Northwoods Bass Fishing Report, End of July and Early August, 2017
Hi all, I recently concluded a 2 week block of trips that took place from July 24th through August 6th. End of July through early August was a period of two contrasting weeks of fishing but comprised with bass of excellent average sizes. The inland bass fisheries of Vilas and Oneida County showcased its world class fishing for exceptional, high quality smallmouth bass.
For the first time all season, we finally had summer’s arrival. Summer peak came during the third week of July in which average surface temperatures were 75 to 80 degrees. Now with the recent cooldown, we’re finally back to normalcy at 70-72 degree temps. While this was welcomed, the heavy feeding and fish activity took a major decline in recent days. The cooldown can do a few things besides lower water temps down to the low 70’s. It could fire up more bass and move some bigger ones, with baitfish, towards the shallows for feeding and homing; or it could completely shut off and slow down the bite on some lakes…… you won’t know until you try during the post-frontal days ahead. Some days the fishing has been good to excellent, while others poor to mediocre. Bass activity has been weather-driven all year. Good stable weather has resulted in good fishing and predictable patterns, while poor weather has done as expected.
Lately with great weather comes bigger and longer feeding windows, patterns that last several days, and awesome fishing. Lately, there has been an obvious morning bite that has lasted from sunrise thru early afternoon. With the cooldown, this activity has extended into the afternoon hours. Evenings and nighttime hours haven’t been worthwhile for me due to wind, cooler temps, and lack of humidity. Most days, I’ve actually stopped fishing by 7-8pm. In the last two weeks of fishing, I had experienced only one good night fishing session. What made it happen was calm conditions, high humidity, bug hatches, and a good moon period. The rest were horrible.
My guests and I fished a variety of lakes this month, ranging in size from 80 acre ponds to the largest waterbodies in Vilas County. Each lake is unique that they are all fished for bass differently, and none fish the same. Some are nothing but action while others have trophies only or are somewhere in between. I feel the bite is very lake dependent too. Lots of fish boated last week, which we averaged 30-60 per trip, and included many big fish. With all of this available it’s impossible to get bored with bass fishing in the Minocqua region.
The main constant as of late has been fishing the deepest, coldest, clearest lakes to counter summer heat, warm water temps, and lack of wind. On these waters, the best smallmouth fishing was experienced. Many lakes now have thermoclines avg. 22-25ft, while in some down to 16-18ft. If your electronics isn’t displaying a distinct visible colorline, trust me it’s down there though not obvious like it normally would be in most years. In my opinion, there is no need to fish that deep right now (or more) unless fish are roaming and suspended in pursuit of ciscoes and other baitfish. There is also no need to fish depths greater beyond the thermocline either. Most fish contacted are relating to structure and contour; as shallow as 5, to as deep as 20. Fish have been feeding heavy on crayfish, while in other lakes cisco and yellow perch where these baitfish dominate the biomass.
Fish are now taking up residence along deep rocks and wood 10-15ft depths. Midlake rock bars and humps (topping off at 5-10ft with rock and boulder) have been money, and we have been finding fish loaded on a few of these locations on some lakes. In addition, ledges, secondary points and weedlines in 10-15ft depths have been holding some of the largest fish lately. I only bother to work weedlines if there is presence of baitfish (yellow perch) – some lakes have this pattern while a good number of them do not.
Many bass have been located in wolfpacks, and if one is caught, the potential for several others nearby is often a strong possibility. Fish on rocks and sand are focusing on crayfish; fish along weedlines are focused on yellow perch which have now moved in. I have not spent time fishing more advanced, looking for suspended roamers following cisco and smelt schools (on lakes present) but I imagine this is taking place as well.
Certain rock bars and ledges have been loading up fish. Here’s one such example. On last week’s trip we caught nearly 35 fish of all sizes from one specific structure!
Lately I’ve found a greater variety of presentations working, but tubes dragged and popped have been most effective. For casting, a wacky worm jig and wacky drop shot scored fish. So too did Svartzonker Tackle 3″ McRubber Paddletails and 5″ Kalins swimming grubs. If in a vertical fishing scenario, the drop shot rig loaded up on numbers. I have been experimenting with a variety of baits from the back end of the boat, and there’s still an overwhelming preference for jigs or swimming plastics. Most days not a single fish is interested in cranks, blades, or hardbaits. I’ve put away majority of my casting gear too. It’s finesse time, and no longer power hour.
Slow baits on or near bottom have been outfishing moving baits. Jigging and dragging tubes has been money. I consider this method precision structure fishing as the objective is maintaining bottom contact and running baits right thru the dwellings of fish. 2017 has been the season of tube, especially the coffee tube. In addition to tubes, jig and creature baits, football jigs, hula grubs, drop shot rigs, YUM Crawbugs, and jig and wacky combos have all been producing good fish.
Svartzonker Tackle 3″ McRubber paired with a 1/8 oz. Trokar Boxing Glove Jig has become a new favorite combination for covering water, weedline fishing, and loading up on bites. Fish with spinning tackle to maximize action and longest casting distance. I have experimented with many paddletails this year and this one is a surefire winner for its durability and tail thumping. Buy some – www.svartzonkertackle.com
Besides maintaining bottom contact with all the above presentations and techniques, swimming plastics and crankbaits were on a tear as well. Squarebill cranks and deep divers, Kalins 4-5″ lunker grubs on a swimming head, 3″ Svartzonker McRubber paddletails, jig worms, swim jigs, and paddletail swimbaits provided steady results when fish were in a chase and feed mode.
The above picture is the casualties from most days. This summer has mainly been a slow plastics and jigging program.
I recently concluded a number of trips with my wonderful guests, and group of awesome anglers. Each trip, multiple lakes had to be fished, and every trip produced fish 18″ or larger. Some photos, with captions to follow between the past few weeks of fishing.
On July 24-25, I hosted Donnie and Ronnie (twin brothers) from Joplin, MO. This was their first northwoods bass experience.
We had a 40+ fish day Monday, catching a combination LMB and SMB from 9am to 3pm. Calm and windless for much of the day. It was lights-out action for the first two hours on the water – regretfully I wish we had started the trip much sooner at 6am as the morning bite could have been epic. Almost everything caught was in the 14-16″ rod bender size. Weedlines, first and secondary breaks, humps, and deep boulders were congregating all. All bites coming in depths of 8 to 20 ft. Fish were coughing up crayfish, so a tube and hula grub did the damage. Fish wouldn’t touch any moving baits such as swimming grub, paddletails, swimbaits, cranks or topwaters – again, a recurring theme for this summer…….
Following Monday we had graduated from rod bender status. Tuesday’s focus would be on big fish only. With Ronnie and Donnie lodging an hour east from Minocqua and having traveled to me for Monday, I traveled to them on Tuesday and going 140 miles roundtrip towards Phelps. I took them to a set of trophy lakes I had done well at previously, with both having produced fish to 21″ for me.
The calm and windless conditions from Monday turned complete opposite Tuesday. We also went from heroes to zeroes, catching 1 fish all day.
This was the first trip of the year I had to accept defeat. It’s hard and discouraging, but a learning moment for everyone in the boat. The reality is not every day can be good like a tv show. It was a nice run of 22 consecutive successful trips so far this year. At the very least, Ronnie and Donnie learned new presentations and how to read electronics and locate deep, unwilling to feed, bass with me on day-2. There was nothing wrong with our lake selections, effort level, presentations or approach. The fish were uncooperative, and there are times you cannot force-feed them.
^ I had a cancellation on July 26th, and I just decided not to fish – spent the day on desk work and re-rigging my two other boats. I did go out in the evening and picked up one shy of 20″ that nearly ripped the rod out from my hands on a crankbait.
^ This time of year when water temps are in the mid to upper 70’s, largemouths are by far my best bite. On July 28th, they peaked at 78 to 81 degrees. On my last lake of the day, I found a decent frog bite taking place in its calm, shallow slop regions. I worked a hollow body frog with heavy duty flipping stick and was greeted by some powerful mammoth strikes. Largest fish caught was a skinny 20 incher, which more than made up for another rather slow day of fishing.
^ On July 29th I hurt my wrist from so many hooksets. I found my best bite of summer, catching 30+ fish solo, and not a single one was under 15″. Bite ended as soon as surface temp reached 78 by 2pm. Soon after, I was reading surface temps anywhere from 79 to 81!
I was finding fish along the tops and breaks of midlake humps. Depths anywhere from 5-15ft. Almost every structure visited held at least 5 fish. In order to catch them, I had to spend at least 30 to 60 minutes on each area. Fish were coughing up yellow perch profusely. I had to match my color choices accordingly. I also found a preference for leeches also. It was entirely a jigging bite. Tubes and drop shotting plastics took them all.
^ On July 30th I hosted Jason and Andrea from Manitowish Waters for the full day. We worked two different waterbodies and ended up with close to 50 fish for our efforts. A nice combination of SMB and LMB with a number of the browns in the 14-16″ range. Big fish were around but difficult to keep pinned. Outstanding day of action for how steamy hot its been! We started at 7am and concluded at 4pm.
A few key locations were deep weedlines (10-15ft), where perch have finally moved in and are now schooling thick. SMB are making their way in to stalk, ambush and feed on these easy prey. Other key areas also were deep wood, rock bars, and rock shoals where the focus is on crayfish. Lots of shallow water activity despite the 77-78deg surface temps. Windblown sides of the lakes produced better.
^ On Monday 7/31, Mike from St. Louis joined me for a full day trip and we found awesome quality fish, with most in the 15-18″ range. We fished two different waterbodies, both deep clear and cool. Water temps 75 at 6:30 am start time, and 79 at 4pm conclusion. We were finding fish relating to rock structure in 5-15ft depths. Midlake and offshore areas. Hard bottom and vegetation transitions are also holding fish too. There is still heavy feeding between crayfish and yellow perch.
Tube jigs, drop shot plastics, swimming plastics (Kalins and paddletails) and even topwater was scoring fish. At sunrise I finally got my first topwater strikes and catches of the season………. it took me an eternity……… The slow meticulous fishing we did paid off with nice results.
^ On August 1-2, I had the pleasure of hosting Carl from Chicago – his last hurrah fishing trip before undergoing medical treatments for a year, and first northwoods bass fishing experience. As always, I wanted to deliver a trip to remember.
Our focus was fishing some of my action fisheries, and hoping for big fish to eventually show themselves. We worked 5 different lakes, and waters of all sizes and depths. We succeeded with a 40 fish Tuesday, and close to 60 fish Wednesday. We found an outstanding avg. size, with numerous fish caught in the 14 to 18 inch range. These are the up-and-comers who will grow into trophies these next 5 seasons if some folks could quit harvesting them.
Largest fish taken during Carl’s trip was a called last-cast 19 incher. Yes, Carl boated a 19″ trophy on his last cast of the trip, and he called it with my prediction he would catch at least an 18 incher from a particular big fish spot we finished on. I will have this unbelievable story posted separate.
With north and east winds steady and prevalent lately, water temps have remained stable in the 75-76 degree range, making smallmouths more comfortable. This consistency led to longer feeding windows, strong fish activity, and aggressive strikes.
Deep weedlines 10-15ft, midlake rock structures and offshore locations have contained the best fish. Cabbage beds and deep boulders and chunk rock along ledges have been my key hot spots. Certain rock bars and ledges have been loading up fish. In fact, Wednesday we caught nearly 35 fish of all sizes from one specific structure!
Since last Thursday’s weather, a series of mini coldfronts has shut down the positive bites we had last week and made the fish negative & neutral. The best thing that happened however is a much needed cool down, as water temps are back to normalcy at 70-72 degrees. In addition, some feeding activity is taking place again in the shallows.
Saturday 8/5 I fished solo and got my one bite of the day, a 21 incher that struck a crankbait ripped thru 10ft depths with wood and boulders. I was purposely looking for one megafish and succeeded. One bite all day, fishing multiple trophy waters. Then the north winds came and shut everything down, even into Sunday.
On Sunday 8/6, I hosted Hank for the full day, giving him a tour of new waters and different places. This was our fourth trip together this year and each time has been great fishing. Yesterday, not so much. We were able to contact fish on each of the 4 different waters we fished, but the fronts gave them lockjaw. My observation is coldfronts affect smallmouths more severely and negatively than does largemouths. On a day like yesterday, we couldn’t even force feed them.
I’ll be back at the desk this week, but resuming normal fishing activity again on the 13th, leisure trips all throughout that week hosting family and friends. Forecast looks cooler this week, but humidity, warm overnight lows, and light daytime winds will bring the good bites from last week back to life. I do wish I had spent more time lately for largemouths as summer heat leads to explosive fishing, but there will be a time and place for it this month.
As water temperatures begin to cool down and fish focus more on baitfish and start their fall movements by congregating around deep weeds and offshore locations, I’ll be targeting largemouths more in August and into September. Catching them on suspending jerkbaits, swim jigs, deep diving cranks, and swimbaits is a blast.
Whether seeking trophies, or looking for a challenging experience in learning new water, this time of season through early autumn is my favorite – despite the shortening of daylight. So many techniques work. Fish can be caught from so many spots, depths and various habitats. There’s never a dull moment bass fishing this time of season!
Adding to the challenges and productivity of good bass fishing has been the presence of baitfish and crayfish. I have observed A MASSIVE schooling of bluegills, perch and ciscoes on many waters, and a lot of shallow water movements of crayfish taking place during evenings and after-dark. Where there’s food, there will be fish to catch.
As we progress into August and head towards Labor Day weekend and into September, there will be some movements of smallmouths into the shallows. This will relate to presence of forage and cooling water temperatures. Rock bars and offshore points are great areas to start. Then we will have the perch migrations, and a lot of smallmouths will be found utilizing deep weedlines.
Lately I have been encountering lots of ‘courteous anglers’ plowing into spots to fish within a cast-length away from my boat. At one during my August 2nd trip, two separate boats motored up to within 5ft from us, thus completely destroying the areas we were working. Either my boat is pretty to them, or they’re just being who they are and a waste of space on the water. I avoided confrontations with each of them, but let it be known how wrong they were. The best solution is to just catch loads of fish in front of them as they struggle to catch nothing. I have zero regard for these assholes. Respect the water and fellow anglers.
I still have a number of dates I’m looking to fill for end of August and mid/end September.
Thanks all for reading. I wish I had more time to go into detail more with strategy and specifics, but you can schedule a day with me to learn more!
Please practice catch and release on all smallmouth bass. Help educate to others, locals, and other guides the value and excitement of these sportfish. We release every bass we catch, and I reserve the right to void trips if intentions are keeping and depleting the resource.
tel: (708) 256-2201