searchbait on Mille Lacs in May and June. The 5.5-inch size also proved to be an awesome option for big northern pike in Canada, last summer. It held up incredibly well to multiple strikes from toothy critters before the plastic tail needed to be swapped for a fresh one. Although the Searchbait comes in 11 colors, my favorite choices are Herring, Smelt, Houdini, Marilyn, and Smokin’ Ghost.

Know before you go

The communities that surround Lake Mille Lacs cater to anglers and their families in all seasons. You’ll find a wide variety of vacation options suiting your preferences for amenities and budget by contacting the businesses directly. Or, begin your research at millelacs.com.