Northwoods Bass Fishing Report, end of June & early July, 2017
Hi all. Not only has my fishing schedule been inconsistent with a mid-June vacation to avoid bass spawn, but so has the weather and fishing. I’m getting sick and tired of northwest winds and cold rain. Unlike my guests and I, the fish haven’t cared much. The fishing lately hasn’t been hot, but we’re still averaging 20-30 fish per day, each trip out. We aren’t targeting dinks and rod benders either. While numbers of hungry post-spawn bass were down, average sizes have been nothing short of incredible lately, with several 17-19 inchers we’ve lost count on. This goes to show you the quality of bass fishing we have in the Minocqua area! In the next 2-3 years, all of these up-and-comer fish we’ve been catching lately will grow up to be trophy 20 inchers!
End of June through early July was an interesting period of fishing. Inconsistent weather, coupled with mayfly hatches, busy boat traffic on some days, and a major abundance of baitfish made June bass fishing a challenge. Like all problems we face on the water, there are often solutions.
In tough conditions I’m not picky with fish sizes. I want biters and rod benders; the big bass will show up and take care of themselves at some point. Our fish catching has been mostly done in 5-15ft depths. Cool weather, cool water temps, and abundance of food in the shallows has driven the bass to remain in the shallows. Tons of baitfish and schools of bass have been sitting along first break lines and near offshore structure (wood, deep rock, boulders, cribs). Presence of baitfish that includes ciscoes and yellow perch along primary and secondary breaks has made locating smallmouths easier. But more difficult to catch. Majority of this week’s bites have been in depths of 5-15ft. If they aren’t up top, then off the edges, and suspended someplace nearby.
The biggest challenges of late has been countering heavy weekend and 4th of July holiday boat traffic. In addition to mayfly hatches, and the abundance of schooling bait such as ciscoes and yellow perch, it has made catching bass much more difficult. Locating them with this proliferation of forage has been easy however. What I stress to customers is I’ll put us and keep us on fish, but it comes with no guarantees of catching. When there’s so much food around, it’s difficult to garner the attention of bass when they’re busy stuffing their faces with all sorts of snacks like mayflies, crayfish, cisco and perch. It’s no wonder why a lot of post-spawn bass now are re-packing themselves on the pounds.
We have officially entered the early summer period. My prediction from a few weeks ago was we’d be in summer peak by now with water temps in the mid 70’s. Thanks to cool weather and water temps, and a lot of rainfall, that hasn’t happened yet. Both largemouths and smallmouths have recovered nicely from their post-spawn resting, and each day a feedback from a school of fish has been encountered.
Water temperatures on our Vilas and Oneida county lakes are anywhere in the range from 68 to 72 degrees, though it may vary by lake size and depth, and clarity. I still haven’t spent time fishing them yet (waiting for high water levels to drop for once, and water clarity to improve), but I know the flowages are running warmer.
A little bit of everything has been working; squarebill cranks, Kalins 4-5″ lunker grubs on a swimming head, jig worms, dead sticking and dragging tubes, jig and wacky worm combos, Clackin Raps, swim jigs, paddletail swimbaits, and suspending jerkbaits.
In June there were a few obvious bass patterns. Mayfly hatches were the big one. To counter them, we caught a lot of nice fish on hair jigs, downsized jig and plastics, and a few on topwaters.
A second pattern was the presence of crayfish. Our bottom dwelling friends are finally out and about, feeding and scavenging along rock and wooded areas. Tube jigs and hula grubs are an unbeatable dynamic duo in catching bass feeding heavily on crayfish. Always look for signs of smallmouths coughing up and regurgitating crayfish. Go and fish with tubes immediately! A simple tube with 1/8 oz. and 3/16 oz. jig insert caught the most fish for my boat in June.
A third pattern was the heavy schooling of cisco, on waters where populations of these pelagic baitfish are present.
There were times on cisco-based waters where I wasn’t locating any feeding smallmouths shallow, nor did I see any crayfish, and my bottom oriented offerings were worthless. These last two weeks I was focusing on baitfish schools and throwing swimbaits into the vicinity and depths of my markings. Most bait was holding in 10-20ft off the edges of structure such as rock humps and drop offs. The smallies I encountered were holding on the same areas also. The heavy smallmouths I caught from these cisco schools all exploded on a swimbait. I ran out of my supply of Stankx Bait Co. Sway paddletails that creamed them in May, so this month I got myself a nice supply of Lunkerhunt 4.5″ Bento Swim swimbaits, and fished them rigged on a 3/8 oz. Trokar Boxing Glove Jig. First time using it and it’s a winner. The color I used represents Cisco. The durability and action on these slender snacks is incredible, and definitely worth purchasing.
This open water casting strategy isn’t for everyone. But I’ve been casting into bait balls a lot, because sooner or later a big fish could strike if it was near……. Glad I was able to pick off a few.
The entire month was mainly a slow plastics and jigging program. On certain days the entire tackle shop needed to be tried before any bites were had. Everything I forecasted and projected the past few weeks has not happened nor materialized. My favorite cranking, spinnerbaiting, and power fishing methods simply haven’t been working. While fishing and navigating the boat on the back deck, I always keep up to 10 different rods and presentations rigged up, to help the boat quickly establish working patterns. I’m always tinkering and experimenting. Everything I had, that wasn’t plastic, was not working. So, either I suck as an angler, or the fish were really being picky eaters.
I recently concluded a 5 day run 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.
On June 30th, I had a half day am trip with Paul Jr. and Sr. We fished multiple lakes as well, and caught numbers including this year’s largest client fish, by Paul Sr, a spawned out 19.5″ female. Epic drag pulls and leaping like a free willy. That day, Paul Sr. caught this year’s largest customer bass, which was beaten the next day. Way to go, Paul, I hope to possess the same energy and enthusiasm when I’ll be 75 yrs old. What caught these fish? Tube jig.
On June 29th, I hosted longtime reader and my seminar attendee, Barry. We had to battle a coldfront and strong NW winds before finding good biters. One of my wilderness lakes saved the day. What caught these fish? Tube jig.
On Monday the 26th, I hosted Matt, Bailey, and Ben for the full day (8am – 4pm). We did a lake learn session and settled for any bass that could bite in piss poor weather. We succeeded catching 20+ in coldfront conditions with most largemouth and smallmouth in the 16-18″ range. All spawned out fish. Air temps upper 40’s when we began, along with nice NW wind and occasional light rain. I was expecting fish to be caught on reactionary baits such as a lipless, DT4 and DT6 cranks, and suspending jerks. Funny how the fish will quickly tell you what their moods and behaviors are like during some experimentation. They wouldn’t hit anything but a dead sticked tube or weedless wacky worm jig, all day.
Now, some epic and exciting fishing took place for my guests and I last weekend.
On Saturday July 1st I hosted Hank for the full day (our 3rd trip together this season). Conditions sunny and calm, winds light at 0-5mph from 8am till 2pm.
We found the smallmouths unwilling to strike anything but tubes and jig/creatures crawled and dead sticked painfully slow along bottom, and the occasional strike on a variety of paddletail swimbaits (Keitech, LunkerHunt, Stankx) rigged with Trokar Boxing Glove Jigs. Action was slow, but steady throughout the morning.
In mid afternoon after switching lakes, we encountered a mayfly hatch taking place in the windless, calm regions of the lake we were fishing. A mega-school of large smallmouths was observed surfacing, feeding on the flies, all around the boat. Unless you paid attention and had good eyesight, you wouldn’t have known they were there. I estimated 10 to 20 fish were in this school, all at lengths of 18″ or better. The topwaters I was throwing weren’t taking them, neither was any jig Hank had been working. Bites weren’t happening, and it registered to me I should tie on a hair jig for experimentation. I remembered having a supply of black maribou jigs in storage. I tied one on.
First cast with 1/8 oz. maribou jig on my med. action spinning rod, an 18 incher exploded on it. Hank and I were in disbelief. I gave Hank a jig for himself to use and we caught a half dozen smallies that otherwise were unwilling biters on everything else. Cast them out, and glide/rip them back to the boat. We fished them naked, without any plastic trailers and dressings. Let the hair do all the work and slow glide for us. Smallmouths slurped em up! As soon as the windless conditions gave way to a steady blowing NW wind, the mayfly bite died. I have never experienced such a phenomenon and unique angling situation like this!
Hank caught big bass of the day, measuring 20 inches that took a jig/creature combo. He’s a hell of an angler, and we look forward to our next trip in August.
On Sunday, July 2nd, I hosted Joe for the full day, starting at 7am and concluding at 4pm. Conditions were completely opposite from the previous day; this time a steady and chilly NW wind blowing at 5-10mph. The Terrova and spot lock got a good workout on this day, but held us in perfect boat control and position to lock in on every smallmouth school and feeding fish we encountered.
Sunday’s fishing with Joe was all about locating a school of feeding bass, and camping on them until seemingly catching them all. When completed, we’d move to another area of the lake to locate a new school of feeders and biters. If we caught one, there seemed to be 5 to 10 other fish of similar size roaming nearby. We used the wind to our advantage, making numerous drifts over and through the specific locations, and stretches we fished, in addition to maximizing on bites. Our artwork and tracks on the Lowrance screen was a masterpiece. We were picking up 1-2 fish on every drift, and each pass took upwards of 10 to 20 minutes a time. Joe and I both caught fish to 19″, and all but one on our trip was 16″ or better. Fish were positioned along the first breaks, on shallow rock shoals, sand flats, and bottom transitions where sand met rock.
Joe had never experienced an awesome tube bite like this, so he was in for a delightful holiday and learning a new technique. Sticking to the program of patience and slow methodical crawling and popping, Joe mastered the technique and pounded some hook sets with authority.
The Quantum Energy drags sang loudly for us on Sunday. The slower we fished, the more aggressive the strikes were. All we had to use to catch them were 1/8 oz. and 3/16 oz. jig inserts and Strike King Coffee Tubes. All the crayfish coughers were enough to tell us the story. Not a single fish was caught on any other methods tried…… more than half the time on any trip, I tinker from the back end of the boat, keeping 10+ rods ready, casting everything I can think of to help the boat establish patterns. So, either I suck at angling, or the fish were exceptionally picky eaters……..
It was a pleasure to host Hank and Joe over 4th of July weekend. We caught some really nice fish while battling the boat traffic and congestion both days. We battled hard, and followed the program.
So at this point, you might want to ask me what the hell are these fish doing RIGHT NOW.
At this writing smallmouths are in early summer period and progressing into mid summer period. Summer peak fishing will be here in mid July (HOPEFULLY), and fish will be located everywhere from open water schooling, to deep rock and gravel humps, first and secondary points, sand bars and flats, fish cribs – usually most at 12-15ft level, deep weedlines where perch and baitfish present, and the shallows. That’s a lot of likely places they will set up on. In mid summer, smallmouths can be caught as shallow as 2 feet to as deep as 30 feet depending on water temperatures and the developing thermoclines and summer stratification.
I’m not going to make any fishing forecasts or predictions because that clearly failed for June. I have a few rules to follow. If water temperatures are 70 or below, which they could be into early July, look for fish shallow. If crayfish aren’t around where they should be, then don’t bother. If water warms, weather is hot, and midday fishing is unsuccessful, fish early or late. Night fish especially, with topwaters, loud surface baits, and crankbaits…… Now, if fishing thermoclines, swimbaits and drop shot rigging is unbeatable. If you mark pelagic baitfish, follow them and stick to the program. A giant bass will be stalking them in open water.
We’ll keep throwing the entire Ranger’s tackle collection until a good pattern and some consistency is established. I always keep an assortment of 20 rods and reels rigged to handle all scenarios. Something will work.
The lakes are the highest they’ve ever been, the mosquitoes are always bad, and the fishing has been pretty good if seeking quality sizes.
^ Nice surprise from June 25th. Courtesy of a canceled trip. Was largemouth bass fishing at the time when this mid 40’s musky either struck a bass I had on the line, or outright hit the crankbait.
My next block of trips will run from end of July through first week of August. I have opened up July 24 thru 29th to accommodate more bookings. Wished my return to water is sooner, but still got a desk job to be at. These dates are all available. Please check my dates calendar on the website, and lets set up your mid summer trips for these dates, and all I have open in August.
July and august, 2016 available fishing dates
- July 24th
- July 25th
- July 26th
- July 27th
- July 28th
- July 29th
- August 3rd
- August 4th
- August 5th
- August 20th (Half day, evening only)
- August 21st
- August 22nd
- August 23rd
- August 24th
- August 25th
- August 26th
- August 27th
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! 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